Sunday, April 27, 2014

Irvine, Lauritzen get opening night wins at Independence Motor Speedway

The 2014 season got underway Saturday night at Independence Motor Speedway. One defending track champion started his title defense in victory lane, while the winningest driver in his division a year ago returned to the winner's circle. Three drivers earned their first career Independence victories.

Defending IMCA Hobby Stock track champion Benji Irvine started Saturday's 15-lapper in row three, but quickly found himself on the rear bumper of leader Marcus Wayne. Irvine chased Wayne until he made his bid for the lead on lap five. From that point, Irvine never looked back as he went on to score the win.

Irvine has now won six times in weekly racing history in the Hobby Stock division in Independence, placing him in a tie with Chris Schares, Steve Holthaus, Tim Bartholomew and Todd Temeyer for 15th on the all-time list.

Irvine's second career win during the month of April at the speedway, it was his second straight opening night win in Independence. Only the third driver in the division to win multiple season opening features, Irvine is the first in 18 years to win consecutive season openers in the Hobby Stocks. He has now won at least one feature in each of the last three seasons. (More opening night stats follow at the end of this entry.)

Ronn Lauritzen topped the IMCA Modified division with five feature wins in Independence a year ago. While his first win last season didn't come until late June, he got a much earlier start this year by taking home top honors Saturday night.

Lauritzen swept past fellow front row starter Vern Jackson at the drop of the green and pulled away from the pack until a late caution bunched the field. He held off pressure from Scott Hogan on the restart to secure the victory, his first-ever on opening night at the speedway.

In 32 years of Modified racing in Independence, Lauritzen became just the fifth to win the season opener after winning on season championship night the year before. Previous Modified drivers to do that include Steve Droste (1994-1995), Scott Hogan (2003-2004), Vern Jackson (2007-2008) and Darin Duffy (2012-2013).

Lauritzen’s win Saturday was the first of his career in the month of April in Independence. In fact, prior to the win, the earliest in a season he had ever won a feature in Independence was June 2 (in 2012).

His nine career Modified wins in weekly racing history in Independence tie Lauritzen for 11th on the all-time list with J.D. Auringer and Timm Jensen. He has now won at least one feature in each of the last four seasons.

Troy Hovey started on the pole of the IMCA Stock Car feature, then held off pressure from Blake Cole, Norman Chesmore and Jarod Weepie to earn his first win in Independence. He led the 18-lapper in its entirety to score the milestone win.

With his victory, Hovey became the 45th different Stock Car winner in weekly racing history at the speedway. He joined Lon Gadow, Dan Trimble, Larry Portis, Fabian Seitz and Brian Irvine as the only Stock Car drivers in track history to get their first Independence victories on opening night.

Shawn Ritter won the 15-lap IMCA Northern SportMod feature. From the pole, Ritter assumed command at the drop of the green and was never seriously challenged on the way to his first Independence victory.

Ritter became the 25th different SportMod winner in weekly racing history at the speedway and the third driver in division history to earn his first Independence victory on opening night. Josh Sherbon and Austin Lucas were the other two to accomplish that feat.

Joel Callahan dominated the 25-lap IMCA Late Model feature to earn his first career Independence victory. Despite seeing his straightaway lead disappear at the hands of a late caution, Callahan pulled away on a lap 21 restart to take the win.

Callahan became the 99th different Late Model winner in weekly racing at the track since the start of the 1967 season (a couple years after the track opened). He is just the ninth Late Model driver in that time frame to earn his first Independence victory on opening night, joining Glen Martin, Bill Barthelmes, Dave Trower, Tom Fitzpatrick, Gary Henderson, Curt Martin, Rob Toland and Travis Smock on that list.

While it may seem odd that first-time winners grace victory lane during a season opening program, it really isn’t all that uncommon. There has been at least one first time winner in 13 of the last 20 season opening programs in Independence – and that accounts only for the five divisions that compete today. The Late Models, Modifieds, Stock Cars, SportMods and Hobby Stocks have had a combined 88 features during season opening programs in the last 20 years and there were 21 first-time winners in those events.

While first-time winners are pretty common right out of the gate, having three of them on the same night is a bit of a rarity. In fact, this year and 2010 are the only seasons in the last 20 years to produce three first-time winners on opening night. Independence has never had four first-time winners during a season opening program.

Although it was great to get the weekly battles underway Saturday night, the conditions were less than ideal. To be honest, they were miserable. While the temperature hovered around the 50 degree mark, it was the strong winds out of the east that made it uncomfortable.

I know I mentioned it often at the track Saturday night, but we were very grateful to have such a fantastic turnout in both the grandstand and pit area for our opener. We have a terrific fan base at Independence Motor Speedway and its dedication was very evident tonight. On behalf of S&B Promotions, your commitment to area racing is greatly appreciated.

While the season opener is behind us, here’s one last look back at how this year’s opening night winners compare historically at the speedway. I mentioned all of the names below during the course of the program, but in case you missed any of them, here is a breakdown of past opening night winners. Years in pink text indicate the seasons that the opening night feature winner went on to win the track championship.

