Thursday, April 10, 2014

Let's get this party started!

With winter seemingly behind us, the 2014 season is ready to roll out in a big way this week in Iowa when the annual Frostbuster swing begins tonight at Southern Iowa Speedway. There have already been a couple early season specials in this half of the state at Lee County Speedway and 34 Raceway, but the Frostbuster marathon has been labeled the unofficial season kickoff for the Hawkeye state in recent years.

Originally, I was hoping to hit at least three of those events, however a change in plans will lead me to miss tonight's opener in Oskaloosa and the Friday stop at Marshalltown Speedway. I plan to be in attendance at Boone Speedway this Saturday and join track announcer Jerry Vansickel behind the microphone before returning home Sunday for the fourth and final Frostbuster event of the weekend at Benton County Speedway here in Vinton. If we can miss the rain drops in Saturday's forecast, the improving temperatures should provide for full pit areas, packed grandstands and four straight nights of racing.

I attended Iowa's first race this year a couple weeks ago at Lee County Speedway in Donnellson. In all honesty, I wasn't there to watch the racing as much as I went to see friends and to take in the sights, sounds and smells of a new season. I didn't take a notebook and, quite frankly, don't even remember all the winners, but it sure felt great to be back at a race track. Although Jeff Broeg may not want to read this (sorry, Jeff), I plan to do that more often this season. While I'll faithfully report the goings-on at Independence Motor Speedway, Benton County Speedway and a few other random events, I plan to spend many nights at the races this season socializing, enjoying the show and leaving the notebook in my passenger seat.

Despite the grueling winter, Lee County promoter Mike Van Genderen had the track in much better shape than many may have anticipated for the first show of the year. He and the LCS crew worked the surface all night to stay on top of things and they did a terrific job. The great racing was a reflection of their hard work. For more insight on the March 29 event, check out the recap provided by Dick and Joyce Eisele in the 4dfan Report at Positively Racing.

I also attended the test and tune session at Benton County Speedway last Sunday. An impressive number of drivers were on-hand to dial in their cars for the upcoming season. There was also a strong turnout in the grandstand as many area race fans got their first racing fix of the season.

It was interesting to see how many drivers changed divisions for 2014. While there are always drivers changing classes, it seems that number is even greater this season than years past. Some drivers are even planning to run full schedules in multiple divisions. I think that's a healthy sign for the state of our sport. I know of a number of division changes for drivers in Independence, which includes a handful of new Late Models, a few new Modifieds and drivers moving from the Hobby Stock to the Stock Car division. Others may be returning to the track in 2014 after a year or two off. It will be exciting to see the changes in store this spring.

One thing that always makes me cringe, though, is when people say they're "moving up" or "moving down" a division. Changing divisions in racing is a lateral move - there is no up and down. You race what you want to race, what you can afford to race and what you enjoy racing. Because someone isn't behind the wheel of a Modified or a Late Model doesn't mean they're competing in a lower tier of dirt track racing. It takes every car in every division to make a show a success and there is tough competition in every division.

And, let's get this out of the way early this year, there are no "A" Mods in IMCA racing. There are Modifieds and there are Southern and Northern SportMods. If you tell me you run an "A" Mod, I'll ask how long ago you stopped racing in this area.

Lately, my schedule has been filled preparing for the upcoming season in Independence. In recent weeks, track promoters Darin Burco and Todd Summers have been diligently working on the track and improving other areas of the fairgrounds.

Burco and Summers have made a lot of improvements in the couple years they've been at the helm in Independence and 2014 will be no different. Plans to expand the pit area off the back stretch will be completed in the near future and is expected to add an additional 30-plus pit stalls in that area. Also, plans are in the works to replace the main ticket booth and build a nicer structure to greet race fans on their way into the facility.

Oh, yeah, and the track is ready to see race cars! Todd, Darin and Don Burkey have the track groomed and ready to go.

Area drivers and fans can see the improvements first-hand this Saturday, April 12 during the test and tune session, which is scheduled for 1-5 p.m. Prior to the practice session, the annual Indee Drivers' Day Car Show will be held on the streets of downtown Independence from 9 a.m. to noon.

Pit passes for practice will be $10 each, however each driver who brings their car to display at the car show will receive two free passes to the pits that day. Watching practice from the grandstand will be free of charge.

The first racing event this year will be the Open Wheel Shootout scheduled for Friday, April 18. That show will feature the second appearance of the Brockway Mechanical & Roofing Sprint Invaders Series. In addition to the 360 Sprints, unsanctioned Modifieds and SportMods will compete. Both of those divisions will run unsanctioned, however they will follow IMCA rules.

