In the first 16 years of the UMP Modified Fall Nationals at Spoon River Speedway, three drivers (Scott May, Jimmy Hibser, and Gary Cook, Jr.) combined to win 10 of those. But in the seven most recent events, seven different drivers each won their first Fall Nationals Championship.
Michigan’s Jacob Poel increased that streak to eight, holding off four previous champions to put his name on the list of big-name UMP Modified drivers who have won the Spoon River Speedway Fall Nationals, one of the preeminent Modified races in the country.
But it wasn’t easy, as Poel survived a wild, hotly contested race that saw four different cars lead at one point, and five lead changes overall in the 50-lap race, a testament to a perfectly prepared race track that allowed for multiple effective grooves for the drivers to choose from.
Highland, Illinois driver Mike Harrison grabbed the lead from the green flag, and held the lead until the first of only three cautions flew on lap 6. On the restart, Harrison chose the inside line and 2004 Fall Nationals Champ Chad Kinder bolted into the lead from the outside. 2012 winner Matt Mevert of Steelville, IL, and Poel also eventually worked around Harrison, and that threesome battled for the lead for 15 laps, including a thrilling two-lap long 3-wide battle that was eventually won by Poel, who took the lead on lap 21 and started to stretch out the lead until the night’s second caution flew on lap 26 when Steven Brooks slid up and over the banking in turn four.
Harrison’s #24 came alive again on the next restart, as he worked his way into second place behind Poel by running the high groove, while Mevert and Kinder battled middle and bottom for 3rd and 4th. 1999 Fall Nationals champ Jeff Leka, working his way through the field in the first half of the race, jumped into the top five during this run, getting around 2009 winner Allen Weisser. On lap 32, Leka got around Mevert and went three wide with Harrison and Kinder for second, just before Tanner Wilson brought out the third and final caution, as he too jumped the high side of turns 3 and 4 for a trip through the grass behind the turns.
On the restart, Leka bolted from 4th to 1st when Poel got bumped from behind going into turn one, slowing the front three and allowing Leka to dart by. But Poel’s car was working better than the rest of the field, and he reeled Leka back in and passed him on lap 37. With Poel hugging the bottom and getting tremendous drive off the turns, the others were left to battle for second, with Leka and Harrison dueling brilliantly, actually trading spots no less than three times in the final lap and a half, with Leka edging Harrison for second when Harrison barely got off the top of turn four on the final lap. Kinder, strong all night, finished fourth followed by Mevert. Defending champion Curl, while never a factor for the lead, finished sixth and never ran outside the top 10 on the night.
Finishing right behind the top six were a trio of locally-based young guns: Mike Chasteen, Jr., AJ May (earning the night’s hard charger award with a run from 20th to 8th), and Weisser. Canton’s Bobby Allen finished 10th, one of two Allen’s in the feature as his son Josh qualified Allen’s other Open Modified car and drove it impressively into the night’s 24-car feature field, one night after winning his first feature ever in the Pro Modified Division at Spoon River during the regular Saturday night show.
In preliminary Modified action, Harrison, Kinder, Mevert and Weisser scored heat race wins, Curl set fast time with a lap of 15.15, and the two B-Mains were won by Brandon Roberts and Ray Bollinger. In all, 45 Modifieds checked in for the 24th running of the Fall Nationals.
The Monical’s Pizza Pro Late Model Division was also in action Sunday night, with a 30-lap feature and a full field of 21 cars checked in for the night.
In the feature, Kolby Vandenbergh triumphed on the perfectly smooth track, rubbered up from 50 laps of Modified action directly before the Pro Late feature.
“I love it when the track is like this,” said the teen sensation from Ashland in the Perkins Seed House/Husqvarna Victory Lane interview. “I just tell myself there is an egg under the gas pedal and you don’t want to break it.”
The high-speed, high-skill brake/throttle balance was in evidence throughout the race, as Vandenbergh was able to hold off persistent challenges from the likes of New Berlin veteran Nick Bauman, National UMP Points Leader Tait Davenport of Benton, Kentucky, and Mount Vernon’s Aaron Heck, currently second in National points.
Heck had the best shot of passing Vandenbergh, but lapped traffic came into play, and when Heck bumped and spun the car of Bill Kettering as the leaders came up on him on lap 22, the yellow caution flag flew, and Heck was sent to the back due to the caution being thrown on him. Heck disagreed with the call, and rather than going to the back elected to head to the pits. Vandenbergh was virtually unchallenged following the ensuing restart, as he drove to victory.
Davenport finished 2nd, followed by Bauman, Jose Parga and Daniel Heck. Heat races on the night went to Daniel Heck, Logan Moody, and Vandenbergh. Moody set quick time at 15.23.
In the Fulton FS Hornet Division, red hot Derrick DeFord won his sixth straight feature, second of the weekend, and 11th of the year., topping a field of 14 for the win. Kenny Butterfield was the runner up, followed by Steve Jones, Matt Mackey and Dion Smith. DeFord and Butterfield were the division heat winners.