14 – Curt Martin (1984, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2012);
4 – Ed Sanger (1971, 1974, 1978, 1981);
3 – Glen Martin (1967, 1973, 1975); Bill Barthelmes (1969, 1970, 1976); Rick Wendling (1982, 1995, 1996);
2 – Gary Crawford (1987, 2003); Greg Hunter (1993, 1997); Greg Kastli (2001, 2005); Tyler Bruening (2011, 2013);
1 – Red Droste (1968); Chub Liebe (1972); Dave Trower (1977); Tom Fitzpatrick (1979); Doc Mayner (1980); Gary Henderson (1983); Jeff Aikey (1988); Red Dralle (1989); Dean Wagner (2004); Darren Ackerman (2008); Rob Toland (2009); Travis Smock (2010); Joel Callahan (2014).

There have been 29 different opening night Modified winners in 32 seasons. Unbelievable. To take it a step further, there have been 81 different Modified winners all-time in Independence. The 29 names below account for 292 wins out of 460 all-time Modified features in weekly racing history at the speedway.
3 – Vern Jackson (2001, 2003, 2008);
2 – Steve Droste (1995, 1996);
1 – Jack Mitchell (1983); Mike Krall (1984); Tom Fitzpatrick (1985); Greg Kastli (1986); Todd Jensen (1987); Craig Haupt (1988); Kevin Pittman (1989); John Irwin (1990); Larry Schmidt (1991); Deon Turner (1992); Tim Donlinger (1993); Duane Van Deest (1994); Travis Heyer (1997); Jerry Luloff (1998); Garry Stuber (1999); Troy Cordes (2000); Jerry King (2002); Scott Hogan (2004); Joey Schaefer (2005); Jason Snyder (2006); J.D. Auringer (2007); Max Corporon (2009); Richie Gustin (2010); Mike Burbridge (2011); Mark Schulte (2012); Darin Duffy (2013); Ronn Lauritzen (2014).

There have been seven straight different opening night winners in the Stock Car division.
5 – Dan Trimble (1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2006);
3 – Brian Irvine (2005, 2007, 2009);
2 – Larry Portis (1995, 1996); Tom Schmitt (2003, 2004);
1 – Lon Gadow (1993); Ken Irvine (1997); Jarod Weepie (2001); Fabian Seitz (2002); Norman Chesmore (2008); Justin Temeyer (2010); Sean Johnson (2011); Phil Holtz (2012); John Emerson (2013); Troy Hovey (2014).

There have been 23 different opening night Hobby Stock winners in 26 seasons. Every driver with multiple opening night wins earned their victories in back-to-back seasons.
2 – Lon Gadow (1990, 1991); Chris Wessner (1995, 1996); Benji Irvine (2013, 2014);
1 – Ken Irvine (1989); Forrest Frost (1992); Rick Johnson (1993); Kevin Hoehne (1994); Jason Rohde (1997); Danny Dvorak (1998); Doug Otto (1999); Jeff Roete (2000); Patrick Stansbery (2001); John Meyer (2002); J.R. Kahler (2003); Brian Irvine (2004); Josh Steere (2005); Rod Grother (2006); Micheal Smith (2007); Chris Luloff (2008); Josh Irvine (2009); August Bach (2010); Scott Pippert (2011); Nathan Ballard (2012).

Although this is only the seventh season for the SportMods in Independence, there have been six straight different opening night winners.
2 – Josh Sherbon (2008, 2009);
1 – Austin Lucas (2010); Tyler Droste (2011); Austin Kaplan (2012); Lucas Lundry (2013); Shawn Ritter (2014).

That will put a wrap on opening night for 2014. With any luck, the powers that be will be wrong about the wet forecast for the week ahead so we can put round two in the books next Saturday.

Before I go, I have to thank all of the readers of In Staging. When I logged on tonight to write this entry, the hit counter on my blog page read exactly 100,000. I am truly humbled by the following this page has established these last few years. Thank you for your continued support!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Irvine tops Hobby Stock thriller in Benton County Speedway opener

A side-by-side battle for the lead, five cars within striking distance of the win and a last lap pass off the final corner highlighted the season opener Sunday night at Benton County Speedway. (complete results and all-time opening night stats follow at the end.)

Benji Irvine pulled off the improbable in the waning moments of the 15-lap IMCA Hobby Stock feature to pick up his career first points win on the quarter-mile and left Jeremiah Wilson still in search of his elusive first win at the speedway.

Wilson and defending track champion Brian Happel shared the front row at the start of the 15-lapper. Wilson drove the low groove to the front, leaving Happel and a host of others to battle behind him. Happel was able to keep pace with the leader by running the outside groove and inched ahead of Wilson for four laps throughout the middle of the race.

The lead pair continued to run in side-by-side formation throughout the event while Irvine, Jacob Keiser and Bill Bonnett all pursued within a few car-lengths of the leader. The battle for third found that trio of drivers running in door-to-door fashion at numerous stages, as well.

Following the race's only caution with two laps to go, Wilson led the field back to green with Happel close behind. Irvine, meanwhile, swept past Keiser for third and then quickly pressured Happel for the runner-up spot. He made that move a short time later and then quickly reeled in Wilson exiting turn four with the checkers in sight. Irvine lunged ahead at the line to score the victory.

