After a rain shortened Sunday last week, we were able to put together our first two night race weekend over the Easter holiday. Saturday night it was off to 34 Raceway in West Burlington for the highly anticipated sixth annual Slocum 50. This was the first year the race was not an IMCA event, as the open engines cars and stars from the Mars and Cornbelt Clash series along with the American Late Model Series dueled for a top prize of $10,555! In 2013, the Slocum 50 drew 46 cars, while the Mars, ALMS, Cornbelt show had 44 entries. Interestingly, the 2014 combined version drew a 46 car field, even with a vastly superior payout. Bur although both shows drew large crowds in 2013, Saturday night was easily the largest crowd for a late model show at 34 in many years!
I am not necessarily a big fan of single car qualifying, but it does give each car exposure on the track, and an opportunity for fans to digest the entire field. The track was a bit treacherous all night long, especially in turns three and four, and Justin Reed saw his night end in qualifying when he was sucked into the concrete wall. The format used was group qualifying by heat race draw, and each of the five groups registered a slower quick time than the previous group. Overall fast timer was Justin Asplin in group one at 16.109 seconds. Only the top three from each of the five heats secured starting spots in the feature, and Crane, Mo. ace Will Vaught powered from fourth to second in heat one to earn a row three slot for the 50 lap finale. Although the second heat was a stacked group, heat five was the most entertaining, as Brian Shirley and Brian Birkhofer battled side by side before Shirley took the advantage. Jason Utter, new dad Brandon Sheppard, Jason Feger, Bobby Pierce, and Shirley scored the heat wins. The track was reworked during intermission and stayed slick for the pole dash, as the five entrants finished where they started. Two B-mains transferred six more to the feature, with Chris Simpson and Ryan Gustin taking the checkers. Add three series provisionals, and the 24 car field was set.
Before the big money race, veteran John Schultz took the win in a hotly contested 305 sprint event , besting the 18 starters. The IMCA stock car feature was a nail biter. Cagey veteran Jason Cook waited patiently as Jim Redmon and John Oliver Jr battled hard lap after lap. But when the checkers waved, Cook had once again found his way to victory lane.
As the late models took the green, polesitter Utter vaulted to the lead with Shirley in tow. On lap four, it was the red hot young phenom, Pierce charging to the lead. Two laps later, rival youngster Sheppard moved to third and was on a rail. But on lap eight, the concrete wall sucked him in, doing serious damage to the suspension on the B5, costing him several positions. Contact on lap 14 between Shirley and Utter sent Jason into a spin, sending him to the tail, from where he made a couple more laps before going to the trailer. On the restart, Pierce charged ahead, as Feger moved to the runnerup spot. Despite a crippled hot rod, Sheppard began to work his way forward, moving past Shirley for third on lap 23. Pierce saw his big lead shrink as he hit lapped traffic from lap 28 to lap 32, but as Feger closed the gap, Shirley smacked that turn three wall, bringing out one more caution. With a clear track, Pierce pulled away, running the low groove in turns one and two and the high side on the other end, while Feger, the " Highside Hustler, " lived up to his nickname all the way around the 3/8 mile oval. The checkers waved for the teenage Pierce, with Feger holding off Sheppard for second. Local favorite Birkhofer advanced six spots to finish fourth ahead of Jimmy Mars. the next five spots went to Gustin, Ryan Unzicker, Jesse Stovall, Tony Jackson Jr, and Vaught. For Pierce, it made five wins in a row at five different tracks, all of them being special high paying shows. It also left him two for two at 34, where he took home $ 10,000 at last summers UMP Summernational race, his first time at the track.
We are told this race will continue to get better, and I have no doubt that the High Five crew and the Laue family will make it happen!
