Sunday, May 27, 2012

Smooth Night At West Liberty

On this weekend where we all need to take some time to remember the men and women who have fought for this country, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in doing so, I decided to visit two of the three tracks that make up most of my racing memories from the past forty-five years.

The West Liberty Raceway is where I spent most of my summer Saturday nights from age four to nineteen and, while it is still just a fifty-five mile trip from my front door, I just don't get back up to the historic half-mile on the Muscatine County fairgrounds as often as I should anymore. As we waited in line at the ticket booth I told my son Morgan how the memories come rushing back as I approach that old wooden grandstand and how it made me sad that I never really gave him that one track that he could call "home" as he was growing up and going to races. After all, it is truly a special feeling to go back home.

With a couple of area tracks taking the night off, and a couple of others cancelled due to rain to the north, a few visitors boosted the car count on this night and the sweeping half-mile was prepared to perfection. It started the evening fast and tacky and by feature time it was wide, slick, smooth and mutli-grooved. I'm not sure who Larry is, but as the gentleman in charge of track prep here, the man deserved a standing ovation on this night.

The Stock Cars were the first of five features on the card and despite being a little short on cars with eleven, they had delivered two entertaining heat races to start off the evening. Andrew Burk moved quickly from his third starting spot to take the lead before the caution waved on lap number three when pole-sitter Josh Woods spun in turn two. On the restart with Burk out front and the other ten paired up behind him, the leader got sideways in turn one and the scramble was on. Four of the top contenders suffered damage including Burk, Shane Paris, Lane Kauffman and current point leader John Hemsted with all but Kauffman, who returned to the race at least a lap down, eliminated for the evening. Once back to green the two leaders made this one of the best six-car races you'll ever see as David Brandies and Tom Cannon ran the remaining twelve laps never more than two car-lengths apart. And, for much of the time they were door handle to door handle with Brandies leading through lap seven, Cannon had the advantage on lap eight, Brandies came back to lead the next four circuits before Cannon took the lead for good with just two laps remaining. For Cannon, the former Late Model competitor who had been out of racing for several years before buying this car late in 2011, it was a triumphant return to victory lane and he praised Brandies for racing him hard and clean along the way. Jason Hartman would finish a ways back in third while Cody Harris and Chris Hinrichs rounded out the top five.

The IMCA-type Modifieds were next up and after a couple failed attempts to get a start it was Mark Verbeck who moved from row two to the front once the green flag could remain waving. Brad Dierks was the man on the move in this one as he methodically picked his way to the front after starting in the fifth row and on lap six Dierks powered past Verbeck for the lead. The advantage was a big one by lap eleven when it was wiped away by a caution for Shelly Kirkpatrick who had blown a right rear tire and was coasting down the back stretch. Kirkpatrick had run the first half of the race in the top three after starting from the pole position, but had faded a bit before the tire let go. With the field now on his tail for the restart and four laps remaining, Dierks did not let it faze him one bit as he again pulled away to a comfortable lead and the win ahead of Ryan Dolan, Steve Stewart, Verbeck and unofficially I had Larry Herring at the line by inches for fifth over Dakota Hayden.

Fourteen Sport Compacts would take the green next and the four cylinders were flying. For those of you who feel that the appearance of this division makes for a good time to visit the concession stand you may want to reconsider that based upon what I saw here tonight. Not only did they look fast, but they were racing three and four wide with even a little rubbing thrown in for good measure. And, as they do more often than not, the Sport Compacts ran their ten lap distance caution free. Young Ryan Walker who graduated from Wilton High School this weekend made the Beaver Nation proud by holding off the persistent challenges from defending All Iowa Points champion Nathan Chandler to take his second win of the season here. Cody Thompson, the one from Ainsworth not Sioux City as I erroneously reported from an event at Osky earlier this season, finished in the third spot followed by Jordan Walker and Aaron Hitt. Thirteen people joined Walker for photos in victory lane and later he, and several of his friends sat near us in the stands and impressed this old codger with their personalities. While most other high school seniors prefer to celebrate in other manners, these kids chose to be at a racetrack on their graduation weekend. Just like I remembered.

