Pierce, Ledford, Gash victorious on Championship Night; Bull, Ledford, Kessinger Crowned Champions

by Rocky Ragusa

The final night of points racing saw the crowning of the track champions and another exciting night of racing action.

Returning from a little vacation and looking to pick up national points, current UMP national points leader Bobby Pierce returned to Fairbury on Saturday night. Pierce started on the outside of the front row in the 30-lap UMP Late Model feature.

At the drop of the green flag, Pierce wasted little time, jumping out to a commanding lead to post his second win of the season at Fairbury. Mike Spatola ran alone in second, while it was an intense battle for third. Eric Smith, Daren Friedman, Kevin Weaver, and Dan Flessner raced hard for the position, sometimes going four wide. Weaver’s night ended on the 20th lap after dropping the driveshaft. Friedman broke away from the pack and got by Spatola with two laps to go to finish second. Spatola, Flessner, Joe Harlan, Smith, Steve Thorsten, 2014 Track Champion Scott Bull, Mike Mullvain, and Jay Morris rounded out the top ten. In victory lane Pierce commented, “I love Fairbury’s cushion, even though it was a little treacherous. It’s a different track and you got to drive it like an animal. Thanks to Daren for giving me plenty of room on the start and congrats to Scott on his championship.” Friedman was the race’s fast qualifier at a 12.710. Friedman, Pierce, and Smith took heat race wins.

With his first ever track title locked up, Jay Ledford added icing on the cake. Ledford took the lead from Jimmy Dehm on the 13th lap after Dehm jumped the cushion. Ledford led the rest of the way in the 20-lap UMP Modified race and took his fourth win. After his miscue, Dehm got under Ledford several times but Ledford was able to hang on. “We had to be aggressive with the track tonight. I had to stay up on the wheel. I just hope I didn’t get into anyone,” said Ledford. Following Ledford and Dehm in the top ten were: Jeb Friedman, Jeff Curl, Jim Farris, Cullen Breeden, Collin Alexander, Dan Rork, and Cory Schwengel. Lance Dehm took fast time honors at a 13.888, while Jimmy Dehm and Curl won heat races.

Starting the season strong at Fairbury picking up three feature wins, Lukes Gash suddenly saw the racing gremlins bite back. Troubled with a variety of mechanical problems, Gash never gave up. Gash took the lead on the start of the 15-lap UMP Street Stock feature and held off Andrew Funk to earn a hard fought win. “I don’t know what happened the last couple weeks. Tonight we dropped the ball. I was a little nervous. I just wanted to run and finish the race,” said Gash. Funk, Jason Maier, Terry Miller, Rick Thomas, 2014 Track Champion Brandon Kessinger, A.J. Meiferdt, Nick Clubb, Eric Gaus, and Don Hilleary completed the top ten. Thomas was the fast qualifier at a 15.774. Miller and Gash won heat races.

Craven Grabs Topless 2O Win; Ledford Clinches Sportsman Championship

by Darlene Miller

A longtime term paper for students at the beginning of the school year has been, “What I did for my summer vacation.” Writing that paper would be easy for 15-year-old sophomore-to-be Jeffrey Ledford. But keeping it to length may be difficult. Ledford, who attends Pontiac Township High School, would write about winning the sportsman points championship at Fairbury American Legion Speedway on Wednesday night. And he doesn’t even have a driver’s license yet.

The 20-lap Topless Sportsman race started the action on the first night of the Fairbury Fair. The feature got one lap in before driver Dustin Mounce of Flanagan crashed coming out of turn four and collected most of the field up in the melee. The race was red flagged as Amber Crouch, one of the drivers involved in the incident, had to be cut out of her car. She was conscious but was taken to a hospital. The feature was shortened to 15 laps as Richard Craven led the remaining cars to the green flag. Craven, who was sitting nine points behind Ledford at the beginning of the race, pulled to a quick lead followed closely by Ledford. Craven pulled away with five laps to go to win by three car lengths but Ledford won the championship by four points.

“This feels good,” said Ledford, who finished second in the race. “I want to congratulate Ledford,” said Craven. “It was a blast racing this year with him. It was fun and this is an awesome win.” Craven and Mounce were heat winners.

In the 20-lap modified feature, Jeffrey’s dad, Jay, padded his points lead by taking the race wire-to-wire. A late caution flag bunched the field but Ledford was able to hold on for the win over Mike McKinney and Lance Dehm, who currently sits second in points. “I will be glad when this is over (the points chase),” said Ledford. “It is a good track and my crew worked hard to get my car ready.” Ledford, McKinney, and Chenoa’s Jimmy Dehm were heat winners.

