Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dodging the Weatherman at Donnellson and West Burlington

As the weekend approached, it looked as though this Easter weekend might be race free. But come 5:00 on Friday, the skies were cloudy but rain free as I left work in Quincy and headed towards Donnellson, half expecting to wind up with a rain check. Imagine my surprise as I encountered clearing skies and a dry race track! Hanging on to yet another spring cold, I settled in for the season opener at the 3/8 mile fairgrounds facility. The fact that late arrivals, 2017 registrations and whatever else muddied the waters caused the show to start about 30 minutes late was glaring because Lee County Speedway rarely starts even minutes late. A solid field of more than eighty race teams checked in, aided by cancellations around the Tri State area. Following heat races, the sport compact feature ran first, with Travis Demint showing off a sharp looking # 47T and running away from the field. Me3anwhile, the Reus, Mike and Brandon waged a great battle for runner up honors in the closing laps, with Mike holding on to second. Demint spent considerable time in the tech area, finally being declared legal. He was certainly the class of the field on Friday. The sport mods were second on the card, and they always put on a top notch show at the Lee County Speedway. Following the example set by the compacts, Brandon Lennox ran off with the win on Friday after sliding past early leader Jonathon Logue, who made the long haul from Boone,Iowa. Veteran Jim Gillenwater, who is adding money to the sport mod winner for the first ten races, charged to third at the checkers Followed by a tight battle between Brandon Dale and Tony Dunker. A somewhat surprisingly low car count of eleven signed in to compete in the UMP Pro Late Model class, as the Crate division is sanctioned for 2017. The Frank racing team, which last season boasted one open late model for dad Todd and crate cars for Todd and son Gunner, added yet another for son Chase. Todd picked up the first heat win, and lead in the early part of the 25 lap feature after heat two winner Brandon Savage set a quick pace in the opening laps before contacting the turn two guardrail, ending his night.Denny Woodworth, another veteran racing both an open engine and crate engine car, found a line past Frank to grab the lead following a spirited battle in which Frank pounded the cushion. As defending track champion Tommy Elston came from row four to battle with Frank for the runner up spot, Woodworth stretched his lead to nearly half a track. With no more cautions slowing the event, Denny cruised to the win. Elston settled for second, with Frank third, and Sam Halstead fourth. The Frank boys, Gunner and Chase rounded out the six cars running as the checkers waved. Next up was the IMCA stock car headliner. The opening laps were hotly contested with Jason Cook leading as Dane Fenton looped his ride in turn three. On the restart, the # 99 car of Scott Jordon lost a wheel in turn four. With the only wrecker on hand this night now being out of service, the safety crew attempted to load his car on the roll back truck on the grounds. After watching for several minutes not feeling my best, I decided to head for the car, giving up the final 13 laps of the event, which was won by Derrick Agee, and the IMCA modified finale won by Hunter Marriot. Again on Saturday, I kept an eye to the sky, hoping the Slocum 50 at 34 Raceway would somehow be able to avoid the rain. With the starting times moved up, Keagan and I headed out plenty early, in order to visit with the many tailgaters who prepare goodies in the parking lot. When we finally entered the grandstand, we could see a less than full pit area. This was somewhat expected after the Davenport Speedway had cancelled the Friday portion of the two day MARS, Corn Belt Clash swing. But is was not until later that it was announced that Mars had pulled their sanctioning from the event, telling their points chasers they could stay home. Sounds like plenty of blame to go around, and although this would not have affected my decision to go and support this amazing event, well enough of that.... Still an all star field of 18 super late models signed in, accompanied by about more than 20 305 sprint cars and 19 stock cars, all racing for huge purses before an nice crowd. The sun was out, with a strong breeze, and we kept one eye on the cell phone radar as the action began. Frank Heckenast Jr had set quick time last week at our visit to Peoria Speedway, and the second generation driver duplicated the feat on Saturday. Following three sprint heats, the late models also ran three starting straight up qualifies, with their 50 lap headliner to be lined up with heat one winner on the pole, heat two winner outside, etc. Fourth quick timer Chad Simpson grabbed heat one and the feature pole from the outside row one. Brian Shirley nabbed heat two from the pole, and polesitter Chris Simpson was the victor in heat three. Three stock car heats, with the top four in each redrawing for their feature, had us ready for main event racing. Following intermission, it was the 305 sprints coming to the grid. Harold Pohren had claimed the pole position, and he dominated the 20 laps to collect the $1755.00 check in his # 50P. Ben Waggoner was behind the wheel of the # 78 machine, but he settled for second ahead of John Schultz in a # 11, Shane Quam, and Jarod Schniderman. At this point in the program, I feel the need to mention a pet peeve. The schedule stated that the late models would run next in the feature order. I understand the it was still not dark, and the inbound storms were still miles away, but here is my complaint. Being a stock car fan, I would have certainly stayed for the $1055.00 finale, but there were many in the crowd who I am sure would have loved to get on the road home to hopefully beat the weather, not to mention the the following day was Easter. Add to that the fact that there is only one road out of 34 Raceway, and it can easily take an hour to get to the four lane. Certainly sticking to the running order as advertised would have done little harm. Of course the stock cars then had an unusual case of multiple cautions. With visiting David Brandies jumping from the pole to an early lead, it looked like he might follow Pohrens lead with a flag to flag win. But it was not to be, as outside polesitter Abe Huls and Jim Redmon kept the green #71 in sight. As the race approached halfway, John Oliver Jr joining the fray, moving to third. The third generation racer then used the high line to grab the lead, as Brandies faded from contention. The final eight circuits ran caution free, and Oliver and Huls ran side by side all the way, swapping the lead. With everyone on their feet, it was Oliver crossing the line first, with Huls settling for second. Redmon took third, Dustin Griffiths and Tom Bowling Jr. turned in top five runs. Following the second intermission, is was Slocum 50 showtime. A three wide battle featuring the Simpson brothers and Shirley opened the event, with Chris Simpson soon taking command. The 50 laps went caution free, and Chris spent most of the race negotiation slower traffic. Meanwhile, eleventh starting Bobby Pierce, two time winner of the Slocum in the previous three seasons, began to pick his way forward. With about ten laps to go, he seemed to find another burst of speed, clearing Shirley and third running Shannon Babb. Only Chad Simpson then stood between himself and Chris, who had built a sizable lead. Chad did what he could to hold off the faster car of Pierce, and Bobby used his fenders to try and create an opening. Hard racing, to be sure. Pierce finally grabbed second with a couple laps left, but ran out of time, as Chris Simpson collected the $ 10,555.00 big check. Pierce was scored second, ahead of Chad, Babb, and Shirley. Former winner Ryan Unzicker ran sixth, seventh was Dennis Erb Jr, in what looked like a Jay Johnson car with a #28. Heckenast rounded out the lead lap cars, with Bob Gardner and Jason Feger completing the top ten. A big thanks to Jessi, Brad, the Slocum family and the track promoters for going against the odds to stage the ninth annual Slocum 50!

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