By Troy Harrison

The number 15 has a special significance to Topeka area race fans, whether they watched racing at Thunder Hill Speedway, Topeka Raceway, or the Topeka Fairgrounds. Fans in other locales got used to seeing the number 15 at the front of the pack as well, for many years. That was the number of “Thunderin’” Tom Wunder, for many years a fixture in Late Model and Sportsman racing circles. Whether the car was purple and yellow (really), orange, lime green, or finally black, one thing you could be sure of was that, if Tom was driving it, it was probably going to be battling for the lead. In fact, Tom was the first Sportsman track champion at Thunder Hill Speedway in 1994, one of eight track titles he amassed along with over 200 feature wins. Tom passed away on May 21, 2011, and Saturday night’s “Wunderfest”is held in his memory.

“Tom really had three loves in his life,” brother Mike Taylor said. “Family, racing, and fishing. And definitely in that order family always came first with Tom.” Many fans likely found Tom to be a laid back and low-key person at the racetrack. Taylor says, “That’s just how Tom was. At the track and away from the track. But put him in a race car, and he was a different person!”

Daughter Shelly remembers Tom as “a wonderful father. I couldn’t have asked for a better Dad. He was my best friend and my hero, and I could always talk to him about anything. I used to make up T-shirts with “Thunderin’ Tom Wunder” on them and I was always proud to wear them to the track and to cheer for him. Of course, even though he was my hero, he had his own hero Dale Earnhardt.” Wunder’s respect for “The Intimidator” led to his last Sportsman machines being black, after a career of running cars in shades of purple, orange, yellow, and even lime green.

Tom’s presence will be felt on the racetrack, as well; expected to compete are his brother, Mike Taylor, in the IMCA Stock Cars, and his son Chad, in the IMCA Northern SportMods (who carries Tom’s traditional #15). “Dad always wanted my brother to race,” Shelly said, “and he’d be happy to see how Chad is doing.” Beyond this, Tom’s presence is still felt heavily in the pit area of any track in the Northeast Kansas area, where he’s remembered fondly by his many friends including this writer.

Mystery money will go into the purse in three different classes; $600 will be placed into the Kansas National Guard Northern SportMod purse, $400 into the Heinen Repair Service IMCA Stock Car purse, and $400 into the BuyRaceParts.com IMCA Hobby Stock purse. Also in action will be the BSB Manufacturing IMCA Modifieds and the IMCA Sport Compacts.

Highlighting Wunderfest will be the tight point battles taking place in several classes. It doesn’t get any tighter than the race-within-a-race that will take place in the BSB IMCA Modified feature, where Jesse Richter and Jeff Herbers are tied for the point lead. Whichever driver finishes ahead of the other will win the championship it’s that simple.

The Heinen Repair Service IMCA Stock Car point battle is only slightly less close, as Kyle Vanover leads Jim Powell Jr. by five markers. Powell has finished ahead of Vanover the last two weeks in a row; he still has an excellent chance of upending the Beatrice driver for the 2012 title.

Eddie Schwope Jr. and Kyle Olberding entered last week’s action tied for the point lead; however a rough night for Olberding combined with a win for Schwope to give the 2010 champ a 22 point lead over the 2011 champion. Roles would need to reverse this week to give Olberding a shot at his second crown.

Jacob Crowell merely needs to take the green flag Saturday night to clinch the title in the BuyRaceParts.com IMCA Hobby Stock division, holding a 39 point lead over consistent Mallory Walters. Walters is certain to finish second, improving three spots from her 2011 Rookie of the Year performance. However, she is still seeking her first feature win.

Kaylee Diekman, with a 43 point lead, is the only driver who has already clinched a track title, with Scott Spellmeier in second, mathematically eliminated from contention. She will be the first ever IMCA Sport Compact champion.

The Xtreme Motor Sports Clash on the Hill continues Saturday Night, September 22, with the Wunderfest which memorializes former Thunder Hill champion Tom Wunder. Gates open at 5:00 PM, driver’s meeting at 6:30, hotlaps and races to follow. Adult General Admission is $10.00, kids 12 and under are free. Coolers are allowed (Canned beer only no glass bottles) for a $10 charge. Pit passes are $25.00.

Thunder Hill Speedway is located at 11995 NW 142ndRoad (2 miles West of US-75 on NW 142nd Road), in Mayetta, KS. For more information, please visit www.racethunderhillspeedway.com.