The SPI Open Modifieds had the largest count of the night at eighteen and they, along with the Late Models, would honor our heroes on Memorial Day weekend with a four-wide salute each carrying the stars and stripes. Veteran driver Brad Dubil raced to the early lead, but Ryan Dolan was on the fly working the high line to perfection on the opening lap to come from eighth to second. Dubil was able to hold him off for another lap before Dolan used that same groove through one and two to take the lead on lap three. Kurt Kile who had started behind Dolan in tenth was also on the move, just not as fast as the now leader of the event, but it wasn't long before Kile had Dolan in his sights. On lap twelve Kile powered past Dolan for the lead and then drove away for the convincing victory. Zack Vanderbeek who may have been checking the radar for southeast Minnesota and decided to come here instead of going to Deer Creek where the USMTS was in action drove a steady race from his sixth row start and passed Dolan for second with two laps remaining. Dan Brockert was solid in fourth and Todd Hansen completed the top five.

Seventeen IMCA Late Models would round out the evening with their 25-lap main event with second generation driver Mike Klinkkammer starting from the pole alongside the youngster Spencer Diercks. These two drivers obviously took a liking to the surface and pulled out to a nice lead over the rest of the field as we watched pre-race favorites Andy Eckrich and Ray Guss Jr. try to work their way to the front. Eckrich was having better luck than Guss and by mid-race was up to fourth, but he had a long way to go to catch Klinkkammer, Diercks and Kyle Hinrichs. As the laps wound down it was actually Hinrichs who appeared to be the fastest on the track as he moved past Diercks for second with four to go and he was tracking down the leader, but ran out of laps as Klinkkammer delivered the flag-to-flag performance in fine fashion. Hinrichs was second, followed by Diercks, Eckrich and Nick Marolf while Guss would collect sixth-place money.

WLR Notes......As mentioned earlier the two Stock Car heats started out the evening in fine fashion as Brandies, Paris and Kauffman waged a three-car battle the entire distance of the first heat, but they were outdone by the four-car tussle for the front in heat two. Burk prevailed in that one over Woods and Hemsted though it was the three-wheeling style of Tom Cannon in fourth that would foretell the end result of the evening......With the Lafayette County Raceway in Darlington, Wisconsin, cancelled due to wet conditions Matt Crist made the trip down to West Liberty with his IMCA Modified and it look like a wasted trip when he was a victim of a back stretch pile-up on the first lap of his heat race. The crew made repairs though and Crist made a nice run from the back to seventh in the main event......Tim Murty, who has been racing at Allison on Saturday nights recently, took advantage of a night off there to come and run at West Liberty with his IMCA car......Always a contender at West Liberty, Rick Hixson had his night end early with damage to his Open Mod after he and Todd Hansen got hooked together during the first heat race......I mentioned above that Nathan Chandler was the defending All Iowa Points Champion in the Four Cylinders. We also had in action tonight the two-time defending All Iowa Points Modified Champion Ryan Dolan and the three-time defending Late Model champ Ray Guss Jr. Plus, the winner of Open Mod heat race number two was the 1995 All Iowa Points Sportsman champ Johnny Spaw......Kevin Kile was strong early on in the Late Model feature and was challenging Spencer Diercks for second before he slowed and pulled to the infield on lap eleven.....The caution for Kirkpatrick in the IMCA-type Mod feature was the final one of the night as the last three features ran fifty-five straight laps of green flag racing with the final checkers waving at 9:55 p.m.......I love seeing the smiling face of Carrie Feller when I check in at an SPI event (Kevin you are a lucky man) and it was nice to see promoter Keith Simmons relaxing a bit just before the night's action. We thank him and his entire crew for their hospitality and for always presenting a quality race program. Finally I have to recognize the talents of announcer Jerry Mackey who after thirty-one years on the microphone remains one of the best and I know that others feel the same when after he says "Hello Race Fans!", almost all of them shout out "Hello Jerry!"

Tonight it is back to the track where I spent nearly every Saturday night during the 1980's as 34 Raceway in Burlington plays host to the MOWA 410 Sprint Cars in what should be another fantastic night of racing. Hope to see you there!

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