by Rocky Ragusa
With big money on the line, the Fairbury American Legion Speedway drew 72 cars for the fourth annual FALS Frenzy on Saturday night. Shannon Babb (Late Model), Mike Harrison (Modified), and Brandon Pralle (Sportsman) took the feature wins in their respective classes.
The MARS and ALMS Late Model Series co-sanctioned the $10,000 to win main event. Shannon Babb (12.878) and Tanner English (12.927) led in group qualifying. Babb, English, Frank Heckenast Jr., and Ryan Unzicker were heat race winners, while Bob Gardner and Scott Schmitt won semi-features. In the 50-lap grind, renewing their Summer Nationals battle, Babb took control of the race on lap 26 and held off Brian Shirley for the win. English led the field to the green with Babb, Shirley, Heckenast, and Michael Kloos trailing. Shirley got by Babb for second on the eighth lap and ran side by side with English before taking the top position on lap 16. Shirley, running the bottom, led a tight formation with English, Babb, Kloos, and Heckenast in pursuit. On the restart after the yellow flag waved on the 23rd lap, Babb started on the outside of the double file restart. To his advantage, Babb pulled alongside of Shirley and moved into the lead on the 26th lap. Babb was able to drive a smooth line over the course of the race, as Shirley had to contend with Brandon Sheppard. Sheppard was able to pull alongside of Shirley, but Shirley’s speed down the stretch proved to be too much for Sheppard to overcome. Babb led a tight field to the checkered flag and took his second Fairbury win of the year. “The track was in excellent shape tonight,” Babb said. “I knew Shirley has been good here. On that restart on lap 23, my car came to life. I had been on the bottom, but starting on the outside played into my favor.” Shirley settled for the runner-up spot, followed by Sheppard, Heckenast Jr., English, Allen Weisser, Gordy Gundaker, Tim Manville, Kloos, and Kevin Weaver.
Steven Brooks paced Modified time trials with a lap of 14.151 over 24 other drivers seeking the $2,000 payday. Mike Harrison, Allen Weisser, and 2018 Modified track champion McKay Wenger took heat race wins. In the 30-lap main, Harrison took the lead on the green flag with Weisser, Wenger, Jeffrey Ledford, and Mike McKinney following. Wenger, running the bottom of the track, overtook Weisser for second on lap four. Ledford pressured Wenger and Weisser, running the top side, and finally made his move for second at the halfway mark. Slower traffic came into play during the middle stages of the race. As Harrison was overtaking slower cars, Ledford was able to close in. Harrison threaded his way by the lapped cars, but Ledford was slowed by the cars in their own battle. McKinney, after a poor qualifying performance and heat race, began to make his presence known. He got by Ledford for second with ten laps left but trailed Harrison by a straightaway. McKinney, who ranks second to Harrison in the race for the national championship, drove his heart out and closed up on Harrison. A caution flag waved with four laps to go giving McKinney the opportunity he needed. Harrison and McKinney, both running the top, looked to have a classic finish. The Fairbury cushion can sometimes be unforgiving to a driver. Harrison and McKinney both saw their momentum slowed as the topside would slow their progress. On the final lap, McKinney tried a slide job but Harrison was able fend him off and take his fourth FALS win of the year in five starts. Harrison, who travels three hours from Highland for the bigger paying specials, has an incredible 14 career feature wins (ranking ninth all-time) at Fairbury. “Last night at Granite City we crashed out," Harrison commented in victory lane. "My team busted their tails all night and day to get the car ready. It takes all of us to make this happen. Fairbury is one of my favorite tracks. Anytime I get the chance, I will be here.” McKinney, Ledford, Wenger, Mike Chasteen Jr., Donovan Lodge, Weisser, Brooks, Dan Rork, and Logan Rogers rounded out the top ten.
A field of 12 CR Towing and Recovery Sportsman drivers looked to take the $400 first place money in their 15-lap race. Amber Crouch was the night’s fast qualifier at a 15.020. Points leader Steve Mattingly won the first heat race, while Brandon Pralle took the second heat. In the feature race, Pralle took the lead at the start and went flag-to-flag, picking up his third win of the season and halting Mattingly’s three race win streak. Richard Craven rallied late in the race to take second, followed by Crouch, Mattingly, Mikey Ledford, Matt Ramer, Valerie Hurt, Eric Saltzman, Tyler Roth, and Robert Saltzman. “We took the car apart after the last race and started completely over,” said Pralle. “Hopefully we have some things figured out.” With his win, Pralle trails Mattingly by 51 points with one night of points racing remaining.