Although the action on the track has yet to start, I've received a few questions about our schedule. Three items have specifically drawn more attention than anything else, the first of which questioning the reason we dropped the IMCA Sport Compacts from our weekly program.

There were a number of reasons that led us to that decision. Among them was the fact that car counts did not improve since adding them in the middle of the 2012 season. After having a couple strong showings at the opening of 2013, the numbers continued to decline. A few people talked about bringing their cars or getting other cars there, but it just never happened.

Another reason is because we wanted to provide a more efficient program and running six divisions weekly was taking us in a direction we did not want to go. Car counts in Independence have remained among the highest in the region despite declining car counts all over the area in recent years. We are proud of the support of area drivers and fans, but we wanted our focus to remain on the overall quality of the program and not quantity of divisions. We felt a return to five divisions will move us back in that direction.

An IMCA Late Model driver told me a couple seasons ago that he was impressed at how efficiently we were running the show in Independence and there was one big indicator that led him to that observation. When we get our show done in a timely fashion, he said parents were more likely to take their kids through the pit area following the races. Those kids get to see and meet the drivers they cheer for every week. They get autographs from their favorite drivers. They want to come back more often. Those kids are the future of our sport and to be able to provide them with a more complete experience at the track is essential to the future of any racing program.

No, the Sport Compacts didn't add an hour to our show or push us too late into the night, but running six divisions did lead us to a longer than desired program and did prevent more kids from making their way through the pits with mom and dad at the end of the night. In the end, the car count, the longer program and the desire to run a more efficient show is what led us to remove them from our program. That isn't to say the Sport Compact division isn't a worthy one. It is a great addition to many programs, however we didn't feel it was a fit with ours.

A couple of questions have also been asked relating to the annual Buchanan County Fair race. Traditionally, we hold our weekly program on the Saturday night of the fair, however a live music concert will take its place in 2014. There will be no racing this year during the Saturday of the fair.

In its place, we are scheduled to run a fair special on Wednesday, July 16 to kick off that week's grandstand events. Stock Cars, Northern SportMods and Hobby Stocks will be competing for IMCA national, regional and state points, however track points will not be awarded that evening. In addition, the Micro Mods, which run weekly in Decorah and are being introduced in Vinton later this season, will be a part of the fair race.

The two questions I've received most often about the fair race are, "Why aren't you making the Wednesday fair race a points night since we're not running Saturday?" and "Why are there no Modifieds or Late Models during the fair?"

I'm not a fan of off-night points racing, especially when it's a weeknight, and it seems a number of drivers feel that way, as well. Yes, making it a points race would likely guarantee us more cars that night due to the number of drivers chasing points, but at what cost? We're a Saturday race track and when we don't run on Saturdays, it's a special event. I wouldn't feel comfortable asking one of our dedicated racers to take a vacation day from work or change their schedule to chase points in the middle of the week when we have traditionally raced for points only on Saturdays. Some wouldn't be able to do it and others would prefer not to do it. We understand that so the fair race will not be a race for track points.

The fact that it's a midweek race is also a big reason we aren't running as many divisions during the fair. By racing on a Wednesday, we're immediately limited on time. Gates won't open until later than normal so the start time will be pushed back to accommodate those wanting to make it to the races after getting off of work, plus, completing the show at a decent hour is even more essential on a weeknight.

When it came to considering which divisions to run, the Modifieds were quickly eliminated because there was a special event already planned that same night in Oskaloosa and the Harris Clash is the following night in Knoxville.

We didn't include the Late Models because we already have two big Late Model specials during the month of July. Tuesday, July 1 is the annual stop for the Deery Brothers Summer Series for IMCA Late Models and Thursday, July 24 is the World of Outlaws Late Model Series event. Midweek specials are never a guarantee, but scheduling three midweek Late Model specials in a three-and-a-half week span didn't feel like a sound decision. On top of that, Modifieds and/or Late Models are a part of every other special event on this year's schedule and we felt the July 16 date would be a good fit to try something new.

Since we wanted to try something different, we are inviting the Micro Mods to compete. There has been a lot of interest in that division in our area this season and, like our 360 Sprint special, we wanted to give Independence race fans something unique. Four divisions is plenty for a midweek show, yet what we have scheduled should provide for some great racing and allow fans to get home at a decent hour.

The third and recently most popular item up for discussion has been the Saturday, May 10 program. On the initial schedule that was released, MLRA Late Models were added to our five weekly divisions for that evening's event. After addressing some communication snafus and then talking it over with the track promoters, we removed the MLRA portion of that show. Our weekly program will still take place that night.

I've had a number of calls, texts and e-mails over the course of the last week regarding that event. I was also directed by a couple people to read about it on the message boards. I rarely visit the message boards and spend considerably less time replying to questions and comments on there. The best way to have your question answered is by e-mailing me at indeeracing@yahoo.com (which is on the Independence Motor Speedway web site) or indeeracing@gmail.com.

