Illinois Drivers Shine On Opening Night Of Prairie Dirt Classic Weekend

by Kevin Kovac & Darlene Miller

The Illinois boys came to play Friday night at Fairbury American Legion Speedway.

Defending their home-state turf in impressive fashion, drivers hailing from the Land of Lincoln kicked off the historic 24th annual Prairie Dirt Classic weekend by winning four of the six 15-lap heat races that highlighted a high-energy qualifying program.

Weaver Rallies, Dehm Takes an Emotional Win

by Rocky Ragusa

Prior to Saturday night’s “Alkota Keep It Clean” series race, the Fairbury American Legion Speedway family paused to remember Fairbury Fair-Speedway president, Jim Schahrer. Before the feature races all race cars came out onto the speedway and did a polish victory lap in honor of “Griz”.

Kevin Weaver overtook Derek Chandler on the 10th lap to win the 30-lap UMP Late Model feature. While working thru lapped traffic, Ryan Unzicker and Scott Bull challenged Weaver several times for the top position, but Weaver held on for his second win of the year. In victory lane Weaver commented, “I want to thank my crew. We have been working on our Bill West car and it’s getting better. The motor is a little weak but we will probably bring our Bob Pierce car next week. I have to thank Jay Morris and Jimmy Johns. We get a lot of support from them. Last week we ran the top and tonight I was on the bottom, except the last ten laps." Unzicker, Bull, Torin Mettille, Joe Harlan, Eric Smith, Mike Mullvain, Derek Chandler, Daren Friedman, and Mike Glasscock rounded out the top ten. Jay Morris finished 13th to win the race’s hard charger. Chandler bested 22 other drivers in qualifying with a 13.023. Chandler, Smith, and Mettille won heat races.

Friedman Holds off Challengers to Win Modified Special

by Darlene Morris

Special, big-money races tend to draw drivers coming from all over as they look to pick up that special payday. Such was the case this past weekend at Fairbury American Legion Speedway. Saturday night drew some top drivers from the Midwest for the $1,200-to-win modified special. Former UMP champs Rusty Griffaw of Festus, Mo., and Mike Harrison of Highland were on hand to try and capture the prize. But it was Saunemin’s Jeb Friedman who grabbed the victory from a field of more than 20 drivers.

Harrison and Friedman, known as “The Cobra,” led the starting field to the green flag and both put on a show of their driving talents. Neither was able to assume the upper hand. Harrison decided to take chances on the high side but that did him in eventually. He broke in a turn with 12 laps to go and his evening was done. But that did not give Friedman an easy run to the line. Immediately on his heels were current American Legion Speedway point’s leader Jeff Curl of Forrest and Pontiac’s Jay Ledford. A caution flag with 10 circuits to go bunched the field and another caution for debris in turn four with two laps remaining put the heat on Friedman. Friedman was able to hold on for the win with Curl chasing about three car lengths behind. It was Friedman’s first FALS victory of the season.

“We found something in our setup a few weeks ago and the track tonight was good. We were waiting for it to get slick,” said Friedman. Ledford was third with Lance Dehm of Chatsworth and Buffalo’s Jeff Leka completing the top five. Gardner’s Dave Porth, Griffaw, Steven Brooks, Jim Farris of Odell and Kevin Hastings made up the second five. Heat winners were Curl, Harrison and Friedman. Dwight’s Andrew Funk won the semi feature. The fast time was set by Forrest’s Cullen Breeden with a 14.024 second run.

Meiferdt’s Corvair Controls Street Stock Special

by Rocky Ragusa

In 1965, attorney and consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, wrote a book, “Unsafe At Any Speed”. The book details the unsafe handling characteristics of the Chevrolet Corvair and in 1969 Chevrolet stopped producing the car. When the Fairbury American Legion Speedway brought back the Street Stock class, A.J. Meiferdt, of Coal City debut an eye catching, 1967 Convair. Meiferdt has experienced his ups and downs in racing at Fairbury, but Saturday night proved to be a high mark as Meiferdt took the lead at the start and handled his Corvair to an upset win in the 20-lap UMP DIRTcar Street Stock feature.

