INDEPENDENCE, Iowa (August 22) - A trio of first-time winners, along with a trip to victory lane for one driver for the first time in nine years headlined a memorable night at Independence Motor Speedway. One-hundred fourteen race teams signed in for one final qualifying night prior to next Saturday's season championship program.
In the I.M.C.A. Modified division, 25 cars signed in to compete in the 20-lap feature event. At the on-set, it was pole-sitter Tony Snyder setting the pace. Snyder assumed command while third row starter Shawn Ryan shot to the inside of his competitors to take second on the first lap.
Jerry Luloff also made a quick run through the field. From his fourth row starting spot, Luloff worked through traffic and settled into third place after just three laps. Ronn Lauritzen, who started alongside Ryan, made his way into the top four as Luloff spun in turn three to bring out the caution flag.
On the lap five restart, Snyder continued to lead with Ryan and Lauritzen giving chase. Lauritzen made his way past Ryan on the following lap as he set his sights on Snyder. Lauritzen was applying pressure to the leader when the caution flag waved a final time on lap eight. When racing resumed, Lauritzen shot beneath Snyder and assumed command of the event. He led the final 12 laps on his way to the victory, the first in his career after just 50 starts in a Modified. Ryan ran second ahead of Joey Schaefer, who made an impressive run through the field to finish third after starting 22nd. Points leader Darin Duffy wrapped up the division crown by virtue of his 13th top-four finish in as many nights this season. He takes an unsurmountable 46 point lead into championship night over Troy Cordes. Vern Jackson finished the feature in fifth ahead of Cordes and Luloff, who made a nice run through the field to finish seventh following the lap five spin.
You often hear people say, "That's the best feature I've ever seen," just to say they saw a good race. Rarely, however, does that phrase take on literal meaning. For the 20-lap I.M.C.A. Stock Car feature, I can honestly say, without question, it was the best feature I've ever seen.
Pole-sitter Kevin Rose led the first lap of the crowd-pleasing event, but from that point on, nearly every lap was too close to call as six drivers drove two, three and four-wide at the front of the pack for the entire 20 laps. Along with Rose, Phil Holtz, Jason Hocken, Norman Chesmore, Jarod Weepie, Brian Irvine, Steve Meyer and Dan Trimble all took turns challenging for the lead in the caution-free event.
Hocken took his turn out front on lap two as the field battled right behind him. Starting outside row two, Holtz was able to stick his nose under Hocken to snare the lead on lap nine while Chesmore worked low, Meyer worked high and Irvine was looking for racing room wherever he could find it.
Holtz held a narrow lead before Chesmore worked his way under the leader to briefly take charge on lap 14. Holtz worked his way back around Chesmore one lap later while Irvine worked the low groove. Irvine made his way past Chesmore with just over a lap remaining and then pulled even with Holtz. The leaders raced side-by-side over the final lap of the event. As they came to the checkers, Holtz inched ahead at the line to score the win in a photo finish over Irvine. It was the first victory for Holtz at the speedway in his first year in the division. Irvine ran second ahead of Chesmore, Weepie and Trimble.
For those questioning the final call at the line, Jim Morrison of Hawkeye Racing News was not only on-hand for tonight's races, he also positioned himself at the start-finish line for the end of the event. Holtz was the victor by maybe one foot over Irvine.
In the standings, Irvine was able to add a couple more points for insurance of Weepie. Irvine now stands seven points ahead of Weepie entering championship night. By virtue of his win, Holtz slipped past Trimble by one point in the standings. Holtz now sits third, 13 markers behind Irvine.
An impressive 30 I.M.C.A. Late Models signed in to qualify for 24 starting spots in the 25-lap feature. A scary pile-up in turns one and two on the first lap collected nearly a dozen cars for a 12-minute delay. While nobody was injured, the starting lineup was shaken up for the ensuing restart as around a handful of cars were unable to continue.
Jared Fuller assumed command when racing resumed and quicky extended his lead over the field. Rick Wendling, who started in row four, imediately went to work and found himself in second place after just two laps, half of a straightaway behind Fuller.
Wendling worked past the race leader on the eighth circuit and quickly pulled away while Darin Burco was making a charge to the front. Burco worked past Fuller on lap 15, then closed the gap on Wendling as the leader encountered lapped traffic on lap 19.
Wendling flawlessly made his way through the backmarkers and maintained his advantage over Burco to score the victory. Burco ran second ahead of Fuller. Mick Wiele of Columbus Junction made his first-ever trip to the speedway and took home an impressive fourth place finish after starting 21st. Dean Wagner ran fifth. The win was Wendling's first at the speedway in almost exactly nine years to the date. His last trip to victory lane was August 19, 2000.
Darren Ackerman entered the night with an 11 point advantage over Travis Smock and an 18 point edge over Jon Passick. Passick eliminated himself from title contention by failing to qualify for the feature and both Smock and Ackerman were involved in the lap one melee. Smock, unable to continue, finished toward the back, while Ackerman, who finished the race without the sheet metal on the entire right side of his car, drove to a 10th place finsh. That means Ackerman will take a 23 point edge into championship night. While Smock can make up a maximum of 23 points on championship night to finish, at best, in a tie for the points lead (with a win and a finish of 24th or worse by Ackerman), Ackerman would still clinch the title by virtue of his two feature wins this season. All Ackerman needs to do to clinch his third track title is take the green flag next Saturday.
Another points leader not having the best of nights was in the I.M.C.A. Hobby Stock division. Josh Irvine, who entered the night 11 points ahead of Quinton Miller, found himself receiving a majority of the damage during a lap two caution when much of the field spun in front of him, ending his night with severe damage to the front end of his #35.
Leading the field for those first two circuits was Russell Damme before Mark Butler charged to the front when racing resumed. While Butler led, Justin Hanson was motoring through the field from a sixth row start in search of his first win. Hanson made his way around Damme just prior to the midway point of the 15-lapper, then worked around Butler on lap nine. He extended his lead until a final caution flag slowed action with just three laps to go.
When racing resumed, Hanson failed to get up to speed which allowed Butler and Damme to sneak back by him. Butler went on to score the victory, his first, ahead of Hanson, who was able to make his way past Damme to salvage second. Damme, Kerry Davis and Jeremiah Wilson completed the top five.
A flat tire in the event sidelined Miller late in the event, dropping him to 10th in the race results. While he finished the night on the trailer, Miller managed to trim Irvine's points lead down to five entering the final night.
Ankeny visitor Austin Kaplan made it two I.M.C.A. SportMod wins in three visits to the speedway this season. Kaplan started inside the fifth row and used the low groove to run down race leader Jeremiah Boynton. Kaplan moved into second place just prior to a lap five caution, then eased around the leader one lap later to drive away to the win. Jim Buhlman crossed the line in second ahead of Boynton, Kaleb Bentley and Jake Strayer. Buhlman took the points lead away from Kyle Bentley with his second place finish. Entering the night seven points back, Bentley finished 11th to slip behind Buhlman by two points entering the final night.
It was a great night of racing at the speedway. First-time winners, Wendling's return to the winner's circle for the first time in nine years, the classic Stock Car battle and the tightened points battles made for great stories in all five divisions. All should contribute to what is hopefully an exciting end to the season next Saturday night.
For those wondering, the features will be lined straight-up by total points. There will be no invert of the top-six or dash race for position. It will be good, old-fashioned championship night racing with no heat races and, hopefully, cooperative weather so out-of-car inroductions will provide fans the chance to see their favorite drivers.