Thursday, March 3, 2022

The Punky Manor Challenge of Champions

By Lee Ackerman

Omaha, Neb. - In 1980, the Red Cedar Speedway in Menomonie, Wisconsin created a special event called the Punky Manor Challenge of Champions in honor of Neil “Punky” Manor, Jr. who was killed in an auto accident south of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Manor was just 26 years old but had already established himself as one of best racers in the area.

Ironically, just a week after Punky’s fatal accident, his father Neil, Sr. was also killed in an auto accident. During his short racing career Punky had won Hobby Stock and Street Stock Championships at the Eau Claire Speedway and was later a multi-time late model champion at both the Rice Lake Speedway and at Red Cedar Speedway.

When the checkered flag fell after 40 laps of the inaugural Punky Manor Challenge of Champions it was Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s Leon Plank out front. Chasing Plank to the line was Menomonie’s Ron Prochnow. Plank and Prochnow had ran first and second the entire 40 laps. Kaukauna, Wisconsin’s Pete Parker got around Mike Melius of Random Lake on lap 38 to take home third with Melius finishing fourth and Altoona, Wisconsin’s Tom Steuding finishing fifth.

In heat race action Plank claimed heat number one with Winona, Minnesota’s Lance Matthees and Eau Claire’s Phil Prusak following. Ron Prochnow took the second heat with Rice Lake’s Butch Madsen and Milwaukee’s Phil Rehberg trailing. Ron Schreiner of Elva was victorious in heat three followed by Steve Egersdorf of St. Paul, Minnesota and Eau Claire’s Jerry Redetzke.

Cameron’s Brent Laursen was the winner in heat four with Eau Claire’s Red Steffen and Delphi, Iowa’s John Connolly trailing. The final heat went to White Bear Lake, Minnesota’s Jim Bruggeman followed by Steve Laursen of Cameron and Tom Steuding. Pete Parker claimed the first semi followed by Waterloo, Iowa’s Ed Sanger and St. Paul, Minnesota driver Tom Neusius. Gary Dorn of Altoona won the second semi over Mike Melius and Bob Saterdalen of Oronoco, Minnesota.

Tom Nesbitt

In 1981, 41 late models were on hand and when the checkered flag fell on the 50-lap feature it was Thunder Bay, Ontario’s Tom Nesbitt taking home the Punky Manor trophy. Tom Steuding, defending race winner Leon Plank, Dick Sorensen of Rochester, Minnesota and Ed Sanger rounded out the top five.

Earlier in the evening, two 20 lap semi-features were held with Jerry Redetzke taking the first semi with Gary Dorn and Steve Egersdorf in pursuit. Gary Tigges of Durango, Iowa took home the second semi followed by Roger Bruggeman of Dubuque, Iowa and Dousman, Wisconsin’s Steve Lurvey.

On Friday night, a strong field of late models were put in four heat races. Rick Wendling of Hazelton, Iowa took home the first heat followed by Dick Sorensen and Jeff Hinkemeyer of St. Cloud, Minnesota. Leon Plank won the second heat followed by a pair of St. Paul, Minnesota drivers Vic Klein and Terry Laniphear. Nesbitt won the third heat with Phil Prusak and Ron Prochnow trailing and Tom Steuding won heat four over Jim Bruggeman and Ed Sanger.

Ron Schreiner

In 1982, it was Ron Schreiner taking home the Punky Manor Race of Champions with Phil Prusak, Red Steffen, Brent Laursen and Lance Matthees rounding out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Jerry Redetzke, Ed Sanger, Lakefield, Minnesota’s Willy Kraft, Arcadia’s Dave Hesch and Dick Sorensen.

Defending Punky Manor race winner Tom Nesbitt and Lance Matthees took home the semi feature wins.

On Friday night heat race action, Ron Schreiner claimed heat one over Jerry Redetzke and Steve Laursen. Dave Bjorge of Austin, Minnesota took heat two with Greg Kastli of Waterloo, Iowa and Rick Wendling following. Heat three went to Phil Prusak over Red Steffen and Steve Egersdorf. The final heat saw Willy Kraft post the win followed by Rick Egersdorf of St. Paul, Minnesota.

In 1983, 44 late models were on hand for the Punky Manor Challenge of Champions. Twenty-four made the feature event and after 50 laps, 22 were still in action. Not only did almost the entire field finish the race but the battle for the lead was intense with Red Steffen always a contender in the event finally bringing home the top prize.

The battle for second went right down to the checkers with Tom Nesbitt nipping Jerry Redetzke for the position. Gary Tigges finished fourth and Waterloo, Iowa’s Dick Schiltz fifth. Leroy Sharkey of Fountain City claimed the first semi followed by Steve Lurvey and Rick Egersdorf. Bill Herr of Greenwood took the second semi with Phil Prusak and Steve Hass of Thorp pursuing.

Heat race action saw Gary Tigges win the first heat race over Harry Hansen of Eveleth, Minnesota and Sid Kittleson of Osceola. Jim Bruggeman took home heat two with Steve Laursen and New Richmond’s Mark Emerson following. In heat three was a prelude to the feature finish with Red Steffen winning followed by Tom Nesbitt and Jerry Redetzke. Heat four went to defending race winner Ron Schreiner followed by Tom Steuding and Duluth, Minnesota’s Dale Carlson.

In 1984, 54 late models were on hand, but mother nature decided to through a curve at them and rained out by Friday and Saturday night causing the whole two days to be ran on Sunday. When the show was completed, there was a first time, two-time winner of the event in Leon Plank. Following Plank were Jim Bruggeman, Rick Egersdorf, Red Steffen and Phil Prusak. Sixth through tenth were Ron Schreiner, M. J. McBride of Shawano, Lance Matthees, Steve Laursen and Canadian Ken Simpson. Heat races were won by Leon Plank, Tom Steuding, Tom Nesbitt and Craig Jacobs of Des Moines, Iowa.

The Punky Manor Challenge of Champions continues to this day and over the years has provided Wisconsin and upper Midwest race fans with several decades of great racing.

Leon Plank

1 comment:

  1. Great history. Miss all those great drivers. Jake