October 4, 2011

46th annual National Short Track Championships

All photos courtesy of Jim Ambruoso

It was a historical day for Steve Carlson, put his name in the record books by tying the late great Joe Shear with his eighth National Short Track Championship.  Pictured with Steve is Rockford Speedway's CEO Jody Deery

Jody Deery waves the green flag to start the first race of the day to cap off Rockford Speedway 46th National Short Track Championships

 Lyle Nowak has visited victory lane at Rockford Speedway many times but he never did it during the National Short Track Championships, until today.  The seasoned veteran took home the Mid-American Series Mountain Dew 75

 The famous wreath was about two feet off the ground, but Ty Majeski,Seymour, Wis; felt like a bigger man as he held off some of the best Big 8 Series competitors to win Parent Petroleum 108 on Saturday night at Rockford Speedway.

Doug Bennett won the ASA Midwest Sportsman Tour Sunoco 40-lap feature event.

Pit stop competition action saw the pit crew of #16 Steve Apel posting the fastest overall time to taking home the bragging rights

Mike Marden is all smiles in victory lane after winning the Illinois Vintage Racing Series 15-lap feature event.

The Metro Medical 40 for the All-American Sportsman main event was won by   Rich Hinerichsen II., Machesney Park, Illinois

Dennis Smith Jr. made a great last lap pass on Josh Thiering to win the Tractor Town 12-lap Figure-8 feature event

Bryce Bailey, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; came through the field and passed Heather Stark with five laps to go to win the Marden Tire 20-lap Hornet Bandit Challenge feature event

September 12, 2011

Rockford Speedway (Season Championships)

All photos courtesy of Jim Ambruoso

Adding his name to the Rockford Speedway history books is the youngest driver to capturing a season championship is Austin Nason, age 15 from Roscoe, Illinois. Austin competes in the NASCAR Bargain Hunters Sportsman division

Jerry Gille, Roscoe, Illinois wins yet another NASCAR Stanley Steamer Late Model feature however falling just short of the championship

Alan Bekielewski, Roscoe, Ill., makes his season a strong one by earning Rookie of the Year in the Budweiser American Short Trackers division

Scott Hoeft, Watertown, Wis., closes out his regular season with a feature win in the Budweiser American Short Trackers division

George Sparkman, Loves Park, Illinois makes claim to his 5th NASCAR Budweiser American Short Trackers divisional title

Ryan Carlson, Loves Park, Illinois, stands proudly as the 2011 Rockford Speedway Stanley Steamer NASCAR Track Champion

Austin Nason crosses the start finish line and into the history books of Rockford Speedway as being the youngest driver to win a NASCAR Bargain Hunters Sportsman divisional championship

NASCAR Late Model Stanley Steamer Rookie of the Year Mitchell Garfield from Gilberts, Illinois

Rockford Speedway's GM Gregg McKarns shown with 2011 Mountain Dew Roadrunner Track Champion Alex Papini

Howie Ware, South Beloit, Illinois wins the Mountain Dew RoadRunner main event

NASCAR Sportsman Rookie of the Year, Brad Gerke, Loves Park, Illinois

September 5, 2011

ARCA Southern Illinois 100 - DuQuoin State Fairgrounds

All photos courtesy of ARCA Racing

Team co-owner and crew chief Gary Roulo poses with Chris Buescher after Buescher won the Southern Illinois 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

Chris Buescher (17) drives under the checkered flag to win the Southern Illinois 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. The victory was the third of his career, following two victories at Toledo Speedway last season.

Chris Buescher (17) leads Will Vaught (55) and Kelly Kovski (39) in the Southern Illinois 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

Front row starters Ty Dillon (black, inside) and Kelly Kovski (white, outside) lead the ARCA Racing Series field to the green flag in the Southern Illinois 100 presented by Federated Auto Parts.

Chris Buescher (white, front) and numerous other drivers pit in the Southern Illinois 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

August 29, 2011

I’ll be back…

Farmer City, Ill. (August 28, 2011) – Sometimes, it only takes one word to catch your attention.

