Despite the forecast of cold temps and changes to the schedule, Darryl and I decided to make the long drive to take in the Thaw Brawl at the Izzo family 1/4 mile facility in Lasalle,Il. It was a new track for me, one I had wanted to get to for quite some time. Originally it was to have been night number two of the weekend, with a $2,000 to win UMP super late model show on Friday followed by the $15,000 to win headliner on Saturday. Heavy rains during the week wiped out the Thursday practice session and forced the Friday show to be moved to Sunday. Persistent clouds and a stubborn wind followed us to the track, where the temp registered 42 degrees upon our 4:00 PM arrival. Purchasing grandstand tickets, we circled the vast pit area, checking out the early arrivals. As it turned out, for what I am sure was a variety of reasons, not the least of which had to do with the weather, the car count turned out to be somewhat less than expected. The late models hot lapped by qualifying groups, with car counts of eight, eight, seven, and six. Wisconsin driver Todd Frank was announced as being in the final group, but his # 21 never hit the track during the night, so the car count sat at 29 or 30. The field filled out with 37 UMP modifieds competing for $1500 to win. 20 street stocks and 25 4 cylinder hornets also checked in.
As hot laps and single car qualifying progressed, a significant rut developed in the middle of turn one, and soon after in turn four. Track crews worked hard throughout the evening to smooth things out, but the otherwise hammer down track simply held too much frost for too long during this long winter.
Kevin Weaver, timing in group two set overall fast time at 12.313 seconds. The top three in each heat were inverted, with the top four from each ten lapper going to the 75 lap finale. Ryan Unzicker captured heat one, Dennis Erb Jr took heat two. Jeep Van Wormer came from row two to nab the third ten lapper, and Brian Shirley was victorious in heat four. Second generation racer Devin Moran made the long tow from Ohio to race for the first time in Illinois. After a heat race altercation with Ray Guss Jr, the only driver other than Frank to not come out for the consy,Moran came back to top the 12 lap B main. Popular youngster Bobby Pierce suffered a broken axle in his heat and was forced to come from row five to ease into the top four to make the feature field. With the American Late Model Series co sanctioning the event, two provisionals were issued to Brandon Thirlby and Phil Ausra.
With all prelininary events in the books, and the huge crowd shivering en masse, the 75 lap headliner came to the track first - thank you to the Izzos!
The four heat winners redrew for starting spots, with Shirley and Erb on row one and Unzicker and Van Wormer in row two. Shirley in his Riggs Motorsports # 81 jumped to the lead, but Erb powered by to lead lap one. The front two began to pull away, with the first of several cautions waving on lap six for Rusty Schlenk. On lap 19, the two leaders exchanged slide jobs for the top spot as Jason Feger moved from roe five into the fifth spot. The caution waved for McKay Wenger on lap 21, and on the restart, Shirley hit the turn four hole, causing a major pile up. Fifth running Scott Schmitt got the worst of it, leaving on the hook, with Feger, who was fourth, suffering a cut tire. It also effectively ended Shirleys quest for the big check. As we got back to green, Van Wormers run ended with an apparent blown engine, and one lap later both Weaver and Shirley were done. By now, Thirlby had entered the top six. 2013 winner Brian Birkhofer was about to go two laps down when he brought out the yellow on lap 34. By now, Iowa City native Matt Furman who now calls Columbus, Ohio home, had charged from seventh starting spot to a somewhat distant second to Erb. The Highside Hustler, Feger lived up to his nickname, charging back to sixth as the caution waved on lap 46 for Rich Bell. All this time, Scott Bloomquist, who started ninth, had run mid pack, avoiding the chaos. Now he began to move, closing on Furman before the #51 suffered a flat, moving Bloomquist to second and Feger to third. With five laps to go, it looked like Black Sunshine was ready to crash Erbs party, with Erb using a dandy move in lapped traffic to keep the lead until Bloomquist slowed with a flat left rear tire. He made a quick change, and with only six cars on the lead lap and a Delaware restart, he still had time to get to the front. However possible contact saw the left rear down again one lap later.
Fegers night ended following the restart, and Pierce, who seemed to struggle most of the night found himself in the runner up spot after starting 19th! As the checkers waved, Erb had led flag to flag, Unzicker worked the high line all night, starting third and finishing there. Bloomquist came back to fourth, with Jason Riggs having a solid top five, the final car on the lead lap. One lap down in sixth was Billy Drake, followed by Furman, and Wenger. Jason Jaggers was two laps down in ninth, Feger was credited with tenth, while Ausra was still running, three laps down in 11th. Although the modified feature promised to be a good one, the clock had ticked past 11:00, the temperature was now 32 degrees, and we were ready to head for the parking lot.
LaSalle Speedway is a great place to watch a race, with an empty infield offering good sight lines. The lighting is good, as is the PA, the bleachers set well above the track, and the high banked wide oval offers multiple grooves. Too bad for me it is fours hours from home, but I hope to make it back sometime! Arriving home, I see that the rescheduled show for Sunday was postponed due to water and sewer issues overnight, and mechanical problems with the grader. Still it was surely a successful start to 2014 for the central Illinois track. Our next race will likely be the Quincy Raceways opener set for one week from today, Sunday, April 6. Hope to see you soon, Racing' Down the Road!