PORTAGE, Wis. – Although they’re at different points in their careers, the paths of Riley Stenjem and Casey Johnson look incredibly similar. This Sunday those paths will intersect as the up-and-coming Stenjem tries to hold off the four-time TUNDRA Super Late Model Series Champion Casey Johnson in Round Six Dedicated to Carl Wegner at Dells Raceway Park.
The beginnings of both drivers’ Late Model careers started at the bullring Jefferson Speedway. Johnson would go on to win five Championships and eventually carve his name into the Super Late Model record books across the state with multiple track and series titles – including four in TUNDRA. Stenjem put himself on the scene at Jefferson over the past few seasons. He is now poised to grab his first Super Late Model Championship in just his second full season and hopes to follow in the footsteps of Johnson.
Stenjem’s lead sits at a slim four points. In some cases throughout the TUNDRA point system, it’s the difference of one finishing position. An entire season may come down to the final lap of Sunday’s 105-lap main event.
For Stenjem, the season is based off a goal he and his team set prior to the start of the campaign. Their main goal was to be fully prepared at every event. They proved their preparation to be in line with a strong effort in the season opener before grabbing their first win at Marshfield in June.
“To have accomplished what we have in our first full season of Super Late Model racing is a dream come true,” Stenjem said. “Whether that’s preparation on the car or having the setup close when you unload, it’s all needed with TUNDRA because you don’t have an hour plus of practice at these races. Ty (Majeski) and Toby (Nuttleman) have been a huge help in getting us really close when we unload so we are able to fine tune in practice on a good baseline.”
Although Johnson finds himself in a familiar position at the top of the TUNDRA points, it’s under unfamiliar circumstances. Johnson joined forces with Aaron Larson this season. The partnership paid dividends early on with a fast time and win in the season opener at Wisconsin International Raceway. Since then they’ve ridden consistency to keep them in the title hunt.
“I think it’s gone great. Aaron and I seem to mesh really well,” Johnson said. “We hit it off great right out of the gate at Kaukana and hopefully we can finish strong at the Dells.”
Johnson found himself in a tight point battle in 2018, which, ironically enough, saw a season finale at DRP. Johnson scored the overall win on the day and walked away with the series title. He sees a lot of similarities going into Sunday, and will be looking to get to the front to apply pressure on Stenjem.
“Really the way those longer races play out you just have to let the race come to you and not panic if you don’t have track position early,” Johnson said. “My plan is the same (as 2018). If I’m able to get to front it puts the pressure on Riley to get up there too.”
The flip side sees Stenjem in unfamiliar territory, as he will be looking to make his mark in the TUNDRA history books. He and his team can find some peace of mind in knowing that they have found many ways to shine in unfamiliar situations. However, he and his team paid a couple extra visits to DRP this season, which may help in this scenario.
“We’ve run more at the Dells this year than in years past for our team, so it’s nice going to a familiar place,” Stenjem said. “Really we just have to approach it as any other race. If we have a good car then everything should settle itself out with the longer distance race than the traditional 75 laps.”
For Stenjem, the benefits of a TUNDRA title are obvious as it would give him yet another notch on the belt as a Super Late Model standout in the area. He recognizes it’s more about just him too.
“It would mean a lot, my parents, my team, and my sponsors,” Stenjem said. “They work really hard to help me chase my dreams, so to reward them with a championship would be huge.”
For Johnson, it’s another notch to his already-storied career, but every Championship has it’s special twist.
“I’m a numbers guy and to add another title would be awesome to me, but on the other foot it would be the first one for Aaron Larson,” Johnson said. “So hopefully I can get up on the wheel and get one for him.”
What’s more Johnson is looking to score a win Sunday for one of the people who helped put him on the map.
“Carl is one of the main reasons I’ve been able to continue my Super Late career, and any race that’s held in his honor is a big one to me.”
It’s highly likely that both drivers will have the battle of the 105 lap feature and the war of the TUDNRA title within reach in the final laps of Sunday. What remains to be seen is if one will double dip and cap off the Championship in style.
Round Six Dedicated to Carl Wegner takes place next Sunday, September 26 at Dells Raceway Park. Qualifying is scheduled for 12:30 with racing at 2 pm. TUNDRA will be joined by the DRP Sportsman and American Super Cup Series.
Dells Raceway Park is located at N1070 Smith Road just north of downtown Wisconsin Dells. For more information visit http://www.dellsracewaypark.com.
-TUNDRA Super Late Model Series Press Release and Photo