With the win, Irvine became the 85th different Hobby Stock winner in weekly racing history at the speedway and the 16th different opening night winner in the division's 25 years of weekly racing in Vinton.

Scott Hogan started on the outside of the front now, quickly made his way into the lead and then protected the bottom groove on his way to victory lane in the 20-lap IMCA Modified feature.

Hogan took the lead from fellow front row starter Brandon Banks on the second lap and positioned himself at the bottom of the quarter-mile while Ronn Lauritzen and defending track champion Joe Docekal battled behind Banks for second.

Hogan continued to set the pace through a trio of cautions while Lauritzen and Docekal pestered Banks. They eventually made their way past Banks just prior to a lap 14 caution. Docekal restarted on Hogan's rear bumper, but was unable to challenge as Hogan drove to the victory.

The all-time Modified wins leader in weekly racing history at the speedway, Sunday's victory was Hogan's 44th in Vinton and his first since September 2, 2012. He has now won at least one feature in 16 separate seasons dating back to the year of his first win in 1995. It was his fourth career win in Vinton during the month of April.

All-time, Hogan's four opening night wins are the most in the division. Entering the night, he and Timm Jensen had three opening night wins apiece. Now in their 30th year in Vinton, the Modifieds have seen 22 different winners during the first night of points racing.

Damon Murty also raced the bottom groove to victory in the IMCA Stock Car feature. By luck of the redraw, Murty started the 15-lapper on the pole, then held off pressure from Scott Pippert and Norman Chesmore to score the win. Chesmore slipped past Pippert midway through that event and held on for second.

The all-time Stock Car wins leader in weekly racing history in Vinton, Murty has now earned 62 trips to the winner's circle and he has at least one win in each of the last 13 seasons. In the 14 years the Stock Cars have been part of the weekly program at the speedway, Murty has won on opening night an incredible eight times, including each of the last three seasons. It was his 10th career win in Vinton during the month of April.

Murty continues to be the sole member of another club in the Stock Car division. He remains the only driver in the division in Vinton to win on season championship night one season and then follow it up with a win on opening night of the next season. He has now done that four times.

Three-time Modified track champion Dave Burrell hasn't spent much time in a race car in the last 20 years. In fact, his most recent win in Vinton came nearly 20 years ago on May 22, 1994, the year of his last of three straight Modified titles. He almost ended his return to racing in the winner's circle Sunday night, but Tyler Soppe had other plans.

Soppe, who raced in Vinton only one other time prior to Sunday night, took the lead just past the midway point of the 15-lap IMCA Northern SportMod feature to earn his first win in Vinton.

Burrell took the early lead from his outside front row starting spot while Soppe quickly worked his way into a challenge after starting in row three. Soppe settled into second just prior to the second and final caution on lap seven, then held on when racing resumed to score the victory.

Soppe became the 45th different SportMod winner in weekly racing history in Vinton and the eighth different opening night winner in 10 years of SportMod racing at the speedway. He is the fifth straight different opening night winner in the division.

An emotional Bill Whalen Jr. made his way to victory lane in the IMCA Sport Compact division. Whalen was a close, longtime friend of fellow competitor Merv Chandler who unexpectedly passed away earlier this year. Whalen took the lead at the drop of the green and led all 12 laps in dominant fashion to earn his third victory of the weekend.

Ironically, the 12th win of Whalen's career in Vinton, he is now tied with Chandler for fourth on the division's all-time list. Whalen became the seventh different opening night winner in the division in the nine years the Sport Compacts have competed in Vinton. It was his third career win during the month of April on the quarter-mile.

Feature: 1. 33D Scott Hogan, Vinton; 2. 12D Joe Docekal, Dysart; 3. 10K Ronn Lauritzen, Jesup; 4. 22 Brandon Banks, Washington; 5. 57V Mike Van Genderen, Newton; 6. 71 Troy Cordes, Dunkerton; 7. F7 Patrick Flannagan, Cedar Rapids; 8. 8 Tony Snyder, Readlyn; 9. 00J J.D. Auringer, Waterloo; 10. 24R Adam Johnson, Independence; 11. 80 Jerry Dedrick, Vinton; 12. 1X Steve Streeter, Madera, Calif.; 13. 81 Jesse Belez, Marengo; 14. 11B Mike Burbridge, Delhi; 15. 21K Kyle Brown, Kellogg; 16. 18J Jake Strayer, Newton; DNS/17. 23JR Nick Roberts, Des Moines; DNS 7S Robbie Schmuecker, Vinton.
Heat one: 1. Van Genderen; 2. Snyder; 3. Lauritzen; 4. Burbridge; 5. Brown; 6. Dedrick.
Heat two: 1. Hogan; 2. Cordes; 3. Flannagan; 4. Streeter; 5. Johnson; DNS Schmuecker.
Heat three: 1. Strayer; 2. Auringer; 3. Banks; 4. Docekal; 5. Roberts; 6. Belez.

