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Racing / January 11, 2016

SUN PRAIRIE — Tony Stewart finished fourth in an Interstate Racing Association winged sprint car on Thursday at Angell Park Speedway.

Too bad the former NASCAR Cup Series driver didn’t stick around and bring a late model to be included among the field of racers to drive on dirt for the first time in the history of the third-mile clay oval in Sun Prairie.

Competitors in the Dirt King Series will run the first of two events on Sunday night at Angell Park. The other race is set for July 2. The series, in its inaugural season, also is slated to run July 7 at Dodge County Fairgrounds in Beaver Dam.

The significance of racing at the iconic track has not been lost on Freedom resident Jason Shultz, a former track official who oversees the regional late-model tour with wife, Sandy.

“This is as close to taking NASCAR cars to Indianapolis Motor Speedway as I’ll ever get, ” said Jason Shultz, who worked as a race director and tech inspector in NASCAR and the Wisconsin Dirt Late Model Series. “To me it’s on that same realm where we’re going to the holy ground with the wrong kind of car.

“If you look at the events that have come and gone through Angell Park, to be able to be the first stock car series to go there and have the opportunity to put on a really good show, it’s monumental.”

Colonel William Angell donated the land for the track site to the Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department in 1903. Once a half-mile facility used for horse racing, the track was trimmed to a third-mile, semi-banked oval in 1946.

The fire department sponsored midget racing and hosted Sunday night events for the Badger Midget Auto Racing Association for 63 years.

Stewart and fellow NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, Indy 500 drivers Stan Fox, Tony Bettenhausen and Billy Engelhart and USAC champion J.J. Yeley have tested their skills on the ultra-fast and competitive track.

Sun Prairie’s Brandon Waelti won the BMARA championship in his final season in the series in 2016.

Meanwhile, Kenny Brown took over as promoter at Angell Park in 2010. Shultz said he spent a month hashing out race details for Dirt King events with Brown and Steve Sinclair, an insurance underwriter for racetrack accounts with K&K Insurance.

Shultz said one of his priorities was to schedule events on a day when local late-model drivers have off. In the case of the Madison area, Madison International Speedway’s regular features in the town of Rutland are on Fridays.

Random Lake native Brad Mueller, 48, will contend for both the MIS Triple Challenge Series crown and Dirt King title this season. He’s been a short-track racer for 30 years, most notably at Slinger Speedway, and is running a super late model for car owner Kevin Barker on the one-half mile asphalt oval at MIS. Mueller prepares and drives his own dirt late-model vehicle.

Mueller, a three-time track champion at Plymouth Dirt Track Racing, another one-third dirt oval, said it will be a thrill to maneuver around Angell Park.

He’s been a fan in the Angell Park stands watching friends Dan Boorse, who’s won multiple BMARA titles, and Bill Balog rack up victories. Balog won the IRA race on Thursday night.

“I like (Angell Park) as a fan because it’s very action-packed, very door-to-door and there’s a lot of passing because it’s such tight quarters, ” he said. “The track is a lot of corner, there’s not much for straightaways. You’re on the gas more so than you’re off the gas compared to Plymouth.”

Mueller has no surface preference, equally enjoying races on dirt or asphalt. He said the thing he appreciates most about dirt racing is there isn’t as much tinker time.

“Asphalt you can over engineer very easily, and with dirt, you get one chance, ” Mueller said. “What’s nice about the dirt, it’s a lot more driver driven.

“Like at Slinger on asphalt, you better be spot-on (with car set-up) or you’ll be getting run over. You can sacrifice a little bit on dirt, wriggle your butt around on the seat and make it a little bit faster.”