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Close Finishes Highlight Exciting Knowles Memorial At Spoon

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A superbly prepared race track and a talented bunch of wheelmen made for a show full of side-by-side racing and thrilling finishes Saturday as Spoon River Speedway hosted the 31st Annual Tom Knowles Memorial.

The annual event, which brings winged Midwest Open Wheel Association (MOWA) 410 Sprint cars to the track, along with the wild wingless warriors of the POWRi Midget racing series, always brings displays of high speeds by the light open wheel machines. But along with the speeds this year was side-by-side dueling, as the ultra-smooth, multiple groove track allowed the drivers to go all out racing each other lap after lap.

The night begin with three brisk POWRi Midget heats, followed by four equally efficient MOWA Sprint heats, then heats for the UMP Modifieds and UMP Hornets that all kept the show moving. After a blazing 6-car MOWA Dash that saw the winner average 108 MPH for the duration of the six lapper, the MOWA B-main was competed and then the 13-car Hornet feature, won by Glasford’s Kenny Butterfield just ahead of Derrick DeFord.

Feature racing in the midget, sprint and Modified divisions were then on stage, and none of the three races disappointed, close finishes all.


The spotlight event, the MOWA Winged Sprint feature, saw a terrific battle develop late in the race when Dash winner Brad Loyet of Sunset Hills, Missouri, who after the dash was worried about whether his engine could last the entire 25 lap feature, but promised the crowd he was going to run it until it blew, tried to chase down young Paul Nienhiser, an 18 year old from Chapin, IL, in the Triopia school district, who had bolted to an early lead running the top of the race track.

As the two leaders raced on the top side, Jerrod Hull of Sikeston, Missouri started to gain ground coming from the low groove, trying to make it a three car battle.

But Nienhiser worked traffic well, and was able to hold off a tremendous last charge from Loyet, the two leaders actually making slight contact as they came to the line, enough to spin Loyet so that he crossed the finish line backwards before making a great save to bring the car back around without wrecking at the line.

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In the POWRi Midget feature, 16-year old Justin Peck of Monrovia, Indiana topped Norman, Oklahoma hotshoe Christopher Bell in a thrilling race that saw the leaders try move after move throughout the night, with passing, slide jobs, and three wide racing in the field behind them. Bell had won the feature the night before at Jacksonville Speedway, and as a past winner at Spoon in Sprints, knows his way around the high banks, too.

But Peck ultimately crossed the line first, and then made his only “mistake” of the night, when the youngster excitedly climbed up to his rollcage to celebrate, but slipped, falling backwards off the car. He jumped right up, and continued his hard earned celebration of his first-ever POWRi Midget feature win.

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The UMP Modified feature provided the last thrill of the night, as Kewanee’s Ray Bollinger went out in search of his first feature win at Spoon River Speedway, locking into the bottom of the track to build an early lead. Cautions closed up the field on three occasions, and with each restart, Bollinger had to hold off the ever-closing Allen Weisser and Mike Chasteen, Jr., both coming hard on the high side.

Bollinger said he couldn’t move up to block on the high side.

“With the gear I picked, if I would have tried to go up to the top to protect, they would have blown by me like I was standing still. I was definitely set up for the bottom,” he said. “I knew they were coming, and I sure didn’t want to see that last caution.”

That caution, with 18 laps complete, led to a two-lap shootout in which Weisser drew even down the backstretch, and as the two raced to the checkers, with Bollinger winning about 18 inches.

“Weisser ran me clean, he ran hard, and he almost got me,” said Bollinger, “that was a fun race, I love this track and it feels good to get one here.” That first win came with a check for $1,000 as well, meaning that Bollinger, who took 2nd in the prestigious Fall Nationals the previous Sunday, earned $3,500 in two races at Spoon River over the week.

Behind Weisser, Chasteen, Jr. finished third, Zac Oedewaldt continued his impressive 2nd half streak with a fourth place finish, and AJ May finished a solid fifth. 27 Modified checked in for the show at the beginning of the night.

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