by Rocky Ragusa
The green flag unfurled Saturday night at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway for the 72nd consecutive year. A good group of race teams and fans converged at the 1/4-mile dirt oval on a chilly night. Kevin Weaver (Late Model), Jamie Lomax (Modified), AJ Meiferdt (Street Stock), Steven Mattingly (Sportsman), and Brendan Patterson (Hobby-Modified) claimed feature wins.
Mike Spatola was the night's fast qualifier in the Late Model division at 12.678 seconds, but was forced to drop out on the pace laps of the feature with an electrical fire under the hood. Kevin Weaver took the lead at the start of the 30-lap race as Scott Schmitt applied pressure for the lead. Weaver found the top groove to his liking and was able to put some distance on Schmitt during the middle portion of the feature. As Weaver had to contend with slower cars in the closing laps, Schmitt closed the gap. Weaver was able to hang on for the win, and in the process, surpassed Roger Long for the most career feature wins in the Late Model class at Fairbury with 67. “I remember about five years ago talking with Roger. I told him that I would never catch him,” Weaver said in victory lane. “It’s an honor for me to even be mentioned with him.” Schmitt, Dan Flessner, Myles Moos, Ryan Vanderveen, Torin Mettille, Steve Thorsten, Charlie Olson, 16th starter Jay Morris, and Glen Thompson completed the top ten. Weaver and Schmitt took the heat race wins.
Fairbury’s Modified division promises to be a wide open affair for 2018. There were 19 drivers on hand for the opener with McKay Wenger returning to the open wheels. He set the fast time at a 13.953 second clip. Wenger and Valparaiso's Frank Marshall claimed heat wins. In the 20-lap contest, Wenger led at the start as the cars stuck to the bottom groove. Zeke McKenzie, Jamie Lomax, Frank Marshall, and Brandon Roberts followed in tight formation, none looking to try a different line. Jeffrey Ledford broke ranks and went to the top side hoping to gain ground on the leaders but never found the traction he needed. After a caution on the 11th circuit, Wenger slipped up and Lomax saw his opportunity. Lomax used the middle line to get by McKenzie and Wenger for the top position. Wenger, with a go-for-broke attitude, put his car on the top looking to reclaim the lead. Lomax was able to fend off his competitors for his first-ever win at the Fairbury oval. Marshall, Wenger, McKenzie, Roberts, Ledford, Kyle Hammer, Chevy Miller, 17th starter Chad May, and Dave Porth completed the top ten.
One of Fairbury’s toughest classes saw 20 Street Stocks in attendance for their 15-lap race. Joe Brown was the fast qualifier at 15.231 seconds. Jason Maier and AJ Meiferdt won their heat races. Following three early cautions, defending UMP National Champion Meiferdt took control of the race on a bottom dominated surface. Cody Clubb, in one of his few dirt starts, was able to get by Maier for second. A caution fell on the field with five laps to go which gave Clubb a chance to give Meiferdt a run for his money. Meiferdt proved to be too strong on this night and picked up the win. “I tried running against the wall for a few laps but the car works good on the bottom,” Meiferdt said. Clubb turned in a good performance for second with Jerrad Krick, Jason Maier, and Josh Griffith following. 18th starter Al Gray, Megan Erwin, Matt Hammond, Don Hilleary, and Eric Legner rounded out the top ten.
Ten Sportsman cars were on hand for their 15-lap feature. Steve Mattingly set fast time at a 15.316-second clip and won the lone heat race. Mattingly took the lead at the start of the feature with Richard Craven following. Mattingly had to put his car against the wall to avoid a spinning Anthony Craven for the only caution flag in the race. On the restart, Mattingly outdistanced his competition and took his first career win. “I didn’t think this day would ever come,” a jubilant Mattingly commented afterward. “We have been at it a long time and it feels good to get that win.” Richard Craven, Brandon Pralle, ninth starter Amber Crouch, and Tyler Roth made the top five. Matt Ramer was sixth with Michael Ledford, Dan Coit, Anthony Craven, and Valerie Hurt following.
The entry level Hobby-Modified division is beginning to increase in car count. Jason Brandt set quick time at 15.258 seconds over 11 other drivers. Brendan Patterson and Bryan Saner took heat wins. Patterson survived several cautions and went unchallenged on a track surface that is to his liking. “My car works well on a dry/slick track. We usually struggle with a tacky track so tonight was our night,” said Patterson. Makinzi Semmens had her best race to date with a second place finish, followed by Darren Kerrins, Brendan Ramer, Brandt, Macy Vaughan, Cathy Crego, Mike Petersen, Thad Gee, and Paul Ramer.