The Quincy Raceways made the move from running the IMCA Late Model package with spec head engines to the UMP Super Late Models for 2012, but the change was not too big of a step for the defending Late Model track champion as Justin Reed topped a diverse field at the "Bullring on Broadway" in Sunday's season opener.
Brandon Sheppard is not only one of the young guns on the UMP circuit, but he is also a Rookie-of-the-Year contender on the 2012 World of Outlaw Late Model series and when he earned the pole position for tonight's 30-lap main event, many thought that he would walk away with an easy win. Michael Long, driving the #56J that was wheeled last year by young Justin Jennings, started alongside Sheppard on the front row and ran door-to-door with him for the first three trips around the quarter-mile. Reed had started third and stayed glued to Sheppard's back bumper waiting for racing room and once Long faded a bit, Reed took over the second spot and gave chase to the leader. As the two approached slower traffic on lap thirteen, Sheppard chose the higher line while Reed went to the bottom leaving Joey Gower in the middle as they crossed the stripe three-wide.
Reed picked up the point on the following lap with Sheppard now giving chase and the next hurdle would be the battle ahead of them between veteran Ron Elbe and the kid, Jake Griffin, who were running side-by-side. Sheppard pulled even with Reed and they went two-by-two for the next couple of laps before Reed was able to squeeze between the two lappers and hold on to the lead.
The caution waved on lap eighteen as Jason Perry tangled with Gower in turn two and on the double-file restart it was Mark Burgtorf who made some noise. A multi-time track champion here, Burgtorf was making his Quincy debut in the Richard Realty #15 and he used the middle groove to go from fourth to second once back to green. Just when it looked like Burgtorf might have a run on Reed, Justin hooked up the bottom line again and opened up a four car length advantage. Burgtorf would need some traffic to track Reed down, but the laps were winding down and when that middle line started to go away Sheppard was able to make the pass on Burgtorf to finish a straightaway behind Reed who opened his title defense with a convincing win.
Matt Bailey, who reportedly still had his spec motor under the hood, came from row six to finish fourth while Long completed the top five. Jim Moon, who moved his racing operation from Indiana to Mount Auburn, Illinois, last season finished in the sixth spot. LaSalle area driver Scott Schmitt followed up a win at Belleville on Friday night with a seventh-place run here, Vance Wilson finished eighth, Ricky Frankel was ninth and Robby Warner completed the top ten. Jake Meier made the pull down from Tipton, Iowa, and finished in the eleventh position in the twenty-one car field.
The UMP Modifieds kicked off the feature racing with a thriller as defending track champion Steven DeLonjay picked his way through the field from his twelfth starting spot and then passed race-long leader Michael Long with three laps to go for the crowd pleasing win. Long was the runner-up followed by Robbie Reed, Donovan Lodge and James Leffew. The Mod field was solid with nineteen cars in attendance.
Twelve IMCA Stock Cars took the green for their fifteen-lap main event with pole-sitter Jeremy Pundt leading lap one. For lap two Abe Huls, Terry Houston, Pundt and Jerry Jansen crossed the stripe in a four-wide formation and, if not for a spin by Andrew Griffin in turn one, I would have had no idea how they scored that amazing second lap. Jansen was the leader for the restart and he would hold the advantage until mid-race when Huls powered by and then went on for the victory. Houston followed him home in second, Jansen was third with Jeff Mueller and Ty Hill completing the top five.
The IMCA Sport Mods followed the Late Model feature and, after two failed attempts at a start, Dean Kratzer would lead the first scored lap before another caution occurred. As the field took the green for the restart a bank of lights went out in turn turn making the back stretch too dark to race on so the red flag came out. Even though it was only 8:30 p.m., my lack of sleep from the night before was the deciding factor as we decided to head for home.
QR Notes......Hopefully the lights came back on and the remainder of the Sport Mod feature along with the Hobby Stocks and Sport Compacts were completed.......The track is starting early in April and May at 5:30 p.m. to get the kids home earlier for school and to run more of the show in the warmer temps of daylight. Little did they know that it would be 90 degrees here on April 1st and that, along with a steady breeze out of the south dried out the race track and then deposited it on the large crowd that had gathered on opening night. Once the sun went down, the wind calmed and the humidity seemed to settle the dust down making things much better in the grandstand. The track was dry, but it was pretty darn racey all night long.....Tony Dunker is doing double duty this year in the two Modified divisions and when he scratched his UMP Mod for the heat race I figured that his night in that division was done. Instead Dunker brought out his Sport Mod to run in the UMP Modified main event and, after being caught up in a couple of incidents ahead of him, he retired it to the pit area. Dunker, in that same car, was contending for the lead on that first lap of the Sport Mod feature before we left.....Tonight's roster in the UMP Late Model division was exactly what I was hoping for as it was a nearly even mix of drivers that you can expect to be here every week, and drivers that may have just "blown in" for the evening to add to their UMP National point totals. It is likely that the Late Model fans at Quincy will have at least one or two "surprise" entries in the division each week and that is why I intend to head south on Sunday nights quite often this season. I love surprises!......Weekly racing continues next Sunday night and the Northern All Star Late Model Series comes to town for its first of two spring visits to Quincy on April 15th.
The big IMCA Frostbuster week is next up on my schedule as I hope to take in the opener this Wednesday night April 4th at the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa. From there it goes to Des Moines on Thursday, Marshalltown on Friday, Boone on Saturday and Vinton on Sunday. Maybe I'll see ya there!