The 30-lap late model feature saw New Berlin’s Brandon Sheppard take a quick lead over his fellow competitors. Caution flags bunched the field. On a restart with 11 laps to go, it was ruled that Sheppard jumped the gun and was put in second place behind Tonica’s Scott Schmitt. The green flag flew and Schmitt held off a charging Sheppard and El Paso’s Ryan Unzicker for the win. “I made some mistakes toward the end of the race but I took my time and held on for the win,” Schmitt said. Heat winners were Schmitt, Sheppard, and Kevin Weaver.

Sheppard scores ALMS win, Harrison picks up Modified Nationals Victory

by Rocky Ragusa

Six feature races were held Saturday night at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway, highlighted by the American Late Model Series and the Summit Modified Nationals races.

Brandon Sheppard overtook Bobby Pierce on lap 17 and pulled away for the $2,000 to win American Late Model Series win. “The car was real good tonight. My grandpa made some changes and they seemed to help. I could race anywhere on the track, “said Sheppard. Pierce, Ryan Unzicker, Scott Bull, Scott Schmitt, Daren Friedman, Jay Sparks, Dan Flessner, Kevin Weaver, and Jay Morris took the top ten positions. In group qualifying, Friedman (12.621) and Bull (12.677) led each group. Pierce and Bull took heat wins.

In the $1,500 to win Summit Modified Nationals race originally scheduled for June 21, series champion Mike Harrison dominated the 30 lap race and took his seventh win on the tour. Completing the top ten were: Jeff Leka, Lance Dehm, Jay Ledford, Levi Kissinger, Mike McKinney, Dave Porth, Cory Schwengel, Jeb Friedman, and Jared Cagley. “Fairbury has a tough group of drivers. It’s always hard to get a win here," spoke Harrison.

Lance Dehm used slower traffic to his advantage in the regular Modified race. Dehm was behind race leader Mike Harrison when they came upon traffic with four laps to go in the 20 lap feature. Harrison, with nowhere to go, slowed and Dehm found a hole to squeeze by for the lead. Dehm pulled away and scored his fourth win of the year. A jubilant Dehm commented in victory lane, “I had to get up on the wheel. The horseshoe fits now and I’m ready to leave it there. I know lapped traffic played into it. I thought that was the only opportunity and you know what, win or wear it. I haven’t been this excited in a long time. It was a heck of a run.” Harrison, Jeb Friedman, Jeff Curl, Steven Brooks, Jay Ledford, Levi Kissinger, Jeff Leka, Mike McKinney, and Jared Cagley completed the top ten. Friedman took fast time honors at a 13.818. Friedman, Ledford, and Dehm won heat races.

The Street Stock class held two features including their June 21 make up race. In the regularly scheduled race, following a caution on the 13th lap, Matt Maier raced side by side for the lead with Rick Thomas. Maier was able to pull to a slight advantage and nip Thomas at the line for his second win of the year. “Those late race cautions killed me. I had harder tires on than Rick. He could run the bottom better,” said Maier. Jason Maier, Brandon Kessinger, Calvin Coleman, Andrew Funk, Terry Miller, Darrell Dick, Nick Clubb, and Eric Gaus completed the top ten. Coleman was the race’s fast qualifier at a 15.409. Jason Maier and Kessinger took heat race wins.

After a crash eliminated point contenders Jeffrey Ledford and Richard Craven and caused damage to Richie Rich’s car, Dustin Mounce running on the ragged edge took his first feature win of the season. A somber Mounce spoke following the win. “It’s awesome to get the win; unfortunately I do need to apologize. I did get loose coming off of the corner. It’s the last thing I wanted to do is tear anyone up. I apologize to all the drivers and fans. The high side was very hard to run tonight. I’m happy to get the win but it’s not the way I wanted to get it.” The remainder of the top ten were: Paul Graf, Rod Rusher, Scott Hatzer, Tyler Roth, Matt Mills, Anthony Craven, Eric Legner, Bryant Frechette, and Richie Rich. Ledford was the night’s fast qualifier at a 14.287 and was a heat race winner along with Mounce.

In the Street Stock make up race, Don Hilleary lived up to his nickname, “the Highside Hillbilly”. Starting in the fourth position, Hilleary moved by Lukes Gash on the second lap and used the top side to his advantage. Hilleary pulled away from the field to pick up his first win of the year. “We have been struggling this year after having a dominating season last year. We finally got it back to where it’s right,” spoke Hilleary. Thomas, Clubb, Funk, A.J. Meiferdt, Matt Maier, Jason Maier, Kessinger, Gaus, and Nathan Lyday rounded out the top ten.

