by Rocky Ragusa
Debuting a new race car before an enthusiastic crowd, Richard Craven got the hat trick Saturday night by setting fast time, winning his heat race and then taking the $800-to-win feature at Fairbury American Legion Speedway. Craven, the defending sportsman track champion, missed the first two races at FALS because he was preparing the new race car for competition.
Pole sitter Craven raced side by side for five laps with Jimmy Dehm before taking sole possession of the lead. While working slower traffic on the 11th lap, Craven made contact with the slower car of Michael Maestes to bring out a caution flag. After the track was cleared, Dehm made several attempts to overtake Craven but Craven was able to pull away. Dustin Mounce and Richie Rich trailed the leaders by 10 car lengths before Mounce was able to break away from Rich and close the margin on Dehm. With five laps to go, Craven held a half-straight away lead and Mounce had caught up to Dehm. Mounce went to the top of the track to get by Dehm on the 18th circuit but time ran out as Craven cruised to the win.
“Everything on this car is brand new,” Craven said after the feature victory. “The guy that built my car had been in the hospital and I didn’t want to race without him. The car was awesome.” Mounce, Dehm, Jim Felker and Rich made the top five while Troy Dodson, Paul Graf, Timmy Dick, Ryan Huddleston and Scott Hatzer completed the top 10. Dehm and Rich joined Craven as heat race winners and Hatzer was the race’s hard charger.
Don Hilleary survived a rash of challengers to take his first win of the season in the 15-lap street stock race. Rick Thomas (second) and Lukes Gash (third) tried several times to take the lead, but Hilleary held on in a tight finish. “I’m usually running the top of the track, knocking down the walls, but running the low side paid off,” Hilleary said. “Rick and I are good friends. I want to thank him for racing me clean.” Thomas, Gash, Darrin Kohler and Matt Maier rounded out the top five and Nick Clubb, Terry Miller, Lee Hall, Alex Clubb and A.J. Meiferdt completed the top 10. Hilleary, Maier and Gash won heat races. Miller won the semi and Kohler was the hard charger of the race.
The 20-lap modified race was a barn-burner with Jay Ledford finding a way to take the checkered flag. Jeb Friedman took an early five-car length lead over the field of drivers. Four cautions in the first 10 laps kept the field bunched up and allowed drivers to cool their tires. Jim Farris followed in second while Jeff Curl and Lance Dehm raced for third with Dave Porth following. Curl was able to break free from Dehm after a caution on lap 3. Following another caution on lap 6, Curl tried several lines on the track to get by Farris, but Farris prevailed and pulled away from Curl. Friedman was enjoying a straight away lead by lap 10. Jay Ledford began to make his presence known. Running the top of the track, Ledford quickly got by Curl to move into third. A caution came out on lap 14 as Phil Line and Jared Cagley made contact in turn four. With the track cleared, Ledford got by Farris to move into second. On the 17th circuit, Ledford moved into the lead and after another caution on lap 18, Ledford was able to turn back the challenge from Friedman to take a much needed win.
“When Lance went to the bottom, I didn’t think we would have anything up on the top,” Ledford said afterward. “We keep on digging and digging. “I want to dedicate this win to Gary Cook Jr. and my wife, who had surgery this past week. I also want to thank my crew for all their hard work.” Gary Cook Jr., a three-time modified champion at FALS, lost his battle with cancer on Sunday.
Friedman, Farris, Curl and Justin Delong were top five runners and Dehm, Porth, Kevin Hastings, Cory Schwengel and Line completed the top 10. Cullen Breeden, Farris, and Friedman took heat wins. Sam Ball was the race’s hard charger.
Derek Chandler got the lead early and was in front of the field when he crossed the finish line for the late model feature victory. Chandler did not trail the 30-lap finale but did face challenges throughout before collecting his second win and the $1,200 top prize. As Chandler took the lead at the start, Donny Walden and Mike Glasscock raced for second and a four-way battle for third ensued between Scott Bull, Torin Mettille, Billy Drake and Eric Smith. They swapped sheet metal in a battle that had fans on their feet. Walden broke away from a fading Glasscock and closed up on Chandler. A caution came out on lap 9 for contact between Ryan Unzicker and Drake. After the track was cleared, Chandler tagged the wall in turn four and Walden made several tries to get under the race leader. Chandler held a 10-car length lead when Bull moved into second as Walden got loose. Chandler ran into slower traffic with 10 laps to go that allowed Bull to close the margin. Chandler worked the top, middle and bottom of the track the entire feature before moving to the top with five laps remaining. Bull tried several times to take the lead, but Chandler prevailed in the end.
“Jordon Zimmer gave me hand signals to where everyone was at,” Chandler said. “He helped a lot with this win. This has been an awesome year, so far.” Following Chandler in the top 10 were Bull, Walden, Drake, Kevin Weaver, Glasscock, Smith, Joe Harlan, Aaron Ricketts and John Gardner Jr. Chandler, Mettille, and Glasscock took heat race wins. Kenny Adams won the semi feature and Kevin Weaver was the hard charger of the race.