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Weekly Notebook presented by FK Rod Ends

Notes: Nebraska rookie succeeds on a budget

June 10, 2021, 8:18 am
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.com managing editor
Kyle Prauner (Dennis Meyer/Norfolk Daily News)
Kyle Prauner (Dennis Meyer/Norfolk Daily News)

There are plenty of Dirt Late Model racers who jump into the division wallet first. Top-dollar equipment. The best of everything. Open checkbook. Maxed credit card.

Kyle Prauner is not that guy.

When the 34-year-old Norfolk, Neb., racer plotted to move from sport mods to Late Models in 2021, the father of a young family who has made sure to make ends meet when it comes to racing was fully aware that an older Late Model and second-hand components were the way to go.

“I did a lot of wheeling and dealing and swap-meeting and horse-trading and bartering,” Prauner said with a laugh. “And here we got a Late Model finally.”

But don’t think the budget-savvy driver simply wants to be in the full-fendered division. He wants to contend, and that’s exactly what he’s doing so far with a couple of IMCA Late Model victories at his hometown Off Road Speedway and other solid performances at two other nearby Nebraska ovals, U.S. 30 Speedway in Columbus and Boone County Raceway in Albion. Prauner’s success puts him atop DirtonDirt.com’s Weekly Notebook presented by FK Rod Ends and has injected fun into a racing career that had gotten a little staid.

“I’m a rookie, but I’ve still been racing for 18, 19 years. It’s coming around quicker and better than I actually anticipated, I guess,” Prauner said. “That was one of the things, too, getting out of the sport mod deal and into a Late Model, there’s no expectations. You’re running sport mods, doing a lot of winning and a lot of championships over the years, and there’s pressure, you know, to repeat, keep doing it, keep winning, right?

“It was nice to take a little load off and get into the Late Model class where, quite frankly, there was no expectations and not a lot of respect either, from some of the folks. They don’t think a sport mod guy has got any talent and is going to come up here and do anything — so that’s kind of fun, coming (into Late Models) and proving some of them wrong.”

Prauner credits reigning IMCA Late Model champion Cory Dumpert of York, Neb., with easing his transition into the division, even if Prauner’s budget couldn’t afford Dumpert’s title-winning car from 2020.

“For all these years, I’ve always wanted to try a Late Model, but it’s an expensive game, and I just didn’t really think the budget we had, we’d be able to get anything decent. That’s why I made he phone call to Cory, because I knew he had his car for sale,” Prauner said. “He wanted over $30,000 for that thing, and I was like, ‘Holy buckets, I can’t do that.’ I’m sure it was worth it, it was a 2020 car. And he goes, ‘What’s your budget?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, $15,000 maybe?’ He goes ‘We can do that.’ I said ‘We can?’ And said ’Oh yeah, there’s cars out there.”

Dumpert guided Prauner to one of his older cars — a 2012 Swartz Race Car that fellow Norfolk driver Ben Sukup was selling — and Prauner used proceeds from selling his successful sport mod to build a budget-conscious Late Model operation.

The car received fresh powdercoating and the family-based team went to work over every inch of the car. A former auto technician who recently took a job with Roth Racing Performance/Razor Chassis, Prauner went through the engine, transmission, rear end, quick-change gears and more to make sure all was in as good as shape as possible.

He spared no expense on fuel and electrical systems — “that’s stuff you don’t have to have problems with no matter what you’re racing,” Prauner said — but “pretty much everything on the car is used besides like the ignition box, the tandem pump and the springs. The shocks were used but revalved — they’re just not shiny, but they’re decent.”

He sometimes skips hot laps to save fuel, tires and engine wear (“I kind of get people looking at me funny that way, too,” he said. “A rookie in the class? You should be hot-lapping.“) He’s rigorous about his maintenance program to avoid breakages. And he competes on used tires as much as he can, although that’s backfired a bit.

“I just think we went probably a night or two too long on ’em (sometimes),” Prauner said. “We’re going to have some fresh tires on this thing more often. It’s just not worth it. You may be saving a buck not putting new ones on it, but what are you losing not finishing where you could? It’s all about lessons learned I guess.”

