2021 Wood Tic / Dan Salay Memorial at Merritt Speedway

Rusty Schlenk Grabs $33,000 In WoodTic Thriller

Rusty Schlenk Grabs $33,000 In WoodTic Thriller

Rusty Schlenk blasted ahead of Eric Spangler on the final lap to capture the $33,000 Wood Tic Dan Salay Memorial on Saturday night at Merritt Speedway.

Aug 8, 2021 by FloRacing Staff
Rusty Schlenk Grabs $33,000 In WoodTic Thriller

MERRITT, Mich. — Rusty Schlenk has had plenty of memorable moments and impressive accomplishments throughout his standout career, but none of them compare to what he did Saturday night at Merritt Speedway.

Scoring the biggest victory of his career in dramatic fashion, Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, used a furious high-side charge to chase down Eric Spangler of Lake City, Mich., in the closing laps of Saturday’s 75-lap Dan Salay Memorial at Merritt Speedway and pulled off a thrilling final-corner pass to win the Super Late Model portion of the Wood Tic weekend in a photo finish. Schlenk, the former DIRTcar national champion and longtime regional ace, earned a career-high $33,000 payday in topping Spangler by a mere 0.125 seconds at the finish.

“This is top of the charts. And we’ve won a lot of races,” said Schlenk, who started alongside Spangler on the front row and swapped the lead with the veteran Michigan driver for the first third of the race before fading slightly until his late charge. “To be able to do it the way we did tonight and lead the last four feet. Man, that was freaking awesome.”

Spangler, who dominated large stretches of the race’s middle portions before a late caution allowed Schlenk the chance to mount his high-side rally, settled for second and received a $10,000 payday as his consolation for coming out on the losing side of the the race’s dramatic conclusion. Ninth-starting Dona Marcoullier of Houghton Lake, Mich., was third with Brandon Thirlby of Buckley, Mich., fourth and Rich Bell of Sheffield, Ill., fifth.

The early back-and-forth battle between Schlenk and Spangler ended when Spangler pulled ahead on lap 23, and it appeared as though Schlenk’s may be slipping out of contention after Thirlby overtook him for second four laps later.

Indeed, Schlenk soon realized that he had made the wrong call on the setup of his self-designed Domination Race Car. With his car too tight to keep up during long green-flag runs, his only chance was to maintain as best he could and hope for a late caution. He got it when the race’s final yellow flag waved with nine laps remaining and erased Spangler’s more than one-second advantage and put the third-running Schlenk alongside Thirlby in the second row for the restart.

“I didn’t make the correct call to free this thing up enough and I was way too tight through the middle of the race,” Schlenk said. “I knew I wasn’t gonna have much left at the end. I was just trying to keep pace and hope to God for some cautions because when that tire would cool down I’d be good for four or five laps. I drove my ass off that last caution. I knew it was gonna get tight on me, but we got up on that cushion and let ‘er rip.”

When the race went back green on the final restart, Schlenk needed four laps to finally clear Thirlby for second. By then, Spangler was already out to a lead of 1.058 seconds. Schlenk was still more than a half-second behind Spangler when the leaders took the two-to-go signal, but he cut away just enough of the advantage to attempt to his bold cushion-riding pass on the final lap.

“I was watching Eric there for four or five laps and I knew if I hit the cushion right he was leaving me a lane up top there. I knew I could squeeze between him and the line,” Schlenk said. “That cushion was treacherous man. If you hit it wrong, it’d just eat you up. I just had to put together a perfect last lap and hope for the best. The racing gods did me a good one today.”

Notes: The event was co-sanctioned by the Sunoco American Late Model Series and the Allstar Performance Challenge Series. … Schlenk’s previous best paydays this season were both $5,000 victories in Southern All Stars action at Southern Raceway in Milton, Fla.,  in March and with the ALMS tour at Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio, in June. … The race was slowed by six cautions. None were for serious accidents. …. Fifteen of the race’s 24 starters were running at the finish. Ten cars finished on the lead lap.