by Rocky Ragusa
With added money on the line, the Fairbury American Legion Speedway welcomed 116 race teams on a hot Saturday night. Mike Harrison (Modified), Ryan Unzicker (Late Model), AJ May (Pro Late Model), AJ Meiferdt (Street Stock), and Steve Mattingly (Sportsman) picked up the big checks on a night sponsored by the Illinois State Rifle Association.
The American Modified Series was in town for a 30 lap, $2,000 to win contest. Josh Harris (14.298) and Randy Lines (14.264) were the quickest of the 47 drivers on hand in group qualifying. Ray Bollinger, Mike Harrison, Jeffrey Ledford, and Mike McKinney took heat race wins. Jeff Curl and Jay Ledford advanced to the feature by winning their respective semi-features. McKinney led the first lap before Harrison moved into the lead. AMS points leader Trent Young worked his way by McKinney and tried to give Harrison a run for his money. Harrison, the six-time UMP national champion, demonstrated why he has made Fairbury his personal playground. Harrison pounded the Fairbury cushion and withstood a brief challenge from Young to pick up the big check and his 11th career win at the track. Young, McKinney, Lucas Lee, Bollinger, Lines, Jeff Leka, Steven Brooks, McKay Wenger, and Josh Harris rounded out the top ten. “I have grown accustomed to Fairbury. I don’t know what it is,” Harrison said. “I have had my ups and downs with this place. Any chance I get I love to support Fairbury. For what they do for all of us Modified drivers, this is a special place.”
Kevin Weaver was the fast qualifier at a 13.428 among the 17 Late Model drivers for their 30 lap, $2,000 to win race. Weaver and Ryan Unzicker picked up heat race wins. Unzicker pulled out to a commanding lead at the start, as sixth starter Derek Chandler soon found himself in second. When the track went back to green after a caution on the ninth lap, Jeff Curl vaulted into fifth place. Chandler’s run came to a halt after Tim Manville made contact with Chandler’s left rear quarter panel causing a tire to go flat. On the restart, Unzicker led while Curl challenged Manville for the second position. Manville pulled away from Curl and set his eyes on the race leader. Manville made several attempts to take the lead, trying the top and bottom, but Unzicker held on for his second Fairbury win of the year. Following the duo were Billy Drake, Curl, Mike Spatola, Weaver, Dan Flessner, Bob Gardner, Chandler, and Bill Hough. “The fans got to see a heck of a race those last 15 laps,” an excited Unzicker said. “We were able to check out at the beginning. The car was good and then it got loose. I saw Manville and was looking to the left and right to see where he was going. I thank him for racing me clean. We both can pack our cars up, race another day, instead of crashing each other out.”
In their lone appearance to the track this season, 24 Pro Late Model drivers signed in for a $1,000 to win special. Trevor Gundaker turned in fast time at 14.068. Guy Taylor, Torin Mettille, and Dakota Ewing were the heat race winners. Mettille led the field to the green flag as six cautions plagued the event, with one young driver refusing to obey a black flag in the early going. After a lap six caution, Mettille led as AJ May repeatedly looked to move into the lead. Mettille looped his car in the third turn resulting in a caution, giving May the lead. After another caution on lap 14, May was able hold off Taylor for the win. The race was halted on lap 16 due to a time limit. Kyle McMahon, Brandon Eskew, Skyller Lewis, Mason Covey, Bobby Richey Jr., Jake Little, Roben Huffman, and Derrick Hufford completed the top ten. “It was hard to get into any rhythm with all those cautions,” stated May. “Torin had a good car, I am not sure what happened to him. This is my first ever win at Fairbury. I really love this place. Thanks to the track for giving us a great surface to race on.”
Joe Brown was the fastest qualifier at a 15.587 of the 14 Street Stock drivers on hand. Brown and track points leader AJ Meiferdt claimed heat race wins. Meiferdt led at the start of the 15-lap race, while fifth starting Pete Odell quickly took the second position. A yellow flag came out with five laps to go which bunched up the field. Meiferdt stuck to the bottom groove and opened a five-car-length lead over Odell and took his second feature win of the season. Matt Hammond held off a hard charging Don Hilleary for third, followed by Cody Clubb, Tanner Sullivan, Tyler Sweat, Rick Thomas, Nick Seplak, and Kory Kohler. “The track played in our favor tonight,” spoke Meiferdt. “The car was hooked up. I hit my marks and here we are.”
14 CR Towing Sportsman cars were on hand for their 15-lap race, as Amber Crouch and Steve Mattingly took heat race wins. Mattingly took an early lead with Crouch, Matt Ramer, Tyler Roth, and Brandon Pralle tucked in behind. Pralle was on the move and moved into third. Going down the backstretch on the fifth lap, Pralle made it three-wide with Mattingly and Crouch to briefly take the lead. Mattingly, running the top, and Pralle, on the bottom, were able to pull away from the field. Despite a caution with five laps remaining, Mattingly was able to take his second win of the year by a car length over Pralle. AJ Meiferdt, Ramer, Roth, Crouch, Anthony Craven, Richard Craven, Michael Ledford, and Scott Williams rounded out the top ten. “I had no idea if the top was going to work out tonight,” commented Mattingly. “Brandon has been hard to beat the last few weeks and we have had some bad luck. I am just glad we were able to put things together.”