As I was surfing the World Wide Web Sunday morning while drinking my coffee, that word turned out to be “Terminator”. Actually it was two words, “The Terminator”.

Curiosity got the best of me and I needed to know more…

I remember the first time curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to know what warm apple pie tasted like. Needless to say, I discovered very quickly that all pie doesn’t taste the same. Some pie taste great, the kind that you'll remember for years’ afterwards even if you haven’t tasted a slice for a long time. On the other hand, some pie can leave a nasty taste in your mouth, end in a quicky divorce and an half-empty bank account. How do you like them apples?

"The Terminator" as it was called, was a special event put on by the fine folks at Farmer City Raceway, a semi high-banked quarter mile nestled in the heart of the Land of Lincoln. The undercard of the event was $1,000 to win UMP Crate Late Models and $1,000 to UMP Modifieds. The main event, however, is what grabbed my attention; $2,000 to win 410 sprint cars...non wing. NON WING BABY!!!

Usually, for me to catch a non-wing sprint car show, it requires a six hour or more trip to the Hoosier state. I know what you're probably saying..."Kyle, non-wing sprint cars were at Oskaloosa and Knoxville earlier this month." Okay, let me rephrase my statement; In order to see "good" (if not great) non-wing sprint car racing, I have to drive six hours (or more) to the Hoosier state. The non-wing shows that have every year at Oskaloosa and Knoxville are a waste of my time and other people's money.

Not having gotten my non-wing fix this season, this was going to be my golden opportunity. I gassed up the company car and headed in an easternly direction for a nice leisurely four hour drive by way of the pave.

As I crossed the clear, blue waters of the Mississippi River, it dawned on me that it had been several years (2006 actually) since I had been to Farmer City Raceway. I couldn't even remember what was on the program that day, but it wasn't a non-wing show.

Farmer City Raceway was just the way I had left it, minus a few improvements made over the past few years. It was still located on an old county fairground, with an old covered grandstand, and a pungent smell coming from the men's urinal. Settling myself up in the turn one bleachers, a breeze at my back blew the smell of grilled food my way. Combined with the pleasant aroma of racing fuel, it was pleasing to the nostrils. Kind of like warm apple pie...I wouldn't want it any other way.

Jeff Hammer and Kyle Logue, doing business as J.K. Promotions, have taken over the reigns at Farmer City this year and if I may quote the great Barney Fife, “they seem to have things running in apple pie order”. Already this year, they’ve had a Northern All-Stars program, a UMP Summer Nationals event and a couple of POWRi midget shows with positive feedback from drivers and fans alike, The weekly show has shown good numbers as well on both sides of the fence.

I would have been thrilled with 20 to 25 sprint cars but when hot laps commenced, 35 sprints had knocked on the back door. Tack on a healthy count of modifieds, crate late models, street stocks and a few hornets to pad the back gate purse for good measure, and I tallied approximately 115 cars total in the back parking lot. The grandstand and bleachers were filled out nicely too, so all in all, not a bad Sunday for the dynamic duo of Hammer and Logue.

Their was a nice mix of 410 drivers front and center tonight, with the local weekend warriors, Korey Weyant, Mitch Wissmiller, Tommy Rockwell, Chris Urish, Brett Triplett and Hud Cone, mixing it up with the boys from USAC, Levi Jones, Critter Malone, J.C. Bland, Kent Christian, Kevin Thomas and Coleman Gulick.

The track surface looked to be in great shape for the evening’s festivities with some good traction. Throughout the evening, the track had multiple grooves, with plenty of room to pass at your own discretion. And passing was plentiful with all four heat winners (Hud Cone, Levi Jones, Gary “Bubba” Altig and Korey Weyant) coming from a sixth starting spot or further back in their respective races to win. On the last lap of heat #2, Levi pulled a slide job on Malone that had the fans off their butts and on their feet wanting more. Heat #4 saw Korey Weyant charge the high side coming out of turn four as the checkers waved to nip Eric Gentry. The 4-lap dash saw another thriller as Urish barely held off Levi to earn the pole position.

