Spokane, WA – Doni Wanat took the lead from Kulwicki Driver Development Program finalist Haeden Plybon with 13 laps remaining in the 35th Annual “Fall Classic 125” at Tri-City Raceway” (WA). He pulled away to score the $10,000 victory Sunday afternoon in the season finale for the Northwest Super Late Model Series presented by Racing Dynamiks (NWSLMS). Kaiden Anderson was able to take home the series championship, when a lap 123 pass, earned him the series title over Haeden Plybon, in the closest championship finish in series history.
“Oh man, we work so hard”, Wanat exclaimed about finally capturing a Fall Classic victory! “I feel like so far, I have had two Fall Classics that I was leading, not even including last years, which would make it three, going back to Yakima (Speedway). Every one of them seemed to get taken away, with a weird racing luck thing. I’m happy to finally get it done! No one can say “well this happened or that happened”. I made clean passes, I went through the whole field, and passed everybody that I needed to pass. I think maybe only Cristiani and Owen (Riddle) who got into something. But other than those two, it wasn’t like it was given to me. So that is good, because I have had some taken from me.”
Sunday’s win was almost once again taken from Wanat, as the veteran racer began to experience overheating issues in his Super Late Model, as the laps wound down.
“As soon as I saw the car overheating, that is what I was thinking, are “you kidding me’”, Wanat lamented? “Is it gonna happen again? I called the guys on the radio after I got by Tayler (with 29 laps to go), and said, “This thing is blowing up.” I didn’t know if it was going to stay together, so I started being really easy on the throttle. The thing turned into a tractor, but it was still handling well. It worked out and I’m glad it did.”
It was not an easy victory for Wanat, as he had to start 13th in the field of 33 Super Late Model racers, on the tricky ½-mile triangular track. Patience was a key for the eventual winner, as well as a little good fortune under the hood.
“I know that racing these races and starting where I did….., for some reason we didn’t fire off good in qualifying. I don’t know if it was because we went early or whatever it was. We didn’t fire off well in qualifying and we started 13th, so I knew I had to keep the fenders on the car, and just kind of bide my time and try to get closer to the front by the break, and then go to work after that. Once I got into second place right-a-way, the thing started to lose (power), the water temp was pinned, and it was starting to blow up. It held on, which I’m thankful for. I said a prayer almost every couple of laps and she held on, so it was pretty awesome”
The championship was another barn burner, with Haeden Plybon cutting Kaiden Anderson’s lead to six points, after earning the AFCO Racing / Longacre Racing Products Fast-Time Award, and five additional championship points. Plybon drew the number five with Trevor Cristiani pulling the number one card to start on the pole. Last year’s runner-up Scott Walker lined up alongside, with former winner’s Owen Riddle and Tayler Riddle making up row two. After Plybon, Blake Williams, defending winner Jason Frasier and three-time winner Naima Lang completed the redraw participants.
On the Troy Blanton green, Cristiani jumped out to a quick lead with Plybon on the move, getting under Owen Riddle for second on lap seven. The top four separated themselves from the field, as Blake Williams got under Walker for fourth. The top group ran nose-to-tail when they approached the slowing Dave Garber on lap 29. Riddle and Williams were unable to avoid the slowing Garber, with Riddle dropping out a few laps later with nose damage, as the field continued under green. A Competition Caution flew on lap 40, with Cristiani leading Plybon, Tayler Riddle, Jason Fraser, and the damaged Blake Williams car.
The restart saw the continuance of the Pro Late Model event from the night before. Plybon and Cristiani traded the lead over the next several restarts, with Cristiani looking to turn the tables on his second-place finish from Saturday night. The battle only lasted until lap 65, however, as Cristiani stalled and coasted to the pits. The field took the caution on lap 68 for a chain reaction incident that found Jeff Hillock towed to the pits, and Andy Beaman also pitting with damage.
The restart saw a Red flag, as the field didn’t make it through Turn 1. Fifth place Kasey Kleyn, and fourth-running Fraser, made contact with Kleyn around with multiple cars piling in, including Matt Doyle, Naima Lang, Glenn Knutsen, and Blake Williams. At that point, the scheduled mid-race break was called with Plybon, Tayler Riddle, Wanat, Marshall Jr., and Frasier the top-five. It was a break for the eventual second-place finisher, who was able to hang on after contact.
“At the break we found out that we had a right front (tire) going down, and it was just all I could do to hang on in the first half”, Fraser explained. “We were up there, and then got tapped in the back getting into one. I knew that he was there, and I thought I gave him plenty of room, and we got tapped, but I knew if we kept it going, didn’t hit anything, and kept it going, in this series, then they would put you back in your spot. I pushed the clutch in and did everything I could do to keep it going and get them tires spinning the second I saw daylight, and I knew we were gonna get our spot back. A big part of the race for us was doing that. I’ve got one of the best crew there is, and I knew they were going to give me a good car for the second half, and I was confident. Once we found out the tire was flat when we came in, that was another piece of what we wanted to change anyway. But they really gave me a good car for the second half.”
