Sunday, April 22, 2012

Waiting Out the Rain at the Big Half Mile

The weatherman has been doing a pretty good job the last few weeks, so as we moved towards the weekend, I did not pay much attention to the forecast after seeing on Thursday that Saturday and Sunday were looking good, especially since my plans had been pretty much set in stone since January. So it was a bit of a shock when I got off work Saturday morning to reports of likely evening rain showers in the West Liberty,Iowa area. With Darryl and I holding rain checks from last week in Peoria,Il, we were not too thrilled with the notion of adding to that collection. But the West Liberty fairgrounds half mile is one of my very favorite venues, and I have a similar affection for the IMCA Deery Brothers Summer Series. So without much discussion, Darryl and Fred came to La Grange and after picking up grandson Keagan, we headed north, dodging raindrops most of the 127 mile trip. Buddy Bob Litton offered up an encouraging report via cell phone as we rolled north out of Mt Pleasant, too stubborn to even turn on the windshield wipers. Arriving plenty early at the track, we held off buying tickets, opting instead to walk the perimeter of the pit area, visiting with various drivers and crewmen, checking out the cars and keeping an eye on the sky. As the drivers meeting was called, we took the plunge and headed inside. My wife was at home watching the radar, and had told us to expect showers around 10:00 PM, so I became a clock watcher. When the program started about 25 minutes late, we got nervous, and when we realized the running order would have the 40 lap late model headliner last, that feeling increased. Still the heat races rolled off in good time, as the car count was short in three of the four support classes. Seven IMCA Sport Compacts ran a heat race, and the eleven IMCA mods were split in to two heats. And wouldn't you know that each heat had one scratch, giving us a five and a four car heat. As the five late model heats began, former late model racer Boone McLaughlin, his wife Jackie, who was celebrating her birthday, and Boones' pitman Bill Brown and his wife Teresa arrived to filled the seats we had saved for them. Defending Deery Series champion Ray Guss Jr. made a turn four, last lap pass to edge Joel Callahan for the first heat win. Guss had blown his third engine of the young season the night before at the Davenport series race, and was using a power plant borrowed from the Friday winner, Mike Murphy Jr., and the Swanson team. Ray has announced plans to be a Saturday night regular at Liberty this season, and he remains a popular figure there from his years racing there with the NASCAR dirt series. Nick Marolf grabbed heat two, while track regular, young Jonathon Brauns prevailed in heat three. Mark Burgtorf lead all the way in heat four in the Lynn Richard # 15, and Tyler Bruening nabbed heat five. Seven stock cars and 19 open mods completed heat race action, follwed by two late model B- mains. Murphy and Jay Johnson took the checkers in the 12 lappers, and we were ready for feature racing. As that 10:00 hour got ever closer, we still hoped the traveling series would be moved up in the running order. With the temperature dropping, Keagan and I went under the bleacher to the concession area to warm up, finding ourselves witnesses to an informative and humorous bench racing segment between McLaughlin, late model diver Andy Nezworski, who was a spectator as well, and Charlie Mc Kenna. Charlie was in the middle of a rough weekend, having been the victim of a hard crash at Davenport in the Brad Coin owned ride. Driving one of his own # 22 cars on Saturday, Charlie apparently broke an engine in his heat race. Although we spent what seemed like an extended time out of our seats, the 4 cylinder feature used all that time to complete their 10 lap finale. We got back to our seats in time to see double duty Ryan Dolan run off with the IMCA mod main in a red # 11 ride. I was looking forward to seeing Quad City hot shoe Thad Wilson and second generation driver Andrew Schroeder compete, but both had early problems take them out of competition. The seven stock cars had multiple cautions before what I would guess to be a third generation driver, young John Hemsted captured his first ever feature win. It was neat to watch the # 34 fly around the half mile, bringing back memories of the late Ron Hemsted doing the same in the 1970s. Knowing the forecast, we thought the late models might run ahead of the open mods, as the 10;00 hour was upon us, but it was the open wheel guys who rolled out next. With the exception of  surprise entrant Kelly Shryock, the mod field was pretty much Saturday night regulars who could have easily handled double features next week, but then I was not in charge. When the green flag waved, the veteran Shryock took off from his front row start, but after one lap the rain began and the yellow flag waved. To their credit, track officials kept the cars moving around the speedway and after a short delay the sprinkles stopped, and racing resumed. Stumpy Brockert, who looked strong