Lady Luck Shines on Spatola
By Rocky Ragusa
Fairbury, Ill. (8/18/18) With the 142nd annual Fairbury Fair in town it can only mean that the racing season is coming to a close at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway. Saturday was the final night for drivers to accumulate points in their respected class. AJ Meiferdt wrapped up his third title in the Street Stocks, Steve Mattingly took his first championship in the Sportsman division, McKay Wenger won a long overdue Modified title, and Kevin Weaver scored his fifth championship in the Late Model. Feature wins went to Meiferdt, Mattingly, Mike McKinney, and Mike Spatola.
Amber Crouch turned back 12 other competitors in qualifying at a 15.596 for the CR Towing and Recovery Sportsman race. Heat race wins went to Mattingly and Brandon Pralle. Earlier in the day, Pralle made the trip to Springfield to qualify for the Sportsman Nationals, where he finished third in the heat race. Mattingly took the lead at the start with Pralle, Richard Craven, Tyler Roth, and Crouch in pursuit. On lap seven, Pralle spun in turn three for a caution flag and went to the rear of the field. The restart had Mattingly contending with Craven, as Dustin Mounce put his car on the top side in third. Mounce’s night quickly came to an end as his car began to bellow smoke and ended his night on the ninth lap. After the track was cleared, Mattingly and Craven ran the bottom, with Crouch, Pralle, and Matt Ramer racing three wide for third place. Craven stayed glued to Mattingly’s bumper, waiting to capitalize on a mistake by Mattingly. Mattingly was able to fend off Craven and took his seventh win of the year. Craven took second, with the races hard charger, Ramer in third, followed by Crouch, Pralle, Roth, Mikey Ledford, Valerie Hurt, Anthony Craven, and Mounce.
McKay Wenger tripped the clock at a 14.341 to pace the 19 Modified drivers on hand for their 20 lap race. Scott Heeren and Mike McKinney earned heat race wins. McKinney put his #96 machine on the bottom at the start, with Wenger on the topside, followed by Nick Lueth, Jason Hastings, and Heeren in a tight battle for third. After a lap two caution, McKinney had a brief challenge from Wenger before opening up a straight away lead at the halfway mark. On the restart following a lap 11 caution, McKinney wasted little time and pulled away from the field. Hastings offered a challenge to Wenger as Dan Rork, Lueth, Donovan Lodge, and Jeff Curl had a race for fourth. McKinney took his sixth win of the year as Wenger claimed second. Curl got by Hastings on the final lap for third, with Lodge, Rork, Lueth, Justin Gregory (hard charger), Nick Clubb, and Heeren completing the top ten.
Claiming his 18th overall win of the year, McKinney commeted in victory lane. “The track was awesome tonight. Chad was his crew did a tremendous job. That was the most fun I have had racing here all year.”
AJ Meiferdt’s time of a 15.841 earned fast time over 11 other Street Stock drivers. Nick Seplak and Rick Thomas took heat race wins. Thomas led Meiferdt, Seplak, Eric Legner, and Pete Odell on the start. Thomas and Meiferdt quickly put some distance on themselves from the field and set the stage for a showdown. Meiferdt was able to pull along Thomas on the stretch before Thomas slowed enough in turn two. Meiferdt, running the outside line, pulled alongside of Thomas before taking the front position on lap seven. Meiferdt could never shake Thomas off his bumper, as Thomas let Meiferdt know he was still within range. On the final lap, Thomas laid the bumper to Meiferdt several times, but Meiferdt was able to hang on for his fourth win. Seplak, Legner, Matt Ramer (hard charger), Odell, Andy Thompson, Kevin Anderson, Josh Hetherington, and Dan Leonard rounded out the top ten.
“I would have done the same thing to Rick,” said Meiferdt. “That is why we gave each other the thumbs up. We race each other like that. I don’t blame him for trying. I was taking his line away.”
With 16 Late Models on hand for their 30 lap race, Kevin Weaver led in qualifying at a 12.983. Heat race wins went to Dan Flessner and Jay Morris. Flessner, running the topside, quickly took the lead. Bill Hough, Morris, Jay Sparks, and Jeff Curl kept the fans entertained as the foursome ran every inch of the speedway for the second spot. After the track was cleared for a caution on lap seven, Flessner took a five car length lead, with Sparks, Morris, Curl, and Mike Spatola following. On the restart after a caution on lap 17, Morris overtook Sparks for second. Morris dove under Flessner as the two entered turn three. The two drivers made contact, with Flessner spinning out. Morris went to the rear for causing the caution, after apologizing to Flessner. Flessner led Sparks, Curl, Spatola, and Weaver on the restart. Curl went to the middle and overtook Sparks, as Spatola was racing relentlessly on the topside. Curl and Spatola, racing side by side, kept Flessner within striking distance as the laps began to wind down. Flessner had been running the bottom in turns three and four, changed it up for several laps, going to the top, in an effort to put some distance between himself and his pursuers. Spatola had the speed down the stretch, but Curl kept pace in the turns. Spatola had been racing the topside the entire race, changed his line by going to the bottom in turns three and four. Curl stuck with Spatola, and exiting turn four had enough room to squeeze by with eight laps to go. Curl closed in on Flessner, as both threaded their way on the bottom in turn three and four. On the white flag lap, Curl found enough room to pull along Flessner as the two entered turn three and four. Side by side, contact was made, and Flessner spun out. Curl slowed enough for Spatola to pull ahead and each Curl by a bumper at the finish. Weaver,Sparks, Donny Walden, Brian Clendenen, Jay Brendle, Curtis Radke (hard charger), Jimmy Miller, and Ron Donaldson completed the top ten.
“There was no way I wasn’t going to do anything but bag that cushion” spoke Spatola. “On car was terrible tonight. We needed luck and we got it tonight.”