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by Rocky Ragusa
Six divisions of racing took place Saturday night at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway including the Vintage Racing of Illinois Series. Taking the checkered flag were Brian Shirley (Late Model), Ryan Thomas (Modified), Joe Brown (Street Stock), Brandon Pralle (Sportsman), Brendan Patterson (Hobby-Modified), and Robert Mitchell (Vintage).
Nick Hoffman of Mooresville, N.C., was the fast qualifier at a 12.944 of the 17 Late Model drivers that looked to take gold in their 30 lap contest. Manhattan’s Mike Spatola and Chatham’s Brian Shirley won heat races. After a caution on the opening lap, Shirley won the drag race to take the lead as Spatola tried the top and bottom grooves to keep pace. Jose Parga briefly took second but tagged the frontstretch wall enabling Spatola to move back into the runner-up position. Seventh starting Scott Schmitt was on a roll and moved into the third spot on lap six. While Shirley was working slower traffic, Spatola closed the gap to a car length. Shirley, Spatola, and Schmitt, running the top side, were able to pull away from the field and set the stage for a shootout. Schmitt went to the bottom of the speedway and took over the lead on the 17th circuit. With nine laps left in the race, Schmitt tagged the wall in turn two drawing a caution. Shirley was able to fend off the constant pressure from Spatola in the final laps to claim the victory. Spatola, ninth starter Rusty Schlenk, Kevin Weaver, Hoffman, Dan Flessner, Jay Sparks, Schmitt, Bill Hough, and Curtis Radke rounded out the top ten. “I felt we were pretty good,” Shirley said. “I was trying to ride the top but the cushion was treacherous. I really wasn’t wanting to go as fast as Mike on the top. We did what we had to do and bid our time. The bottom was actually the best place to be. Schmitt got by us and then I got back by him on the bottom when we got into lapped traffic.”
Plainfield native Mike McKinney edged his competitors in time trials with a lap of 13.913. McKinney, Ryan Thomas of Brownstown, Ind., and New Lenox driver Steven Brooks picked up heat race wins. Thomas, the owner and builder of Diamond Race Cars, moved into the lead on the 10th lap and pulled away for a convincing win in the 20 lap Modified race. McKinney placed second, with Brooks, Tyler Nicely, Jeffrey Ledford, Matt Hamilton, 14th starter Dave Porth, Bob Pohlman, Kyle Hammer, and Jason Hastings in tow. Taking his first ever Fairbury win, Thomas spoke in victory lane. “This is the fourth time I have raced here and we have struggled in the past. We went to Danville for the AMS race but with the rain we decided to come here. I have to thank everyone for all their hard work in making this car work and thanks to all my Diamond drivers for the feedback. It is really paying off this year.”
Although only nine Street Stock drivers checked in for their 15 lap race, they were all quality drivers. Dwight’s Rick Thomas led the way in qualifying at a 16.266 and Wilmington’s Joe Brown was the heat race victor. Brown led the first lap before AJ Meiferdt inched by Brown to lead lap two. Brown reclaimed the lead on lap three and took command for his second win of the year. Meiferdt held off Thomas for second, with Al Gray, Pete Odell, Nick Seplak, Michael Schomas, and Tanner Sullivan completing the running order.
Cullom’s Amber Crouch turned back 12 Sportsman drivers in qualifying at a 15.461 for their 15 lap race. Ashkum’s Brandon Pralle and Joliet veteran Richard Craven bagged heat race wins. On the start, Pralle and Craven battled neck and neck for the lead. As the leaders rounded the third turn, Craven’s car climbed the wall and fell back to eighth place. Pralle put on a dominating performance in a caution free race, leading flag to flag for his second straight win. “Thanks to Fairbury for giving us an amazing track tonight,” said Pralle. “Thanks to my sponsors and crew for getting the car back together.” Crouch settled for second, with Rod Rusher, Matt Ramer, Craven, AJ Meiferdt, Tyler Roth, Steve Mattingly, Michael Ledford, and Val Hurt trailing.
