Night number one of the Pepsi USA Late Model Nationals at 34 Raceway near Burlington is in the books and it will be the 2009 Late Model track champion at 34, Lonnie Bailey who will set the pace for the 100-lap finale on Saturday night.
Sixty-four IMCA Late Models checked in for the $10,000-to-win two-day event that also serves as the final race for the 2009 Deery Brothers Summer Series and it was local driver Colby Springsteen who topped the charts in qualifying with a lap of 16.253 seconds. While Springsteen was the second car out to qualify the track stayed pretty even throughout as Mark Burgtorf would be second quick despite qualifying in the second half of the field.
Bailey, who captured the track title this year at 34 without even winning a feature race was dominant in the first heat taking the win and the right to start on the pole for Saturday night's main event while Terry Neal picked up the second, and final, qualifying spot out of heat one. Gary Russell did everything he could to try to fight off the challenges of Burgtorf in heat two, but when Mark pulled alongside the leader with two laps remaining, Russell drove it too deep into turn one and spun the car. Burgtorf would go on to win giving him a great opportunity to win this event for the fourth time as he'll start outside of row one on Saturday. Jason Hahne held off Rob Toland to finish in the second spot.
The third heat race was delayed for a bit when a couple of drivers and their crews from mid-pack in the second heat got into a bit of scuffle and PR.com blogger, and the voice of the Independence Motor Speedway Ryan Clark had the line of the night when he stated that they must have been discussing if Ellen DeGeneres would be a better "American Idol" judge than Paula Abdul. Once back to racing it was IMCA Late Model rookie Tony Fraise taking the win while Tommy Elston finished second. At the end of this one Elston pulled alongside Fraise and gave him a big thumbs up as both Tony, and his father Steve Fraise, have had a long-time friendship with Elston. In fact, when Tommy started racing several years back he also sported a #45 on his car just like "the Fly'n Iowan" always did.
Former IMCA Late Model National Champion Jason Frankel slipped past T.J. Criss mid-race to take the fourth qualifier while Criss would transfer in second. Heat five belonged to Jeff Aikey as the 2009 Deery Series champion ran uncontested from his front row start. Defending Pepsi USA Nationals champ Matt Strassheim put himself into the show by fighting off Fred Remley over the final laps for second. The sixth and final heat saw Ray Guss Jr. come from fourth to first joining Burgtorf as the only two of the top six qualifiers to advance out of the heat races. Matt Bailey joined his father Lonnie in the A-Main by running second.
The twenty-lap J&J Steel/Ideal Ready Mix "Ironman Challenge" would round out the Friday dance card for the Late Models and Jason Frankel served notice that he will be contender on Saturday night. Pole-sitter Bobby Hansen paced the first two laps before sixth-starting Rob Toland cruised by on lap three. Without any caution flags and once out front you would have expected Toland to drive away for the win, but Frankel tracked him down and passed Rob for the lead on lap twelve. The Quincy driver would then pull away for a convincing victory that paid $750, plus an extra $90 that went to each and every driver in the ten car field when Jay Johnson and the bunch at J&J Steel decided to add even more to the purse money that was already posted. Jeff Aikey started tenth and moved to second at the checkers, Terry Neal passed Toland on the final lap to take third while Ray Guss Jr. completed the top five.
Twenty-six Stock Cars provided some exciting support action tonight running three and four-wide during their heats. Three drivers, Jeff Mueller, Cole Simmons and Sky Griffith crossed the line in a virtual dead heat on lap one of the twenty-lap main event, but then Mueller took over on lap two. As he has been often of late, Mueller was on a rail and pulled away from the field each time a caution would interrupt the action. The race to watch was for second as John Oliver Jr. moved forward from sixth early and then fought off the constant challenges of Abe Huls, Jason Cook and Chris Webb as those four cars went back and forth throughout the final ten laps of the race. In the end it was Oliver who was a distant second to the winner Mueller while Cook, Huls and Webb completed the top five list. Huls, who currently ranks fourth in the All Iowa Stock Car Points, is headed to Marshalltown Saturday night for night two of the "Havoc on the Highbanks" show.
The TQ Midgets were also on the card tonight and it was Bart Andrews of Muscatine taking the win over Steve Foster and Matt Lovedahl.
Hot laps are scheduled for 6:30 Saturday night with racing at 7:00 featuring three B-Mains and the 100-lap feature for the IMCA Late Models, plus a full program of action for both the Hobby Stocks and the Four-Cylinders. Hope to see you out at 34 tonight!
Go Hawks, go Golden Hurricane and my third favorite team this week is Michigan State so lets go Sparty! (think about it) :)