Chris Wimmer conquers Slinger Nationals for biggest win of his career
By Nicholas Dettmann
Chris Wimmer isn’t making his digression into retirement easy.
He’s staying competitive and he’s winning races.
On July 15, he won the biggest race of his career.
Wimmer caught a late-race break and won the 35th annual Superseal Slinger Nationals presented by Miller Lite at Slinger Superspeedway, holding off a hard-charging Matt Kenseth for the victory in what was his first race at Slinger in seven years.
“It’s just cool to win this race,” Wimmer said.
Casey Johnson was third for his second straight top-five finish at Slinger Nationals. Conrad Morgan was fourth and Dalton Zehr was fifth.
Wimmer, 35, of Wausau was the fifth different driver to win Nationals in the last five years. The event hasn’t had that kind of stretch since 1998-2003, where Tony Strupp, Morgan, Lowell Bennett, David Prunty, Kenseth and Rich Bickle won the event.
“I didn’t think we had a chance to win tonight,” said Kenseth, who was seventh-fastest in qualifying and started the 24-car feature on the third row. “We were just a little bit off.”
The race’s fast qualifier was Andrew Morrissey, who turned a lap in 11.257 seconds.
“I’m really excited,” said Morrissey after qualifying. “I’ve never qualified great here in the past.”
With 23 laps to go, the 199-lap race was in Dennis Prunty’s hands.
Prunty, whose family has won more than 20 track championships, most of them at Slinger, led 170 consecutive laps after passing Johnson for the lead on lap 6. He was the clear-cut favorite once the race moved into the second half.
“He was just too good,” Wimmer said of Prunty. “He pretty much had it sealed up in the bag.”
While the Prunty family has enjoyed so much success at Slinger, the family hasn’t had the same luck at Nationals. Only Dennis’ brother, David Prunty, has won Slinger Nationals. There are four brothers – Dan, David, Dale and Dennis. In addition, there is young Alex Prunty, son of Dan Prunty, a two-time Slinger Stingers track champion.
The Pruntys’ bad luck at Nationals struck again.
Dennis Prunty, leading by about two seconds in the closing stages of the race, pulled off of Turn 2 off the pace. It was a jaw-dropping moment as he coasted into the infield and parked his car. From there, he watched, while leaning against a safety truck in the infield, in agony, a race that was his drive away in favor of Wimmer.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Prunty said. “It’s unbelievable to be that close.”
He was so close. But what happened?
“Something with the ignition just shut off,” he said. “It never missed; it never broke up. It was like I just turned the switch off. I don’t know.
“It’s a shame. We definitely had a good car today.”
“When he broke, I was so surprised my eyes opened up,” Wimmer added.
The misfortune was sadly just a continuation of the day’s events for the family.
Earlier in the evening, Alex Prunty led the first 30 laps of the 35-lap Limited Late Model feature. His race came to a halt when he made contact with Danny Church while battling for the lead. The two slid hard into the Turn 1 wall with less than 10 laps to go. Stephen Scheel won the race.
Kevin Knuese won the Midwest Truck Series feature.
“The way I see it in a race like this, you only get one chance,” Dennis Prunty said. “Last year, Steve Apel had a chance and had problems in tech. He had his chance last year. You don’t get a chance to win every year. You get one chance to win this thing and I believe this was my chance.
“But I will come back and try again.”
It also cost Prunty more than $10,000 in prize money as the race winner was awarded $9,999, plus $999 for starting the feature and lap incentives. Instead it was Wimmer cashing in on the biggest racing paycheck of his career.
“I was trying to run him down,” Wimmer said of Prunty. “I just couldn’t do it. Once he broke it was game on.”
The Slinger Nationals is dubbed a short-trackers Daytona 500, especially in the upper Midwest. It’s a prestigious event to win as a driver’s name will go alongside some of the best to ever drive a race car. Names like Dick Trickle, Alan Kulwicki, Rich Bickle, Joe Shear, Butch Miller, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, etc. are all winners of Slinger Nationals. And because of that, it’s a hard event to win.
Just ask Brad Mueller, a three-time Slinger track champion and veteran of more than 20 years in racing, but has never won Slinger Nationals. Al Schill is arguably the most successful asphalt short-track racer around, especially since Slinger transformed from dirt to asphalt in the 1970s. Even Schill has never won Slinger Nationals.
That’s why it’s so special to win the race. Wimmer now knows that for himself.
“To have my name next to those guys [on the trophy] is truly an honor,” he said.
“You don’t expect it,” he added about the late-race drama. “You always think about it. What if it happens? But when it does happen, it’s definitely a surreal feeling.”
Wimmer has had an idea of the prestige of Slinger Nationals and the importance of winning it for as long as he’s been alive. He’s been tied to the event since 1980, barely less than a year after he was born. It doesn’t help to have his reminder sitting at the race shop for years.
Winning Slinger Nationals was more than just for the $9,999 paycheck and getting his name etched alongside some of the greatest drivers to ever grace race tracks in the Midwest.
Wimmer’s uncle is the late Larry Detjens, who won the inaugural Slinger Nationals in 1980. On race night, Wimmer had the trophy Detjens won in 1980 in the pit area. Afterward, he posed with the original trophy and his new piece of hardware for a photo.
And by the way, the name of the Slinger Nationals trophy? The Larry Detjens Memorial Trophy.
“To come here and win it is honestly unbelievable,” Wimmer said.
The victory is right up there with his 2000 victory in the Larry Detjens Memorial at State Park Speedway, a track he helps runs with his father.
After the break at lap 99, the race went wire-to-wire without a caution. With about 40 laps to go, Wimmer said he began to feel discomfort in his leg.
“In those last 10 laps I didn’t even know when I was pushing [the gas pedal],” Wimmer said. “I was just going on momentum. I was just glad the race was over.”
“I was just sitting there trying to remember how to do it,” he added. “When you lose feeling, it’s hard to judge where the gas pedal is. I’m just glad we got through it and ended up winning.”
While it may have been a fluke for Wimmer to win Slinger Nationals, it wasn’t a surprise he was in contention at the end of the race.
He’s now run seven races this season, finishing second four times, third once and fifth once, in addition to winning Slinger Nationals.
“I was kind of ready to finish second again,” Wimmer said.
The year was 2007 for the last time he raced at Slinger. He came back because he’s winding down his career.
Before this season, he had run in the ARCA Midwest Tour the previous five years, with two victories in that time. In 2013, he finished second in the series’ points standings.
This year, he picked 10 races to run, but no ARCA Midwest Tour.
“This definitely doesn’t make me want to stop,” Wimmer said with a smile.
(This article first appeared in the August 2014 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)