by Rocky Ragusa
The Fairbury American Legion Speedway held six feature races Saturday night. Bob Gardner from East Peoria took the $2,000 to win American Late Model Series special to open the racing program, and Gibson City chauffeur Kevin Weaver took the nightcap Late Model race, becoming the all-time winningest FALS driver.
22 Late Model drivers took to the track for qualifying and Bob Gardner turned in fast time at a 13.433. Scott Schmitt, Derek Chandler, and John Gardner Jr. won heat races. Chandler led early in the race as Schmitt, Mike Spatola, Gardner Jr., and Gardner fought for position. After a caution on the eighth lap, Gardner moved into second and closed the margin on Chandler. Caution again fell on the 12th lap. Schmitt moved to the topside of the track on the restart and edged ahead of Gardner and Chandler for the lead. Treacherous track conditions resulted in drivers trying various lines to avoid the ruts created due to the rain the area had received the previous night. After Weaver tagged the wall and left debris on the speedway for a caution on lap 15, Gardner caught a break on the restart. Gardner was able to overtake Schmitt on the 19th lap and pulled out to a straightaway lead in the waning laps. Schmitt, Chandler, Rich Bell, and Spatola fought tooth and nail for track position. Bell took over second with three laps to go but the laps ran out as Gardner registered his first ALMS win and first ever at Fairbury. “This is a huge win,” spoke Gardner. “We got this car two weeks before the Summer Nationals. We had a decent tour. We knew if we kept getting top three's and qualifying well, the wins would come.” Bell, Spatola, Schmitt, Chandler, Jay Morris, Joe Harlan, ALMS points leader Rusty Schlenk, 21st starter Jay Sparks, and Gardner Jr. completed the top ten. Weaver has a 43-point cushion heading into the final night for track points.
22 Street Stock drivers were on hand for a $500 to win special, sponsored by Tools Auto Sales. Darrell Dick, who last week took the LaSalle Speedway title, turned in fast time with a 15.488. Chad Rockefeller, UMP national points leader Andrew Funk, and FALS points leader A.J. Meiferdt won heat races. Funk took a commanding lead in the 20-lap race as Rockefeller, Meiferdt, Rick Thomas, and Don Hilleary followed. Meiferdt moved into second at the halfway mark and briefly challenged Funk for the lead. Funk was able open a straightaway lead in the closing laps and scored his seventh win at FALS. Funk spoke following his win. “It’s been a heck of a year. I knew the bottom was there and the middle came in a little. I thought it would slick off and enough moisture came up to make it a fast track.” Meiferdt, Thomas, Dick, Hilleary, Rockefeller, Josh Hetherington, Peter Odell, 19th starter Chris Dick, and Curtis Radke followed. Meiferdt has wrapped up the track championship with an insurmountable 129-point lead entering the final points night.
Making a switch to an Impressive Chassis about a month ago, Lance Dehm and his crew had to deal with getting accustomed to the new car. FALS points leader Mike McKinney was the fast qualifier at a 14.177 over 20 other drivers. McKinney, Dehm, and Jay Ledford won the night’s heat races. Dehm took the lead at the start of the 20-lap race, tackling the high side, and reminding fans that he is one of Fairbury’s most dominate drivers on the FALS cushion. Ledford, McKinney, and Levi Kissinger sometimes ran three-wide for position behind Dehm, hoping to track him down. Ledford and McKinney broke away from the rest of the field as they waged their own battle for position and the track title. On lap 15, Ledford made contact with a slower car, tagging the wall, and bringing his night to an end. After the caution and the track was clear, Dehm changed his line to racing the top in turns 1-2 and bottom in 3-4, but McKinney stayed right on Dehm’s heels. With two laps to go, McKinney jumped the cushion, cutting a tire down, to bring out a caution. As the field went back green, Vince Cooper gave Dehm his best shot, but Dehm hung on for his first FALS win since August 9, 2014. An excited Dehm spoke following his win, “After not winning last year, I wasn’t sure if we would get back here. We had a good night. Thanks to Matt Rhyne, the motor was awesome.” Following Dehm to the stripe were Cooper, Kissinger, Jeff Curl, Nick Lueth, Dale Lueth, Brandon Maciejewski, Jared Cagley, 19th starter Jeffrey Ledford, and Nick Clubb. Only 17 points separate McKinney and Ledford as they head into the final night for points.
13 Sportsman drivers took time trials with second generation driver Scott Williams leading the way at a 14.649. Williams and Lake Nichoalds were the heat race winners. Williams took the lead at the start as Richie Rich and Nichoalds pressured him. Following a caution on the fourth lap, Rich moved to the outside and overtook Williams for the lead. Rich, Williams, and Nichoalds pulled away from their competitors and set the stage for an exciting finish. Nichoalds drove a smooth race, overtaking Williams just past the halfway mark. With three laps remaining, Nichoalds overtook Rich and scored his fourth win of the year. “It was nice to see our class race more than two laps without a yellow flag,” commented Nichoalds. “Thanks to my crew, sponsors, and fans. I couldn’t do it without your support.” Nichoalds trails Rich by 66 points with one points night remaining. Rich, Williams, 10th starter Anthony Craven, Rod Rusher, Amber Crouch, Bryant Frechette, Tyler Roth, Brandon Pralle, and Brian Albus rounded out the top ten.
Thad Gee, who won the heat race, led the 12-lap Hobby Mod feature early, with Petersen, Jason Brandt, Brandon Post, and Mike McGuire following. After a caution on the third lap, Petersen moved to the point, with Gee and Brandt pulling away. Brandt took the second position and challenged Petersen lap after lap for the lead, before taking over after the white flag was waved. Brandt led the final 50 yards to take his first win of the year. “It’s been a tough year for us. We got a couple of heat wins, but couldn’t hang on for a feature. The car worked great tonight,” Brandt said. Petersen, Gee, McGuire, Post, Brendan Patterson, Makinzi Semmens, Macy Vaughan, and Emily Bohm rounded out the field.
The night ended with a rescheduled Late Model race from May 28th. Kevin Weaver was able to lead all the way in claiming his seventh win and 67th career FALS victory, making him the winningest driver in the history of Fairbury, surpassing Roger Long. “The car ran good. The track was sketchy, but it’s not anything I haven't ran before,” said Weaver. “It’s awesome to get the win and the record. I can say I got it for at least awhile.” Mike Spatola held off a hard charging Derek Chandler for second, followed by Joe Harlan, Bob Gardner, Scott Bull, McKay Wenger, Jay Morris, Glen Thompson, and Snooky Dehm.