ESCANABA — Upper Peninsula International Raceway opened its 2022 season on Sunday afternoon at Escanaba with a slew of afternoon races.
A total of 97 cars from eight divisions entered Sunday’s showdown for one of the better starting car numbers in recent years (18 in 2020 and 89 in 2021).
With the sun beating down on the track and a steady breeze blowing, the track became dry and slippery throughout the afternoon, creating an additional challenge for the drivers.
The first Bink’s Coca-Cola Sport Modified feature race of the season saw unpredictable action throughout its 20 laps.
A solo spin by race director Jamie Iverson (Escanaba) put him out of contention – after building up a sizeable cushion on the field – while a turn one restart saw defending champion Matt Valiquette out of the race.
Jesse Denome (Escanaba) used the outside line at the final restart of the race to find his way onto the winning lane after working his way through the field from 15th on the grid.
It wasn’t Denome’s only win of the night as he also won the JD Machine Super Modified Feature ahead of Scott Degnan (Escanaba) and Clayton Peterson (Rapid River).
Second place was followed by former UPIR Street Stock Champion Billy Bowden (Escanaba), with Tyler Corwin (Gladstone) in third place.
Corwin’s third place finish was one of the feel-good stories of the night. The race marked the first time Corwin – a close friend of the Seppanen family – rode the number 56 machine, which belonged to the late Wally Seppanen, who passed away in the off-season.
“First of all, I’m very honored that Brad and his family wanted me to ride the 56.” commented Corwin. “Wally was always talking about how well he thought I was going to do in that car and I think we all know he was up there looking down to help me get that thing on the podium drive.
“It’s one of the hardest things we’ve all had to come together not to have Wally here with us, but I think we’re doing exactly what he wanted – and that means living life to the fullest and always aiming for it to urge that it’s checkered flag. Not a day goes by that we don’t think of him, but we know he’s always with us on and off the track.”
Before the race began, Brad Seppanen completed a tribute lap to honor Wally in addition to several members of the racing community who have passed since the last checkered flag of 2021.
“Being able to do a Black Flag lap in my dad’s car was emotional but also an honour,” said Brad. “UPIR and our racing family have been a tremendous help in helping us get through this and have supported us from day one. Racing has always been a part of my dad’s life, whether it’s drag racing or circle track.”
Brad added how special it was to have Corwin at the wheel of the 56.
“Wally always talked about how well ‘T-Cor 64’ would do behind the wheel of this car.” he said. “Me and my family just thought it was fitting to have him behind the wheel and own it. He wanted to drive the car this year with Wally’s wrap and number in memory of him. I think Sunday night proved Wally’s mind that he’s fast in this car.
Although his night ended early due to steering problems, Brad’s mind was immediately on watching Cowrin as he left the track.
“I just wanted to get out of my car asap and see where Tyler was.” he said. “I know Wally’s up there giving us that goofy grin and asking Tyler how the hell did he do that.”
Another victorious rider that night was Tyler Demars (Green Bay, Wisconsin), who flexed his muscles in Don’s HVAC Sportsman Micro Sprints as he led flag to flag to take the feature win.
“It felt good to get the win on the first evening,” commented Demars. “The track conditions weren’t the best so we adjusted the car from the heat race to get a better chance for the feature.
“But you couldn’t have asked for a better race. I started on the outside pole and when the green flag fell I was a blast all the way to the checkered flag.”
Two Escanaba drivers – Carson Artley and Chase Richer – followed Demars in second and third place.
Rick Ness (Escanaba) won the EMP 600 Micro Sprint Feature ahead of Kevin Warm (Escanaba) and Austin Berg (Bark River). Two early challengers, Robert Buttry (Escanaba) and Paul Hosking (Bark River), dropped out towards the end of the race.
While Buttry retired with a mechanical issue, Hosking exited the event in spectacular fashion when he clipped the outside wall at turn four and was sent into a series of flips. He was unharmed in the incident.
Eric Mathieson (Escanaba) won a caution-plagued Five Corners Market Street Stock Feature ahead of the returning Max Constantino (Rapid River) – who hadn’t raced at UPIR in several years – and Brayden Lundquist (Rapid River).
In the Miller Pipeline Vintage Modifieds, it was Charles Peterson (Rapid River) first across the line, followed by Herb Iverson (Gladstone) and Kevin Lustila (Germfask).
Trever Cronick (Faithorn) won the final feature of the night at the Island Resort Sport Compacts with Tom Waselesky (Harvey) in second and Garrett Greenfield (Escanaba) in third.
As usual, the Riverside Auto Group Youth Micros sprints began before the break with the feature races.
Taylor Artley (Escanaba) took control of the night’s B feature early and rolled onto the winning lane.
In the A Feature, it was Tanner Rae (Escanaba) who led Bentley Richer (Escanaba) and Griffin Iverson (Escanaba) to the checkered flag.
Upper Peninsula International Raceway resumes racing this Saturday with racing at 6 p.m. Eastern time.
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