ELLIS — He couldn’t catch a break early in the week.
And by the time Saturday night rolled around, Daniel Gottschalk didn’t have many brakes left.
But the Ellis sport mod driver did his best to keep his car up front, and it ended with a top-five finish in the big dance at the IMCA Super Nationals XXXIII in Boone, Iowa.
“We’ve had a good year this year,” Gottschalk said. “We haven’t raced as much as we have in the past, and we’ve got some good wins. The only goal I had was to make (the feature) again.
“The first night, we had bad luck and didn’t even make a B-main. The second day in the Race of Champions, I got spun on the start. I didn’t really have any laps in me until the heat race that day then.”
Gottschalk got rolling in that heat race, despite having a bad shock, and qualified for the night’s A-main qualifier. He hit a hole early in that race and fell back a few spots, then rallied to finish third — qualifying him for Saturday night’s big dance after passing post-race inspection.
The builder of his engine, Kevin Stoa — a racing power who has won the modified dance at Super Nationals in the past — even helped put the engine back together after the inspection.
He started ninth in the 33-car field Saturday before working his way into the top pack, eventually finishing fifth. It is believed to be the top finish by any area driver in any class at Super Nationals since Jason Schoenberger won the stock car dance in 2005. In fact, only two Kansas drivers ever have won a title at Super Nationals. David Murray Jr., Oberlin, won the modified race in 2004.
“I heard there were 160 sport mods, then I heard there were 180 at one point,” Gottschalk said about this year’s field. “You’ve got to get with it. There’s no invert for the top four up there or anything like that. You pretty much have to win a heat race to have a chance.”
Gottschalk, who has made a name for himself in the sport mod class the last few years at area tracks, said the top-five finish exceeded his expectations.
But he believes it even could have been better.
“I’m happy with it,” he said. “I felt it could have been a little better than what we finished though if I hadn’t ran into a problem with my brakes.”
Part of Gottschalk’s brakes began to fail in the final laps of Saturday’s race, and he said that made the driving difficult. Still, he was able to bring home a top-five finish and was the top open motor finisher.
That helped him take home a few contingencies prizes, helping make up for a not-so-stellar payout.
“It was enough to build about half a motor,” he said.
Gottschalk was one of several area drivers to compete during the week in Iowa. Jake Krone, Beloit, also made the sport mod feature and finished 23rd.
It was the second straight year Gottschalk made the sport mod big dance. In 2014, he finished 24th.
He said the support and help he received throughout the week was incredible, from family and friends to fellow competitors.
“It was pretty exciting, and there were a lot of people there,” he said. “A top-five at Super Nationals? That’s not too bad.”
Nick Schwien is managing editor at The Hays Daily News.