Wenger Leads the Way for FALS Win

by Rocky Ragusa

With fans, race teams, and officials still talking about last weekend’s Prairie Dirt Classic, there was no hangover as drivers put on a great night of UMP racing action at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway.

Making their first ever appearance to the ¼ mile dirt oval were the Speedway Motors Illinois Lightning Sprint Series. Korey Weyant took the lead at the start of the 20-lap, $600 to win, Williard Bess Memorial race with Billy Brickley, Andy Baugh, Dave Baugh, and Brent Burrows trailing. Weyant set a lightning fast pace and began lapping cars by the third lap. Following a caution on the fourth lap, Weyant checked out on the field. Point’s leader Gedd Ross took advantage of the restart and moved by Burrow and Dave Baugh to take over fourth by the fifth lap. At the halfway point, Weyant held a straight away lead over Brickley and soon came on the slower cars. Brickley was able to catch up to Weyant, but once Weyant cleared traffic, he was able to pull away. Caution came out on the 17th lap as Dave Baugh spun out in turn two. On the restart, Weyant battled with Brickley for the lead. Weyant’s car began to slide up the track as Brickley looked to take the lead. On the last lap, Brickley looked to have an opportunity to take the lead, but was forced to back off to keep from hitting a tire in the infield. Weyant led Brickley, Burrows, Andy Baugh, Austin Archdale, Larry Eastin, Brad Funk, Dave Baugh, Ross, and Andrew Funk. Following the race, officials and race teams expressed their gratitude to the speedway for the opportunity to race at Fairbury. The track’s condition gave the drivers an opportunity for plenty of two and three wide racing for the fans.

In the 15-lap UMP Street Stock race, outside front row starter A.J. Meiferdt outgunned Nick Clubb into turn one to take the lead as Clubb, Rick Thomas, Brandon Kessinger, Jason Maier, and Matt Maier followed in a tight group. Meiferdt held a five car length lead as Clubb and Thomas put on a show with a fierce side by side duel for second. Jason Maier was able to move by Kessinger for fourth on the fifth lap as Matt Maier and Calvin Coleman looked to move up. At the halfway mark, Clubb and Thomas were still racing side by side enabling Meiferdt to open a 10 car length lead. Thomas got loose coming off of turn four with six laps to go and gave Clubb a little breathing room. Clubb was able to close up on Meiferdt with two to go as Jason Maier got by Thomas for third. The laps ran out for Clubb and Maier as Meiferdt was able to take his first win of the year. “Anytime you can come out and beat the caliber of competition here, it’s unreal,” said Meiferdt. “We worked on the car over the winter. We have struggled this year. The last few weeks have gotten better and we finally got it done.” Clubb, Maier, Thomas, Matt Maier, Kessinger, Coleman, Darrin Kohler (hard charger), Lukes Gash, and Darrell Dick completed the top ten. Kessinger set fast time at a 15.613, while Clubb and Meiferdt took heat race wins.

In a see-saw battle for the Sportsman track championship, Richard Craven clung to a one point lead over Jeffrey Ledford. Rod Rusher took the lead at the start of the 15-lap race as Scott Hatzer tried to hold off Ledford. Ledford moved by Hatzer on the third lap while Matt Mills looked to hold off Richie Rich in a race for fourth. Caution came out on the fourth lap as Bryant Ferchette looped it in turn two. On the restart, Rusher led Ledford with Hatzer trying to hold back Rich. Hatzer’s night came to an end on the sixth lap as contact with Rich brought out the caution and ended his night. The restart had Rich power by Ledford to take second and looking to take the lead. Rich worked the inside of Rusher before moving into the lead on the ninth circuit. 

Ledford hit his marks and got by Rusher for second with five laps to go. Ledford closed the gap on Rich as a caution fell for debris with three laps remaining. The field went single file on the restart as Rich looked to hold off Ledford. Ledford used the track’s cushion for momentum and was on Rich’s bumper. The two gladiators raced side by side for the win as the white flag was waved. The crowd was on its feet as neither driver was going to back down. Ledford edged ahead of Rich in turn three and held on for the victory. “I ran the bottom at the beginning and thought that was where I would be best at, “an exhausted Ledford stated. “ I started rolling on the top and it was fast, when I hit it right. The last lap I got a good shot. My crew told me to run the bottom of three and four. I didn’t know what to do so I ran the top and it paid off.” With his win Ledford moved back into the points lead, by nine over Craven. Trailing Ledford and Rich were Richard Craven, Anthony Craven, Rusher, Mills, Dustin Mounce (hard charger), Tyler Roth, Brian Albus, and Amber Crouch. Ledford was the night’s fast qualifier at a 14.292. Rusher and Hatzer took heat wins. 

