by Rocky Ragusa
120 race cars jammed the pit area Saturday night as the Fairbury American Legion Speedway played host to the Eighth Annual “DIRTcar Street Stock Spring Nationals, in Memory of Earl J. Hubert.” Visiting the winners circle were AJ Meiferdt (Street Stock), Ryan Unzicker (Late Model), Danny Schwartz (Modified), Amber Crouch (Sportsman), and Josh McKendrick (Hobby-Modified).
Joe Brown was the fast qualifier over 48 other Tool’s Auto Sales Street Stock drivers. Brown, Dane Arvin, Jerrard Krick, AJ Meiferdt, and Jeremy Nichols won heat races. Justin Hamm and Jim Ransom won semi features. Arvin took an early lead in the 43-lap event with Nichols, Meiferdt, Krick, and Darrell Dick following. Meiferdt moved into the lead on lap 14 followed by Krick and Nichols. Although cautions were a problem during the course of the race, Meiferdt held a 10 car length lead by lap 25, with Nichols fighting an ill handling car but kept Meiferdt within distance. When the field went back to green after a lap 29 caution, Rick Thomas stuck his car in the middle groove to take the lead with Nichols and Meiferdt trailing. Nichols moved to the point with six laps remaining as the top three separated themselves from the field. Meiferdt pulled alongside of Nichols with three laps to go to reclaim the lead and become the eighth winner in the prestigious race. Winning over $2400, including lap money, Meiferdt commented in victory lane, “Perseverance was the name of the game. The cautions were killing me. I saw Nichols go by me on the high side and went back to work.” Nichols, Thomas, 18th starter Curtis Radke (hard charger), Brown, Mike Behm, Andy Thompson, Ransom, Krick, and Andrew Funk rounded out the top ten as only six cars were left on the track at the finish.
Hometown driver, McKay Wenger, set fast time at a 12.770 as 25 I Beam Sliding Doors Late Model drivers attempted to qualify for the 30-lap race. Heat races were won by Wenger, Kevin Weaver, and Ryan Unzicker. Wenger’s car bobbled at the start of the race allowing Unzicker to take a lead he never relinquished. Unzicker quickly pulled away from the competition as Scott Bull took over second. Bull worked through slower cars and made a valiant effort to close in on Unzicker just after the halfway mark. In the closing stages of the feature, Derek Chandler, sticking to the bottom of the track, took over second but Unzicker, a former UMP National Champion, was the class of the field and took the win. “This is our first win of the year and hopefully they keep coming. We have a pretty good car and we will just keep tweaking on it,” commented Unzicker. Chandler earned the race’s hard charger award with a second-place finish after starting 11th. He was followed by Weaver, Rusty Schlenk, Bull, Wenger, Daniel Flessner, Bob Gardner, Jason Wagner, and Mike Glasscock.
25 Varsitee Screen Printing Modified drivers made qualifying attempts with Jeffrey Ledford the quickest at a 13.986. Ledford, TD Burger, and Danny Schwartz were heat victors. When the field went back to green after a caution on the first lap, Ledford suddenly slowed in turn one and was collected by Nick Clubb, Vince Cooper, and Jimmy Dehm. On the restart, Burger, Schwartz, and Mike McKinney raced three wide for the lead before Schwartz laid claim to the top position. Schwartz held a straightaway lead by the sixth lap. After a caution on lap 13, McKinney made a brief charge for the lead but Schwartz had too strong of a car on this night. Burger stayed with McKinney but wasn’t able to make the pass. Schwartz, a second generation driver, was able to take his first Fairbury feature win. “This was the first night out on a new car for us. I am just glad to get this win,” Schwartz said. McKinney, Burger, Travis Kohler, Jeff Curl, Jimmy Dehm, 16th starter Alan Stipp (hard charger), Michael Mennel, Logan Rogers, and Eric Vaughan completed the top ten.
14 CR Towing Sportsman lined up for their 15-lap feature after Scott Williams and Lake Nichoalds took their respective heat race wins. After contenders Williams and Steven Mattingly dropped out with mechanical problems, Nichoalds led with Anthony Craven, Rick Thomas, Tyler Roth, and Amber Crouch following. Craven made several attempts to take the lead, but Nichoalds was able to hold him off. Following a caution flag, drivers were told on their raceceiver that the race would end after the final restart. When the race went back to green, Craven got under Nichoalds to take the lead. As the drivers approached the final turn, Nichoalds jumped the cushion and Craven’s car got loose exiting turn four. Amber Crouch was able to capitalize and drove the final 50 yards to her first career win and became the first female to earn a feature win in the history of the track’s 71 years. An emotional Crouch spoke in victory lane, “It was a crazy race. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the hard work by my crew.” Thomas, Craven, 12th starter Bryant Frechette (hard charger), Dustin Mounce, Richard Craven, Nichoalds, Roth, Eric Legner, and Gregg Paul completed the top ten.
Racing ended with a 10-lap Hobby Modified race. Josh McKenrick won the seven-car heat race and was able to run away from the field for the feature win. “We blew our motor at the first race of the year. We just got the motor back this week and the crew scrambled to get it back in,” spoke McKenrick. Mike Petersen and Albie Perez trailed at the line.