The 33rd season of racing at the legendary Spoon River Speedway kicked off in fine fashion this past Saturday night, with a big crowd enjoying perfect spring weather, great racing on a smooth surface already in mid-season form, and giveways of all kinds.
Spoon River Speedway welcomed a new regular race division, the NuTech Seed USAC/IMRA D2 Midgets, to the track for their first race of many in 2016, and the nice field of 18 did not disappoint, featuring fast, close, exciting racing throughout the night.
The D2 Midgets joined the Zane’s Auto Service UMP Modifieds, Perkins Seed House UMP Pro Late Models, Farmington Locker E-Mods and Fulton FS Hornets and 6-shooters for a full card on opening night.
The track’s new Transponder scoring system for Modifieds and Midgets was shown off during qualifying, as the D2 Midgets turned blistering laps while having three cars on the speedway being timed simultaneously. Davenport, Iowa’s Jeff Mallonee turned the quickest lap in the little rocket ships, stopping the clock at 14.929. The cars of Auburn, Illinois’ Mitchell Davis and Mahomet, Illinois’ Patrick Bruns also clicked off laps under 15 seconds.
Veteran and multiple time Spoon River Speedway Track Champion Butch Weisser led the way in UMP Modified qualifying with a 15.13 second lap, his son Allen Weisser was second-quick. With the transponder system in place, two Mods qualify at the same time, each getting two laps, a change from single-lap qualifying from previous seasons, and well over half the field turned their quickest lap on the second timed go-round.
In the night’s main events, Allen Weisser jumped into an early lead in the 25 lap Zane’s Auto Service Modified feature, and held off a spirited charge from rookie Josh Allen, moving up this year from E-mod to battle in the Open Modified division. Weisser pocketed the season’s first bonus check as the track paid $1,000 to win on Opening Night.
“The track was smooth like we like it,” said The A-dog in Victory Lane, “and the car hooked up really well. Always feels good to win the first race each year.” He added it was always nice to pick up the extra bonus in the paycheck, and thanked his crew for the solid setup underneath him.
Josh Allen was able to get a nose almost up to the younger Weisser’s driver’s door with a few laps left in the event, but Weisser held the line and extended the lead by a couple of car lengths at race’s end. Josh Allen finished 2nd, holding off a late surge from Ashland’s Brandon Roberts. Butch Weisser crossed the line 4th, followed by Chatsworth, Illinois veteran Lance Dehm, making a rare visit to Spoon River Speedway. The classy 27-year Modified pilot has announced 2016 as his last year behind the wheel, and hopefully he’ll be able to make a couple of additional trips to The Spoon for big events later on this season.
Modified heat races went to both Weissers, A-dog winning the first and Butch dominating the second of the two Mod heats.
In the NuTech Seed D2 Modified feature, Patrick Bruns jumped out front early and dominated throughout. He bounded to the top of his roll cage in the Perkins Seed House Victory Lane, pumping his fists through a huge smile.
“This track is great,” he said, agreeing with the question about the smoothness of the racing surface. “Absolutely, a smooth quality track is what we like, this was a finesse track tonight with some rubber on it when we were out there, and we’re very happy to come out on top.” For his efforts, Bruns pocketed $500.
Following Bruns across the finish line were Mitchell Davis, Burlington, IA’s Dave Anderson, Bart Andrews of Fort Madison, IA, and Shane Morgan of Morton. Havana native (now residing in Macomb) Gedd Ross was in the Top 5 for most of the event, but his left rear flew off the car on a restart and his night ended with a 15th place finish. He was okay.
The wildest ride of the night was had on lap 18 by Johnny Murdock of St. Louis. The transplanted Texan made contact with another car and mildly flipped over onto his roll cage in the middle of turns one and two. He was able to get out unscathed and quickly, as fuel poured onto the track. After a short delay that saw the track crew burn off the fuel and throw some clay over the remaining puddle, the race resumed for a short two lap sprint to the checkers. Murdock reported to Spoon River track crew that he was completely okay after the wreck.
In the Perkins Seed House Pro Late Model Division, young Modified driver AJ May wheeled a car that the crew didn’t even finish building until 4pm that day into Victory Lane for his first Pro Late Model Feature win.
“Man, we’re working on about 35 hours without sleep,” the exhausted but smiling May said, “and we really didn’t know what the car was going to do. Just got it done at 4 o’clock. Hats off to the crew, they really worked hard to get it done, and it turned out pretty good.” That makes the first Mayhem Pro Late Model Chassis one-for-one in Feature wins.
May used a consistent bottom line in the feature to bring home the win, finishing ahead of defending UMP Pro Late Model National Champ Jose Parga and Glasford’s Evan Fink, who both flew around the topside of the track in an effort to catch May. Parga came close to drawing alongside on three straight laps midrace, but the bottom stayed strong and May never missed a beat in closing the deal.
Andy Minett finished fourth followed by Austin Simpson. The Pro Late heats went to Parga and Simpson. In Simpson’s heat, the second in the Division, teen driver Melissa Hansmeyer scored a career best 2nd, followed by Jacob Denney, as both young drivers then made their first appearance in the Re-Draw/Frisbee Toss at intermission, which featured drivers from all divisions on Opening night throwing what turned out to be 30 frisbees into the crowd for the kids in attendance.
Pekin’s Kevin Morrow outdueled Butch Weisser (driving Chris Osborne, Jr’s #61 E-Mod) and veteran E-mod stars Mark Anderson, Trent Ross, Kyle Girard and Todd Bates to win that division’s feature event.
“I tell ya what, anytime you can beat these guys, and especially a great Mod driver like Butch Weisser, it feels pretty good,” an excited Morrow said in Victory Lane, adding “I knew Butch was there a couple of times, but I just wanted to keep it out front and pointed the right way.” That he did, earning the win in a marathon event marred by multiple cautions in the middle and rear of the field during the race.
Anderson eventually got around Weisser to take second, Weisser finished third, ahead of Ross, Girard and Bates, who ran second for much of the race, but faded late as something went amiss on his ride. The front seven (Manito’s Matt Dobey took that spot) were solid for the duration of the race, but back in the pack several other cars in the big 16 car field struggled on the dry-slick surface left by the previous three features. Not unexpected on Opening Night, those cautions will lessen as the season moves on and the drivers gain more seat time in the E-mods.
Michael Fromm took home the win in the Hornet/Six Shooter event, his first ever feature win. Mark Williams, driving the car scheduled to be raced this year by his brother Marvin, was the top finishing Six Shooter. Marvin Williams passed away unexpectedly during the offseason and family and friends came out to honor the late Spoon River Speedway racer. His #79w Pontiac Grand Prix Six-Shooter was used to carry the American flag during the National Anthem, and brother Mark drove the wheels off of it to win that division’s portion of the feature. Marvin’s wife Debra donated four kid’s bicycles in Marvin’s name that were given away during intermission.
The D2 Midgets will be in the house again this coming Saturday, April 23rd, joining the full field of racing divisions for Week 2 of the 2016 season. Info, costs, and times are available at www.spoonriverspeedway.com, or visit Spoon River Speedway’s facebook page for more info.