Jimmy Dehm and Jeb Friedman, both drivers’ hungry for a feature win, led the field to the green flag in the 20-lap UMP Modified race. Friedman took the lead with Dehm, Lance Dehm, Jay Ledford, and Jeff Curl in tow. Friedman held a five car length lead as Jimmy Dehm repeatedly turned back Lance Dehm, while Jay Ledford and Jeff Curl raced side by side for fourth. At the 10th lap, Jimmy Dehm worked his way by Friedman for the lead and Lance Dehm took over second on the next lap. Jimmy Dehm moved out to a 10 car length lead as Ledford looked to take third from Friedman. Caution came out on lap 14 as Dan Rork stopped on the back stretch with mechanical problems. On the restart, Lance Dehm got under Jimmy Dehm for the lead but Jimmy Dehm was able to turn Lance Dehm back. Another caution fell on the 17th lap as Dave Porth stalled on the track with mechanical issues. The restart found the field going to a single file restart. Lance Dehm entered turn one and executed a slide job to move into the lead but Jimmy Dehm came back. Lance Dehm wasn’t going to be denied the lead and came back to reclaim the lead. Lance Dehm hung on to pick up his third win of the year at FALS. “That was a heck of a race,” commented Dehm. “The car had enough bite in the middle. I just gave it all I could.” Trailing the Dehm’s were Friedman, Ledford, Curl, Cullen Breeden, Jared Cagley, Kevin Hastings (hard charger), Alex Graf, and Curt Rhodes. Rork was the fast qualifier at a 13.782. Jimmy Dehm and Friedman took heat wins.

In the 30-lap UMP Late Model feature, McKay Wenger looked to make it two wins for the weekend. On the start Wenger quickly moved into the lead as Daren Friedman, Joe Harlan, Jay Morris, and Dan Flessner followed. Wenger set a tremendous pace and began to lap slower cars by the eighth lap. The traffic allowed Friedman and Harlan to edge closer to Wenger. Harlan showed the side of his car to Friedman for several laps, briefly taking over second. Some of the lapped cars were in a race of their own and on the 15th lap the leaders had to use caution in working their way by them. Harlan got by Wenger for the lead on lap 16, but the next lap Wenger moved into the front and wasn’t going to be denied on this night. A season of frustration ended with Wenger taking a popular win in front of his hometown fans. “After the heat race I told the crew the car was even better tonight than it was last night. Sometimes with the late model it’s easy to dial yourself out but then it’s just as easy to get back into the ballgame,” said Wenger. Friedman, Harlan, Jay Sparks, Flessner, Scott Bull (hard charger), Mike Mullvain, Steve Thorsten, Torin Mettille, and Eric Vaughan rounded out the top ten. Friedman was the event’s fast qualifier at a 12.707. Friedman and Wenger took the heat race wins.

McCreadie Captures Thrilling Prairie Dirt Classic

by Kevin Kovac

Tim McCreadie had high praise for Fairbury American Legion Speedway after emerging victorious in Saturday night’s epic 25th annual Prairie Dirt Classic.

“They said they do it right here and they’re right — they did it right tonight,” raved McCreadie, who earned $25,650 for capturing a thrilling 100-lap World of Outlaws Late Model Series event that featured eight lead changes among four drivers and countless twists and turns. “This is an awesome racetrack, and that race was a lot of fun.”

Charging forward from the 17th starting spot, McCreadie, 40, of Watertown, N.Y., overtook defending PDC champion Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., for the lead on lap 76 but was far from home free. He swapped the top spot four times with the 40-year-old Babb before gaining command for good on lap 95.

Of course, on an unforgettable night at a quarter-mile oval dubbed ‘America’s Dirt Track,’ the final lead change didn’t mean the race was over. McCreadie gave himself an undeniably anxious moment on lap 98 when brushed the outside wall in turn two, allowing Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., who had just passed Babb for second on a lap-96 restart, to mount a last-ditch bid for victory.

Owens, 42, surged to the outside of McCreadie entering turn three, nearly nosed ahead to lead lap 99 with a crossover move off turn four and appeared primed to slide by McCreadie through turns one and two, but the former WoO champion wasn’t going to be denied. McCreadie absolutely rocketed off the outside off turn two — squeezing the scant space between Owens and the wall — vaulted ahead down the backstretch and beat Owens back to the finish line by 0.691 of a second.

Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., finished third after overtaking both WoO points leader Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., and Babb following the lap-96 caution flag. The 21-year-old driver started from the pole position and led laps 1-29 but had to rally after losing his rhythm and falling as far back as eighth place midway through the 100-lapper.

Babb, who started second and led four times for a race-high 44 laps, slipped to fourth at the finish. Lanigan, who started third and led lap laps 41-54, completed the top five.