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Mars hoists USA Nationals trophy again

Jimmy Mars and his crew are pictured following the win. Photo by Stan Meissner

For Jimmy Mars, the 13 years of dust on his 1996 USA Nationals trophy from Cedar Lake Speedway was a bit much.

The 37-year-old driver from Menomonie, Wis., took care of that bit out housekeeping on Saturday by dominating the second half of the Upper Midwest's richest Dirt Late Model event to earn $50,000.

The victory left Mars on the verge of tears with a victory at a home-state track against an impressive 26-car field representing 15 states.

"I'm still kind of trying not to be choked up here," Mars said in an interview following his sixth victory of the season at Cedar Lake.

"People just don't know how tough this race is to win. We've been close before where I thought maybe we'd have a chance and break or something like that. We're always like, 'Maybe next year we'll get it.

"Next year we'll get it. Next year we'll get it. Then all of the sudden it's 13 years later."

Outside front-row starter Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., who led most of the first 56 laps, ended up second in trying to duplicate Thursday's feature victory in a WDRL-sanctioned tuneup while polesitter and fellow Watertown driver Tim McCreadie was third. Eighth- starting Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, a two-time USA Nationals winner, ran as high as second but settled for fourth while tail- starting Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., rounded out the top five.

The ninth-starting Mars got a quick start, moving up to second in the first 20 laps to put the heat on Fuller. Twice Mars nosed ahead to lead laps, but both times, cautions helped relieve the pressure for Fuller, who was still out front following the last of six yellow flags on the 46th lap.

But with earlier three-wide racing filtering into the lower groove midway through the race, Mars was able to make his familiar white No.

28 work in the middle groove on the 57th lap. He went around Fuller heading into turn one and completed the winning pass out of turn two, dooming the rest of the field.

Fuller knew his car was capable on a slicker track surface, but with a rubber strip developing in the low groove, he knew Mars would be tough to hold off.

"I'm happy. You don't see me get passed for the lead and finish second and still smile," Fuller said. "I got beat by a guy that had the better car tonight, and we had some good racing side-by-side there. I was just kicking myself in the ass a little bit for not thinking this was going to happen."

With no more cautions the rest of the way -- and Mars getting a lapped- car cushion in the form of Dustin Hapka protecting him -- Fuller and the other pursuers never had a serious chance at catching the winner, who took the checkered flag to cheers from the Wisconsin crowd.

Of the six cautions in the first half of the race, the most serious was for a lap-46 scramble in turn four that included Justin Fegers, Terry Casey and Rick Aukland and sparked contact among other competitors trying to avoid the mess. The other yellows were for single-car incidents or flat tires.

Notes: Mars drives and M-B Customs Chassis with a Pro Power Engine and sponsorship from Deppe Enterprises, T.L. Sinz Plumbing, Keyes Chevytown and Baileigh Industrial. ... Twenty-one of 26 starters were running at the finish with 16 drivers on the lead lap. ... Other cautions were for a spin by Chris Wall (lap 10), a slowing Scott James (lap 13), a spin by Brady Smith (lap 18), a slowing Josh McGuire (lap

28) and a slowing Shannon Babb (lap 45). ... The 26-car field was made up of drivers from 15 states with only Wisconsin (six) and Illinois (four) having more than two representatives.

USA Nationals: (1) Jimmy Mars, (2) Tim Fuller, (3) Tim McCreadie, (4) Brian Birkhofer, (5) Chris Madden, (6) Matt Miller, (7) Dennis Erb Jr., (8) Jason Feger, (9) Chad Simpson, (10) Terry Phillips, (11) Brady Smith, (12) Shannon Babb, (13) Wendell Wallace, (14) Bill Frye,

(15) Adam Hensel, (16) Clint Smith, (17) Dustin Hapka, (18) Nick Anvelink, (19) Rick Aukland, (20) Jeep Van Wormer, (21) Josh McGuire,

(22) Ashley Anderson, (23) Justin Fegers, (24) Terry Casey, (25) Scott James, (26) Chris Wall. Fast qualifier (among 63 cars): Feger, 13.922 seconds. Heat race winners: McCreadie, Fuller, B. Smith, Fegers, Casey, Hensel. Consolation winners: Miller, Phillips, Wall. Last- chance winner: Frye.

B-Main 1: Matt Miller, Dennis Erb, Al Purkey, Eric Pember, Zach Johnson, Dan Shelliam, John Anderson, Rodney Melvin, Denny Eckrich, Russ Scheffler, Dewaine Hottinger, Johnny Malcolm

B- Main 2: Terry Phillips, Ashley Anderson, Will Vaught, Chris Madden, Jake Redetzke, Pat Doar, Chris Simpson, Eric Turner, Andrew McKay, Rob Moss, John Kaanta, Jon Kirby

B-Main 3- Chris Wall, Scott James, Bill Frye, Brian Shirley, Billy Moyer, Jeremy Payne, Tim Isenberg, Rick Hanestad, Jason Utter, Mike Johnson, Dave Eckrich, Mike Balcaen

First heat: Justin Fegers, Rick Aukland, Jeep Van Wormer, Dennis Erb Jr., Al Purkey, Rodney Melvin, Eric Pember, John Anderson, Denny Eckrich, Johnny Malcolm, Jeff Martire

Second heat: Tim McCreadie, Brian Birkhofer, Chad Simpson, Terry Phillips, Jake Redetzke, Chris Madden, Pat Doar, Chris Simpson, John Kaanta, Jon Kirby, Tyler Reddick.