Feature: 1. 99D Damon Murty, Chelsea; 2. 15 Norman Chesmore, Rowley; 3. 47 Scott Pippert, Elberon; 4. 67 Justin Stander, Shellsburg; 5. 76 Mike Galli, Urbana; 6. 99 Erick Knutsen, Cedar Rapids; 7. 8 Curtis Roster, Vinton; 8. 8B Scott Beauregard, Brandon; 9. 4JR Russell Damme Jr., Waterloo.
Heat: 1. Murty; 2. Chesmore; 3. Pippert; 4. Knutsen; 5. Galli; 6. Damme; 7. Roster; 8. Beauregard; 9. Stander.

Feature: 1. 3T Tyler Soppe, Sherrill; 2. 199 Dave Burrell, Dysart; 3. 22 Matt Petrzlka, Norway; 4. 72 Brett Lowry, Montezuma; 5. 00 Jim Buhlman, Cedar Falls; 6. CH19 Colby Heishman, Brooklyn; 7. 4 Ryan Maitland, Waterloo; 8. 22H Curt Hilmer, Dysart; 9. 57R Ryan King, Montour; 10. 7D Dakoda Sellers, Vinton; 11. J2 Dave Schulze, Keystone; 12. 3R Danny Dvorak, Vinton; 13. 10S John Schaefer, La Porte City; 14. 3B Brian Anderson, Garrison; 15. 36 Jake Salisbury, Dunkerton; 16. 64 Matt McKinnon, Hatley, Wis.; 17. 49 Brandon Smith, Quasqueton; 18. 777 Jayme Duinink, Pella; 19. 95 Mike McDonald, Cedar Rapids; 20. T17 Tom Rawlins, Kellogg.
Heat one: 1. Soppe; 2. Hilmer; 3. Buhlman; 4. Maitland; 5. Smith; DNS Schaefer; DNS Salisbury.
Heat two: 1. Petrzlka; 2. Sellers; 3. Heishman; 4. Schulze; 5. Anderson; 6. Duinink.
Heat three: 1. Dvorak; 2. McKinnon; 3. Lowry; 4. Burrell; 5. King; 6. McDonald; 7. Rawlins.

Feature: 1. 79 Benji Irvine, Cedar Falls; 2. T64 Jeremiah Wilson, Waterloo; 3. 46 Brian Happel, Vinton; 4. 07 Jacob Keiser, Marengo; 5. 19 Bill Bonnett, Knoxville; 6. 78 Matt Brown, Dysart; 7. 17K Kyle Parizek; 8. 45 Justin Wacha, Vinton; 9. 4P Matt Pohlman, Keystone; 10. 29 Nathan Ballard, Marengo.
Heat: 1. Happel; 2. Wilson; 3. Bonnett; 4. Keiser; 5. Irvine; 6. Pohlman; 7. Wacha; 8. Brown; 9. Parizek; 10. Ballard.

Feature: 1. 00W Bill Whalen Jr., Riverside; 2. 11 Steve Miedke, Shellsburg; 3. 99J Jeremy Lerch, Vinton; 4. 5 Toby Denning, Vinton; 5. 22 Nathan Chandler, Norway; 6. 73B Andrew Bieber, Independence; 7. 69 Bill Michel, Muscatine.
Heat: 1. Chandler; 2. Whalen; 3. Michel; 4. Miedke; 5. Lerch; 6. Denning; 7. Bieber.

(Years the opening night winner went on to win the track championship that same season are in pink.)

4 - Scott Hogan (1996, 2009, 2011, 2014);
3 - Timm Jensen (1992, 1997, 2003);
2 - Jack Mitchell (1982, 1983);
2 - Arlo Becker (1994, 2001);
2 - Troy Cordes (2004, 2005);
1 each - Rick Brinkema (1979); Bernie Juliar (1980); Larry Druschel (1981); Kevin Pittman (1990); Larry Schmidt (1991); Jeff Mathes (1993); Todd Jensen (1995); Jeff Barkdoll (1998); Dan Kohls (1999); Darin Duffy (2000); Joey Schaefer (2002); Don Erger (2006); J.D. Auringer (2007); Jerry Luloff (2008); Richie Gustin (2010); Shawn Ryan (2012); Ronn Lauritzen (2013).

8 - Damon Murty (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014);
2 - Cliff Gray (2001, 2004);
1 each - Curtis Roster (2002); Sean Johnson (2008); Rod Snellenberger (2009); Paul Shepherd (2011). 

3 - Austin Kaplan (2008, 2009, 2010);
1 each - Frankie Dulin (2005), Bob Ebaugh (2006); Jim Buhlman (2007); Kyle Olson (2011); Danny Dvorak (2012); Nick Roberts (2013); Tyler Soppe (2014). 

4 - Chris Luloff (2005, 2006, 2008, 2013);
3 - Vince Buchholz (1997, 1999, 2003);
2 - Forrest Frost (1991, 1992);
2 - David Rice (1993, 1995);
2 - Scooter Dulin (2000, 2001);
2 - Scott Pippert (2011, 2012);
1 each - Craig Coventry (1990); Curtis Roster (1994); Dan Krug (1996); Jerry Dedrick (1998); Alvin Larsen (2002); Paul Shepherd (2004); Todd Reitzler (2007); Bill Bonnett (2009); Wes Stanek Jr. (2010); Benji Irvine (2014). 