Prauner has learned his lessons pretty well by winning with a 9-year-old race car that some might dismiss as out of date.

“Yeah, I was a little nervous, for sure, getting an older car. But like I said, Cory Dumpert has helped us out tremendously, and he had a lot of confidence in me. He goes, ‘That car, that car will be just fine. You’ll get some wins out of it.’ He knew right away,” said Prauner, whose father Jerry, a former racer, serves as his crew chief. “Dad always said we do the best we can with what we’ve got.”

Prauner’s team has a handle on getting the best bang for the buck with the race car, but it doesn’t drive itself. He’s made adjustments behind the wheel.

“When (Late Models) drive nice, they definitely drive nice,” Prauner said. “But when they don’t drive nice, I think they’re a bit of a handful in my opinion.

“They always told me Late Models were easier to drive. I disagree — at least until (the June 3-5) weekend when you get it working really good. We’ve been kind of battling. Cory’s setup that he started us with was pretty darn good out of the gate, but I honestly get a little wore out with the thing some nights, ripping the lip and bouncing off the cushion and stuff,” he said. “It takes a little bit out of a guy. We might try a little lighter servo on the rack and it might make it steer a little easier. It’s not like I’m a little guy — 240 pounds, 6-foot. I can manhandle a race car, but I was just surprised. They’re just so aggressive on their setups. You’re just on that nose, you’ve got the left-rear in the air, and any little bump you kind of feel it on the bump-stop. They are a different animal to drive ...”

Keeping his race car straight on drier tracks is his bread and butter.

“As far as my driving style, I think that’s kind of why we’re showing some success here early. My driving style, actually, I like to drive straight. I think I would be a good pavement racer,” Prauner said. “I don’t like to hang the back end out — unless I have to. There’s situations, hammer-down racetracks or whatever, you gotta back ’er in there and stand on her, but I sure have a knack for the finesse of it. Kind of keep the rear end behind you, let the suspension do its job, let the rear end rotate and let the car do the work, right? It’s really kind of come to me when (the track) dries off. That’s the way I like to drive anyway, so that part of it is just pretty well natural, I guess.”

Prauner has sorted out his short- and long-term goals in Late Models.

“I guess the one- to two-year goal is to keep building up the money,” he said. “We race on sponsors and pay window, and just run as good as we can and try to save up enough money to eventually upgrade. Right now, I forecast running this car probably two years at least.

“We can squeeze a buck and we can turn a little bit of a profit running race cars. That’s just kind of what we have to do to keep our head above water and keep going. That’s the beauty part of Late Models, is you run for more money. Shoot, they’re handing us $500-to-win, which is great coming from sport mods where they hand you $250-to-win.”

And long-term goals?

“Traveling with (the Malvern Bank Series) would be a lot of fun,” he said. “I really dig the travel and seeing different tracks, different places, traveling the country. Now that my family’s a little bit older they’d be able to probably ride along more and do the family thing.

“That’s probably down the road here a little bit, but it’s still nice running (near home). This Norfolk track is literally five minutes from our house, so that’s pretty nice. It’s hard to beat that.”

Weekly highlights

• Earning more than $8,000 between a pair of Kentucky victories, Devin Gilpin of Columbus, Ind., swept June 4-5 Super Late Model events at sister tracks Ponderosa Speedway in Junction City and Lake Cumberland Speedway in Burnside.

• After switching his car to No. 777 — the digits used by his father and grandfather — Doug Drown of Wooster, Ohio, turned his luck around with June 4-5 victories at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park and Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, Ohio.

• Sneaking out of Ohio with June 4-5 victories, Tyler Carpenter of Parkersburg, W.Va., won at Williamsburg’s MRP Raceway Park and Atomic Speedway near Chillicothe. The Atomic victory paid $3,000.

Chad Homan of Penfield, N.Y., won June 4-5 Crate Late Model features at Utica-Rome Speedway in Vernon, N.Y., and Fulton (N.Y.) Speedway.

