By: Jeff Pederson of Pedal Down Promotions
Photos provided by the MSA 360 Sprint Car Series
After five grueling months and countless miles of travel to eight different tracks throughout the state of Wisconsin, the 20th season of Midwest Sprint Car Association competition is set to draw to a close with a doubleheader weekend of action, which will decide this year’s hotly contested battles for the 2019 series championship and rookie of the year award.
The final two races of the 2019 campaign will take place on two vastly different tracks as the weekend will kick off with the first annual Fuzzy Fassbender Memorial Race at the high-speed horsepower half-mile at the Dodge County Fairgrounds in Beaver Dam, Wis. on Friday, Sept. 27 before wrapping up the season on Saturday, Sept. 28 at the third-mile Plymouth Dirt Track bullring at the Sheboygan County Fairgrounds in Plymouth, Wis.
Heading into the season finale weekend, four-time MSA champion Kurt Davis South Milwaukee holds a 38-point lead over second-year MSA competitor Travis Arenz of Sheboygan. The two hard-charging drivers have traded the top spot throughout the season and there is no doubt sparks will fly as they square off with the coveted MSA title on the line.
In addition, 2018 Plymouth Dirt Track Racing 360 Sprint car champion Justin Miller of Plymouth remains in mathematical contention for the title heading into championship weekend 133 points behind Davis.
A perennial fixture at the top of the MSA standings, Davis has put together another stellar season include three A-main victories, 14 top-five and a series-leading 23 top-10 A-main showings in 24 MSA races this season.
Although he did not originally intend to run the full MSA schedule in 2019, everything has fallen into place for the 2018 MSA champion to make yet another title bid.
“We were only going to race part time this year and have my son, Tyler, do the whole season,” Davis said. “Then we started running really well, took the point lead and decided to keep going. My season started out with a junked race car. My crew put together another car and here we are winning three features so far, including my 60th MSA feature victory and leading the points.
“I love the competitive challenge the MSA group has,” he said. “This group of cars has the most underrated weekly racers in the country. We’ve had 12 different winners this year so far with some racers that have won in the past, but yet have not found the winner’s circle so far this season.”
Davis is eager to put a bow on his fifth MSA championship with strong performances to close out the season at Dodge County and Plymouth.
“My approach to the last weekend of the season is to go through the car from front to back, prepare the trailer, get some new tires and go out and win,” Davis said.
Arenz has been nothing short of spectacular this season as he has racked up a series-leading six A-main victories in 2019, to go along with a series-leading 15 top-five and 18 top-10 A-main showings in 24 MSA events.
“I personally set a few goals at the beginning of the year,” Arenz said. “I wanted to be a top-three points contender throughout the season and be able to battle for a championship at season’s end. My other goal this year was to keep getting better week in and week out and to be consistent every race unlike last year.”
While Arenz has never been a driver to lack confidence in his abilities behind the wheel, he has been pleasantly surprised by his victory output against a deep and highly competitive field of MSA competitors.
“I can’t say I was expecting to crank out six wins this year so far,” Arenz said. “And to have done so against the fierce competition in the 360 group says a lot. I knew if I was consistent and kept the car in one piece throughout the season, that I would have a potential shot at winning a championship. I have a lot of keys to my success this season. I can’t really say it’s been one thing. Everything from the time spent in the shop, good equipment, advice/help from veteran racers and the mindset to never give up and to keep getting better have contributed to the success this year.”
Arenz heads into the final weekend of the 2019 MSA season with a clear goal of adding to his resume of seven career MSA A-main victories.
“My approach to the last weekend of the season is simple,” Arenz said. “I need to out there and win the last two nights. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
This year’s MSA rookie of the year battle has been one for the ages with no less than 13 rookies joining the fray this season.
Former Plymouth Dirt Track Racing B Mod champion, Brandon Berth of Cascade enters the final weekend with a 28-point lead over former Micro Sprint competitor Jack Vanderboom of Dousman in the chase for the MSA Rookie of the Year Award.
“Going into the season, our goals were to race the full MSA schedule and try for rookie of the year in MSA and at Plymouth,” Berth said. “I wanted to try every race to learn as much as we could. The biggest challenge this year has been adjusting to the tracks. With the Sport Mod, we didn’t do as much traveling and were pretty comfortable when running Plymouth. It has shown at times when doing some of our traveling shows, we’ve struggled at times. But it’s been great to learn so much while traveling like we have.”
