Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Disciple Opens Federated Auto Parts With A Win At I-55

For those of you who made a visit to the Back Stretch yesterday between 10 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. you know that my original plan of stopping by the Cedar County Raceway car show and then heading on north to Farley was wiped out when the Deery Brothers opener was postponed due to wet grounds. That blog entry is now gone as with that news a quick decision was made to head south to Pevely, Missouri, where the track on I-55 that is now named Federated Auto Parts Raceway was set to open its 2012 season under near perfect weather conditions for the last day of March.

Racin' Down The Road's Danny Rosencrans and his grandson Keagan hopped in with me in Taylor and the remaining two and a half hours of the trip flew by as Danny told us stories about the dirt track in Keokuk that closed down for good in 1977. Amazing that I lived just forty-five miles north and never once attended a race there, something that I now regret.

When we arrived at the track at 6:15 the temperatures were in the high 70's and there was a long line waiting to buy tickets as the first session of hot laps were just taking the green. The announcer, Meuer, was giving the car counts as we waited in line and we were a bit surprised that only 18 UMP Late Models were on hand for the opener, but the UMP Modifieds made up for it with a whopping field of 36 cars. There were also 26 AARA Sportsman, 21 Pro Fours and 6 Pure Stocks, a division that has been brought back to the track after having the past few years off.

The three Sportsman heat races struggled with numerous cautions and took just under a half hour to complete and then it was time to turn the Late Models loose on the high-banked oval. Dewayne Kiefer and Michigan's Rusty Schlenk started on the front row with defending track champion Jeff Johns right behind and when the field took the green flag it didn't take long for the huge crowd to slide to the edge of their seats. Kiefer and Schlenk waged a high-speed door-to-door ballet swapping the lead back and forth with Johns making it a three-car formation on two occasions and when it was all over the crowd roared its approval as Schlenk took the victory. Meuer waited a moment for the other drivers to finish and then quipped, "okay, that's all for tonight, see you next week!"

I have been going to races for way too many years, but it is still amazing when that first Late Model heat race hits the track. The speed, the mud clods flying, the roar. And then to have it be such a stellar battle just reminds you why you love this sport so much. That two minutes made the four hour drive worth it, right there!

Ron McQuerry ran off with the second Late Model heat race while Scott Weber, who was subbing for Randy Korte in the #00, passed Dave Jumper for second on the final lap and in less than fifteen minutes Late Model qualifying was complete.

If you've noticed that I'm giving you how much time passed you can probably guess where this is heading. The Modified heats were pushed back to last on the schedule when the lineups had to be re-done at the last minute and, since it was the only class that would require Last Chance races, both the Pure Stock and the Pro Four features were then moved ahead of those two Modified consolation races. Numerous cautions, one-by-one realignments, a four cylinder pickup truck rollover and a delay for a malfunctioning scoring monitor dragged out the program before the Late Models returned to the track for the their twenty-five lap main event.

Schlenk and Weber made up the front row of the sixteen-car field with McQuerry and Kiefer right behind and it was no surprise when the former UMP Late Model National Champion Schlenk jumped to the early lead riding the cushion that was now so close to the wall on both ends of the speedway. Kiefer was like a slot-car tonight glued to the bottom groove in the heat race and once again at feature time, driving by Schlenk for the lead on lap three.

The one and only caution of the event waved on lap four when Matt Zimmerley spun down the back stretch and on the restart Schlenk thrilled the crowd as his rim-riding skills vaulted him back to the top spot. It took just three laps though for Kiefer to regain the advantage and he started to pull away. With nearly everybody now riding the bottom, Schlenk was starting to close back in on "The Disciple" as he began to work traffic, but when Rusty jumped the cushion in turn four on lap twelve he smacked the wall hard and nearly stalled the car before regaining his composure and continuing on.

With Kiefer now a half a lap ahead the race was for second as both McQuerry and Weber took advantage of Schlenk's hesitation to put the early leader back to fourth. But once he found his rhythm again Schlenk was able to mount a comeback and was side-by-side with McQuerry exiting turn two as Kiefer was taking the checkered flag. As that checkered flag waved, the back stretch flagman started waving his yellow flag as the three-car battle for second charged past him and, while I do not believe that it affected the outcome for second, third and fourth for McQuerry, Schlenk and Weber respectively, I do wonder if Dylan Sharp may have slowed a bit through the final turns as Andrew Johns nipped him at the line for fifth.

Twenty-five laps, one caution, and less than fifteen minutes for the Late Models and as a majority of the crowd started to head for the gates we decided to see how the Modified feature would play out rather than fighting the traffic out of the parking lot gate. The field was lined up on the front stretch and on the third lap a three-car incident in turn two brought out the caution. At 10:50 p.m., and with four hours of driving ahead of us, we reluctantly headed for the car fully satisfied with the thirty minutes of Late Model action that we witnessed and a bit frustrated with the rest. However, that can be expected sometimes on opening night and the track just off of I-55, no matter what they call it, continues to be one of my favorites.

Federated Auto Parts Notes......2011 Sportsman track champion Jeff Herzog has made the move up to a Late Model finishing 12th in his division debut.....Andrew Johns was the big mover of the night starting 14th and taking fifth......Ricky Frankel and Jason Crump were unable to start the Late Model feature after contact with the wall in separate incidents during the heats. Danny tells me that Crump was one of those rare drivers that moved directly from the Pro Fours straight to a Late Model......Troy Naeger had the Sportsman feature event well in hand until his motor blew just a few laps from the finish. Brad Paquet inherited the lead and went on to victory......Danny Ems dominated the short field of Pure Stocks and then also finished fifth in the Sportsman feature......Jacob Rexing held off a final lap challenge from Travis Bittle for the Pro Four win......Veteran Mark Miner was the leader in the Modified main when we decided to leave, but I see that fourth-starting Rusty Griffaw passed Miner for the eventual win.....Find the full results courtesy of right here......Kenny Wallace will be in action here next Saturday night April 7th in the Modified division and the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars roll into south suburban St. Louis on April 14th.

It was a good thing the Farley postponed early yesterday as a batch of thunderstorms built up over eastern Iowa last night and would have likely shortened the program anyway. With the additional moisture Keith Simmons and his crew are doing everything possible to try to run this evening, but make sure that you check on the status before making the trip. The same can be said for the season opener at Vinton tonight as they also picked up some rain last evening. Things are much drier down south though as the Lee County Speedway will hold their annual car show under bright warm sunshine at the Hy-Vee in Keokuk from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. today and then I plan to head on down to Quincy tonight for the debut of weekly UMP Late Model action. I wouldn't be surprised if Rusty Schlenk makes the drive up from St. Louis before heading back to Michigan and who knows what other new Late Model cars will be in the pits this evening. Also it looks like the Stock Car field should be solid as both Jeff Mueller and Jeremy Pundt have indicated that they will be on hand and Dean Kratzer will be among the IMCA Sport Mod field as that division joins the weekly card as well. Race time is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

Farley, Vinton or Quincy, no matter where you attend, have a great night at the races! (Note: At 12:45 p.m. Sunday I learned that the Farley event had been postponed again, this time to Friday April 6th)

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