• Johnstown, Pa.’s Billy Eash won June 4-5 Late Model events at Dog Hollow Speedway in Strongstown, Pa., and Hidden Valley Speedway in Clearfield, Pa.

• Scoring a weekend home-state Super Late Model sweep, Mike Spatola of Manhattan, Ill., won June 4-5 at Farmer City Raceway and Fairbury Speedway, picking up a $2,500 FALS Cup payday in Saturday’s victory.

Brandon Francis of Parkersburg, W.Va., won June 4-5 Late Model features at a pair of Ohio ovals, Jackson County Speedway and Crooksville’s Midway Speedway.

First things first

First-time occurrences at the dirt track:

Zach Morrow of Gibsonia, Pa., notched his first career Crate Late Model victory June 5 at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in Imperial, Pa. He moved into Late Models from the sprint car division

• Winning May 15 at Halifax County Speedway in Brinkleyville, N.C., Cody Wright of South Hill, Va., notched his first career Late Model feature victory.

Weekly news briefs

• Twin Cities Raceway Park in North Vernon, Ind., has boosted the purse of the Carey “Genius” Ruwe Memorial to $3,000-to-win and $300-to-start. The Crate Late Model special is scheduled for Aug. 7. Bonuses are available for fast time ($100), hard charger ($100) and longest-tow ($100) among other extras.

• Madras (Ore.) Speedway is mourning the death of Late Model racer Robby Ulam who died at his Prineville, Ore., home. The driver who also competed in asphalt Late Model competition was 46.

• Three Late Model-connected inductees — retired driver Dennis Filliater, mechanic Tom Kistler and team owner Same Stites — were among 20 people joining the Fremont (Ohio) Speedway Hall of Fame on June 5. Filliater, a Fremont street stock champion, competed in the Limited Late Model division later in his 1986-2001 career. Kistler fielded and wrenched Late Models driven by Jack Hewitt and spent 20 of his 30-year mechanic career working on Late Models. Stites had most of his success in the sprint car division with championship- and race-winning cars driven by Harold McGilton and Daryl Harrison, but he also sponsored the Late Model driven by Hall of Fame racer Roy Sheets.

• Plymouth (Wis.) Dirt Track announced the death of former flagger and track worker Dave Deicher, the Plymouth resident who died May 31 at the age of 69 after a lengthy cancer battle. He competed for more than 30 years with the Eastern Wisconsin Stock Car association, including in the winged super modified division, and climbed into the flagstand after his retirement at Plymouth and Manitowoc. Survivors include his wife Judy, two daughters and three grandchildren.

Chad Homan of Penfield, N.Y., won a rare RUSH Crate Late Model event at Vernon, N.Y.‘s Utica-Rome Speedway on June 5. The track will host the division again Aug. 6.

County Line Raceway in Elm City, N.C., is mourning the June 5 death of Linda Summerlin, who worked the grandstand gate at the Elm City, N.C., track for many years. The sister of track co-owner Carolyn Upchurch was 69.

• Texarkana (Ark.) 67 Speedway has scheduled the inaugural Kenneth Mitchell Memorial for July 23-24, a $5,555-to-win event for Crate Late Models. The event pays $5,555 to the winner, $2,555 for second, $1,555 for third from a purse that pays $555 to finishers 10-22. Practice is scheduled for July 22 with prelims on July 23 and the main event on July 24.

• Engine builder Mark Batten of Rocky Mount, N.C., died June 3 at UNC Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill, N.C., after a brief illness. He was 61. Batten, an employee of Eatmon Racing Engines for 20 years, owned and operated Battenbilt Racing Engines, which provided winning powerplants for Late Model racers in the Carolina and beyond for many years. “His zest for life and generous nature will be missed by all who knew him,” his obituary from Wheeler & Woodlief Funeral Home read.

Weekly points

DIRTcar (Supers): Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, has 1,029 points to lead Tanner English (941) and Eric Spangler (815).

