by Rocky Ragusa
On Driver Appreciation Night, where the Fairbury American Legion Speedway recognized the top ten drivers in each class, the racers returned the favor by presenting an intense night of racing on the 1/4 mile, dirt oval. Ryan Unzicker (Late Model), Jay Ledford (Modified), Brandon Pralle (Sportsman), AJ Meiferdt (Street Stock), and Jason Brandt (Hobby-Modified) wheeled their machines to victory lane.
22 I Beam Sliding Doors Late Models qualified for their 30-lap feature and Ryan Unzicker was the quickest at a 12.474. Unzicker, Scott Schmitt, and McKay Wenger won their respective heat races. Polesitter Unzicker took the lead on the start, as fifth starter Mike Spatola quickly moved into second, with Wenger, Schmitt, and Bill Hough following. The drivers set a lightning quick pace and were lapping traffic by the fifth circuit. By the halfway point of the race the top four drivers separated themselves from the competition running the top side of the track. On the restart after a lap 20 caution, Spatola slowed on the speedway for another caution. Unzicker led on the ensuing restart as Wenger got by Schmitt for second. Wenger attempted several times to overtake Unzicker, but Unzicker held his ground. Another caution fell on lap 25 for an incident with Donny Walden and Cole Swibold. On the restart, Schmitt took over second. Schmitt tried to slide job Unzicker, but Unzicker was too strong on this night and took his fourth straight win at Fairbury. “Behind me was a good show,” said Unzicker. “I could see someone on my inside and I was waiting for a slide job. We were just a tic good enough to stay upfront.” Schmitt, Jay Morris, Wenger, Kevin Weaver, Glen Thompson, Paul Stubber, 14th starter Scott Bull, Walden, and Swibold rounded out the top ten.
Bradley Braves freshman, Jeffrey Ledford, topped 29 other Varsitee Screen Printing Modified drivers in time trials with a 13.660. Ledford, Jay Ledford, and Jeff Curl earned heat race wins. Jimmy Dehm advanced to the 20-lap feature by claiming the semi-feature. Caution fell on the initial start of the race as Nick Lueth was hit from behind causing his car to become airborne. Lueth lost control of his car and Billy Puckett, Joey Iliff, and Mark Grosvenor got caught up in the accident. After the track was cleared, Jeffrey Ledford held a slight lead over his father, Jay, Steven Brooks, Curl, and Mike McKinney. The elder Ledford schooled the younger Ledford on the fourth lap for the lead, with Brooks, McKinney, and Josh Allen moving into fifth. Brooks slowed on the eighth lap to bring out a caution. Jeffrey Ledford looked under Jay for the lead but the ole man stood tough. McKinney began making noise and joined the Ledford’s in a race for first. McKinney took the second spot on lap 11 and immediately made Ledford aware of his presence. Caution fell on the 13th lap setting up an exciting finish. Ledford led, running the top, with McKinney following. McKinney tried setting Ledford up for a slide job in the waning laps but Ledford had enough to take his second straight feature win. “I have to thank Mike for running me clean,” spoke Ledford. “My car was a little tight on entry into the turns and I had to run a different line.” Following Ledford to the checkered flag were McKinney, Jeffrey Ledford, Curl, Allen, Travis Kohler, Dehm, 18th starter Grosvenor, Vince Cooper, and Jimmy Farris Jr.
10 CR Towing Sportsman drivers found Timmy Dick the quickest at a 14.814. Brandon Pralle won the lone heat race. Lake Nichoalds took the lead from Pralle on the second lap of the 15-lap race. Nichoalds was never able to shake Pralle from his bumper as Bryant Frechette and Steven Mattingly waited in the wings. Nichoalds car jumped the cushion in turn four, getting airborne, and Pralle shot by for the lead. Pralle, steadily improving over the season, was able to register his first career win. “The track was great tonight,” an excited Pralle said. “I can’t thank everyone enough.” Mattingly, Frechette, Anthony Craven, Scott Williams, Michael Ledford, and Dick completed the running order.
20 Tool’s Auto Sales Street Stock drivers saw Curtis Radke setting fast time at a 15.685. Andrew Funk and Mitch Hahn won heat races. Defending national champion, Funk, took the lead in the 15-lap race, with Joe Brown, AJ Meiferdt, Rick Thomas, and Radke following. Brown jumped the cushion in turn four giving Funk a little breathing room. After a lap five caution, Thomas stalled on the track to end his night. Radke moved into second and made several bids to take the lead from Funk, as Meiferdt looked for the right opportunity to move by the top two. Funk’s car began smoking in the closing laps of the race as Meiferdt took second with five to go. Meiferdt stayed on Funk’s bumper until two laps to go when he overtook Funk and won his ninth Fairbury race of the year. “Andrew made me work for that race,” Meiferdt said. I knew I had a good car. I had to find a clean track and keep digging.” Funk, Radke, Pete Odell, Matt Hammond, 12th starter Michael Schomas, Valerie Hurt, Dane Arvin, Nick Seplak, and Tanner Sullivan completed the top ten.
Nine Hobby-Modified drivers were on hand for their 12-lap event. Bryan Saner took the heat race win. Saner took the lead at the start and looked to be on his way to his first ever win until he began losing the handle on the car. Jason Brandt pressured Saner for the lead until Saner lost control with two laps remained. Brandt set the pace and took the feature win. “Bryan ran a great race,” Brandt said.” I wasn’t sure if I had enough for him, but I was patient and stuck it in there.” Brendan Patterson, Thad Gee, Mike Petersen, Graham Jackson, Makinzi Semmens, Saner, Macy Vaughan, and Haley Jones rounded out the field.