Fairbury’s Troy Ricketts set quick time of the eight Hobby-Modified drivers on hand for their 12 lap race with a 16.305. Ricketts was also the winner of the heat race. Mike Petersen led the first lap of the feature before Springbay’s Brendan Patterson moved to the front. Petersen was involved in a wreck on the fourth lap drawing a caution. On the restart, Patterson pulled away from his competition as Petersen’s car experienced trouble. Following a caution with one lap remaining, Patterson pulled away to secure his third straight win of the season. “Thanks to my Dad, we were able make the right adjustments for the feature”, spoke Patterson. “I would not believe we could have won three straight races.” Ricketts took the runner-up spot, followed by Petersen, Makinzi Semmens, Thad Gee, Macy Vaughan, Cathy Crego, and Bryan Saner.
16 drivers from the Vintage Racing of Illinois Series signed in for their 15 lap special event. West Brooklyn's Austin Lipe and Mendota's Matt Ramer claimed heat race wins. Ladd’s Robert Mitchell took the lead after early race leader David Moore got loose exiting turn two. Mitchell was able to use slower traffic to his advantage and take the win. “I want to thank Matt Ramer for all they do for the series,” commented Mitchell. “All I have to do is show up with a helmet and race. A lot of tracks don’t want to have our series so thanks to all the tracks that allow us to put on a show for the fans.” Ramer took second, followed by John Ryan, Justin Rutledge, and Randy Lucas.
by Rocky Ragusa
Street Stock drivers were featured in the first special event of the year Saturday night at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway. Pete Odell (Street Stock), Ryan Unzicker (Late Model), Mike McKinney (Modified), and Brandon Pralle (Sportsman) came home with the hardware.
The 9th Annual Earl J. Hubert Memorial drew 23 of the finest Street Stock drivers in the area for their 43-lap, $2,000 to win showdown. Matt Hammond took fast time honors with a 15.639. Hammond, Michael Clark, and Jeremy Nichols won their respective heat races. Before the feature, the top two finishers in each heat race ran a trophy dash to determine the first six starting spots for their feature race, which Hammond was able to win. Nichols out powered Hammond at the start of the race with Jason Maier, Joe Brown, and Clark following. Nichols set a blistering pace running the top side of the track and moved by slower cars by the fourth lap. Starting in eighth position, AJ Meiferdt moved into fourth by the ninth lap. Nichols held a straightaway lead over his competitors but disaster fell on Nichols on the 13th lap as he spun out on the frontstretch drawing a caution, and as a result had to go to the rear of the field. Brown took over the first position and on the restart Meiferdt got by Hammond for second.
by Rocky Ragusa
Race fans and teams braved the cold temperatures as the Fairbury American Legion Speedway hosted their second event of the 2018 season on Saturday. Mike Spatola (Late Model), Mike McKinney (Modified), Joe Brown (Street Stock), Richard Craven (Sportsman), and Brendan Patterson (Hobby-Modified) graced victory lane.
16 Late Model drivers were on hand for their 30 lap race. Mike Spatola took quick time with a 12.884. Michigan invader Nick Kurtz and Spatola won heat races. Spatola lead at the start with Kurtz, Kevin Weaver, Scott Schmitt, and Taylor Scheffler trailing. After two cautions in the first ten laps, Weaver went to the top of the track and pulled alongside Spatola but Spatola was able to fend off the challenge. Schmitt, running the bottom, overtook Weaver for second with 12 laps to go. With 10 laps left the top three put their cars on the top side of the speedway as another caution fell. On the restart, Weaver was able to retake second from Schmitt while Spatola held off Weaver for the win. Schmitt, Kurtz, Jay Sparks, Scheffler, Dan Flessner, Chad White, Phil Line, and Dan White followed. “The track was tricky tonight,“ commented Spatola. “A driver had to know the history of FALS to know where to be on the track. I knew eventually we would have to go to the top but didn’t know when. I heard Weaver out there. I knew if he got a nose under me I was done. Once I cleared him I saw the bottom was starting to shine. I am just thankful to get the win.”
