Nate Keena has been a steady driver in INEX Semi-Pro Legends for years.
He went into Saturday’s Oktoberfest finale at Dacotah Speedway in Mandan in the fifth starting spot surrounded by some of the best drivers in the state.
But when the dust cleared, it was Keena in the winner’s circle for the second straight year at the season-ending event.
“None of the guys out there in the top 10 are slouches,” Keena said. “We were fortunate. We just got out there and settled in.”
But a steady stream of cautions was a little unsettling, especially with national INEX Pro Legends point champion and speedway points champ Drew Papke and Friday heat and dash winner Tye Wilke on his tail.
“It’s a head game,” said Keena, who finished the season ninth in points in Mandan. “We just had the right setup and we were on the bottom and had the grip off the corner. We just got out front and stayed there."
Keena was the only repeat champion.
“It’s nice to win two,” Keena said. “I just come out and try to do the best I can. If we win, we win; if we take a top five, we take a top five.”
Both of Keena’s two feature wins this season were in special shows. The other was the Ironman in June.
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Whereas Keena survived a rash of cautions, Hobby Stock diver Jeremy Engelhardt did not.
Engelhardt was the biggest winner/loser on the night.
Enhelhardt crossed the finish line as the caution and white flags flew for the eighth caution of the night. The race was called at that point due to time limit, and Dylan Sandberg, whom Engelhardt had jockeyed with up the back stretch, sat alone near turn three.
Track officials ruled that Engelhardt, who was leading the caution-marred feature, had forced Sandberg off the backstretch. Sandberg was ruled the winner and took home the winner’s check.
“He came over and apologized afterward,” Engelhardt said. “They said I ran him off the track but we didn’t touch him. There was daylight between both cars. He just got high and off the track. The track just made a bad call.”
Engelhardt dropped to 16th. It was a frustrating night all around for Hobby Stock drivers, due to the yellows. It took six starts to complete one full lap and by that time, much of the time limit allotment was gone. By the fifth restart, officials made drivers start single file and even then a car spun on turn four, but the raced stayed under green. Engelhardt was in front after every restart.
“Very, very frustrating,” Engelhardt said. “It was just a bad deal for a big money race. It’s hard to swallow that pill, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I appreciate what we have going on over there.”
Randy Klein, meanwhile, survived several yellow flags, including one on the white flag lap to win IMCA Stocks. He started on the pole. Ross Cummings of Minot also led wire-to-wire to win the Western Renegade Sprints, and Darren Medler of Minot took the checkered flag in IMCA Northern Sportmods, winning a spirited duel with Kelly Jacobson and Scott Jacobson.
Stan Thompson bested rival Ken Sandberg to win Sport Compacts, while holding off Hunter Goulet, the Fargo driver who had a win on Friday taken away for a failed post-race inspection of safety equipment. Goulet started 11th on Saturday and finished second.
Dacotah Speedway WISSOTA Streets rivals Hunter Domagala and Zach Frederick were hoping to follow up Friday successes with a good showing on the second night, but Lisbon’s Todd Carter stole the show.
Frederick and Domagala started 1-2, respectively but faded late to finish ninth and fifth. Carter started the feature sixth and bided his time as Frederick, Domagala and Matt Dosch jockeyed up front. Eventually, Carter started picking people off one by one and took the lead with a move on turn two in the closing laps of a caution-free race.
“The old Mandan (track) is back … nice, black, slick. It puts it back in the drivers’ hands,” Carter said. “I had to be patient, and the race went no cautions so we got to get into a good rhythm.”
Carter drove to the win despite losing a left rear shock taking the green flag.
“That ain’t good usually. We just kept going. It’s shouldn’t have worked but it did,” he said.
The season came to an end the same way it started on April 30, with Jeremy Keller taking the checkered flag. Unlike opening night where Keller drove from the 13th starting spot to win, Keller started on the pole.
Keller had nearly a straightaway lead midway through the feature, but Marlyn Seidler started closing in once the leaders hit lapped traffic. With just a few laps remaining in the 25-lap feature, Seidler got on Keller’s bumper.
“We were having a hard time getting around lapped cars. They were racing hard beside each other. … I figured Marlyn would be right on me,” Keller said. “I knew I had to take a couple chances and close my eyes.”
Eventually Keller cleared the traffic and pulled away again to notch his seventh feature win in Mandan and eighth overall.
“It’s probably my best year here in Mods for sure,” he said.