in winning his heat race had tagged the tail of the field, and went pitside during the delay with engine troubles. The race stayed green through 12 laps, with Scott Dickey and Dolan shadowing Shryock, and then the rains came again, much harder this time. It might have been prudent the call the 20 lapper complete and try to get the late model portion of the show going, but very few of the late models had come to staging, and my guess is some had already loaded up, as it appeared the night would end at this point, as the young ladies sitting in front of us offered up a radar look on their phone that showed a large patch of green sitting over us. Somehow, the rain again stopped just in time, and after several packing laps, we again went green. Dolan seemed to lose his mojo on the restart, falling to sixth  - otherwise the front cars held their spots, with Shryock taking the win over Dickey. Amazingly, the mods covered the entire 20 laps with no cautions except for the rain, as the track stayed wide and smooth.
Realizing they had a chance to race, the 24 IMCA late models lined up and without the usual pomp and circumstance, came to the green flag.  Pole sitter Jay Chenoweth retired on lap one, as outside row one starter Matt Ryan took the early lead. Former sprint car racer Jeff Mitrisin gave up his row seven starting slot, tagging the tail and also retiring early as did ninth starting Burgtorf, who made only a couple of laps. About seven laps in, Callahan grabbed the top spot, taking Justin Kay with him. The caution flag waved on lap 12 for a spinnging Dave Stichter, and on the restart fifth starting Guss charged from fourth to second. Meanwhile, former track champ Andy Eckrich had shot from a row eight start to fifth, and moved to third on the restart. As Andys brother Denny moved quickly forward for his row six slot, Andy grabbed the runner up slot on lap 24 of the 40 lapper. Three laps later, Denny took third, and the brothers began and eight lap shootout, with Denny taking second in the " Flying 50 " on lap 35. With only the one caution period, Guss was uncatchable, as he expertly worked traffic , lapping into the top fifteen. Ray took his first series win of 2012 in the Roberts Motorsports # 58 ahead of the Eckrich brother, Denny and Andy. Kay drove a solid race to a fourth place finish, and Kurt Kile, who has made the move to IMCA, nipped Callahan at the line for fifth. Bruening started seventh and finished there, while all time series win leader Jeff Aikey moved into the top five before finishing where he started, in eighth. Murphy advanced seven spots to ninth, and Marolf started tenth and finished there. The final checkers waved around 11:00, and we encountered only a few raindrops until our coffee stop at Ainsworth Junction.
  Hoping for a field in the low or mid thirties, we were very pleased with the 43 IMCA late models that checked in. It was good to see veteran Ron Boyse back in a late model, while it was my first late model look at newcomers, Drake Ostrom
# 18o, and Check Hanna # 65.  It was my second time to witness the new redraw procedure, where the heat qualifiers are lined up behind playing cards representing starting postions and the drivers are allowed to keep their card or trade with another driver to try and improve their starting spot. While a novel idea, most drivers seemed inclined to not ruffle any feathers by keeping their own card. Perhaps this should be used only occasionally, as it does take quite a bit of time, which could have been crucial last night. While I get the entertainment value, I am still a  firm believer in " get 'em in and get 'em out, " especially on cold, rainy nights like we have been having often this season. Although we were expecting rain around West Liberty, their was none forecast for our area, but as we got home last night, it was obvious that there had been quite a bit fall, and with more over night, Quincy Raceways was again forced to postpone the rescheduled UMP Northen All Star show for tonight, Sunday April 22. Next Sunday will be a regular weekly show at QR.
  As we picked up Keagan last night, his Neighbor, Beau Taylor was loading up his # 2T stock cars for a trip to Bloomfield Speedway. Beau was back home as we dropped Keagan off, but he told him this Morning that Bloomfield did beat the weather, getting their show in, with Taylor picking up a second place finish.
  Thanks to Keith Pratt " crew  chief " Melissa Mc Carty, for keeping up updated via Twitter last night on the action at I -55 Raceway in Pevely, Mo., where Keith started last in his heat, but finished fifteenth in the 25 car late model show won by Jeff Johns.
  Tri City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, Il. was rained out of their second attempt to offer up the MARS late models on Friday.
  Late model points start this weekend at the IMCA venues, and the early season specials are winding down, so the calender for the coming weekend is open on Saturday, with a trip to Quincy Raceway on Sunday.
   Say " Hi " if you see us as we go Racin' Down the Road.

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