To clarify, however, I can guarantee everyone that the decision to remove that portion of the show was not at the request of either IMCA or MLRA, as discussed on the message boards. It was purely the track's decision. Ultimately, we knew that one of two things needed to take place to make the show a success: 1) Drop a couple weekly divisions, or 2) Increase gate prices. We had no desire to do either.

Our weekly racers are loyal to us week in and week out and we are grateful for their support. Racing season is only four months of Saturdays (one fewer this year due to fair) and we did not want to short any of those drivers another night of racing. For tracks who run a weekly program, that weekly program is their bread and butter. To mess with it isn't in the track's or racers' best interest.

With that in mind, we were not willing to increase ticket prices. As I said before, our weekly program is our centerpiece. That not only includes our drivers, but the pit crews and fans alike and that's the way it is for any track who runs a weekly program.

We felt it would be wrong to ask our weekly fans to pay more on a weekly race night. Many race fans budget their entertainment dollars and go to support a loved one in a division that would not have seen an increase in purse money that night, so how could we ask or expect them to pay more at the gate? Two divisions of Late Models, you say? Believe it or not, not everyone wants to see a longer than normal show with an extra division of Late Models.

It wouldn't be right to ask a driver, mom, dad, brother, sister, grandmother, girlfriend or whoever to shell out more money at the gate because we decided to add a sixth division and make our weekly show a special event. I realize scheduling that way has become more common today, but we want to maintain our weekly show in Independence for what it has grown to become. Running another division (regardless of sanction) was straying from that belief.

Hopefully, that answers the questions people have had about May 10.

Questions about the fair race and the MLRA race led to other comments by a few folks who asked about those events. It goes back to something I talked about earlier and that is the importance of each division to our program and not the importance of one division over any other.

A few times already this season I've heard, "Independence is a Late Model track." That statement makes me cringe as much as the "moving up" and "A Mod" comments. You don't move up or down divisions, there are no IMCA A Mods and Independence is a race track, not a Late Model track.

Yes, Independence has a rich history of Late Model racing and our veteran racers are some of the best known weekly racers in the region. Yes, we even have drivers from years gone by who raced in that division and take in our weekly program. We're also entering our 32nd year of Modifieds, our 25th year of Hobby Stocks, our 22nd year of Stock Cars and our seventh year of Northern SportMods. Those divisions play as vital of a role in our weekly racing program today as the Late Models.

The Late Model division helped build Independence Motor Speedway. That is without question. But the other divisions have allowed it to become what it is today. In fact, when I started taking a more involved role at the race track, the complaint I heard most often was that the track was too Late Model-centered. Many people felt Independence catered to the Late Models, that we solely used our weekly program to provide a quality race track for the Late Models at the expense of the other divisions and that special events were centered around Late Model racing. I heard that more often than many may realize. That is not our goal. If it was, the race track wouldn't be in operation today.

Of course, Late Model drivers and their fans aren't saying this, but they don't hear it said to them, either. For that reason, they may not believe me, but it's true. I've heard it. I've heard it a lot.

If you think about it, none of today's race fans remember a time without Late Models in Independence. They've always been there. But most of them also don't remember a time without Modifieds, many don't know Independence without Hobby Stocks and quite a few weren't even around before Stock Cars were added 21 years ago in 1993. To many, Independence is ALL of those divisions. Yes, the longtime fans remember the draw the Late Models brought to Independence on Saturday nights, but it honestly isn't quite that easy anymore. I'll be 40 years old at the end of the month and I don't remember much about racing in Independence prior to the addition of the Modifieds in 1983. I was nine years old then and many of our faithful fans are my age or younger. The younger ones can't remember a time without Hobby Stocks or Stock Cars.

I know many fans in Independence who don't care for open wheel racing and attend the races to watch Late Models, Stock Cars and Hobby Stocks. By the same token, I know just as many race fans who love open wheel racing and would be thrilled if the Late Model division disappeared from the weekly program. Without all of those people, though, Independence Motor Speedway would close its gates.

If you go to a restaurant, it's likely that there's something on the menu you may not like, but the reason you're probably there is because that restaurant offers you something you do like. If you like it, you order it. If you don't like it, you don't give it a second look on the menu. That doesn't mean you stay away from the restaurant. If that was the case, none of us would ever dine out. If you're a fan of some of the best Modified drivers in the region, you'll love coming to Independence even if you're not a fan of the Late Model division. At the same time, if you're a die-hard Late Model fan, Indee has some of the best drivers and one of the highest weekly Late Model car counts around. I'm sure it would still be worth the trip even if you didn't like the Modifieds on the menu.

