By Rocky Ragusa
The Fairbury Speedway released their 2020 racing schedule at the Performance Racing Industry Show in Indianapolis last week. 23 events will be featured highlighted by the 31st Annual Prairie Dirt Classic on July 31- August 1. A record, $50,000 will go to the winner of the World of Outlaw sanctioned special. Weekly racing on the ¼ mile, dirt oval will have Late Models, Modified, Sportsman, Street Stock, and Hobby-Modified. Test and Tune will be held on April 25 with the opening night race on May 2.
The Illini 100 will be held at the Farmer City Raceway on April 2-4. Peoria Speedway has an opening night on March 28. Macon Speedway will be celebrating their 75th season of racing action this year and opens on April 11. The Lucas Oil Late Model series invades the ⅕ mile,dirt track on April 25. Lincoln Speedway’s first race is scheduled for April 10.
The Gateway Dirt Nationals will be held this Thursday-Saturday in St. Louis. Late Model, Modified, and Midget teams from across the country will look to challenge the ⅕ mile, dirt track at the Dome of America’s Center. Tickets will be available at the door or through ticketmaster.
Two time race winner, Bobby Pierce will headline the Late Model favorites in the featured 40, lap, $30,000 to win feature. Former winner, Scott Bloomquist will join World of Outlaw champion, Brandon Sheppard, Jonathan Davenport,
Among the area Late Model drivers entered include, Shannon Babb, Jason Feger, Allen Weisser, Mike Spatola, Ryan Unzicker, Brandon Pralle, and Jeff Curl.
60 invitations were extended to some of the top Modified drivers. Josh Harris, Kyle Strickler, Nick Hoffman, Jeffrey Ledford, former winners, Mike Harrison and Ray Bollinger are some of the favorites in the 30 lap, $10,000 to win contest.
The Midgets return for a 30 lap, $10,000 special, with defending race winner Christopher Bell looking to repeat. 60 invites were awarded to some of the top open wheel drivers, including Logan Seavey, Dave Darland, Tanner Thorson, and NASCAR drivers, Ryan Newman, Chase Briscoe, Kyle Larson, and Ricky Stenhouse.
Pontiac’s Ledford will be making his last start in a Modified before stepping into a Late Model in 2020. Ledford’s ninth place finish at Gateway in 2016 was followed by a 15th and 17th place the last two years. Ledford would to end another chapter in his racing career with a win on the big stage.
“ We have had two months since our last race,” said Ledford. “ We have gone thru the car as best as we can. Gateway is like Macon Speedway but doesn’t have the banking. The lack of banking does present a challenge for me. It really means alot to me to be invited to race in St. Louis. I wouldn’t be able to do it without the help from my crew, family, and sponsors. We’re going to give it our best shot.”
2019 Fairbury Late Model track champion, El Paso’s Unzicker ran as high as third at last year’s indoor spectacular before finishing fifth. Unzicker caught fire during the middle of the year, netting three wins and consistent finishes to help win his second Fairbury title.
“ The slow start came from trying new things and dreaming up new genius ideas that don’t work,” laugh Unzicker. “ So we went back to the basics. We had consistent finishes. As a driver I try not to take big risks, because every dollar means alot to my team.”
Unzicker has been successful at both Macon and Bell-Clair, claiming feature wina at both tracks.
“Gateway is the same size as both tracks, but the surface is different,”said Unzicker. “ Gateway is more puffy and powdery. It can be hard to get any grip.”
Racing on the ⅕ mile track doesn’t take a high dollar engine or a new chassis to compete. Budget teams and Crate racers have shown they are able to hold their own against the high rollers. Unzicker and Ledford have both peaked at the right time and this Saturday night both hope to be wearing thje crown as the 2019 Gateway Dirt champion.