3 - Nathan Chandler (2009, 2012, 2013);
1 each - Will Kirk (2006); Doug Laughridge (2007); Zach Holerud (2008); Dallas Chandler (2010); Gary Peiffer (2011); Bill Whalen Jr. (2014).

That will do it for the first Sunday of the year in Vinton. Hopefully, we will have similar weather next Saturday so we can open the season at Independence Motor Speedway.

Have a great week and thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

McCarl, no, not him, the other one, tops Sprint Invaders in Osky

It looked like the Jonathan Cornell show Wednesday night at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa. After winning his heat and the shake up dash, Cornell was the first across the finish line in the Brockway Mechanical & Roofing Sprint Invaders feature following an entertaining battle with Carson McCarl.

McCarl started the 20-car, 20-lap main event on the pole and took command early. Cornell, who started fourth on the grid after drawing the #4 pill following his dash victory, quickly moved into second. Slower traffic in front of the leader allowed Cornell to keep pace with McCarl, who struggled navigating the backmarkers.

Cornell took the lead just prior to the midway point and looked like he was going to run away and hide before McCarl regrouped. McCarl reeled in the leader with a handful of laps to go to regain the lead until lapped traffic again posed problems. Cornell took advantage of the slower traffic to sweep past McCarl on his way to the apparent victory.

Cornell's perfect night ended in post-race inspection when his wing failed to pass tech. The DQ handed the win to McCarl, the son of sprint car ace Terry McCarl, his first in series history during the tour's first-ever event on the Osky half-mile. 

Todd Shute dominated the 20-lap IMCA Modified feature. From a fourth row start, Shute quickly raced his way into the top three and challenged Scott Dickey for the runner-up spot a few laps into the event while Cayden Carter held the point.

Shute and Dickey made contact entering turn one as they battled for position. While it looked like the contact may have led to an early exit for one, if not both of the drivers, they powered on. If you read Jeff Broeg's recap from last night, the one-liner to which he referred was me saying, "Shute almost stepped on his Dickey." (Insert collective groans and eye-rolls here.) Shute powered past Carter a short time later to drive to the dominant win.

Zack VanderBeek took top honors in the IMCA Stock Car feature. Cayden Carter led for much of that event despite being constantly pestered by VanderBeek. Carter gave way to VanderBeek with a few laps remaining in that 18-lapper.

Brett Lowry took the lead at the drop of the green and was never seriously challenged in the IMCA Northern SportMod feature as he drove to the win. Mike Hughes ran in a tight five-car battle at the front of the pack in an exciting IMCA Hobby Stock feature before breaking free late to take the victory.

It was the first night of points racing in Osky and, despite strong winds and chilly temperatures, a good crowd came out for the show. The car count was a little low, but I'm sure the weather had a lot to do with that. While making my way through the pits prior to race time, I couldn't wait to get to the grandstand and out of the breeze. Thanks to Warren and Carol Busse for letting me sit near their tarped-off/wind-resistant area at the top of the grandstand. As always, it was nice to hang out with fellow bloggers Dick and Joyce Eisele of the 4dfan Report. Sprint car aficionado Morgan Broeg was also in attendance. Thanks to Morgan for his knowledge on the Sprint Invaders!

Dick, Joyce, Morgan and I picked winners in each of the five features and, while some of us had bad luck (thanks for ruining my chance at the overall win, Damon Murty!), our drivers were all running in the top four at the same time in each of the five features at one time or another.

When we left, we were under the impression Joyce had won overall, but she picked Cornell in the Sprint Invaders feature. After recalculating the math, Dick was the overall winner. I hope that softens the blow of the 55,000 points you mysteriously lost on Words with Friends, Dick!

Promoter Mike Van Genderen did a terrific job with track prep Wednesday night. Although there was a slight delay getting the moisture packed in, the track was fantastic all night and the final feature saw the checkers a few minutes before 10 p.m. Mike's excellent track led to a total of only a pair of cautions in the five features. Look for car counts to pick up in the very near future!

One more note on the Cornell DQ. A lot of race fans have already taken to social media to voice their displeasure on the situation, claiming the wing infraction had nothing to do with the performance of Cornell's ride. It amazes me (not really), how racers and fans wish rules were enforced equally and fairly across the board... until they're enforced equally and fairly across the board. Regardless if you like or dislike a rule, you know them going into an event and it's a driver's responsibility to make sure they adhere to them. Kudos to the Sprint Invaders crew for sticking to the rules and appropriately enforcing them.

With tomorrow night's Sprint Invaders stop in Independence postponed until May 30, my weekend plans now consist of visiting an old friend in Illinois tomorrow. As for Saturday, my plans are still up in the air. I was originally going to make my first trip to 141 Speedway in Wisconsin to visit friend and colleague Chet Christner's first night in charge up there. A long drive to spend the night in cold temps, however, may change. Although I guarantee a visit to 141 this year, it may not be this weekend. Instead, I may (notice I said may, Jerry Vansickel), return to Boone Speedway for the conclusion of last week's rain-shortened Frostbuster program and their first night of weekly points racing. It's going to be a busy, fun, full night in Boone, so I hope to be able to make it back there from Illinois in time.

