After a 24 hour delay, my 2016 racing season kicked off at the Lee County Speedway in Donnellson,Iowa during the Spring Extravaganza. On Friday, a prior commitment in St Louis was going to keep me away from the opening night of the two day special, however when things wrapped up early, I headed north intending on make a mad dash to Donnellson. Making a call to friend Darryl as I drove through Hannibal, I found out that poor track conditions had forced cancellation of the nights events. So I focused on watching the weather forecast, hoping the approaching rain would somehow miss the track. As things began to look more favorable, I texted grandson Keagan who was taking a class in Hannibal, and he answered that he would head towards Canton when his class ended at 5:00. So again it would be a mad dash north, and we arrived at the 3/8 mile fairgrounds facility as the third IMCA stock car heat was under caution. Four IMCA sport compact heats and the same number of IMCA sport mod heats followed. And then it was time for our main reason for braving the rapidly cooling temperatures, the highly anticipated debut of the new Lee County Speedway late model class. Originally it was expected that a group of Nebraska area cars running similar crate engine rules would make the trip to help boost opening week numbers, but with the unfavorable weather both here and there, it was only " local " cars on hand for the $1,000 to win payday.
Still an acceptable field of ten cars signed in, not a bad total for a new class on a chilly March night.
A mixture of rules options also made it possible for IMCA spec engines to compete, and I am guessing at least one of the cars on hand took advantage of that option, but it was impossible to tell from the grandstand who was running what. What was immediately obvious is that more that half of the field was composed of drivers would very likely would not have late models in 2016 were it not for the new " economy " class.
The first heat was captured by polesitter Sam Halstead, followed by Colby Springsteen, and Richie Gustin, all IMCA late model competitors in 2015, then unretired racer Jeff Guengerich in a Lynn Richard owned car, and 2015 open engine driver Todd Frank.
Heat two went to Tommy Elston, who dropped from the late model to IMCA modified ranks in 2015, followed by another pair of modified veterans, Tyler Cale, and Derek Liles, stock car move up Louis Lynch, and rookie racer Gunner Frank.
Four IMCA modified heats and a pair of hobby stock qualifiers followed, as the 125 plus car field had now contested 19 heat races. Three B mains ran next, and with no intermission, it was feature time, 22 preliminary events run in about two hours!
The 17 car stock car 20 lap finale came first, with Jeff Mueller pacing the field early before his engine let go, spreading oil in turn four, causing a melee behind him. Although second running Greg Gill had spun in the dropped fluid, track officials rightfully ruled the caution was for Mueller, and Gill was allowed to keep his position on the track. gill, however could not hold off young Cayden Carter, as the Oskaloosa, Iowa driver powered around on the high side for the win, with veteran Damon Murty nabbing third. Central Missouri driver Derek Agee ran fourth, while John Oliver Jr. started deep in the field in the Kratzer racing # 4K, and rolled home fifth.
Next up it was sport compact time, with a full field of 24 of the 4 cylinder machines qualified out of the 32 entrants. Jason Breuklander paced the field early, but Brad Chandler from Cedar Rapids was behind the wheel of one of Josh Barnes # 13B cars, and he proved too tough, making the late pass for the win. Breuklander held the runner up spot, and the Benischek boys from Durant, Iowa, Luke and Jake,surrounded fourth finishing Josh Barnes.
The later models were up next, with Springsteen drawing the pole position. Heat one winner Halstead could not get up to speed, exiting the track on lap one. Meanwhile, Springsteen took out like a rocket, stretching out a big lead, and by the time sixth starting Elston overtook Gustin for second, Colby was nearly a half lap out front. Running caution free, the Morning Sun, Iowa hot shoe coasted to the first ever feature win in the fledgling class. Elston and Gustin also posted podium finishes. Three rookies followed, with Liles, Lynch, and Cale staying on the lead lap. Todd Frank, who fought handling issues on the fast but somewhat bumpy track was the final car running, and Gunner Frank, Guengerich, and Halstead all retiring early.
With Keagan functioning on two hours sleep - his shift at the University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia had ended at 3:00 AM followed by the all day class in Hannibal - we headed for Canton.
Another Oskaloosa pilot, Carter Vandenberg topped two Quincy Raceways regulars, Brandon Lennox and Austen Becerra in the sport mod finales, while former Montrose driver Josh Foster, who now calls Newton, Iowa home, passed Missourian Hunter Marriott in the modified finale, then held off Kyle Brown and Marriott to pick up the $1,000 check. Hobby stock hot shoe Shannon Anderson bested Nick Ulin and Eric Stanton to round out the evening.
Lee County will roar back to life on Friday, April 8 with sprint cars joining the other classes.
Before that, I am looking forward to opening night action at Quincy Raceways on Sunday, April 3 featuring UMP late models and modifieds along with IMCA stck cars, sport mods and sport compacts.
I am saddened to report that former racer and Quincy Raceways superfan, Kenny Pratt, father of racer Keith Pratt succumbed to his burn injuries this past week. Visitation for the recently turn 57 year old will be Monday, March 28 in Mendon,Il., with funeral services Tuesday. Rest in peace, my friend.