Still, there are those folks who love the Stock Cars and Hobby Stocks and really don't care much for either the Late Models OR the Modifieds. Guess what? We need and appreciate those folks just as much as the Late Model and Modified drivers and fans.

Our special events schedule has been more diverse the last couple of seasons. We still have Late Model specials, including a $10,000-to-win show and a $3,000-to-win show. We also have a couple of special events for Modifieds, including the return of the Hawkeye Dirt Tour and the Open Wheel Shootout. In addition, we've included the Stock Cars, SportMods and Hobby Stocks in a number of special events and have invited back the 360 Sprints, plus offered the Micro Mods a night of racing. Our attendance has been steadily increasing in the last couple of years, as well, and I believe that's because we're providing something for everyone and not catering to one or two divisions.

In fact, last year we offered increased purse money during one weekly show each to the SportMods, Stock Cars and Hobby Stocks. Those nights were among the best attended weekly races of the year. Yes, Late Models bring people, but so do each of the other divisions and it takes all divisions equally to make our program a success.

If you're planning on attending any or all of the Frostbusters this weekend, have fun and rejoice in the fact that racing season has officially returned. If you see me in Boone or Vinton this weekend, stop and say hi.

Let's get this party started!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Year in Review: A look back at the best of 2013

With the end of 2013 literally hours away, I've spent some time looking back over my notes from this year's race season. A number of memorable moments - both on and off the track - took place in 2013 and below I have assembled my 10 greatest memories of the season.

Before that countdown, here are a few numbers to put my travels from this year in perspective. I attended 91 events at 19 different race tracks in three states. I witnessed 180 different drivers reach victory lane in 428 feature events in 15 different divisions.

The breakdown of those feature winners, by division, is as follows:

Late Model (17 winners in 40 events): Jeff Aikey, Tyler Bruening (5 wins each); Justin Kay (4); Brian Harris (3); Chad Simpson, Darren Ackerman, Josh Richards, Luke Pestka, Rick Dralle, Rory Metcalf (2 each); Corey Zeitner, Curt Martin, Darrel DeFrance, Darrell Lanigan, Denny Eckrich, Jason Utter, Joel Callahan, Jon Passick, Luke Merfeld, Ray Guss Jr., Todd Cooney (1 each).

Modified (36 winners in 82 events): Ronn Lauritzen (10 wins); Richie Gustin (7); Cayden Carter, Troy Cordes (5 each); J.D. Auringer, Joe Docekal, Kyle Brown, Tyler Droste (4 each); Darin Duffy, Jon Snyder, Mike Burbridge (3 each); Dylan Smith, Jeremy Mills, Jeremy Payne, Jerry Luloff (2 each); Aaron Turnbull, Bill Davis Jr., Brian Mullen, Chase Allen, Chris Mills, Colt Mather, Craig Crawford, Dominic Ursetta, Jason Schueller, Jimmy Gustin, Jordan Grabouski, Kody Scholpp, Luke Wanninger, Ray Cox Jr., Ricky Thornton Jr., Ron Barker, Ryan Ruter, Shawn Kilgore, Shawn Ryan, Steve Stewart, Terry Phillips, Vern Jackson (1 each).

Stock Car (24 winners in 71 events): Damon Murty, John Emerson (11 wins each); Norman Chesmore (7); Donavon Smith, Scott Pippert, Sean Johnson, Steve Meyer (3 each); Abe Huls, Brandon Czarapata, Jarod Weepie, Jason Cook, Jason Hocken, Jay Schmidt, Justin Temeyer (2 each); Bill Osbahr, Brad Pinkerton, Brian Irvine, Cory Stout, David Brandies, David Smith, Jake Masters, Jim Lynch, Jordan Grabouski, Kevin Rose, Kyle Vanover, Lynn Panos, Mike Nichols, Stefan Sybesma, Tracy Gienger, Zach Vanderbeek (1 each).

SportMod/B Mod (37 winners in 78 events): Carter VanDenBerg, Nick Roberts (7 wins each); Danny Dvorak, Joel Rust (6 each); Brennen Chipp (5); Curt Hilmer, Doug Smith, Kip Siems, Tyler Frye (3 each); Curtis Van Der Wal, Sam Wieben, Ty Luellen (2 each); A.J. Johnson, Alex Zwanziger, Austin Kaplan, Brad Iverson, Brandon Smith, Brandon Williams, Brett Lowry, Bryan Rigsby, Bryce Garnhart, Chris Larson, Clint Luellen, Dave Schulze, Dean Abbey, Eric Elliott, Eric Pollard, Jenae Gustin, Jeremy Schaufenbuel, Josh Long, Kevin Hurst, Kurt Moeding, Lucas Lundry, Mike McDonald, Ricky Kay, Rod McDonald, Ryan Maitland, Shane Ebaugh, Timmy Current, Tony Dunker, Travis Peterson (1 each).

