by Darlene Miller
Yellow caution flags and a full moon made for an interesting racing combination on Saturday night at Fairbury American Legion Speedway. Enjoying the conditions was the quintet of Scott Schmitt, Mike Spatola, Mike McKinney, Lake Nichoalds, and Rick Thomas who all found victory lane.
In the first Late Model feature of the night, Fairbury’s McKay Wenger and Gibson City’s Kevin Weaver led the field to the green flag. Four caution flags in the early laps of the 30-lap feature made the racers and crowd anxious to get this one going. Weaver held a slight lead over Wenger and Spatola in the early going. With 18 laps to go, Wenger got past Weaver and was trying to hold off a charging Schmitt, who had started fifth in the 20-car field. A battle then ensued as both kept switching leads with each one of them leading a lap with under four to go. Schmitt pulled off the win by two car lengths over Wenger for his first win of the 2017 season. “With four to go, I got lucky and got past Wenger,” said Schmitt. El Paso’s Ryan Unzicker came in third with Weaver and Fairbury’s Scott Bull making up the rest of the top five. Spatola led the second five with Jeremy Conaway, Dan Flessner, Bill Hough, and 16th starter Doug Hammer in tow. Spatola, Weaver, and Wenger were heat winners, while Hammer won the semi feature. Flessner set fast time with 12.747 seconds around the quarter-mile track.
In the 30-lap Late Model make-up feature from June 17, Weaver started on the pole flanked by Flessner. They exchanged the lead for a few laps before Spatola came into the picture and got around Flessner with 21 circuits to go. A caution flag flew with 19 to go as Flessner spun in turn 2 in front of the field. Luckily, all drivers were able to get around him. Two more caution flags flew before Spatola was able to find himself in the lead. Spatola and Wenger showed the way until another caution flag flew for a turn three incident with nine laps to go. As Spatola started pulling away, a three-pack of drivers — Wenger, Bull, and Weaver — were fighting for the second spot. Spatola was able to hold off the group for the win. “This is for all the teamwork we did. We did a lot of replacement parts and worked hard. It was nice to come back and win,” Spatola said. It was the third win for Spatola this season. Schmitt, who in hot laps for this race on June 17 rolled his car, started 13th and finished fifth. Jay Morris, Steve Thorsten, Glen Thompson, Flessner, and Ron Donaldson rounded out the top 10.
Plainfield's McKinney and Pontiac’s Jeffrey Ledford were in the top two starting positions in the Modified race. Four caution flags flew before three laps were completed in the 20-lap feature. McKinney and Ledford battled constantly for the lead with McKinney holding a slight advantage in the waning laps. McKinney held off Ledford by a car length for his fourth win of the 2017 season. “It was fun running against Jeffrey. I can’t count him out. It was a fun night of racing,” McKinney stated. Finishing third was Coal City’s Nick Clubb with Scott Heeren of Forreston in fourth and Fairbury’s Jeff Curl taking fifth place. Fairbury’s Jimmy Dehm led the second five with Bob Pohlman Jr., Jason Hastings, Dave Lilja, and Billy Puckett following. Heat winners were Clubb, Ledford, and McKinney. Ledford had fast time of the evening for the Modifieds with 13.741 seconds. Alex Graf won the semi feature.
Although there were only seven cars for the Sportsman division, there was still some great racing despite four caution flags in the 15-lap feature. Onarga’s Nichoalds captured his eight win in the 2017 campaign and his sixth in a row. Chenoa’s Steve Mattingly and Nichoalds started with a one-two punch. Mattingly held a lead with 13 to go but soon found himself spinning in turn two and relinquished the lead to Nichoalds. Three more cautions didn’t phase the winner as he won by three car lengths over Brandon Pralle, Amber Crouch, Anthony Craven, Mattingly, Dustin Mounce, and Scott Williams. “It has been an unbelievable season” Nichoalds commented.
Dwight’s Rick Thomas returned to victory lane for his 65th win of his career and his first win this season in the Street Stock group. Thomas took the lead from Curtis Radke and Joe Brown on the first lap but a caution flag would fly with just one lap into the 15-lap feature. Radke and Brown did not let Thomas get away and Radke took the lead from Thomas on the second lap before Thomas took it back with eight to go. Another caution flag drew the field closer to Thomas, but he took off from the group and won by a car length. Radke was second and following were Brown, Dane Arvin, Don Hilleary, Cody Clubb, Andy Thompson, 20th starter Michael Schomas, Matt Cleary, and Nick Seplak. “It just feels good to be here,” the 60-year old Thomas said. Brown, Matt Hammond, and Thomas were heat winners. Valerie Hurt won the semi feature, while Brown set fast time with 15.521 seconds.
Thad Gee of Bloomington started on the pole and went on to score the Hobby Mod feature win. Mike Petersen was second, Brendan Patterson third, Makinzi Semmens fourth, and Haley Jones fifth. Macy Vaughan, Aaron Murphy, Jason Brandt, and Bryan Saner completed the field. Gee also took the heat race win.