40th Stampede begins tonightIn NASCAR terms, it’s the Daytona 500.
By: Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun
In NASCAR terms, it’s the Daytona 500.
The drivers that win it will remember it as one of their crowning achievements. A void is left in the careers of driver’s who don’t, if only for bragging rights among their racing peers.
Starting this evening at Jamestown Speedway, the longest running annual year-end special of any current WISSOTA race track turns 40 years old. Drivers and fans from five states and Canada will flood the Stutsman County Fairgrounds, where a handful of drivers will eventually etch their names into local dirt-track racing immortality.
Even after four decades, the Jamestown Speedway Stock Car Stampede is still the race every driver wants to win.
“I know back in the days, before I started racing even, it was a big deal,” said Jamestown’s John Corell Sr. “They used to start the features 3-wide and 10 deep, and it just started to become a good place for all the good competition to meet together and have some good racing.”
The past winner’s list of the Stampede reads more like a who’s who in local circle-track competition. It’s chock-full of past WISSOTA national champions such as Kent Arment, of Aberdeen, S.D., Mitch Johnson, of Hickson, N.D., Travis Saurer, of Elizabeth, Minn., and Bismarck’s Leo Burkhardsmeier, just to name a few.
Johnson has won nine Stampede events dating back to 1985, which is rather remarkable considering the event draws well over 250 of the best cars and drivers WISSOTA has to offer annually. Saurer has won the past two WISSOTA Midwest Modified Stampede titles and has four total victories during Jamestown Speedway’s biggest weekend.
But nobody can count out one of Jamestown’s racing icons, Corell.
The current WISSOTA Modified driver has driven to six total victories during the Stampede, starting with a late model victory back in 1983.
At 56 years old, the Stampede still gets the 35-year racing veteran excited about jumping behind the wheel.
“It’s just a very prestigious deal to say you’ve won the Stampede,” Corell said. “I’m shooting for one more before I quit.”
Corell followed up his victory in ’83 with four WISSOTA Modified victories in ’89, ’95, ’98 and ’99. In 2004, Corell rocketed to a second late model victory in a machine owned by driver Paul Mueller of Bismarck.
But for Corell, it’s easier to remember the ones that got away.
“I remember one Stampede I was running second to Kent Arment and it came down to the white-flag lap,” Corell said. “I put a slide on him coming out of turn 4 but I left him enough room that he beat me to the flag by a foot or two.
“After the race he asked, ‘Why didn’t you just slide up in front of me? You had me clear.’ I told him, ‘You should have told me that sooner.’”
Then there was 2007, when Corell was in the seat of the very same Paul Mueller-owned late model that he drove to victory three years prior. Corell got caught up in a racing altercation that eventually sent his car barrel-rolling down the front stretch, coming to a rest off the track at the bottom of the Turn 1 embankment.
Corell rolled four times in the spectacular crash, which was videotaped and posted on the website YouTube.com. As of late Thursday, the video of the crash had been viewed 44,201 times.
“I felt bad for wrecking Paul’s car more than anything. I wasn’t even sore after the crash,” Corell said. “It was probably one of the more spectacular crashes I’ve been in, but I’ve been hurt worse in others.”
But winning at the Stampede becomes even more clear when talking to drivers — many of whom are very good drivers — who haven’t won “The Big One,” like Carrington’s Rusty Kollman.
Kollman started his racing career in 2000, and like many area racing fans he used to come and watch the Stampede as a kid. The inaugural Stampede was held in 1972.
“I’ve been coming to the Stampede for about 28 years, and it’s just the hype that it’s got. It’s just a real prestigious deal,” Kollman said. “Look how many cars are there. It’s probably the biggest event at a (local) race track besides the WISSOTA 100.”
Kollman, driving his No. 2 WISSOTA Midwest Modified machine, drove to 5 feature wins in Jamestown this season and was crowned the track champion. He’s won numerous races and many track titles in his 12-year career, but a Stampede win would overshadow it all.
“To be honest, I can’t even remember what my best finish is. It doesn’t matter unless you win,” Kollman said. “It would definitely be my biggest win, and I’ve won the Western 100 and a few of the $1,000-to-win Labor Day specials in Jamestown, just because of the car count and the guys that are there.”
Track officials are hoping to break 300 cars and drivers during the 40th running of the Stampede. The event drew 286 cars last year, and its record high was 296 back in 2007.
The first night of the two-day Stampede gets underway tonight at 7 p.m. with heat races in all seven classes of cars competing. This year’s field will include WISSOTA Late Models, Modifieds, Midwest Modifieds, Super Stocks and Street Stocks, Central Dakota Pure Stocks (Bombers) and Hornets.
The Stampede will conclude on Saturday, beginning at 5 p.m.
“Of course, the draw is really important and you have to have a good heat race to get qualified to start toward the front of the feature,” Corell said. “The last couple of years I’ve struggled at doing that ... I’ve got the same car I had last year, and I hope I’ve got a winning number on it.”
For a complete list of winners from the Stampede for the past 40 years, turn to Page B2 of The Sun.
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org