Hobby Stock (30 winners in 69 events): Chris Luloff (13 wins); Brian Happel (6); Benji Irvine, Shannon Anderson (4 each); Brandon Pruitt, Eric Stanton, Quinton Miller (3 each); Devin Smith, Dustin Griffiths, Jacob Keiser, Kyle Parizek, Matt Brown, Nick Murty (2 each); Andy Coffman, Andy Stinson, Austin Hauswirth, Bill Bonnett, Cody Nielsen, Danny Thrasher, Eric Larson, Jamie Songer, Jamie Whitaker, Justin Stander, Justin Wacha, Kenny Champ, Kent Husted, Leah Wroten, Mike Hughes, Nathan Ballard, Paul Nagle, Randy Embrey, Weston Koop (1 each).

Sport Compact/4-Cylinder (18 winners in 65 events): Merv Chandler (15 wins); Adam Gates (14); Nathan Chandler (11); Bill Whalen Jr. (5); Brad Chandler (3); Jacob Ellithorpe, Monte Honas (2 each); Aaron Hitt, A.J. Witten, Brandon Dahl, Cory Peters, Dylan Clinton, John Gill, Michael Grossman, Mitch Balik, Nicholas Von Hemurt, Paul Seabrooke, Skip Dunker, Tyler Whalen, William Michel (1 each). 

Mod Lite (7 winners in 12 events): Andy Hennigar, Josh May (3 wins each); Dusty Masolini (2); Charley Brown, Chase Flatt, Greg Rossell, John Griffin (1 each).

305 Sprint (1 winner in 1 event): Donnie Steward (1 win).

360 Sprint (3 winners in 3 events): Jon Agan, Paul Nienheiser, Terry McCarl (1 win each).

410 Sprint (1 winner in 1 event): Ian Madsen (1 win).

Bomber (1 winner in 1 event): Mike Vondrak (1 win).

Street Stock (2 winners in 2 events): Gerald Ward, Jeremy Gustaf (1 win each).

Dirt Truck (1 winner in 1 event): Tony Moro (1 win).

Pit Bike (1 winner in 1 event): Jody Steward (1 win).

4-Wheeler (1 winner in 1 event): Tanner Gipple (1 win).

When it came to compiling the list of my 10 greatest memories from 2013, my first notion was to look back through my notes and pull out specific events that stood out above the others. Before I started sifting through my blog and other notes from the season, I realized that the best memories shouldn't need to be researched. The best memories should automatically come to mind without any kind of prompting.

Instead, I sat down with paper and pen and started scribbling the moments that first came to mind. I reached 10 items in just a few minutes and that's when I first looked through my notes to see if there were any glaring omissions. There were none. Appropriately, the first 10 that I remembered are on the list below.

By clicking on the headline of each item, you can revisit my blog entries of those events - with one exception. The link to the number one memory on my list will take you to youtube.

10. Saturday, October 13 – Lee County Speedway – Fall Challenge
In what was one of the final events in Iowa this season, I witnessed one of the best Modified features of the year. Ronn Lauritzen, Scott Hogan and Kyle Brown all made the trip to southeast Iowa and gave Iowa race fans a terrific end to their season. Not only was the richest payday of Lauritzen's career worth the drive to Donnellson, the emotion shown by his wife Kim after finishing a long season (more on that later) in victory lane was an appropriate way to end the season.

9. Friday, May 24 – Independence Motor Speedway – Open Wheel Shootout
Sprint Car racing made its return to Independence for the first time in nearly 20 years this season when the Brockway Mechanical & Roofing Sprint Invaders Series made its first-ever stop at the 3/8-mile oval. While veteran Sprinter Terry McCarl drove to victory, it was Matt Krieger's breathtaking crash into the turn one catch-fence that had most people talking. Krieger's 360 Sprint Car was dangling on the fence by just the right front wheel as the safety crew debated how to safely bring his ride back to the ground. Look for the Sprint Invaders to return to Independence in April of 2014.

8. Sunday, August 18 – Benton County Speedway – Weekly Program
While any of us can talk about who the best racers are of our generation, we never know who the next up-and-comers will be to keep our sport alive and strong for years to come. On a single night in Vinton this season, 14-year-olds Ryan Maitland and A.J. Witten reached victory lane for the first time in their careers. Both had shown signs of earning their first wins at various times throughout the season and it was on the same night when both finally broke through. I think it's safe to say the future of our sport is in good hands.

