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The first time Levi Kissinger of Mt. Vernon, Indiana laid eyes on Spoon River Speedway was Sunday afternoon when he arrived to check his UMP Modified and crew into the pits. His first thought: “wow, what a hidden gem this is!”
A few hours later, in the late evening air, Kissinger proved to be the best of the 50 Modifieds on hand as he won the 3rd Annual Gary Cook, Jr. Memorial Race in a thrilling battle with Central Illinois stalwarts like Allen Weisser, Kelly Kovski, and Steven Brooks.
In Spoon River Speedway’s Perkins Seed House Victory Lane, he had a wave of emotions as he discussed the win. “I raced Gary Cook, Jr. a couple of times, everybody knew how good he was,” Kissinger said, “and it is just a tremendous honor to win a race named after him, and to think I was out there racing with his Dad and got to meet Gary, Sr. down here…it’s really an awesome thing.”
Cook, Sr. was the 31st starter in the huge feature field, driving the Cook, Jr. tribute car displaying the final wrap and sponsor scheme the younger Cook ran until passing away from cancer three years ago.
Kissinger gushed at the racing surface and the competition. “I was having so much fun,” he smiled, “I didn’t care if I won, ran second, third or wherever. These guys were fun to race against and they are fast…and so is the track. What a great place! We will make every effort to come back whenever we can.”
Kissinger rode the high rail, thrilling the huge crowd in attendance enjoying perfect weather on Memorial Day weekend, as he tried to get around first Kovski and later Weisser and Brooks. Kovski and Brooks were the bottom runners, Kovski the early leader until he made contact as he came upon a soon-to-be lapped car, causing enough damage to force him from the race. Brooks took hold of the bottom groove, while Weisser searched low, middle and high as the two battled for the lead, with Kissinger in 3rd until a late restart. Kissinger made a power move off the top of turn two and squeezed by on the outside of Weisser, both cars flying down the backstretch trying to beat Brooks to turn 3, and the trio dueled to the finish, but Kissinger held off the pair for the win, and the $2064 share of the huge purse.
Brooks came home second, Weisser third, followed by Josh Harris and Trent Young. Ray Bollinger of Kewanee ran 6th, followed by Ryan Thomas, Tait Davenport, Donovan Lodge and Brandon Roberts to round out the top ten.
Fifty cars meant lots of racing: six heats, two B-mains preceded the feature. Heat race winners, who then re-drew for the front three rows of the feature, were Trent Young, Kissinger, Josh Allen, Bollinger, Weisser and Kovski. Fast time on the night was set by Young at 14.48 seconds, the quickest Modified lap of the year. He was the first of 50 to time trial. B-main winners were first-time visitor David Mitchell and local veteran Joe Wagner. As mentioned earlier, promoter Brad Denney promised a 30-car feature field if there were 50 or more Mods in attendance, and that’s how it ended up, with the addition of Gary Cook, Sr. added to the field on a promoter’s provisional.
The 50 car field in the Zane’s Auto Service Modified Division was spectacular in itself, but there were also 24 Super Late Models, 27 Pro Late Models and 16 D2 Midgets in attendance giving fans 117 total cars, with drivers from six states, to put on a show for the throng in attendance, the largest field outside of last year’s UMP Fall Modified Nationals in several years.
And put on a show they did.
Jason Feger, the “Highside Hustler” from Bloomington, thrilled the crowd with a dash from that high side in the Super Late Model Feature, besting a fine field including runner up Justin Reed, 3rd place finisher Mike “Opie” Spatola, Jason Wagner and Rusty Griffaw. Sixth through tenth went to McKay Wenger, Mike Glascock, Todd Bennett, Billy Hough and Chuck Mitchell.
Spatola, Reed and Feger had earlier won the Super Late Model Heat races, with Spatola’s blistering 13.81 second lap in qualifying topping the list.
In the Perkins Seed House Pro Late Model Division, Nick Bauman of New Berlin triumphed in the Main Event, getting to the checkers ahead of AJ May, Guy Taylor, Spatola (doing double duty on the night), and Andy Minett. Heat races in the division went to Jose Parga, Minett, and Bauman.
The NuTech Seed D2 Midget feature went to Patrick Bruns, his second of the season, making up for an alternator failure which cost him a win while leading the previous Saturday. Jeff Mallonee, Brock Hunnell, Austin Archdale and Dillon Morley rounded out the Top 5, with heat race wins going to Mallonee and Bruns.
The spectacular night of racing ended just after Midnight, and a vast majority of the crowd was still there for the night’s last race.