by Rocky Ragusa
When the Fairbury American Legion Speedway puts big money on the line for the Modified division, expect Highland’s Mike Harrison to make the trip. Harrison continued his dominance by winning the sixth annual Casey’s Modified Nationals on Saturday night. Fowler’s Michael Long took the Mullins Race Engines Non-Qualifiers Shootout, and Frankfort’s Frank Heckenast Jr. won the Late Model feature.
62 Modified teams representing 10 states took part in qualifying for the American Modified Series sanctioned $10,000 to win special. Kyle Strickler toured the track at 13.795 seconds, while Kenny Wallace clipped a time of 13.747 seconds to lead their respective qualifying groups. Wallace, Mike Harrison, Nick Allen, Strickler, Tait Davenport, and Mike McKinney earned heat race wins. Ryan Unzicker, Rich Dawson, track champion McKay Wenger, and current AMS points leader Trent Young advanced to the 50-lap feature by winning the B-Mains. Outside front row starter Harrison got the jump on Davenport to take the lead at the start, with fourth starter Strickler moving into second. Both drivers pulled away from the field until Wallace and McKinney made contact in turn four on lap eight for a caution. On the restart, calamity broke out as Jeff Curl, Young, Allen Weisser, Unzicker, and Devin Dixon piled up in turn one to bring out the red flag. Unzicker was the only one able to continue in the race. When the field went back to green, Strickler pulled alongside of Harrison several times but Harrison proved to be too strong for his competition. Harrison opened a 10-car length lead and never let up as he worked through the lapped traffic.
At the checkered flag, Harrison picked up his third consecutive Casey’s Modified Nationals win and fourth overall. “You have to qualify these races good to start up front, but I have proved you can start in the back and win,” said Harrison. “I would rather start up front so I can take care of my equipment. Kyle (Strickler) told me he had to drive hard tonight, but he made me drive hard.” Following Harrison and Strickler to the line were a hard charging Unzicker, Derek Losh, Tyler Nicely, Mark Anderson, Wallace, Wenger, 20th starter Lucas Lee, and Jeff Leka. Michael Long withstood a brief challenge from NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Justin Haley leading flag to flag in the Mullins Race Engines Shootout for non-qualifiers, collecting a $500 payday. Haley, Dean Hoffman, Chris Smith, Bob Pohlman Jr., Trey Harris, Bradley Jameson, Jeffrey Ledford, Marty Lindeman, and Logan Rogers completed the top ten.
$3,000 was on the line for the Late Model drivers in their 40-lap race. Mike Spatola was the fast qualifier at a 12.419 for the 23 cars on hand. Frank Heckenast Jr., Tim Manville, and Donny Walden posted heat race wins. Heckenast and Manville raced for the lead at the start before Heckenast took over and opened up a straightaway lead. While Heckenast was opening his lead, Manville had to contend with Walden. Walden was able to pull alongside Manville in the turns, but Manville had the power down the straights. While working the slower cars, Unzicker overtook Walden for third and closed in on Manville. Unzicker’s bid soon ended as he stalled on the track and was forced to drop out with engine problems. On the restart, Manville slowed and caused a seven-car pileup, as Jay Morris was the only car to fall out. Manville had to go to the track’s pit area for repairs and went to the tail of the field. Spatola moved into the second position on the restart. Spatola made several bids for the lead in the closing laps, but Heckenast was able to hold off his cousin for his second career victory at FALS. “I know Mike (Spatola) is real good here but we had a good car too,” Heckenast said. “Fairbury is a difficult track. I love coming here and hopefully I will be here more next year.” Allen Weisser was third, Scott Schmitt fourth, followed by Bob Gardner, a heavily damaged Walden slipped to sixth, Jay Sparks, Jeff Curl, Derek Chandler, and Manville.