Hopefully, the fourth time will be a charm at Benton County Speedway in Vinton. After the Spring Shakedown and Frostbuster events fell to weather numerous times over the last three weeks, the weekly points opener is slated for this weekend. If they're racing, I'll be there and provide a full report here at Positively Racing.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Let's get this party started!

With winter seemingly behind us, the 2014 season is ready to roll out in a big way this week in Iowa when the annual Frostbuster swing begins tonight at Southern Iowa Speedway. There have already been a couple early season specials in this half of the state at Lee County Speedway and 34 Raceway, but the Frostbuster marathon has been labeled the unofficial season kickoff for the Hawkeye state in recent years.

Originally, I was hoping to hit at least three of those events, however a change in plans will lead me to miss tonight's opener in Oskaloosa and the Friday stop at Marshalltown Speedway. I plan to be in attendance at Boone Speedway this Saturday and join track announcer Jerry Vansickel behind the microphone before returning home Sunday for the fourth and final Frostbuster event of the weekend at Benton County Speedway here in Vinton. If we can miss the rain drops in Saturday's forecast, the improving temperatures should provide for full pit areas, packed grandstands and four straight nights of racing.

I attended Iowa's first race this year a couple weeks ago at Lee County Speedway in Donnellson. In all honesty, I wasn't there to watch the racing as much as I went to see friends and to take in the sights, sounds and smells of a new season. I didn't take a notebook and, quite frankly, don't even remember all the winners, but it sure felt great to be back at a race track. Although Jeff Broeg may not want to read this (sorry, Jeff), I plan to do that more often this season. While I'll faithfully report the goings-on at Independence Motor Speedway, Benton County Speedway and a few other random events, I plan to spend many nights at the races this season socializing, enjoying the show and leaving the notebook in my passenger seat.

Despite the grueling winter, Lee County promoter Mike Van Genderen had the track in much better shape than many may have anticipated for the first show of the year. He and the LCS crew worked the surface all night to stay on top of things and they did a terrific job. The great racing was a reflection of their hard work. For more insight on the March 29 event, check out the recap provided by Dick and Joyce Eisele in the 4dfan Report at Positively Racing.

I also attended the test and tune session at Benton County Speedway last Sunday. An impressive number of drivers were on-hand to dial in their cars for the upcoming season. There was also a strong turnout in the grandstand as many area race fans got their first racing fix of the season.

It was interesting to see how many drivers changed divisions for 2014. While there are always drivers changing classes, it seems that number is even greater this season than years past. Some drivers are even planning to run full schedules in multiple divisions. I think that's a healthy sign for the state of our sport. I know of a number of division changes for drivers in Independence, which includes a handful of new Late Models, a few new Modifieds and drivers moving from the Hobby Stock to the Stock Car division. Others may be returning to the track in 2014 after a year or two off. It will be exciting to see the changes in store this spring.

One thing that always makes me cringe, though, is when people say they're "moving up" or "moving down" a division. Changing divisions in racing is a lateral move - there is no up and down. You race what you want to race, what you can afford to race and what you enjoy racing. Because someone isn't behind the wheel of a Modified or a Late Model doesn't mean they're competing in a lower tier of dirt track racing. It takes every car in every division to make a show a success and there is tough competition in every division.

And, let's get this out of the way early this year, there are no "A" Mods in IMCA racing. There are Modifieds and there are Southern and Northern SportMods. If you tell me you run an "A" Mod, I'll ask how long ago you stopped racing in this area.

Lately, my schedule has been filled preparing for the upcoming season in Independence. In recent weeks, track promoters Darin Burco and Todd Summers have been diligently working on the track and improving other areas of the fairgrounds.

Burco and Summers have made a lot of improvements in the couple years they've been at the helm in Independence and 2014 will be no different. Plans to expand the pit area off the back stretch will be completed in the near future and is expected to add an additional 30-plus pit stalls in that area. Also, plans are in the works to replace the main ticket booth and build a nicer structure to greet race fans on their way into the facility.

Oh, yeah, and the track is ready to see race cars! Todd, Darin and Don Burkey have the track groomed and ready to go.

Area drivers and fans can see the improvements first-hand this Saturday, April 12 during the test and tune session, which is scheduled for 1-5 p.m. Prior to the practice session, the annual Indee Drivers' Day Car Show will be held on the streets of downtown Independence from 9 a.m. to noon.

Pit passes for practice will be $10 each, however each driver who brings their car to display at the car show will receive two free passes to the pits that day. Watching practice from the grandstand will be free of charge.

The first racing event this year will be the Open Wheel Shootout scheduled for Friday, April 18. That show will feature the second appearance of the Brockway Mechanical & Roofing Sprint Invaders Series. In addition to the 360 Sprints, unsanctioned Modifieds and SportMods will compete. Both of those divisions will run unsanctioned, however they will follow IMCA rules.

Although the action on the track has yet to start, I've received a few questions about our schedule. Three items have specifically drawn more attention than anything else, the first of which questioning the reason we dropped the IMCA Sport Compacts from our weekly program.

There were a number of reasons that led us to that decision. Among them was the fact that car counts did not improve since adding them in the middle of the 2012 season. After having a couple strong showings at the opening of 2013, the numbers continued to decline. A few people talked about bringing their cars or getting other cars there, but it just never happened.