The feature saw Levi Jones out to a quick lead with Gulick and Cone a couple of car lengths behind and not making any ground, it appeared that Mr. Jones was going to run away with the grand prize. But then, Levi pulled a “Un-Levi” type move. In my opinion, he got a little too complacent. Running the low side of the oval, Levi encountered lap traffic midway through the 30-lapper, got jammed in, not able to go thru or around the slower-paced cars. To sum it up...Levi stepped on his own dick and it cost him $2,000.

Gulick, seeing Levi's mistake, made a major change in his plan of attack. Like Levi, he been running down low, but upon seeing his worthy opponent bottle-necked, he abandoned the low line in the first two turns and just went hammer down, in the cushion, all the way around. He reeled in Levi and sped past him, making it look relatively easy. Before Levi could adjust, Gulick had checked out. It was great strategy on the youngster’s part and to outfox a cagey veteran like Levi Jones, it was truly a thing of beauty.

The fans, myself included, had witnessed a crafty display of driving from the Binghamton, N.Y., speedster and everyone let the young hot shoe know how much his talents were appreciated when he received his check and beautiful trophy.

I have to give some kudos to the young man announcing the action. Apparently the regular play by play guy at FCR couldn’t make it, so he was making his announcing debut tonight. He came right out and said, “I’ll try to keep you informed as best as possible on who is who, but please bear with me.” As cars rolled out onto the track, he did a fabulous job of letting you know who was driving what car and where they were from. He certainly didn’t sound like someone doing this for the first time. I would have been scared shitless myself. It was a great job by someone who came to the track, was handed a microphone and told, “The regular guy isn’t coming, and you’re the announcer tonight. Now go entertain them for the next 5 hours”.

The crate late model main event featured a couple of second-generation youngsters putting on quite the show. Steve Lance Jr. and Gordy Gundaker ran one-two for most of the 20-lap A main and showed that they’re well on their way to establishing their own identity in racing. Lance was very impressive with a couple of ballsy moves while making his way through lap traffic, including one where he split two cars while sliding through turns three and four that left me, and I’m sure a few others, with their jaws dropped.

With a four-drive home, I decided to cut my evening short and head home before the rest of the features. I certainly came away feeling like I had gotten more than my $15 worth of racing this evening. Hammer announced after the sprint car feature that he would like to make “The Terminator” an annual event which drew a roar of approval from the crowd, myself included.

Thanks to Jeff Hammer, Kyle Logue and Farmer City Racing for an entertaining night of racing. In the words of the greatest terminator of all time, “I'll be back”.

Thanks for picking us up. See you at the races...


August 28, 2011

ARCA 200 - Madison Int'l Speedway (August 26)

Photos courtesy of ARCA Racing

Alex Bowman celebrates his win in the Herr’s Live Life with Flavor! 200 in Madison International Speedway’s Victory Lane.

Alex Bowman (55) drives inside Brad Lloyd (11) in the Herr’s Live Life with Flavor! 200 at Madison International Speedway

Clint King (right) celebrates winning the Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell. King competed in the Herr’s Live Life with Flavor! 200 on his 16th birthday, his first possible day of ARCA Racing Series eligibility.

August 23, 2011

ARCA Allen Crowe Memorial 100 (August 21)

All photos courtesy of ARCA Racing

Chad McCumbee (center) celebrates his Allen Crowe 100 win in Victory Lane with team owners Andy Belmont (left) and Jennifer Belmont.

Chad McCumbee takes the checkered flag to win the Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. McCumbee had not won in the ARCA Racing Series since 2007.

