National champ has the right Gene
Monday, October 21, 2013 7:00 PM
NORWAY - If you have racing ambitions, living near Gene Coleman is a stroke of good fortune.
Dalton Zehr takes a victory lap at Norway Speedway, where he was the Late Model champion this season.
Special to the EagleHerald
Just ask Dalton Zehr, who won the 2013 ASA Member Track National Championship at Norway Speedway.
Zehr, 22, met Coleman at his Port Orange, Fla., home, near where Coleman winters.
"His house is actually pretty close to my racing shop," Zehr said.
One thing led to another, and pretty soon the soft spoken Coleman was offering racing tips.
"We just took his advice, applied it, and pretty soon one of his cars showed up at my shop," Zehr said.
Zehr spent this past racing season living near Coleman's Menominee shop. At Norway, Zehr won nine of 11 late model races. He took the early lead in the ASA standings and never gave it up. He won six straight races and recorded 10 top-three finishes.
The final 2013 ASA Member Track National Championship standings are comprised by a unique point scoring system. It is based on wins, finishing positions, number of cars passed, car counts and events. The driver with the highest average wins the overall title.
Zehr topped the standings which included the only four track champions who recorded an average of 2.90 or better. Second-place Ryan Stiltner raced at Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Va. Shelby Stroebel, who was third, raced at Meridian, Idaho. Mark Mackesy, who placed fourth, raced at State Park Speedway near Wausau, Wis.
Coleman's mentoring helped lead to a championship.
"What I liked about Norway is the amount of experience that I and the team had there," Zehr said. "One of the unique things about Norway is it has a strong, very competitive field. For a Friday night show it has one of the highest car counts for a late model speedway in the country. Some of the greatest racers came through the Midwest area."
Zehr's late model has a Chevrolet small block engine, but everything else is custom-built from the ground up. Coleman Racing Products makes 90 percent of the parts for Zehr's car, he said.
"You start with a chunk of steel and you build on," according to Zehr.
He credits Norway Speedway veteran Gene Adcock for pairing him with Joe Nechodom of Racetech Chassis, a partnership that led to the title.
While growing up in Middleton, Idaho, Zehr followed in the footsteps of his father, Marty, who got him a go-kart at age 7.
"Five years later I was racing his car," Zehr said. "I was turning faster laps than him, and he hung his helmet up."
Racing in his teens, Zehr never committed to a single track or a series. This past summer was the first time he raced an entire point series.
The Norway track, a slightly banked one-third mile asphalt oval, was originally built as a dirt track in 1942. It was blacktopped in 1979.
"It's one of the few tracks where you could be too wide," Zehr said. "Norway yields to hard side-by-side racing. That's not common."
Zehr winters in Florida but plans to race at Wisconsin International Raceway next season. He also plans to enter some Norway races.
"One day I hope to make it to NASCAR, of course," he said. "These are all stepping stones."
The next level past WIR is the K&N Pro Series, which is one step below NASCAR's Nationwide Series. It sounds like Zehr is close, but he's still a long way from the top.
"There's thousands and thousands of late model drivers," he said. "There's 30 Nationwide drivers."
On the track, Zehr lets others make mistakes by driving too aggressively.
"In comparison to other drivers I'm very patient," he said. "I don't force anything, which causes issues. I'm patient, but we always move forward. We don't very often lose position - it's always forward. I have really good communication with my team. I can communicate to them what is wrong with the car."