One hundred eight cars signed in for the season finale with championship honors up for grabs at Independence Motor Speedway. Four of five points leaders entering the night capped their seasons with feature wins to propel them to track titles.
Darin Duffy topped that list as he did so in dramatic fashion to steal the show in the I.M.C.A. Modified division. Duffy elected to take the challenge and start at the rear of the field, hoping to double his winnings with a feature win. Duffy's fellow front-row starter, Troy Cordes, along with second row starters Justin O'Brien and Jerry Luloff, went to the back with Duffy. The four that elected to start at the tail were inverted, leaving points leader Duffy in the 24th starting position for the 25-lap event.
At the drop of the green, Johnathan Thimmesch and Max Corporon battled out front after inheriting the front row. Thimmesch held the point for the first two circuits before Corporon made his way around the leader one lap later. Meanwhile, Duffy was working through the field, making his way into the top 10 after just four laps. He motored into the top five on lap eight just prior to the race's first caution. By that time, Luloff also made his way into the top 10 with Cordes not far behind.
When racing resumed, Corporon held the point while Duffy battled Jason Snyder and Thimmesch for the runner-up spot. Duffy made his way into that position just prior to the midway point on lap 12 with Luloff following close behind in fourth and Cordes in sixth.
Duffy then went to work on the high side of the speedway and entered a side-by-side battle with Corporon for a couple of laps before breaking away for the lead on lap 15, right before the final caution flag waved. On the restart, Duffy pulled away to score the victory by a straightaway margin. Luloff pulled alongside Corporon exiting the final set of turns and inched ahead at the line for an impressive second place finish. Snyder and Cordes rounded out the top five. Duffy earned the track title by an impressive 50-point margin over Cordes.
Darren Ackerman entered the night needing only to take the green flag to clinch his third track championship in the I.M.C.A. Late Model division. Ackerman had bigger things in mind as he shot into the lead at the drop of the green flag. Fellow front row starter Travis Smock settled in behind him.
Ackerman survived a pair of early cautions to hold the lead when racing resumed for the final time on lap seven. Smock went to work on the high side of Ackerman and challenged for the lead, however Ackerman held the top spot, then changed his line to the high groove and proceeded to pull away from the field. Ackerman entered lapped traffic with only 10 laps remaining as Smock and third-running Curt Martin attempted to close in on the leader.
Heavy lapped traffic two laps later slowed Ackerman only momentarily as he made his way through the backmarkers en route to his third win of the year and the track title. Smock held off Martin for second. Tyler Bruening and Greg Kastli completed the top five.
Brian Irvine took the early lead in the 20-lap I.M.C.A. Stock Car feature. Irvine put some distance on the field while Jarod Weepie and Dan Trimble battled behind him for second. The duo swapped positions in an entertaining battle throughout much of the event until Trimble was able to break away with only a couple of laps remaining. By that time, Irvine checked out on the field to score his track-leading ninth win of the season to lock up the track championship. Trimble, Weepie, Norman Chesmore and Phil Holtz rounded out the top five.
Josh Irvine made it a family affair as he earned a clean sweep in the I.M.C.A. Hobby Stock division. From his pole position start, the points leader assumed the early command and never looked back in an event that was slowed only one time for caution. Irvine led the event in its entirety to take the win and track championship. Wes Stanek ran second at the line ahead of Justin Hanson, Matt Brown and Justin Lichty.
The SportMod division was the only class of cars to see someone other than the points leader entering the night drive home with a victory. Points leader Jim Buhlman and fellow front row starter Kyle Bentley battled early before Joel Rust entered the mix at the front only a handful of laps into the event.
In a race that was littered with cautions, the leaders had little opportunity to gain breathing room on the field. Following one of those cautions, just past the midway point on lap eight, Rust took advantage and put heavy pressure on Bentley. He swept under the race leader to take command with only five laps to go and drove to the win ahead of Josh Sherbon. Kaleb Bentley, Kyle Bentley and Danny Dvorak completed the top five.
Buhlman, who suffered a flat tire on lap six, made a quick tire change during one of the caution periods and made it back onto the track to remain on the lead lap. He charged through traffic and crossed the line in seventh as the checkers waved, however Kyle Bentley stole the track title from him by a single point. Bentley, who entered the night just two points behind Buhlman, picked up three points to claim top honors in the exciting points race.
It was a great end to an exciting season at the speedway. While it's hard to believe the season is over, we were fortunate to run the final eight weeks without a rain out as heavy rains pelted eastern Iowa throughout the entire summer. Hats off to Cam and Jodi Granger of CJ Promotions on their first season at the helm. They brought back the excitement fans of Independence had come to expect over the years. I'm certain fans and drivers can expect much more of the same in years to come.
On a side note, I spoke with SportMod driver Curt Hilmer following the races. He let me know that his father, racing veteran Bob Hilmer, suffered a heart attack on Friday night and was in a Waterloo hospital. The elder Hilmer, a longtime competitor at tracks throughout the state, was actually in attendance at the races just a week or so ago. I wish Bob a speedy recovery and my thoughts and prayers are with the entire Hilmer family.
While the season has come to a conclusion in Independence, racing action throughout the region is far from over as a number of special events highlight the calender during September and into October. I plan to take in a few of those specials at 34 Raceway in Burlington in the coming weeks, and may hit one or two at Lee County Speedway in Donnellson.
Prior to the special events, however, I'll have a final look at Independence from a statistical point of view later this week with a season-ending Stats Blitz.