Chad McCumbee (front) leads a pack of cars before winning the Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

Points leader Ty Dillon leads the ARCA Racing Series field early in the Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

With the Illinois State Fair as a backdrop, Ty Dillon (41) leads Frank Kimmel (44) and Grant Enfinger (36) early in the Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

Ty Dillon (black, front right) leads Josh Richards (white, front left) and 29 other drivers to the green flag to start the Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

August 21, 2011

Rockford Speedway (August 20)

The Mountain Dew Roadrunners 20-lap feature won by Terry Ciano from Janesville, Wis. Fans would see a side-by-side race for the top spot for over half of the event with Johnny Robinson II, who was making his first Roadrunner start of 2011 - Jim Ambruoso Photo

A frantic 25-lap feature that saw Elk Grove Village driver Sean Murphy of the Illini Midgets capture his first Rockford Speedway win - Jim Ambruoso Photo

Ryan Carlson is shown in victory circle after a hard fought late model feature race - Jim Ambruoso Photo

The Illini Midgets shown on their pace lap prior to the start of their 25 lap feature event - Jim Ambruoso Photo

Ryan Carlson # 55 fends off a late race charge from # 99 Jerry Gille in the Stanley Steemer Nascar Late Models 30 lap main event - Jim Ambruoso Photo

BJ Sparkman makes claim to his 6th Budweiser American Short Trackers feature win for 2011 - Jim Ambruoso Photo

August 13, 2011

A Twist of Fate...

Jonathan Eilen celebrates his Miller 100 victory at Hawkeye Downs Speedway - Mike Ruefer Photo

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (August 12, 2011) – Thirty-nine years ago, a father took his son to the races for the first time to Hawkeye Downs Speedway. The then 8-year-old kid watched some guy named Darrell Dake pass two cars coming out of turns three and four to win the feature that night. The kid was hooked on racing for life.

Later that year, that same father and son went to a race called the Falstaff 100, a stock car race organized by a local beer distributor named Keith Fleck. It was a USAC-sanctioned race and a driver from Zanesville, Ohio, named Butch Hartman would be come its first winner. Despite some setbacks and glitches at the first race, it would become an annual event for the next four decades.

The 1984 Miller 100 winner, Kenny Walton (left), talks with two-time Miller 100 winner ('83 and '86) Roger Dolan during an autograph session. - Kyle Ealy Photo

While it would go thru a few different name changes (Falstaff 100, Falstaff 50, Falstaff Classic, Miller 100, Miller American 100, Miller Genuine Draft 100, and the Miller Lite 150) over the years, the race would quickly become one of the premier late model racing events not only in the Midwest but the country and some of the legendary names in racing would compete in it. Even after the track switched racing surfaces from dirt to asphalt, the event kept going and top notch drivers kept coming.

Verlin Eaker, the 1979 Miller 100 champion, was on hand to take part in festivities at the Miller 100. - Kyle Ealy Photo

As I was making the short drive to Hawkeye Downs Speedway yesterday afternoon, I got to thinking about annual racing events here in the state of Iowa and it came to me that the Miller 100 at Hawkeye Downs holds the distinction of being the longest, continuous late model event in this area. This being the 39th year for the race, only the Knoxville Nationals has run for more years continuously.

Out of 39 events, this year’s Miller 100 was number 35 for me that I’ve attended. I didn’t attend the event from 1989 to 1991 because I was still pissed that Hawkeye Downs had changed from dirt to asphalt. In hindsight, I regret not going now because I missed out watching two of the most decorated short track drivers in history winning the event, Larry Phillips and Joe Shear.

I skipped the 2005 event because I was skeptical of this new American Stockcar League, the sanctioning body for the race that year. As it turns out, I remember reading the box scores the next day and they only had 13 or 14 late models show up for the 150-lap event (the ASL went belly up after only one season).

Despite the four that I skipped, the Miller 100 has always been on my “races I need to see” list every year. No matter what, I have to be there…it’s my hometown track.

For example; In 2007, I had four wisdom teeth extracted the morning of the race, but just as they were starting driver introductions on the front straightaway, here I stroll in, bloody gauze in my mouth, cheeks swollen like a chip monk, looking like I had mouthed off to the wrong sailor.