13 Modified drivers were on hand for their 20 lap feature. Former asphalt driver Nick Neville was the fast qualifier at a 14.303. Heat race wins went to Nick Clubb and Mike McKinney. Clubb gave McKinney all he could handle for the first quarter of the race before McKinney was able to pull out to a ten-car-length lead, with Jeffrey Ledford, McKay Wenger, and Nick Lueth following. After a caution on the 10th lap, Wenger vaulted into second place on a bottom dominate surface. Ledford tried valiantly to make something happen on the top side of the track but wasn’t able to gain any distance. Another caution fell with five laps to go and ended a good run by Dave Porth. The restart saw McKinney keep a safe distance over Wenger for the win, with Clubb, Lueth, Chevy Miller, Jim Farris Jr., Neville, Ledford, Eric Vaughan, and Alan Stipp rounding out the top ten. “It’s good to be back at FALS,” commented McKinney. “We have been trying new things on the car to improve our program. Nick Hoffman has been a tremendous help.”
Joe Brown turned back 15 competitors in time trials for the Street Stock race with a 16.620. Brown and Josh Griffith won their respective heat races. In the 15 lap feature, Brown lead Griffith, Jason Maier,Matt Hammond, and AJ Meiferdt as the top five ran bumper to bumper. Following a lap five caution, Brown and Griffith pulled away from the field while Hammond and Meiferdt had a heated duel for fourth. In the closing stages Brown was able to open a five-car-length lead over Griffith and the defending Kankakee Speedway Track Champion picked up the hardware. “My car wasn’t that good last week,” said Brown.” The crew worked hard on it all week. I want to also thank AJ Meiferdt. He made us work hard, whipping us last year. It made us get better.” Jason Maier, Meiferdt, Hammond, Al Gray, Matt Maier, Cody Clubb, Lance Evans, and Pete Odell completed the top ten.
Richard Craven took fast time with a 15.146 for the Sportsman class. Amber Crouch was the lone heat race winner. Steven Mattingly got the hole shot at the start of the 15 lap race, as Crouch, Craven, Matt Ramer, and Tyler Roth trailed. After a caution period, the top three drivers were able to distance themselves from the field. Crouch made several attempts to overtake Mattingly for the lead, but Mattingly had the power down the stretch to hold off Crouch. With five laps to go, Mattingly bobbled in turn three and Crouch was able to capitalize for the lead. As a slower car was pulling into the infield Crouch got into the car’s back end and Mattingly hit the back stretch wall, ending his night. When the track went back green Craven got by Crouch for the lead as it became apparent the Crouch car sustained suspension damage. Craven took the win and with that became the all-time Sportsman feature winner with 33 wins. Roth, Michael Ledford, Crouch, Ramer, Mattingly, Anthony Craven, Valerie Hurt, and Scott Williams completed the field. “It’s not the way I wanted to win the race,” spoke Craven. “Amber was really good. I felt so bad on what happened to her.”
Jason Brandt was the fast qualifier for the 10 Hobby-Modified drivers on hand for their 12 lap race. Thad Gee and Brendan Ramer took heat race wins. Gee took the lead at the start with Patterson, Brandt, Macy Vaughan, and Mike Petersen following. Patterson moved to the front on the second lap and wasted no time by opening up a lead. Gee spun out on the next lap and collected Brandt, ending both drivers night. Patterson, winner of the opening night race, survived two cautions on the night and outclassed the field for the win. Vaughan posted a career best second followed by Petersen, Ramer, Darren Kerrins, Makinzi Semmens, Austin Lipe, Gee, Brandt, and Graham Jackson.
by Rocky Ragusa
The green flag unfurled Saturday night at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway for the 72nd consecutive year. A good group of race teams and fans converged at the 1/4-mile dirt oval on a chilly night. Kevin Weaver (Late Model), Jamie Lomax (Modified), AJ Meiferdt (Street Stock), Steven Mattingly (Sportsman), and Brendan Patterson (Hobby-Modified) claimed feature wins.