7. Sunday, June 23 – Benton County Speedway – Weekly Program 
It had been 31 years since Late Models competed for track points during a weekly program at Benton County Speedway. In what was the first our four visits for the IMCA Late Models this season, Luke Pestka drove to victory. And, as much as people complain about BCS being a track hard on race cars, there was little to no damage to any Late Model this season. Maybe it isn't the track... maybe those guys just know how to take care of their cars a little better without driving through each other...

6. Tuesday, July 2 – Independence Motor Speedway – Deery Brothers Summer Series
There was a huge crowd on-hand for the annual Independence Day holiday visit by the Deery Brothers Summer Series for IMCA Late Models at Independence. The strange thing is, many in attendance didn't realize who won until the victory lane interview. Justin Kay passed Brian Harris in turns one and two in lapped traffic midway through the race, then quickly pulled away by the time the leaders made it off turn four. Not many saw it, though. By the number of facebook and text messages I received after calling the race, it was very apparent. Not only were some confused, a great number were upset. Trust me, Kay won. Also that evening, Leah Wroten became the first female driver to win a feature in Independence since the 1960s. It was the first win for Wroten, who just completed her first year in the IMCA Hobby Stock division.

5. Saturday & Sunday, October 19-20 – Thunder Hill Speedway – Thunder on the Hill
For the second year in-a-row, I made the trip to Mayetta, Kansas, for the season-ending Thunder on the Hill special at Thunder Hill Speedway. While cold temps caused the problems in 2012, it was precipitation that threw the two-day show in limbo this season. When snow, sleet and rain forced the program to be changed from a Friday/Saturday twinbill to a Saturday/Sunday show, a number of us were stranded at the hotel and casino a mile from the race track. Despite the itinerary change and being "stranded" at a casino, the weekend was a great time to catch up with old friends and to make new ones. Oh yeah, click the link above for the details on two great days of racing! I hope to return next fall, as well.

4. Sunday, July 14 – Benton County Speedway - Hogan Memorial
The Hogan Memorial at Benton County Speedway has been a must-see event for years. The quality competition, unique format and incredible support for the Hogan family through lap sponsorships and donations continue to grow the event into one of the biggest and best in the region. In this year's installment, Cayden Carter nipped Richie Gustin at the line in one of the most thrilling finishes in event history. Next year will be the 20th annual Hogan Memorial and, while they will be hard-pressed to match this year's event, I have no doubt the Hogans, their sponsors, family and friends will come through to make it the best yet.

It always gives you a great feeling when you see people come together to help someone in need. That feeling is even more special when it's a member of your racing family. Jen Duffy contacted me about Independence Motor Speedway doing something special one night for Dan Snyder and it turned into an entire race night dedicated to him. Snyder, the father of three Modified drivers and engine builder for a number of racers in the area, has been battling cancer, and an incredible number came out to show their support for him. Many donated money, while others came to the races for the first time in their lives - all to show their support Dan. I honestly can't remember one driver who won that night, but I know one man who was in victory lane after every feature. Yes, it was Dan's night, but in the end, we all won. 

2. Saturday, June 22 – Independence Motor Speedway – Weekly Program
It was a year ago when our racing family came together to support IMCA Late Model driver Darren Ackerman, who was battling colon cancer. Ackerman took off the 2012 season to fight, and beat, the disease. He returned in full force in 2013 and made his first return to victory lane June 22 after his battle with cancer. In victory lane, Ackerman emotionally admitted he didn't know if he'd ever make it back to the winner's circle. Surrounded by friends and family in victory lane, it was a welcome sight to see. It was the first of two wins for Ackerman this year and I'm certain he'll be back many more times in his career. 

1. Friday, September 6 – Boone Speedway – IMCA Speedway Motors Super Nationals fueled by Casey’s – Fast Shafts All-Star Invitational 
When you have the best race of the year, arguably the best race ever, on the biggest stage in dirt track racing, you'd expect it to be the top memory of the year. Todd Shute, Chris Abelson, William Gould, Dylan Smith - the best in the business doing battle in one of the biggest Modified races of the year. I still get chills when I go back and listen to fellow Super Nationals announcers Jerry Vansickel and Chet Christner call the action in the Fast Shafts All-Star Invitational. I was stationed in the infield for that event to do the victory lane interview and I was mesmerized by the action on the track. Corner after corner, lap after lap, it was easily the best race I saw all year. Given the circumstances, where it was, hell, what it was, it was quite possibly the best race I've ever seen. The unique thing about the All-Star race is that the crews and families of the drivers were in the infield. They were watching and living the moment right along with everyone else. Excitement, anxiety, euphoria, heartbreak... all of those emotions were experienced to their extremes in the few short minutes it took to run the race. Was this year's All-Star race was the best dirt track race ever? That's up to each individual to determine. What if I never see a race as good as this year's All-Star race? I'm perfectly fine with that.

