By Jim den Hollander
As February draws to a close, it is an interesting and exciting time for a racer in the Midwest.
To get my website up and running, this month has generated a great deal of excitement. No matter what type of racing you prefer, I believe the Daytona 500 weekend must create excitement, making it clear that a new racing season is upon us here in North America.
With my goal of finding and covering all racing in Wisconsin and involving Wisconsinites, the past few weeks have been exciting and just a bit overwhelming.
I have never been a racer myself, unless you count hot wheels or go kart races against my brother. My interest in the sport came from a friend who raced F1600 Formula Fords in Canada about two decades ago.
Moving to Wisconsin in 2000 it became clear this area has a keen interest in oval track racing, both on asphalt and dirt, but drivers from this area have excelled at almost every type of racing on two and four wheels as well as snowmobile treads.
I kind of went away from racing, but recent rediscovered my passion in a big way. I am new in the sense, I am not familiar with who’s who in the different disciplines in Wisconsin, but I think I am a quick learner and I plan on submersing myself into every discipline of the sport this summer.
A week before Daytona, I began my 2019 education on Wisconsin racing watching 21-year-old Natalie Decker, from Eagle River run near the front for the entire 80-laps of the season opening Lucas Oil 200 ARCA Menards race at Daytona. She is probably a household name for most Stock Car fans in this state, but this was my first time seeing her on track and it was amazing to watch.
A week later, running in the opening Gander Outdoors Truck Series race I was reminded how cruel and tough this sport can be as Decker’s first Truck Series ride was cut short by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Johnny Sauter was the youngest of three brothers from Necedah racing at the top levels when I covered racing as a sports editor of the Wisconsin Dells Events newspaper.
Now a veteran and former champion, it was cool to spend time watching this exciting racer in the same truck race at Daytona, just days after he returned to the ThorSport Racing team. One thing was clear watching Sauter in his #13 Ford in the season opener, he doesn’t stay in the same place long. Watching his name on the standings board on the side of the screen you couldn’t help noticing he was either moving up or moving back constantly. He ultimately got collected in what they refer to now as ‘the big one’ and ultimately finished back.
However, watching the first event made me excited for the following week’s event at Atlanta.
Like Sauter, Paul Menard, from Eau Claire is a veteran in NASCAR. He had done ARCA Menards, Gander Trucks and Xfinity and has been a regular in the Monster NASCAR Cup series for 13 plus seasons. He seems to be off to an awesome start and was a factor in both leadup events to the Daytona 500 where he ultimately finished 29th.
Meanwhile, on the evening of the ARCA race, I caught a glimpse of another name I expect to hear a lot more of as well – Hunter Sayles.
A young privateer from Merrill, I saw Sayles; name on the rider list for the Monster Energy AMA Supercross event at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN.
He qualified mid-pack and ran the first of two heats. An awesome shot off the line had Sayles second after the first corner and while the factory-backed racers were able to power past him over the course of the 15-minute race, the Wisconsin racer qualified for the feature with a ninth place showing, but he got a ton of valuable tv time and showed he can battle with the big boys on his KTM-250.
He got the ninth and final qualifying spot for the main, but with an outside starting spot, he was unable to match his dash into the first corner and finished 21st in what was the opening race of the Eastern half of the AMA Supercross Series. He did not make the trip to Texas for the second round, but I am looking forward to seeing this exciting racer at other events.
So, my racing education has begun. I am eager to get a chance to see all the different disciplines over the course of the coming season and look forward to getting as many details as I can in this space.
I have already seen some great things and the season is just barely started.