Mike Spatola was the night's fast qualifier in the Late Model division at 12.678 seconds, but was forced to drop out on the pace laps of the feature with an electrical fire under the hood. Kevin Weaver took the lead at the start of the 30-lap race as Scott Schmitt applied pressure for the lead. Weaver found the top groove to his liking and was able to put some distance on Schmitt during the middle portion of the feature. As Weaver had to contend with slower cars in the closing laps, Schmitt closed the gap. Weaver was able to hang on for the win, and in the process, surpassed Roger Long for the most career feature wins in the Late Model class at Fairbury with 67. “I remember about five years ago talking with Roger. I told him that I would never catch him,” Weaver said in victory lane. “It’s an honor for me to even be mentioned with him.” Schmitt, Dan Flessner, Myles Moos, Ryan Vanderveen, Torin Mettille, Steve Thorsten, Charlie Olson, 16th starter Jay Morris, and Glen Thompson completed the top ten. Weaver and Schmitt took the heat race wins.
Fairbury’s Modified division promises to be a wide open affair for 2018. There were 19 drivers on hand for the opener with McKay Wenger returning to the open wheels. He set the fast time at a 13.953 second clip. Wenger and Valparaiso's Frank Marshall claimed heat wins. In the 20-lap contest, Wenger led at the start as the cars stuck to the bottom groove. Zeke McKenzie, Jamie Lomax, Frank Marshall, and Brandon Roberts followed in tight formation, none looking to try a different line. Jeffrey Ledford broke ranks and went to the top side hoping to gain ground on the leaders but never found the traction he needed. After a caution on the 11th circuit, Wenger slipped up and Lomax saw his opportunity. Lomax used the middle line to get by McKenzie and Wenger for the top position. Wenger, with a go-for-broke attitude, put his car on the top looking to reclaim the lead. Lomax was able to fend off his competitors for his first-ever win at the Fairbury oval. Marshall, Wenger, McKenzie, Roberts, Ledford, Kyle Hammer, Chevy Miller, 17th starter Chad May, and Dave Porth completed the top ten.
One of Fairbury’s toughest classes saw 20 Street Stocks in attendance for their 15-lap race. Joe Brown was the fast qualifier at 15.231 seconds. Jason Maier and AJ Meiferdt won their heat races. Following three early cautions, defending UMP National Champion Meiferdt took control of the race on a bottom dominated surface. Cody Clubb, in one of his few dirt starts, was able to get by Maier for second. A caution fell on the field with five laps to go which gave Clubb a chance to give Meiferdt a run for his money. Meiferdt proved to be too strong on this night and picked up the win. “I tried running against the wall for a few laps but the car works good on the bottom,” Meiferdt said. Clubb turned in a good performance for second with Jerrad Krick, Jason Maier, and Josh Griffith following. 18th starter Al Gray, Megan Erwin, Matt Hammond, Don Hilleary, and Eric Legner rounded out the top ten.
Ten Sportsman cars were on hand for their 15-lap feature. Steve Mattingly set fast time at a 15.316-second clip and won the lone heat race. Mattingly took the lead at the start of the feature with Richard Craven following. Mattingly had to put his car against the wall to avoid a spinning Anthony Craven for the only caution flag in the race. On the restart, Mattingly outdistanced his competition and took his first career win. “I didn’t think this day would ever come,” a jubilant Mattingly commented afterward. “We have been at it a long time and it feels good to get that win.” Richard Craven, Brandon Pralle, ninth starter Amber Crouch, and Tyler Roth made the top five. Matt Ramer was sixth with Michael Ledford, Dan Coit, Anthony Craven, and Valerie Hurt following.
The entry level Hobby-Modified division is beginning to increase in car count. Jason Brandt set quick time at 15.258 seconds over 11 other drivers. Brendan Patterson and Bryan Saner took heat wins. Patterson survived several cautions and went unchallenged on a track surface that is to his liking. “My car works well on a dry/slick track. We usually struggle with a tacky track so tonight was our night,” said Patterson. Makinzi Semmens had her best race to date with a second place finish, followed by Darren Kerrins, Brendan Ramer, Brandt, Macy Vaughan, Cathy Crego, Mike Petersen, Thad Gee, and Paul Ramer.