There you have it, my top memories from 2013. Yes, there are a number of other moments that come to mind, such as the 300th Stock Car feature in weekly racing history in Independence, Vern Jackson's 96th career win in Independence, the Deery Series/Hawkeye Dirt Tour doubleheader in Tipton, my first trip to the Knoxville Late Model Nationals, the return of World of Outlaws Late Models to Independence and my first time at the Duel in the Desert in Las Vegas, but the 10 I listed stand out the most to me. What are your most memorable racing moments from 2013?

There is one more item to mention before closing the book on 2013. I've never recognized individual drivers on their season-long accomplishments aside from emceeing awards banquets. This year, I want to give extra recognition to one driver who has worked through a lot of personal tragedy and has become a hell of a race car driver in his short time behind the wheel. In effect, my "first annual" driver of the year.

"In Staging" Driver of the Year - Ronn Lauritzen
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I've seen a lot of drivers win a lot of races this year. Few, if any, have gone through what Ronn Lauritzen has gone through - not just this season, but the last couple years.

Ronn's father unexpectedly passed away in the middle of the 2012 season and his sister died unexpectedly at her work in July of this year. Through support of his family and friends and his passion for the sport, Ronn used racing as his therapy.

I saw Ronn win 10 features this year, although I think he won one or two at Marshalltown Speedway on nights I wasn't there. He finished second in points at all three tracks he raced weekly -  Marshalltown, Independence and Vinton - by a combined 18 points. He won the points title for the Karl Performance Hawkeye Dirt Tour presented by XSAN during the tour's final event during the Yankee Dirt Track Classic at Farley Speedway in September.

Aside from his successes on the track, though, you will not find a greater person or a greater ambassador for our sport. Not only does everyone like the guy, they have no reason to dislike him. Ronn is the first person there to help out a friend or competitor and he's the first to thank the fans in victory lane. Not only does he thank his fans every time he wins, he thanks all fans for being there to cheer on their favorite drivers.

At Super Nationals, Chet Christner and I went to inform Ronn that he was awarded a spot in the All-Star race. One of his competitors wasn't there and Ronn was eligible based on previous criteria IMCA put in place in the instance all 30 drivers didn't make it to Super Nationals. Chet and I didn't come right out and say why we were stopping at his trailer, however we asked him if he had an extra filler panel for his Modified. Without question or hesitation, Ronn grabbed the filler panel and handed it over to Chet. He just assumed someone needed one and was offering his own to help out. He didn't realize we were there to get it lettered like the rest of the All-Star competitors.

When we told him he was in the race, he started smiling in disbelief. His appreciation was genuine.

It's drivers like Ronn and his dedicated crew, family, friends and fans who make racing special to the rest of us. It's that type of person who makes me proud to be a race fan and a member of the racing family.

Ronn, congratulations on an outstanding year and I wish you continued success next season. Thank you for being a class act and part of our racing family.

That will put a close on 2013. I'm sure some of you have started thinking back to what you most remember about the past season. Keep in mind, it isn't always about the racing itself. Much of the time, it's about the people we're with and the stories we can tell of our time together at the track. We have a few more months before we can go racing again here in Iowa. Before we return to the track, however, we have a lot of time to spend with family and friends. For many of us, those next memories will be made Tuesday night as we ring in the new year. Wherever and with whomever you are celebrating, be safe and be smart. Above all else, enjoy your time with loved ones.

Happy New Year and, as always, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thirty Minutes

I've given a lot of thought lately to my travels this past racing season and all the great events I saw throughout the course of 2013. While I've considered writing my year-end blog, other thoughts have also been running through my mind as the holiday season approaches. As it always does this time of year, one particular story from Thanksgiving 2003 keeps running through my mind, so I decided my racing recap can wait.

If you're looking for a story on area dirt track racing, you're out of luck this time around. If you're looking for a story about appreciating family, friends and all the things you hold close to you, read on.

The following story comes from 10 years ago, shortly after I started working in the substance abuse field in a residential treatment center for alcoholics and drug addicts in Iowa City. If you are unfamiliar with the battles people face regarding substance abuse, yet openly judge and condemn them for their disease, please stop reading. If the words "druggie" and "drunk" are commonly how you refer to those with substance abuse problems, please move on.

No, I don't have a substance abuse problem nor have I ever been in treatment. At the same time, yes, I understand the frustration many people have when it comes to those who abuse substances and how they can negatively impact the lives of others. That still doesn't give me or anyone the right to judge the internal battles and demons others face.