Third heat: Terry Casey, Jimmy Mars, Clint Smith, Billy Moyer, Chris Wall, Brian Shirley, Rick Hanestad, Mike Balcaen, Bill Koons, Alan Mondus.

Fourth heat: Adam Hensel, Wendell Wallace, Dustin Hapka, Dan Shelliam, Matt Miller, Dewaine Hottinger, Zach Johnson, Bryan Wennen, Larry Stockwell, Russ Scheffler.

Fifth heat: Tim Fuller, Nick Anvelink, Shannon Babb, Ashley Anderson, Will Vaught, Rob Moss, Andrew McKay, Eric Turner, Gregg Hill, Lee Thomason.

Sixth heat: Brady Smith, Josh McGuire, Jason Feger, Scott James, Bill Frye, Jeremy Payne, Tim Isenberg, Zack Forster, Jason Utter, Dave Eckrich.

Dash: Tim McCreadie, Tim Fuller, Brady Smith, Justin Fegers, Terry Casey, Adam Hensel.

Time trials:

Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 13.922

Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.165

Russ Scheffler (74), Waukesha, Wis., 14.180

Clint Smith (44), Senoia, Ga., 14.253

Brian Birkhofer (15B), Muscatine, Iowa, 14.317

Al Purkey (33), Coffeyville, Kan., 14.338

Jeremy Payne (74), Springfield, Mo., 14.387

Tim Fuller (19), Watertown, N.Y., 14.405

Zach Johnson (73), Kensington, Minn. , 14.417

Chris Wall (71), Holden, La., 14.460

Chad Simpson (25), Mount Vernon, Iowa, 14.585

Justin Fegers (F15), Mound, Minn., 14.594

Brady Smith (2), Solon Springs, Wis., 14.627

Nick Anvelink (15), Navarino, Wis., 14.635

Adam Hensel (44), Barron, Wis., 14.640

Terry Casey (42), New London, Wis., 14.654

Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 14.678

Rick Aukland (12), Zanesville, Ohio, 14.68

Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.686

John Kaanta (85), Elk Mound, Wis., 14.733

Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 14.734

Matt Miller (7), Waterville, Ohio, 14.752

Ashley Anderson (81), Eau Claire, Wis., 14.803

Bill Frye (66), Greenbrier, Ark., 14.822

Rodney Melvin (27), Benton, Ill., 14.823

Terry Phillips (75), Springfield, Mo., 14.859

Alan Mondus (55), Lakeville, Minn., 14.860

Bryan Wennen (40), Lindstrom, Minn., 14.863

Will Vaught (1), Crane, Mo., 14.877

Josh McGuire (41), Grayson, Ky., 14.883

Jeep Van Wormer (55), Pinconning, Mich., 14.904

Pat Doar (11), New Richmond, Wis., 14.920

Mike Balcaen (10), Winnipeg, Manitoba, 14.921

Dan Shelliam (16), Hazel Green, Wis., 14.937

Eric Turner (99T), Springfield, Mo., 14.938

Scott James (83), Lawrenceburg, Ind., 14.952

Eric Pember (90x), Pittsville, Wis., 14.965

Tyler Reddick (11), Corning, Calif., 15.010

Rick Hanestad (71), Boyceville, Wis., 15.034

Dustin Hapka (18H), Grand Forks, N.D., 15.040

Rob Moss (1m), Iowa City, Iowa, 15.085

Jason Utter (31), Columbus Junction, Iowa, 15.093

Denny Eckrich (50), Tiffin, Iowa, 15.098

Jake Redetzke (27), Eau Claire, Wis., 15.188

Jimmy Mars (28), Menomonie, Wis., 15.197

Dewaine Hottinger (65), Russellville, Ark., 15.200

Lee Thomason (53), Marion, Ill., 15.242

Zack Forster (1), Bakersfield, Calif., 15.297

Johnny Malcolm (3), Corona, Calif., 15.298

Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 15.37

Mike Johnson (2j), Lompoc, Calif., 15.404

Larry Stockwell (8), Ellsworth, Wis., 15.448

Gregg Hill (8), Eveleth, Minn., 15.459

Tim Isenberg (9T), Marshfield, Wis., 15.472

Jeff Martire (45), Stillwater, Minn., 15.625

Jon Kirby (11), Russellville, Ark., 15.703

Bill Koons (29), Omaha, Neb., 15.718

Wendell Wallace (88), Batesville, Ark., 15.718

Andrew McKay (71), Edina, Minn., 15.795

Dave Eckrich (58), Cosgrove, Iowa, 16.210

John Anderson (2), Omaha, Neb., 16.775

Chris Madden (44), Gray Court, S.C., 17.235

Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 00.000 (Failed to weigh)