Another reason is because we wanted to provide a more efficient program and running six divisions weekly was taking us in a direction we did not want to go. Car counts in Independence have remained among the highest in the region despite declining car counts all over the area in recent years. We are proud of the support of area drivers and fans, but we wanted our focus to remain on the overall quality of the program and not quantity of divisions. We felt a return to five divisions will move us back in that direction.

An IMCA Late Model driver told me a couple seasons ago that he was impressed at how efficiently we were running the show in Independence and there was one big indicator that led him to that observation. When we get our show done in a timely fashion, he said parents were more likely to take their kids through the pit area following the races. Those kids get to see and meet the drivers they cheer for every week. They get autographs from their favorite drivers. They want to come back more often. Those kids are the future of our sport and to be able to provide them with a more complete experience at the track is essential to the future of any racing program.

No, the Sport Compacts didn't add an hour to our show or push us too late into the night, but running six divisions did lead us to a longer than desired program and did prevent more kids from making their way through the pits with mom and dad at the end of the night. In the end, the car count, the longer program and the desire to run a more efficient show is what led us to remove them from our program. That isn't to say the Sport Compact division isn't a worthy one. It is a great addition to many programs, however we didn't feel it was a fit with ours.

A couple of questions have also been asked relating to the annual Buchanan County Fair race. Traditionally, we hold our weekly program on the Saturday night of the fair, however a live music concert will take its place in 2014. There will be no racing this year during the Saturday of the fair.

In its place, we are scheduled to run a fair special on Wednesday, July 16 to kick off that week's grandstand events. Stock Cars, Northern SportMods and Hobby Stocks will be competing for IMCA national, regional and state points, however track points will not be awarded that evening. In addition, the Micro Mods, which run weekly in Decorah and are being introduced in Vinton later this season, will be a part of the fair race.

The two questions I've received most often about the fair race are, "Why aren't you making the Wednesday fair race a points night since we're not running Saturday?" and "Why are there no Modifieds or Late Models during the fair?"

I'm not a fan of off-night points racing, especially when it's a weeknight, and it seems a number of drivers feel that way, as well. Yes, making it a points race would likely guarantee us more cars that night due to the number of drivers chasing points, but at what cost? We're a Saturday race track and when we don't run on Saturdays, it's a special event. I wouldn't feel comfortable asking one of our dedicated racers to take a vacation day from work or change their schedule to chase points in the middle of the week when we have traditionally raced for points only on Saturdays. Some wouldn't be able to do it and others would prefer not to do it. We understand that so the fair race will not be a race for track points.

The fact that it's a midweek race is also a big reason we aren't running as many divisions during the fair. By racing on a Wednesday, we're immediately limited on time. Gates won't open until later than normal so the start time will be pushed back to accommodate those wanting to make it to the races after getting off of work, plus, completing the show at a decent hour is even more essential on a weeknight.

When it came to considering which divisions to run, the Modifieds were quickly eliminated because there was a special event already planned that same night in Oskaloosa and the Harris Clash is the following night in Knoxville.

We didn't include the Late Models because we already have two big Late Model specials during the month of July. Tuesday, July 1 is the annual stop for the Deery Brothers Summer Series for IMCA Late Models and Thursday, July 24 is the World of Outlaws Late Model Series event. Midweek specials are never a guarantee, but scheduling three midweek Late Model specials in a three-and-a-half week span didn't feel like a sound decision. On top of that, Modifieds and/or Late Models are a part of every other special event on this year's schedule and we felt the July 16 date would be a good fit to try something new.

Since we wanted to try something different, we are inviting the Micro Mods to compete. There has been a lot of interest in that division in our area this season and, like our 360 Sprint special, we wanted to give Independence race fans something unique. Four divisions is plenty for a midweek show, yet what we have scheduled should provide for some great racing and allow fans to get home at a decent hour.

The third and recently most popular item up for discussion has been the Saturday, May 10 program. On the initial schedule that was released, MLRA Late Models were added to our five weekly divisions for that evening's event. After addressing some communication snafus and then talking it over with the track promoters, we removed the MLRA portion of that show. Our weekly program will still take place that night.

I've had a number of calls, texts and e-mails over the course of the last week regarding that event. I was also directed by a couple people to read about it on the message boards. I rarely visit the message boards and spend considerably less time replying to questions and comments on there. The best way to have your question answered is by e-mailing me at (which is on the Independence Motor Speedway web site) or

To clarify, however, I can guarantee everyone that the decision to remove that portion of the show was not at the request of either IMCA or MLRA, as discussed on the message boards. It was purely the track's decision. Ultimately, we knew that one of two things needed to take place to make the show a success: 1) Drop a couple weekly divisions, or 2) Increase gate prices. We had no desire to do either.

Our weekly racers are loyal to us week in and week out and we are grateful for their support. Racing season is only four months of Saturdays (one fewer this year due to fair) and we did not want to short any of those drivers another night of racing. For tracks who run a weekly program, that weekly program is their bread and butter. To mess with it isn't in the track's or racers' best interest.

