Kelly Kovski and Todd Bates took similar paths to win their respective features last Saturday night at Spoon River Speedway, each using lapped traffic to overtake the leader and each going on to win at the 1st Gerald Denney Memorial Topless Races at The Spoon.
The Memorial event for one of the founders of Spoon River Speedway, Gerald Denney, who along with brother Morey built a track in the middle of a cornfield in Fulton County over 30 years, was attached to the annual “topless” races, where drivers and teams are encouraged to take the fabricated roofs off of their race cars to give fans an intimate look at the drivers in action.
The evening got off to an emotional start when Morey Denney spoke fondly over the PA system about his late brother, fighting tears to tell the story of how he approached Gerald with the idea to build a dirt track, to which Gerald responded, “brother, you’ve had a lot of dumd ideas…and this one is the dumbest”, and ending with “here we are, years later, still making a go of it, thanks to Gerald.”
After qualifying, heats, and the six-shooter/hornet feature, the Farmington Locker E-mods took to the track for their 15 lap main event, with most of the field sans roof panels. Pekin’s Kevin Morrow got the early jump on things, taking the lead in the early laps as the leaders: Morrow, Bates and at various times Evan Fink, subbing for Richie Biswell in the #242, Mark Anderson and Jared Morrison (visiting from Brownstown, Indiana) pulled away from the pack.
As they started to make their way to the tail end of the field to start lapping cars, things got dicey for Morrow as he tried to pick his way through traffic. Dedicated to running the low line, Morrow picked his spots to make passes, while behind him, Bates looked for his opportunity. It finally came late in the going, as Bates circled around the outside of a lapped car that was pinning Morrow to the inside.
“Kevin drove a good race, did what he had to do,” said a smiling Bates in Perkins Seed House Victory Lane, “but the track was great and my car was really good all over, so I was able to get some good runs in the middle and up top, and I had to take my shot when I could. It worked out.” That shot turned out to be the winner, as Bates and crew celebrated the return of the bright orange #49 to Victory Lane.
Morrow finished second, followed by Fink, Morrison, Anderson, and Matt Dobey. Earlier in the evening, Morrow set fast time for the division, and Morrow, Trent Ross and Dobey won the E-mod heats.
Next up was the Zane’s Auto Service Modified feature, and lo and behold, the script played out the exact same way, as Kovski used traffic to track down and pass Rodney Bowman, who was Rockin’ and leading the first two thirds of the event.
“Being in second is actually right where you want to be in that situation,” said Kovski in Victory Lane. “You just wait for the leader to commit and then you pick your spot. I feel bad for Rodney, he’s at our shop a lot and a great customer of our business, and I wanted him to win, but I wanted to win, too. But man, he sure had his car hooked up tonight, that’s for sure.”
In a mirror image of Bates’ run, Kovski was able to use a lapped car as a “pick” on Bowman, passing him late in the race for the win. Bowman came home in second, his best run of the year, followed by Derrick Carlson with his third straight top 5 run, Josh Allen, and Mark Johnson.
Johnson and Kovski dominated the heat races in the division. In both modified classes several of the positions paying “bonus money” for having roofs removed did get the bonuses, while several did not, those extra sponsor dollars will be added to future purses.
In the Perkins Seed House Pro Late Model Division, almost every car in the field when topless, and in the case of feature winner Jose Parga, he thought it helped.
“I think it adds a little more downforce with the air going straight through and all the way to the tail,” the young star said in Victory Lane, “the car felt really good driving it without the top, I liked it.” The well-spoken young man thanked his sponsors and fans who came out to support him as he picked up another feature win on the path to trying to defend his national UMP Pro Late Model Championship.
Early on, however, it looked like AJ May would be the man to beat, as May flew out to a big lead. But in keeping with the team of the night, traffic reached out and bit May before the midway point of the race, as he was trying to time a pass on a slower car and he clipped the tail of that car, sending it spinning and sending May to the rear of the field for the restart.
From there, May hustled his hot rod all the way back to sixth.
“May was really fast, but I was gaining on him I thought,” said Parga. “I wanted to see if I had anything for him but that was just one of those racin’ deals (on the incident that sent May to the back). But we’re happy with the win.”
Evan Fink, doing double duty, roared past Nick Bauman late in the race to finish second, early leader Bauman took third, followed by Josh Jackson of South Roxana, down near St. Louis, who was making his first visit to Spoon River this year, and Dakota Ewing of Warrensburg, himself making only his second appearance on the legendary high banks this year. May finished sixth, followed by Jeff Ray, Andy Minett, Bill Kettering and Maverick Piller, with many drivers taking home bonus money for the topless show.
May and Parga won the division’s two heat races, Parga set quick time in qualifying. The field included a driver living in England, vacationing back home in Illinois, as Russ Schoonover brought the #59 Pro Late Model over from the Colchester area to race.
Mark Williams won the Spoon River Six Shooter feature ahead of Ellie Vogel, with Ken Stogdell beating Michael Fromm in the Fulton FS Hornet class.