Friday, June 14, 2013

An Audience With the King

Last week Keagan called me at work to see if I could get off work for a midweek race this Thursday. Since he has been going racing with us, he has always went where the " grown ups " decided to go, so this was his first time to request a specific race. He had just seen the press release that the " King," Richard Petty was going to be signing autographs as part of the annual NASCAR night at Macon, Illinois Speedway. As this was a track I had never been to before, I decided to go for it, as there was room on the vacation schedule at work. So we recruited Darryl and Fred, and headed east for the three hour or so trip. With the gates opening at 3:00 and autograph tickets limited to 300, we rolled out from Quincy about 12:30, arriving just after 3:00. Obviously they had started selling tickets early, but we were able to secure tickets in the 150s. Although a bit on the warm side, it was still a pleasant afternoon, and Keagan and I waited in line while our comrades wandered the grounds. Track co owners Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace and Tony Stewart were also scheduled to sign, as well as compete against each other on the track in UMP modifieds. When signing began at 5:00, Stewart was still about 15 minutes from the speedway, so we waited a bit longer until he arrived. Finally getting through the line, we were able to get in our seats as UMP late model hot laps began. The car count for this Big Ten Series late model show paying $1200 to win was a bit low at 14, but on the tight 1/5 mile oval, the track still seemed full. The late models were supported by a healty count of 25 UMP modifieds, 22 street stocks and nine sportsmen.
 Following hot laps, the late models ran time trials, with Steve Sheppard Jr. setting fast time to earn the pole in the first heat. Despite the autograph session, the show started promptly at 7:00 with a sportsman heat race. Eight of the nine entrants took the green, with Nick Macklin jumping out of his ride after the checkers to also compete in the modifieds.  The mods ran next, and the ( bad ) luck of the draw had all three NASCAR shoes in the first heat. Still it was track regular Nick O'Dell taking the win ahead of a fast closing Schrader.
 The late models were third on the card, with Sheppard leading all eight laps to take the first heat win, while polesitter Brian Dively snared heat two.
  As you might expect, intermission was a bit lengthy. Petty had come to the stage to be interviewed during pre race ceremonies, but the other three spoke to the large gathering during the break. Stewart became a bit emotional while paying tribute to his good friend Jason Leffler, who had lost his life only the night before in a sprint car accident. Leffler had lived for about a year with Stewart at one point early in his NASCAR career.
  The feature order was the same, with Macklin taking the 15 lap sportsman finale in quick fashion.
   With 24 mods making the call for 20 laps, we had an idea it would be a marathon. Although the caution count was around a half dozen, there were no long delays, and the race was entertaining. I agree with Jeff Broeg, who has stated before he does not like the idea of an original restart on lap one with no one going to the tail following a yellow. In this case, the front row both spun, and restarted on the front. After a lap two yellow, the  single file restart saw 3/4 of the track covered with cars. Two more cautions and the front four all came to a stop in turn two as the leader lost control. As was the case all night, however, only the car causing the yellow went to the back, in this case it was O'Dell.  The caution waved again on lap eight, and one lap after the restart, Jeremy Nichols grabbed the lead. Schrader worked his way past second running Danny Smith working the top side of the track, and although he closed on Nichols several times coming to the checkers, there was little grip up top in turn two, and he could not get enough momentum on the back chute to complete a pass. Nichols held on for the win, with Schrader second, Smith third, and Chad Evans fourth. Wallace finished where he statred in sixth, while 19th starting Stewart moved up to challenge for tenth before falling to 13th.
 All 14 late models took the 25 lap feature green even though Chris Dick had slammed the wall in turns one and two hard in his heat. Sheppard got the jump on Dively on the start, and began lapping cars on the eighth circuit. The first stoppage came on lap 17, as Roger Brickler pounded the turn two concrete outside wall. All the time dDively had been shadowing Sheppard, with fourth starting Matt Taylor working on Dively. Three laps later, Michael Kloos came to a stop in turn three, ending his night on the hook. These were the only two yellows in the event, and the top three came to the checkers in a tight pack. With a slower car just in front, there could have been a big pile up at the checkers, but everyone made it through. Sheppard led all 25 laps for the win, followed closely by Dively and Taylor. Steve Lance Jr was leading the series points coming in and ran fourth, with Greg Kimmons making a alte pass to make the top five. The second five included Adam Mefford, John Beck, Brickler, Dick, and Steve Thorsten, who was unofficially one lap down.
  The street stocks were set to finish off the card, but we headed out, pulling out of the track at 9:30. Thanks to promoter ( co owner?) Bob Sargent for a well paced, quality show. Despite all the extra hoopla, Bob also has a minute to talk, and even Keagan was impressed that he was at the gate as we left, asking if everyone enjoyed the show.
  With rain in the forecast starting today, the rest of the weekend is iffy, but at least we have night number 16 in the books.
  Keagan will be celebrating his 17th birthday on Saturday, so if you see him around, this weekend, congratulate him!

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