With that in mind, we were not willing to increase ticket prices. As I said before, our weekly program is our centerpiece. That not only includes our drivers, but the pit crews and fans alike and that's the way it is for any track who runs a weekly program.

We felt it would be wrong to ask our weekly fans to pay more on a weekly race night. Many race fans budget their entertainment dollars and go to support a loved one in a division that would not have seen an increase in purse money that night, so how could we ask or expect them to pay more at the gate? Two divisions of Late Models, you say? Believe it or not, not everyone wants to see a longer than normal show with an extra division of Late Models.

It wouldn't be right to ask a driver, mom, dad, brother, sister, grandmother, girlfriend or whoever to shell out more money at the gate because we decided to add a sixth division and make our weekly show a special event. I realize scheduling that way has become more common today, but we want to maintain our weekly show in Independence for what it has grown to become. Running another division (regardless of sanction) was straying from that belief.

Hopefully, that answers the questions people have had about May 10.

Questions about the fair race and the MLRA race led to other comments by a few folks who asked about those events. It goes back to something I talked about earlier and that is the importance of each division to our program and not the importance of one division over any other.

A few times already this season I've heard, "Independence is a Late Model track." That statement makes me cringe as much as the "moving up" and "A Mod" comments. You don't move up or down divisions, there are no IMCA A Mods and Independence is a race track, not a Late Model track.

Yes, Independence has a rich history of Late Model racing and our veteran racers are some of the best known weekly racers in the region. Yes, we even have drivers from years gone by who raced in that division and take in our weekly program. We're also entering our 32nd year of Modifieds, our 25th year of Hobby Stocks, our 22nd year of Stock Cars and our seventh year of Northern SportMods. Those divisions play as vital of a role in our weekly racing program today as the Late Models.

The Late Model division helped build Independence Motor Speedway. That is without question. But the other divisions have allowed it to become what it is today. In fact, when I started taking a more involved role at the race track, the complaint I heard most often was that the track was too Late Model-centered. Many people felt Independence catered to the Late Models, that we solely used our weekly program to provide a quality race track for the Late Models at the expense of the other divisions and that special events were centered around Late Model racing. I heard that more often than many may realize. That is not our goal. If it was, the race track wouldn't be in operation today.

Of course, Late Model drivers and their fans aren't saying this, but they don't hear it said to them, either. For that reason, they may not believe me, but it's true. I've heard it. I've heard it a lot.

If you think about it, none of today's race fans remember a time without Late Models in Independence. They've always been there. But most of them also don't remember a time without Modifieds, many don't know Independence without Hobby Stocks and quite a few weren't even around before Stock Cars were added 21 years ago in 1993. To many, Independence is ALL of those divisions. Yes, the longtime fans remember the draw the Late Models brought to Independence on Saturday nights, but it honestly isn't quite that easy anymore. I'll be 40 years old at the end of the month and I don't remember much about racing in Independence prior to the addition of the Modifieds in 1983. I was nine years old then and many of our faithful fans are my age or younger. The younger ones can't remember a time without Hobby Stocks or Stock Cars.

I know many fans in Independence who don't care for open wheel racing and attend the races to watch Late Models, Stock Cars and Hobby Stocks. By the same token, I know just as many race fans who love open wheel racing and would be thrilled if the Late Model division disappeared from the weekly program. Without all of those people, though, Independence Motor Speedway would close its gates.

If you go to a restaurant, it's likely that there's something on the menu you may not like, but the reason you're probably there is because that restaurant offers you something you do like. If you like it, you order it. If you don't like it, you don't give it a second look on the menu. That doesn't mean you stay away from the restaurant. If that was the case, none of us would ever dine out. If you're a fan of some of the best Modified drivers in the region, you'll love coming to Independence even if you're not a fan of the Late Model division. At the same time, if you're a die-hard Late Model fan, Indee has some of the best drivers and one of the highest weekly Late Model car counts around. I'm sure it would still be worth the trip even if you didn't like the Modifieds on the menu.

Still, there are those folks who love the Stock Cars and Hobby Stocks and really don't care much for either the Late Models OR the Modifieds. Guess what? We need and appreciate those folks just as much as the Late Model and Modified drivers and fans.

Our special events schedule has been more diverse the last couple of seasons. We still have Late Model specials, including a $10,000-to-win show and a $3,000-to-win show. We also have a couple of special events for Modifieds, including the return of the Hawkeye Dirt Tour and the Open Wheel Shootout. In addition, we've included the Stock Cars, SportMods and Hobby Stocks in a number of special events and have invited back the 360 Sprints, plus offered the Micro Mods a night of racing. Our attendance has been steadily increasing in the last couple of years, as well, and I believe that's because we're providing something for everyone and not catering to one or two divisions.

In fact, last year we offered increased purse money during one weekly show each to the SportMods, Stock Cars and Hobby Stocks. Those nights were among the best attended weekly races of the year. Yes, Late Models bring people, but so do each of the other divisions and it takes all divisions equally to make our program a success.

If you're planning on attending any or all of the Frostbusters this weekend, have fun and rejoice in the fact that racing season has officially returned. If you see me in Boone or Vinton this weekend, stop and say hi.

Let's get this party started!