IMCA (Limiteds): Logan Duffy of Independence, Iowa, has 576 points to lead Matt Ryan (562) and Justin Kay (532).

ULMA (Limiteds): Cole Henson of Russellville, Mo., has 563 points to lead Dalton Imhoff (527) and Tucker Cox (519).

USRA (Limiteds): Unreported

WISSOTA (Limiteds): Cole Searing of Huron, S.D., has 1,115 points to lead Dave Mass (956) and Shane Edginton (895).

American All-Stars (Crates): Tyler Arrington of Lebanon, Va., has 490 points to lead T.J. Salango (384) and Oscar McCown (371).

Crate Racin’ USA (Crates): Oakley Johns of Hohenwald, Tenn., has 447 points to lead Shannon Lee (434) and Jeremy Idom (425).

DIRTcar (Crates): Jose Parga of New Berlin, Ill., has 1,111 points to lead Brandon Eskew (822) and Bill Knippenberg Jr. (784).

Fastrak (Crates): Luke Hyre of Rock Cave, W.Va., has 506 points to lead Braeden Dillinger (487) and Derrick Shaw (393).

Sweeney Chevrolet RUSH (Crates): Kyle Hardy of Stephens City, Va., has 1,311 points to lead Bud Watson (1,185) and Ben Scott (1,130).

Upcoming weekly specials

Among non-touring and independent special events coming up for Late Models at dirt tracks around the country:

Red Cedar Speedway, Menomonie, Wis. (June 11): The WISSOTA-sanctioned Tom Steuding Memorial pays $3,007-to-win on a Race of Champions qualifier night.

Waycross (Ga.) Motor Speedway (June 11): The rain-postponed Jeff Godbee Memorial pays $5,055-to-win for Southern Clash-style Late Models with a $505-to-win dash and $305 for the fast qualifier.

Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park (June 11): Super Late Models chase a $2,000-to-win purse on the undercard of the Ohio Sprint Speedweek event.

Fairbury (Ill.) Speedway: The Pappy and Bob Allen Memorial pays $2,500-to-win for the Super Late Model FALS Cup event with four divisions on the undercard.

Needmore Speedway, Norman Park, Ga. (June 12): A $2,500-to-win event for Southern Clash-style Late Models pays a $2,000 bonus to the driver with the best average finish between the weekend’s Waycross and Needmore events.

Chatham (La.) Speedway (June 12): The $2,500-to-win Dixie 25 for Crate Late Models will see a draw for a provisional for September’s Super Bee 100 if 25 or more drivers enter.

Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Ga. (June 12): Super Late Models race for a $2,000-to-win purse on a full race program that includes a demolition derby.

Kyle Prauner file

Age: 34 (birthdate Sept. 29)
Hometown: Norfolk, Neb.
Family: Kyle and wife Nikki have a 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, Karley and Riley, on the team’s “junior” pit crew along with Kyle’s nephew Austin.
Occupation: Recently started a job as parts and technical support specialist at Roth Racing Performance and Razor Chassis (also works part time for Big Daddy Race Cars); former auto technician and appliance repairman
Chassis/engine: Swartz by Dumpert/604 Crate
Sponsors: Nebraska Powdercoating, Norfolk Auto Center, Big Daddy Racecars, Dr. Nate Stender Chiropractor, Wilson Tool Service, Cornwell Tools, Deitz Well and Pump, Henn House Dairy, Waste, Connections of Norfolk, Roth Racing Performance, T&D Storage, Gary Kucera and Steve Zimola
Crew members: Jerry Prauner (father and crew chief), Jan Prauner (mother and bookkeeping), Nikki Prauner (wife and apparel), Brandy Prauner (sister and vinyl graphics), Nate Canham, Roger Bowers and Dennis Hoffman.
Racing career: In his 19th season, he’s got 175 career feature victories, most of them in sport mods. He competed with the United States Modified Touring Series for a few seasons and moved into Late Models in 2021, scoring two early-season victories at his hometown Off Road Speedway.

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