Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ackerman's bid for three straight ends in heartbreak at Independence

Darren Ackerman was looking to become the first driver to win three consecutive features in the I.M.C.A. Late Model division at Independence Motor Speedway since Curt Martin last accomplished that feat around five years ago. Ackerman appeared to be on his way to the impressive run when lapped traffic spoiled the celebration just under a quarter of a lap from the chcekered flag.

At the start of the 25-lapper, 22 cars took the green flag with pole-sitter Jared Fuller setting the pace. The yellow flag waved on lap two for the race's only caution as Fuller led followed by fellow front row starter Scott Welsh. Starting from the fourth row, Chad Lerch made his way into the top three after just two circuits.

When racing resumed, Lerch went to work on the leaders and made his bid for the top spot just two laps later. Just as Lerch took over the lead, a number of drivers were charging hard through traffic behind him. Points leader Ackerman made his way into third on the fourth lap after starting in the sixth row. Fellow sixth row starter Terry Neal settled into sixth. Fifth row starter Jon Passick motored into fourth by the fourth lap and Curt Martin made his way into the top five by that time.

Ackerman ran the low groove and disposed of Welsh early, then set his sights on Lerch. The leaders ran nose to tail for a number of laps with Ackerman trying to gain the advantage down low. Lerch denied Ackerman's attempts until the 13th circuit when Ackerman shot to the inside of the leader to take over the point.

While Ackerman was battling Lerch, Neal was using the high groove to his advantage as he settled into third place on lap nine. By the time Ackerman made his way around Lerch, Neal was charging hard and slipped past him for second on lap 13, as well.

Ackerman and Neal then dueled in a classic battle throughout the remainder of the race. Just two laps after they moved to the front, the lead pair encountered lapped traffic. Ackerman remained committed to the low groove while Neal tried to stay close on the top side. Neal inched ahead on lap 17 for the lead, however Ackerman powered back on the low side two laps later to take command once again.

Ackerman slowly inched ahead of Neal until the field encountered heavier lapped traffic over the final handful of laps. Ackerman held a three car-length advantage over Neal until the lead pair entered the final set of turns on the final lap. A handful of backmarkers were slowly running the low groove as they were held up by Lerch, who suffered a flat tire late in the event.

The bottle-up in front of him forced Ackerman to hit the brakes, however he did not have time to clear the traffic. His #53 launched onto the front end of the lapped car of Drew Johnson, leaving both of them stopped on the low side of the final turn. Neal drove past the pile-up and onto the checkered flag to score the win, his third of the season. Passick, Martin, Travis Smock and Darin Burco completed the top five.

Rod Grother held the early lead in the 20-lap I.M.C.A. Stock Car feature. He paced the field until Justin Temeyer worked past him on lap seven, one lap before the race's only caution flag waved. By the time the yellow came out, Brian Irvine worked his way into third place after starting from row five. When racing resumed, Irvine quickly made his way around Norman Chesmore and then entered a memorable battle out front with Temeyer over the final 11 laps.

Irvine chased the leader until turn four on the final lap when he drove in hard and leaned on Temeyer, allowing Irvine to take the advantage coming out of the corner. Irvine edged Temeyer at the checkers for his sixth win of the year. Temeyer, Dan Trimble, Chesmore and Jarod Weepie completed the top five. The Stock Car points, which were close entering the night, tightened up even more following the evening's feature. Irvine now sits atop the standings, however the top five drivers are separated by a mere six points entering the final four weeks of the season.

The I.M.C.A. Hobby Stocks went caution-free in their 15 lap event, taking right at five minutes to complete. Joe Sprague held the point until fellow row one starter Matt Burmeister took command on lap two. Burmeister held the point until Justin Lichty made his bid for the lead just prior to the midway point. Lichty made the pass in the first set of turns and led the field down the back straightaway on the seventh circuit. He led the remainder of the event to take his first win of the season ahead of points leader Josh Irvine, Marcus Wayne, Matt Brown and Quinton Miller.

Darin Duffy continued to dominate the I.M.C.A. Modified division, scoring his fifth win of the season and 10th top-4 finish in as many nights of racing. Jason Seegmiler paced the field for the first seven laps until a quartet of cautions slowed the event. Ronn Lauritzen made his way under Seegmiller to take charge two laps later. He led until Darin Duffy powered from a sixth row starting spot and into the lead on lap 13. Duffy walked away from the field to take the victory ahead of Lauritzen, Troy Cordes, Max Corporon and Jef Kriz.

Following a trio of cautions that littered the first half of the IM.C.A. SportMod feature, Chris Luloff worked around Ryan Englekes on the seventh lap en route to the win in the 15-lapper. The win was his third trip to victory lane this season. Josh Sherbon, Jake Strayer, Danny Dvorak and Joel Rust ran second through fifth, respectively.

The role of the spoiler
Terry Neal was making just his fifth appearance of the season on Saturday night. He is now 3-for-3 in weekly feature wins. He also scored the win in the Deery Brothers Summer Series visit back on July 1. He ran fifth at the Corn Belt Clash special two weeks later. Neal normally runs at Jackson County Speedway in Maquoketa on Saturday nights, however they did not run this weekend due to having a county fair special earlier in the week.

47 and holding
Entering the night, Mary Handberg held the longest active qualifying streak in the I.M.C.A. SportMods at 47 events. Dating back nearly four full seasons, Handberg last failed to qualify for a feature in Independence on August 27, 2005. She failed to make the August 1 feature after exiting early from her last chance race. Jim Buhlman now holds the longest qualifying streak at 41 consecutive events.

How appropriate...
Six laps into one of the Stock Car heat races, first-time visitor Kevin Hurst brought out the caution flag when his car sat idle in a cloud of smoke on the back straightaway. When the smoke cleared, it appeared as though he left more than just moisture on the track. In fact, his transmission fell out of the machine and onto the track. In a fitting tribute, it served as the appropriate time to give a plug to our race night sponsor... Iowa Transmission Rebuilders of Independence.

I see your point
I know I've given a lot of attention to the I.M.C.A. Stock Car points, but the division continues to amaze me. Just when you think the standings can't get any closer, they do just that. After 10 weeks of racing (up to 4 more nights remain), here's a preview of the top eight in the division's standings entering next week:
1. 26 Brian Irvine, 354
2. 3 Jarod Weepie, 353
3. 20 Dan Trimble, 350
4. 56T Justin Temeyer, 349
5. 7H Phil Holtz, 348
6. JR3 Jason Hokcen, 343
7. 15 Norman Chesmore, 342
8. 21 Shane Manson, 338

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