I was so doped up on the car ride home from the dentist that morning I don’t remember telling my mother to stop at the store to pick up some ice cream. Later that day, after I awoke from a 5-hour nap, she handed me a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“It’s the ice cream you wanted,” responded my mother.

“What do you mean, ‘the ice cream I wanted’?” I replied. "I don't even like mint chocolate chip."

“I asked if you wanted anything on the way home and you said you wanted ice cream, so I stopped at the grocery store. As I was walking from the car to the store, you rolled down the window and yelled, ‘I WANT MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP MOM!!’ at the top of your lungs. You don’t remember that?”

Apparently I didn’t…that was some good shit they gave me that day.

The memories of the Miller 100’s I've attended over the years I can still see as if it just happened yesterday. Fred Horn coming from the fourth row to win in 1977 race. An unknown driver from West Virginia named Rodney Combs showing up in 1980 and giving the local boys an ass-whooping. My favorite NASCAR driver of all-time Bobby Allison, making an appearance in 1983. Kenny Walton of Viola, Iowa finally winning the big race in 1984 after coming oh-so-close in previous tries. Billy Moyer coming from the back of the pack, not once, but twice in 1989. Dudley Fleck skidding across the finish line on his lid in the 1992 race. Steve Carlson capturing his first of a record seven Miller 100’s in 1996. Two local boys, Justin Diercks and Johnny Spaw dueling for 100 laps before Diercks prevailed in 2003. Trent Snyder holding off a determined Landon Cassill in the 2006 race. Every Miller 100 I’ve attended holds a special memory.

Besides Steve Carlson winning a record seventh Miller 100 in 2010, I also can remember seeing Jonathan Eilen of Hampton, Minn., tagging the turn two wall that night. As it would turn out, he hit the wall so hard that the injuries he sustained put him in a area hospital for a couple of days and put a abrupt halt to his season altogether.

In a twist of fate, the same track that almost cost Eilen his career in 2010, smiled upon him Friday night. Some great strategy and a solid restart, got Eilen to the front at the midway point of the race and he now has his name forever etched in Miller 100 history.

What made his victory so much more rewarding was the way he decided to celebrate. Instead of doing the customary burn-out, smoke show on the front stretch, Eilen kept on rolling past the grandstand, into turn one and came to a complete stop in turn two, the same spot where he met trouble head on last year.

The Hoosier victory dance then ensued…The wall won last year but revenge was Eilen’s this time around. “I was so happy to be able to come back to this track and show that wall who is boss,” he stated afterwards.

It was another Miller 100 memory that I’ll keep with me forever.

Thanks to Dudley Fleck, Mike McGrath, Steve Einhaus, Kari Shear-Carlson and the ASA Midwest Tour for making the 39th annual Miller 100 another special race for yours truly.

Thanks for picking us up. See you at the races…


39th annual Miller 100 - Hawkeye Downs Speedway

Jonathan Eilen of Hampton, Minn., is all smiles after winning the 2011 ASA Midwest Tour Miller 100 at Hawkeye Downs Speedway. - Mike Ruefer Photo

Nathan Haseleu of Marshall, Wis., would lead the first half of the race before settling for runner-up honors. - Mike Ruefer Photo

Travis Sauter (5) of Necedah, Wis., slips past Chris Wimmer (52) of Wausau, Wis. in turns three and four. - Mike Ruefer Photo

Tim Schendel (21) of Sparta, Wis., puts a lap on Joey Gase (35) of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. - Mike Ruefer Photo

Jeff "Hurricane" Storm (25) of Waterford, Wis., and Brad Osborn (00) of Janesville, Iowa race side-by-side. - Mike Ruefer Photo

ASA Midwest Tour point leader Andrew Morrissey (39) of DeForest, Wis. and Jonathan Eilen (77) of Hampton, Minn., battle early in the 100-lap contest. - Mike Ruefer Photo

Jacob Goede (72) of Carver, Minn., looks inside of 15-year-old Matt Tift (89) of Hinckley, Ohio. - Mike Ruefer Photo