Fight to the finish, big hit at Princeton Speedway

Photo by Thaddeus Carroll, Union-Times
Jerry Esler raises Princeton’s unique boxing glove trophy in the air after his Mod 4 comeback-win Friday night. It was his third win at Princeton, this season.

Princeton- The winner’s circle brought a unique prize Friday night, at the Princeton Speedway.
For the first time in the track’s 61-year history, drivers received golden boxing gloves as tribute for winning Princeton’s Fight to the Finish event, on July 28.
“That was pretty cool,” Jerry Esler said about the glove he received after a victory in the WISSOTA Mod 4 feature.” I’ve got it hanging up next to my WWE wrestling belt I won in Brainerd [at North Central Speedway],”
In order to win the belt drivers had to work a bit harder. Instead of running the characteristic 20-lap feature, races were extended to 30 laps for the event.
“It’s a Fight to the Finish, so we wanted to make it more than a regular race,” Speedway Promoter and founder of event, Holly Orpen said.
The exclusive format and trophy are similar to events at North Central Speedway in Brainerd. The one-third mile track, annually, has two special trophies, an axe during their Might Axe Nationals and a championship belt during WWE night. Orpen thought a one-of-kind event would work in Princeton too.
“The drivers wanted something different,” Orpen said.
The extended format provided some noticeable differences.
Eric Martini sped away from the Super Stock field, Friday. He had dialed in the high line in turns one and two to give himself a straightaway advantage over Chris Wark and points-leader Dustin Nelson about 15 laps in, Nelson, however, cleared Wark and started to close in on Martini’s 24-car well past the 20-lap mark.
With three laps left, Nelson had pulled up to Martini’s bumper, providing a tense finish. Martini decisively switched to the bottom to block Nelson and grab his fourth victory at the track, this season.
“[The longer race] makes it more strategic. You don’t want to cook your tires the first few laps and it brings driver stamina into play,” Jerry Esler noted.
In the Mod 4 feature, Zac Hribar sat second before spinning all by himself in turn two, sending him to the back after about three laps.
During a 20-lap race, the venture to the back usually offers little chance for return, but Hribar had enough time to slide back into second and give, Esler, the pole-sitter, competition in the closing moments.
Hribar came charging around the outside of the 11 to take the white flag. The first 28 laps had been Esler’s. Then, Esler slid back by Hribar in turn three and held off the youngster for an emotional victory.
“I found out one of my friends died when I got to the track and that was kind of weighing on my mind during the race,” Esler said. “I was racing for him so when [Zac] passed I was thinking ‘I can’t let that happen.”
According to Esler, Zac told him that was the most fun finish he had ever been a part of.
Most other classes weren’t directly affected by the number of laps and many drivers had milder responses to the night.
“It didn’t really seem to change much in my race. It was just nice to go out and run some extra laps,” said Josh Anderson, who placed second in the IMCA Modified feature after an early exit in the Princeton Supers.
“These kinds of things don’t really impress me any, but nowadays the tracks have to do anything they can to see if it sparks interest.” Modified driver Larry Zeller said. “A lot of people haven’t been to the races and then they go and find out it’s a good time and they put on a good show.”
According to the track owner, Cliff Sasker, that night brought one of the year’s biggest crowds, despite action ending just before 11 p.m.
“Our crowds have increased every race over the past several weeks,” Sakser said.
He hopes the golden gloves will be even more popular when they return to the schedule next year and, Sasker says, hopefully the forseeable future.