Dixieland Challenge, Steve Carlson leads All-Time Winners
By Stan Kalwasinski
Kaukauna, Wis.—Over the years, there has been 36 Dixieland Challenge late model stock car specials held at the Wisconsin International Raceway (WIR) in Kaukauna, Wis., with a total of 19 different drivers scoring a victory.
Topping the list of previous winners is Steve Carlson, who has claimed seven wins at the WIR oval, putting him ahead of racing legend Dick Trickle on the win list. Trickle captured the event four times with Michigan’s Butch Miller winning on three occasions. Six drivers have two wins apiece, including current racers Johnny Sauter and Ty Majeski, who won in 2019 and again last year.
Carlson, from West Salem, Wis., who will turn 64 years-old on September 6, is considered one of the all-time best late model stock car drivers in the Midwest. Carlson’s championship resume includes a total of four ARTGO championships, five NASCAR Midwest Tour titles and two ASA Midwest Tour crowns. For good measure, throw in a number of weekly championships at the LaCrosse oval – his “home track” where he still competes at.
Before racing himself, Carlson sat in the grandstands and watched his older brother, Tim, race at the LaCrosse oval. Steve Carlson’s first race car was a ‘hand-me-down’ from his brother, a ’57 Chevy. Building a new Chevelle, Carlson won sportsman track titles at LaCrosse and the Dells Motor Speedway.
Carlson became a late model competitor in 1982 and won his first ARTGO Challenge Series championship in 1990. He was the ARTGO ‘rookie of the year’ in 1988, following his brother, Tom, who had won the award the year before.
With four ARTGO titles to his credit, Carlson won his first of seven Dixieland Challenges on Tuesday night, August 5, 1997 before a huge crowd of 8,511 as he wheeled his Monte Carlo No. 66 to victory in the 250-lap race over Scott Hansen, Mike Garvey, Steve Holzhausen and Larry Middleton Jr. Earlier in the day, Carlson had grabbed fast time honors during qualifications.
“I’ve been trying to win this race since 1988,” said the then-39-year-old Carlson after his first Dixieland win. “I’ve come close a couple of times. I’ve had accidents in this race. I’ve run out of gas in this race. I finally won.”
The 1997 event would mark the last ARTGO Dixieland Challenge race as NASCAR would take over the series the following year.
Carlson won the 250 lapper for the second straight year in 1998. He defeated Rich Bickle Jr., Jim Weber, Scott Hansen and Travis Kvapil in the NASCAR RE/MAX Challenge Series contest.
“We’re just good here,” said Carlson after his second consecutive win. “We just kept racing here and kept good notes and just kept trying.”
NASCAR shortened the annual race at WIR to 200 laps in 2000. In 2001, Carlson won for the third time as he bested Brian Hoppe, Tim Schendel, Ron Breese Jr. and Holzhausen in a 200-lap chase on July 31st. Carlson led all but 38 laps of 200 around the half-mile, tri-oval, paved speedway.
Carlson won back-to-back races in 2003 and 2004, giving him a total of five wins. The NASCAR Midwest Series race was 300 laps long in 2003 with Carlson besting Nathan Haseleu and Schendel. Rain shortened the scheduled NASCAR Midwest Elite Division 300-lap contest in 2004 with Carlson being credited with the win after 211 laps were completed, finishing ahead of Justin Diercks and Hoppe.
Carlson got back into the winner’s circle in 2008, winning the race for the sixth time. The event, set for 150 laps, was now sanctioned by the ASA Midwest Tour. Carlson took the checkered flag in front of newcomer Kyle Calmes, Schendel, Chris Wimmer and Dan Fredrickson. NASCAR star Kyle Busch, who won the Dixieland contest in 2007, dropped out after 91 laps and was credited with a 24th place finish.
“I won those races (previous Dixieland events) a long time ago,” said Carlson in reference to his last win in 2004. “They were more laps but this is cool. I always liked racing here. I’ve had a lot of luck and a lot of wins (here).”
Carlson won the Dixieland event at WIR for the seventh and final time on Tuesday night, August 4, 2009. Again the race was held under the banner of the ASA Midwest Tour and was 150 laps. Winning for a record seventh time, Carlson finished ahead of Haseleu, Wimmer, Frank Kreyer and Kris Kelly. NASCAR racers Kevin Harvick and Ron Hornaday Jr. were in the field with Harvick coming home eighth and Hornaday 25th after being involved in an early-race crash.
Tom Goff of The Post-Crescent newspaper wrote, “Steve Carlson played possum. Running in sixth place for much of the way, Carlson passed Chris Wimmer with a daring inside move going into turn one on lap 143.”
“You’ve got to be patient, otherwise you just burn up your tires,” said Carlson after his seventh and final Dixieland career victory. “I was just riding around there, waiting for the pit stop to make some changes.”
Carlson now had seven career Dixieland victories. With that said, it looks like Steve Carlson’s winning record may stand the test of time.
Thanks to The Post-Crescent newspaper in Appleton, Wis., for covering the Dixieland Challenge over the years at Wisconsin International Raceway.
The ‘Stars and Cars’ of the ARCA Midwest Tour will contest a 250 lap feature event under the lights on Tuesday night August 3 at Wisconsin International Raceway. The 28 car field pays $10,000 to the winner and $1,200 to start. The Midwest Truck Series will also be in action during the Gandrud Auto Group 250 event.
Schedule of Events for Tuesday:
10am Pit Gate Opens
2:15pm Practice Begins
4pm Front Gates Open
5pm Qualifying Begins
6:30pm Racing Begins
General Admission Pricing:
Adults $25, children ages 12 and under admitted free.
Tickets available in advance (through Monday night) at www.midwesttour.racing/tickets/ OR go on sale at the ticket gates Tuesday at 4pm.
Location: Wisconsin International Raceway is located at W1460 County Rd KK in Kaukauna, WI. For additional information visit www.wirmotorsports.com
or call 920-766-5577