WEST SALEM — Steve Carlson won the NASCAR Weekly Late Model feature at La Crosse Speedway Saturday in a win for the veterans of the track.
While Carlson celebrated, another driver who finished 15th was one of the most popular men in the garage.
Gib Scharpf, a 59-year old from West Salem, got back behind the wheel of a car at the speedway for the first time in 16 years. What brought the 1997 Sportsmen champion back?
“Boredom,” Scharpf said in the back of the trailer after the race. “We got this car last fall and I needed something to do in my shop so I started redoing it between me, Adam (Degenhardt), CNC Motorsports…It’s a great car. It’s a lot easier to drive than the old cars.”
Scharpf started working on cars all the way back in 1974 and started racing at the speedway in 1994 with the Thunder Stock division. In 1997, he beat out Johnny Sauter for the Late Model division Rookie of the Year honors.
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Eventually, Scharpf gave up driving for work and settled back into the primary role of his racing career: helping crews build and maintain cars. Scharpf even used to work with Steve and Tom Carlson.
While Gib enjoys driving today’s Late Models, he acknowledged he took on quite the task in going straight to the track’s top division after years away. Not to mention a thing or two changing for him.
“It’s like jumping into the deep end of the pool right away,” Scharpf said. “I put on weight or my firesuit shrank, one or the other. It’s really hard just jumping in one of these things and going.”
It’s not just time off the track that made the hearts grow fonder of Scharpf, he’s personable and interacted with every driver, fan and crew member that came to visit after the races.
“It was fun,” Scharpf said. “I’m still getting used to it, getting the bugs out. I’d back out a little and see if I could run and catch some guys. It works out really well, I’m with good people…They’re all people I see off and on, but there are some relatives I haven’t seen in years here. It’s pretty interesting to get back in the seat again. It’s a lot of fun.”
Parity in late model division
With races winding down in the NASCAR Weekly Late Model regular season, parity is something that’s kept races interesting at the track.
Through nine feature races, the division has seen eight different winners with Jacob Goede’s sweep of the May 21 twin features making him the only two-time winner in 2022.
Steve Carlson’s victory last Saturday was not the first time this year seeing his No. 66 go to victory lane after Mike Carlson drove it to a win in the season opener. Mike Carlson’s primary car had broken down earlier in the day, forcing him to take over his dad’s ride.
Mike Carlson sits second in the series points standings, 22 points behind Brent Kirchner, the most notable omission from the winner’s circle this season.
Kirchner — along with other winless drivers like Jerimy Wagner and Michael Beamish — have three more races to find a win with one coming this Saturday before a twin feature season closer on Aug. 13.
Meanwhile, Bob Fort’s four wins in the Sportsmen division haven’t kept him out of the clutches of championship hopefuls.
After a last place finish in the most recent series feature, Fort’s lead in the standings sits at one point over Bill Schott. Schott himself sits 22 points above third-place driver Sam Niles.
QUARTER-MILE GETTING RAVE REVIEWS
The newly repaved quarter-mile “action track” at the Speedway crowned its first champion last Saturday. Charles Vian Jr won the Hobby Stock feature and championship in their final race of the season before Oktoberfest.
Vian has been among the many turning their fastest times ever on the quarter-mile after it was repaved from the entrance of turn one the exit of turn four over the offseason. The No. 28 car broke the track Hobby Stock record not once but twice this season, setting the mark at 15.21 seconds.
While the high speeds and close quarters are eye-catching to spectators, one of the biggest pros to the repave for Vian is improved safety and comfort.
“In previous years, there was basically a hole going into turn one where my car as it is today would not make it through there,” Vian said. “They did a good job of repairing that hole. The whole track is smooth, there’s no transitions really throughout it, it’s got good traction. It’s just a really nice track to race.”
It’s not just Vian breaking records. Every series that has competed on the redone quarter-mile has seen their series qualifying time record fall with the exception of the High School Racing Association.
Kristopher Berg, the driver of the No. 25 car in the Hornets division, said that the repave has raised the difficulty just a tad for newcomers.
“It’s intense,” Berg said. “You got to pay attention. There’s a lot of young drivers out here that are just learning. For us veterans, it’s still a ton of fun.”
Hornets and Street Stocks will take to the quarter-mile this weekend while Late Models and Sportsmen race on the 5/8ths mile oval. The night will end back on the quarter-mile for the annual Trailer Race of Destruction. Gates open at 5:30 pm with racing beginning at 7 pm
James Krause can be reached by email at James.KrauseJr@lee.net or on Twitter @jkrausepro.