Berth, who has racked up two top-five and five top-10 A-main showings in MSA action this season, is coming off a career-best third-place A-main showing at Plymouth on Sept. 14.
“The highlight for this year has been winning my first heat race at Beaver Dam Raceway a few weeks ago,” Berth said. “It was pretty special because it was my nephew Kason’s third birthday. He’s been sure to remind me most nights that I didn’t win, so getting the win for his birthday was pretty special for both of us.”
Berth says earning the MSA Rookie of the Year Award would be an achievement that would serve as a fitting culmination of countless hours of hard work and dedication from those associated with his team.
“Winning the rookie of the year for MSA would be really special due to all the time and work we’ve put into everything,” Berth said. “Everybody that races puts in so much time and to be able to come out and get our goal that we set out at the beginning of the year would be special. We’ve been talking about running this whole schedule for over a year, so it has been a pretty big focus for a while. We’ve had great competition all year for this title and everybody we race against have been super awesome. It has been fun no matter what happens in the closing nights of the year.”
Berth is highly focused on the task at hand as he heads into the final MSA doubleheader weekend of the 2019 campaign.
“My approach for the final weekend is do what we have been doing the last couple of weeks,” Berth “Don’t put ourselves in positions we shouldn’t be in, race our own race and don’t think about where we need to be. We need to go out and do our thing and whatever happens happens. Jack has been a great competitor and it has been fun. I’m glad there’s some pressure going into the final weekend to make things really interesting. Anything can happen yet.”
As one of the youngest competitors in the MSA ranks, 16-year-old Jack Vanderboom has turned many heads this year in his rookie season behind the wheel of a full-sized Sprint Car after enjoying success in the Micro Sprint ranks.
“The transition from the Micro Sprint to the 360 Sprint Car has definitely been a challenge, especially at the start of the season,” Vanderboom said. “I’m trying to figure out how to drive the car depending on the setup or the conditions of the track. The biggest challenge for me has definitely been the car count because in the Micros, the car count was slim. It was a great class to get started in, but I personally haven’t raced with more than 16 cars at max on a good night in the Micros and that has been a struggle for me this season.”
Vanderboom, who has tallied one top-five and two top-10 A-main showings this year, points to a career-best runner-up showing at The Plymouth Dirt Track has the highlight of his 2019 season so far.
“I think the highlight of my season so far was my second-place finish in the feature a few weeks back,” Vanderboom said. “I definitely learned a lot that night racing alongside Jim Melis that whole race. We had a great battle going between the two of us that night. Jim is a great driver and tough to beat. He proved that to me that night, but I learned a lot from watching him and getting through traffic and picking the best line for me that whole race was a big stepping point for me as a driver and also for our crew involving setup and everything that goes into the car on a weekly basis I wouldn’t be here without all the help we’ve had the whole way.
“I think winning the MSA rookie of the year title would definitely be a huge accomplishment and goal of mine because it shows how much I improved over the course of the season,” he said. “With the amount of rookie drivers we have, it has proven to be a very difficult task, but it would be a huge accomplishment to achieve for me as a driver.”
Vanderboom is taking a cautiously optimistic approach to the last weekend of the 2019 MSA season.
“Truly our goal for the final weekend of the season is to keep the car in one piece and finish as best as I can in the last two,” Vanderboom said. “Our focus at Dodge County is to keep the car together and just finish before the championship night at Plymouth.”
Action at The Dodge County Fairgrounds will begin with hot laps at 6 p.m. and racing at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27. The program will also include the Bumper to Bumper Interstate Racing Association 410 Sprint Car Series, A Modifieds and B Modifieds.
The 2019 MSA season will conclude at The Plymouth Dirt Track on Saturday, Sept. 28 with hot laps at 5 p.m. and racing at 6 p.m. The Wisconsin Sprint Car Championships will include the Bumper to Bumper Interstate Racing Association 410 Sprint Car Series, Wisconsin Wingless Sprint Cars and IRA Lightning Sprint Cars.
For more information on the Midwest Sprint Car Association, visit www.msasprints.com