The last car that Dennis Holtzlander Sr. ever built was a 4-cylinder he planned to race at Berlin Raceway.
Unfortunately, Holtzlander was unable to ever drive the car. He got sick and passed away soon after it was built, but his grandson, Corey Holtzlander, has made good use of the ride.
Corey Holtzlander won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division IV national championship after driving his grandfather’s 4-cylinder car at Berlin, a 0.4375-mile asphalt oval track in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The younger Holtzlander still runs with his grandfather’s No. 20 on the roof of the car, and he carries a picture of his grandfather inside with him during races.
"It has a lot of sentimental value," Holtzlander said.
This was Holtzlander’s fifth season driving the car, and definitely his most successful. He picked up 11 wins and 19 top-5 finishes in 23 races at Berlin, winning the national championship by 12 points over Kingsport Speedway’s Keith Helton.
In a crowded field at Berlin – four of the top six Division IV national finishers came from the Michigan track – Holtzlander also won a track championship, besting second place by 139 points.
"To tell you the truth I don’t think it’s quite set in yet," Holtzlander said. "It’s obviously my first national championship. I’m very happy to say I have won a national championship now. It probably won’t set in until I get down to North Carolina and receive something that says I won the championship."
Holtzlander, 27, from Grant, Michigan, raced for the first time in 2007 against his grandfather on a dirt track in Michigan. That was always supposed to just be a one-year deal, and he gave up the sport until five years ago when his dad bought his current 4-cylinder.
Berlin has been his family’s home track for decades, and Holtzlander remembers going there to watch his grandfather, dad, and uncle race when he was a kid.
After finishing second in the national points a season ago, he went into 2019 planning to just run part-time. That was until he realized about six weeks into the season he was near the top of the national points, so he decided to make another run at the championship.
"I didn’t pay too much attention to it because I knew it would distract me from my driving on the track so I tried not to pay too much attention to it," Holtzlander said. "My mom and dad and brothers were the ones paying attention to what was going on.
"I wouldn’t say we did too much of anything different really. Just kind of paying attention to what’s going on. Don’t put the car in a spot I shouldn’t. Just trying to pay more attention to what’s going on on the the track and that sort of thing."
Wins were not easy to come by at Berlin, especially with so many drivers all going for national points. Holtzlander and the track’s second place finisher, Justin Roelofs, each had wrecks late in the season.
At Berlin, the driver who won the previous race had to start at the back of the field the next race, so moving up to the front was always a challenge.
"All these guys they’ve been very good this year," Holtzlander said. "Very fast too so it’s been very hard to come from the back to the front.
"It’s been very tough out there."
The support from home helped Holtzlander stay focused and ready to race each week. He thanked his dad, Dennis Jr., mom, Diana, brothers, Nick Goguen, Dennis III, and Ryan, and fiancee Caryn Munson for providing emotional support, and his sponsors, MSM Blasting, APA Pool League, C-Tech Performance, Bryan Carson for working on the car, and Mike Glance with Star Customs for painting it.
He also thanked Berlin track manager Nick Mezman and race director Nick Rice.
Finally, he thanked his grandpa, whose car made a national title possible.
"It means a whole lot to me. I can’t explain that one enough," Holtzlander said. "I really wish my grandpa could be here to see it but that’s part of life and that happens. My grandma is still here. She got to see it now. I’m very happy to see that everybody that is here got to celebrate it with us."