As the field took the green flag Meiferdt took the lead with Lee Hall jumping to second. The red flag came out on the track before a lap could be completed as six cars piled up on the front stretch. Darrin Kohler and Reese Miller violently flipped their cars and both drivers were able to walk away. On the restart, Meiferdt jumped out into the lead as Brandon Eskew, Hall, and Don Hilleary trailed. Caution came out on the fifth lap when Alex Clubb and Darrell Dick made contact. The restart had Meiferdt glued to the bottom, with Hall racing side by side for second with Eskew. At the halfway mark Hall was able to break away from Eskew and Jordan Smith making his presence known. The next lap the red flag was thrown for Keith Millen rolling his car. Millen came out of his car unhurt. Also involved were Lukes Gash and Jason Maier. The restart had Smith overtaking Hall for second and closing on Meiferdt. After another caution on lap 15, Smith pulled up on the outside to take the lead, but Meiferdt held off the challenge. Meiferdt drove a smooth steady line the final laps and was able to take home the $800 first prize. In the winner’s circle, Meiferdt commented, “What a way to get my first win. I have to thank Rick Thomas for spinning a four. It gave me the invert of the heat and just set up my night. I want to thank Team 23 and Calvin Coleman Race Cars. Schlappi Motors built me some awesome horsepower.” The rest of the top ten were Smith, Hilleary, Andrew Funk, Hall, Rick Thomas, Nick Clubb, Jeff Semmens, Darrell Dick, and Alex Clubb.

Rick Thomas led 43 other drivers in time trials with a 15.757 and got a bonus of $100 donated by the Pit Stop Café in Pontiac. Taking heat race wins were Brandon Eskew, Meiferdt, Todd Smith, Lee Hall, and Andrew Funk. Two semi features were held as Lukes Gash and Darrell Dick winning. The hard charger of the race went to Nick Clubb.

Unzicker Earns Summer Nationals Victory; Dehm Scores Modified Nationals Win

by Bruce Yentes, DIRTcar, & Darlene Miller

In a grueling, 31-race marathon where competitors will visit nine states and log approximately 5,700 highway miles, El Paso’s Ryan Unzicker says you simply can’t beat winning 20 miles from home. Unzicker did just that Saturday night, motoring past Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, with only 12 laps remaining and then charging to the checkered flag in the UMP Summer Nationals main event at Fairbury’s American Legion Speedway.

“By far this is my biggest win,” said Unzicker of his fifth career Summer Nationals victory, a win worth $10,000. “We won that $10,000 at Oakshade (Ohio) last year which was awesome because that was my first $10,000 win. But to win here at my home track, 20-some miles away, means the world to me. We’ve got a lot of fans here and I’ll probably sell out all of my T-shirts. I don’t even know if I’ll have enough.”

Up to that point, Unzicker’s biggest dilemma involved trying to get past Birkhofer, the reigning champion of the World 100, dirt track late model racing’s premier event. With Birkhofer’s car literally slipping away from him in the closing laps, Unzicker finally got the job done after moving into contention for the lead from his fourth starting spot.

“When I’d pick the gas up the car was wanting to kind of tail out and slip up the race track,” Birkhofer said. “I was struggling to keep the car straight and I knew that wasn’t going to get it done with the caliber of guys that were here.”

“I think I caught (Birkhofer) with some lapped traffic,” Unzicker said. “I felt I could hang with him and when I moved up (from the low groove) it freed the car up a little bit and got my momentum going and everything worked out great.”

Birkhofer started the race from the pole position, but relinquished the early lead to outside front row starter Kevin Weaver of Gibson City. With Birkhofer on the inside and Weaver up high, the pair raced side-by-side for most of the first half of a splendidly competitive 50-lap main event. “(Weaver) had the momentum off the top and I had to go in and just kind of rely on corner speed somewhat,” Birkhofer said. “I thought maybe I could get him, because it looked like he wanted to move down but couldn’t because I was there.”

Weaver, indeed, was intent on moving down on the track but was unable to before it was too late. “The high side can be good or it can be your enemy,” Weaver said. “It was good for awhile. I tested the waters a little bit in (turns) three and one, but felt I was a little bit loose so I just favored going back to where I was and it ended up biting me.”

Weaver faded a bit after being passed by Birkhofer for the lead and finished fifth. “All in all, it was a good night,” he said. “We needed to finish. The last couple of nights we haven’t finished so we’ll take a fifth tonight.”

Summer Nationals series points leader Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin and Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., joined Unzicker and Birkhofer in getting past Weaver and finished third and fourth, respectively. “We started off a little bit slow but the car was just great in the feature,” Sheppard said. “I missed my line a little bit in qualifying and it got us behind a little, but it ended up being good. The car got better the longer we went.”

Defending series champion Brian Shirley finished sixth with Fairbury “regular” Joe Harlan taking seventh. Oakwood’s Bobby Pierce, Shannon Babb of Moweaqua and Chris Simpson rounded out the top 10. Among other “Fairbury regulars,” Daren Friedman of Forrest won a heat race and finished 12th, while Daniel Flessner was 19th. Reigning track champ Scott Bull finished 21st, a spot ahead of Pontiac’s Derek Chandler.