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.