Sunday night the ALMS team headed to Quincy Raceways for a $2,000 to win late model special to cap off the weekend. Easter Sunday can be a tough sell for drivers and fans alike, but the new promotion team at QR was hoping to pull it off. The weather was outstanding, and the fans responded for what would tuen out to be the first complete show of 2014 after two rainy Sundays. Unfortunately, a combination of a three race weekend, a family holiday, decent farming weather, and some torn up race cars all contributed to a disappointing car count for the late models. An yet, the 40 lap headliner offered up an edge of your seat race.
The IMCA stock cars lead off the card, with defending track champion Able Huls leading all 18 laps to take the win over Jim Lynch, and Jerry Jansen.
The late models ran second, with fast qualifier and heat one winner Jason Perry, and heat two winner Ryan Unzicker on the front row. Unzicker put his # 24 out front at the green, with Perry trailing. Contact between Perry and Matt Furman gave row two starter Bobby Pierce an opeing, and he moved to second. The yellow waved on lap nine, for returning veteran Jamie Wilson, and on the restart, it was the Unzicker and Pierce show. Lap after lap, Ryan ran the middle groove, while Bobby tried the bottom lane. Pierce was a bit better in turns three and four, but Unzicker had the advantage in one and two. Both in Pierce chassis, they ran side by side on laps 26 and 27 before Pierce finally grabbed the top spot. As he began to pull away, headed for win number six in a row, his engine made a loud pop at the flag stand on lap 32, and his night was over as he coasted to the infield. As the laps wound down, Kevin Weaver found some extra speed high on the " hammer down " track, and charged to second around Jason Riggs. With just four circuits left, he could not run down Unzicker, who took his first ever win at QR. Weaver claimed second, and Riggs was impressive in his fist ever visit to the .29 mile oval, finishing third. Defending track champion Denny Woodworth, and 14 time track champ Mark Burgtorf completed the top five. Furman, Clint Kirkham, and Trace Westling trailed the top five at the checkers, with Pierce and Michael Long credited with ninth and tenth.
The IMCA sport mod class was 16 strong. Returning racer Joey Gower is wheeling a Chuck Ancell owned machine, and he has been on fire at Lee County Speedway in the early going. But Quincy Raceways is a whole different proposition, as Tony Dunker has owned the class since its inception. Gowe grabbed the early lead, but after a side by side shootout, sure enough Dunker held a slight lead past the flag stand as the caution came out. But Gower was not to be denied, and he retook the lead, and the win, with Dunker lurking in second. Another championship contender, Bobby Anders rebounded for early troubles to grab third.
Next up came the 18 strong UMP modifieds. Again, the finish was bit of a shocker, as Michael Long was able to wrestle the lead mid race from his fellow front row starter, Jacob Poel, from Spring Lake, Michigan. I must confess that I had never heard of Poel before seeing his name in the Saturday night results at I -55 Raceway in Pevely,Mo. But he collected third at the high banks, so I was excited to see him in the pits when I arrived at QR. Still, we are not accustomed to seeing Long give up a feature lead, especially to a first time visitor. But sure enough, Poel powered his black # 82 back to the front, taking the 25 lap win. Michael stayed close to finish second. Defending track champ Steven Delonjay ran fifth much of the race, but picked up two valuable spots at the checkers, rolling across in third.
The IMCA sport compacts completed the program, racing for 15 laps. While that seemed a bit long, it was good to see one heat race instead of two. Six car heat races in the 4 cylinder class rarely become nailbiters! Defending track champ Austen Becerra benefitted from a front row start - not that he needs any help! - to lead the distance, cruising to the win. Kimberly Abbott held off Mike Hornung Jr. for runner up honors.
During the races, promoter Kenny Dobson came thru the stands, offering the large crowd a one dollar discount next week if they show ticket stub, apologizing for a less than full field of late models. He certainly did not need to apologize for the quality of racing, however! The Ciltrak promotion team is working hard to return Quincy Raceways to its former glory days, and with a little luck and a patience from the loyal fan base, I think they will get it done!
It looks like the weather may finally be turning in the race fans favor, so hopefully I will see you soon, Racin' Down the Road!