Coming out of the break, Plybon re-established his lead over Tayler Riddle as Fraser moved to fourth around Marshall. On lap 96, Wanat was finally able to get by Riddle, as the 2015 race winner began to struggle with a deflating tire. Fraser followed five laps later as Riddle pulled to the pits on lap 110 with a flat. By that point, Wanat had closed a nearly two second deficit on Plybon, to pressure the series rookie for the lead. It only took the veteran racer two laps to take the lead, as Kaiden Anderson had moved to sixth from 26th, putting him in a tie for the championship lead. As the laps wound down, Fraser closed on the struggling Plybon and battled with the Spokane, WA racer for nearly a dozen laps, before making the move to the runner-up position with two laps remaining. The pass sealed the championship for Anderson, as Wanat crossed the line $10,000 richer.
It was an emotional finish for Anderson, as a championship in the series had been a goal since he was nine years old.
“It is pretty emotional”, Anderson explained after the points were calculated! “I have dreamed about this since I was nine years old, so it is pretty huge. I can’t thank everybody enough, it is pretty surreal. We were just focused on keeping our nose clean and getting to the front, and just doing what we had to do. The championship…obviously we want to win, but you have to finish first in order to get that championship. Our main goal was just to finish and then to see where we shook out.”
Anderson started deep in the field and had to work his way forward, avoiding the incidents in front of him. It was the mark of his season, as his consistency and one race win secured the championship. He exhibited the same patience in the Fall Classic, passing 20 teams.
“It was a long hard-fought race, and we started in the back”, Anderson described. “125 laps on a half-mile is a pretty long race. We just wanted to keep our nose clean and try to get to the front slowly but securely, and that is what we did.”
Plybon led the most laps, set Fast Time, and looked to have the fastest car for a majority of the event. But after the break, the car wasn’t the same, and he slipped to third at the finish.
“We might have got a bad set of tires at the break on the right side”, Plybon speculated about his fall off in the second half. “We didn’t really change anything at the halfway break. I couldn’t drive the car any harder than I was, and I was just trying to keep up with those guys. I don’t know, it is just the way it goes, sometimes.”
Plybon won the Pro Late Model event on Saturday, clinched the Tri-State Pro Late Model Series championship, set Fast Time in the NWSLMS race, and just missed out on the series championship by two points. The latter was surely a disappointment, but he decided to look at the positive side of the weekend after the event.
“It was good fun, and third isn’t bad, and we didn’t tear up any of the racecars”, as Plybon summed up his weekend. “The car just went a little free in the last 50 (laps). It was actually really free because I couldn’t get back into the gas and get off the corner. But it was still fun, and I’m glad we kept in in one piece, stayed third, and were able to hold on for those last 25 to 30 laps after it got so free.”
The defending Fall Classic winner was also happy with his weekend, after not participating in a Super Late Model event since his win. He faced a strong field, at a challenging track, and came out with consecutive top-two finishes.
“It feels really good, in this class of field, and the way the track is”, Fraser conveyed. “This track has a tendency to use up some racecars. Guys get impatient, and it is really not impatient, but we are on the edge in every corner. Sometimes you have got to remember to breathe, you are holding on. Guys just make mistakes, it is not that they are getting rough and are impatient, sometimes it is just making a mistake. We are not professional drivers here. We are just doing our best and it happens. At this track, when you make a mistake, it is costly. To be on the podium two years in-a-row, I’m really happy.”
Glenn Knutsen came from 23rd starting to finish fourth and BJ Tidrick came from 16th to complete the top-five. Plybon was the only driver to qualify inside the top-10 to finish in the top-five. Anderson was sixth, after improving 20 positions and Spears Southwest Tour Series Rookie-of-the-Year leader Zach Telford was seventh. 2021 NWSLMS Rookie-of-the-Year Bryce Bezanson was eighth, with 2022 Hermiston Raceway Pro Late Model champion Nick Gibson ninth, and Ashton Cristiani 10th.
In addition to his championship, Anderson claimed the Rookie-of-the-Year title, with Plybon and Nick Gibson the top-three. Rookie drivers claimed all of the top-three positions in the series championship standings. Andy Beaman was fourth in the championship with Ken Bonney the final driver in the top-five. The NWSLMS will go on its winter break after a seven-race slate in 2022. The series will now go to work on the 2023 schedule.
Results: 1. Doni Wanat, 2. Jason Fraser, 3. Haeden Plybon*, 4. Glenn Knutson, 5. B.J. Tidrick, 6. Kaiden Anderson*, 7. Zachary Telford, 8. Bryce Bezanson, 9. Nick Gibson*, 10. Ashton Cristiani*, 11. Ken Bonney, 12. Andy Beaman, 13.Wyatt Gardner, 14. John Newhouse, 15. Logan Jewell, 16. Dylan Caldwell, 17. Christopher Kalsch, 18. Tayler Riddle, 19. Naima Lang, 20. Randy Marshall Jr.*, 21. Kasey Kleyn*, 22. Blake Williams, 23. Matt Doyle, 24. Dan Lowther, 25. Jeff Hillock, 26. Trevor Cristiani, 27. Tyler Brown*, 28. Nick Gunderson, 29. Dan Nelson*, 30. Owen Ridle, 31. Scott Walker, 32. Dave Garber, 33. Tim Babcock
*Rookie of the Year Contender
-Northwest Super Late Model Series Press Release