I wrote this story many years ago and first posted it on, of all things, my MySpace page. At the request of friends, I moved it to facebook years later. I recently found it and am transferring it here to Positively Racing. Yes, the story is real and the events of that Thanksgiving 10 years ago are as vivid today as the day they happened.

Thirty Minutes
Working in a drug and alcohol treatment center can be more interesting than it sounds. While some days it can feel like just another job and there are others that make you question if your efforts are even worth it, there are those rewarding days when you not only feel you've made a difference, but you can see it.

I started working in this field in Iowa City a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving in 2003. A friend of mine worked at the same facility, but he'd been there a year or two longer than me. He said there would be crisis situations that would take me by surprise and only in the middle of that first situation would I know how I would handle the job.

It didn't take long for me to embrace the idea that I was working in a special field.

It was on Thanksgiving evening when I was forced to deal with that reality. A female client who had no visitors on Thanksgiving seemed to be faring pretty well despite the lonely holiday - and holidays in a residential treatment center can be as unpredictable as anything you'll ever experience.

It was 10:20 p.m. and she was getting ready for bed. She was in the women's shower getting cleaned up after making it through one more day of treatment when one of her peers came running out of the bathroom.

My friend and I happened to be working the same shift that night and we were both stationed at the technicians' desk working on our shift report when the screams came from just a few feet away. A girl came running from the restroom yelling to get the nurse.

The nurse went into the room and quickly emerged, yelling for Matt, my coworker. Still in training, I was left stationed at the tech desk while Matt went into the restroom. As he opened the door to the women's room, that's when I saw it. Blood. Everywhere.

Matt came back out as the nurse remained in the restroom. "She cut herself," he said in a rushed, deliberate tone.

The next few moments were frantic. A 911 call, a search for every available towel, bottle of bleach and rubber glove, an attempt to calm down the 20-some clients who knew something was wrong, yet didn't know what was going on or what to do.

A few minutes later, after the pace slowed ever so slightly, I entered the restroom and assisted with the clean-up. Blood. Floor. Sink. Shower. Walls. Everywhere.

She was sitting upright in the fetal position in the shower with her arms wrapped up from shoulder to elbow. She had a blanket encased around her legs.

She was expressionless. Awake but unresponsive. She was staring straight ahead at the shower wall. She turned and looked at me. She turned and stared again at the shower wall. She hung her head.

She knew what she had done.

She saw it.

She felt it.

She did it to herself.

The situation consumed all of just a few moments in time. It was surreal and frightening, but seeing her there was the most disturbing of all.

The pain she felt wasn't physical from the razor blade she had taken to herself.

The pain wasn't a result of the marks she left on her arms and legs.

The pain wasn't the blood pouring from her body.

The pain wasn't physical.

Although I only caught a brief glimpse when she looked at me, I knew at that moment that the pain wasn't physical.

The pain was emotional.

The pain was within her.

The nurse assisted her to the common area near the tech desk as we waited for the ambulance to arrive. She sat there... Patient, calm, fully aware that she would be leaving because of what she did to her body as a result of the thoughts going through her mind. We were frantic. She was calm. It was her way out.

The nurse continued to sit with her as Matt and I were finishing the clean-up and settling the clients back into the typical structure that runs a person's residential treatment... Put this out of your mind as a new day begins in just a few hours. Another day to focus on yourselves, your treatment and what you can do to change your own lives …

It was closing in on 10:30.

It was past their bedtime.

As Matt and I returned to as close of a sense of normalcy as could be expected, the nurse continued to sit with her. She said very little and, in fact, she said only one thing. She mumbled one thing.

The nurse had trouble hearing her so he leaned lower to better understand her whisper.

He looked up in a state of expected disbelief. Disbelief because of what she said, yet expected because nothing in this environment can ever be considered a surprise.

"She wants a cigarette."

We all looked at her and then at each other, wanting not only to understand her request, but to consider what to do. The range of emotions went from panic to fear to frustration to confusion to relief to disbelief to anger.

My thoughts were frantic, confused and repetitive. She wants a cigarette. She cut herself. She's bleeding from her arms, her legs. The paramedics are only moments away. Clients only get so many scheduled cigarette breaks a day. She can't have one. Should we give her one? Why does she want one? Is she sure she wants a cigarette? She's bleeding from her arms, her legs. She cut herself. She wants a cigarette?

We raced frantically to save her, to take care of her, to be there for her and she did this all for a cigarette?

She was troubled, lonely and depressed. Nobody took the time to visit her on Thanksgiving. She felt alone. She felt lost. She couldn't have a cigarette so she cut herself so she could have one before her ride to the hospital. She wanted a cigarette.

It was now 10:50.

All in 30 minutes.

An eternity.

The ambulance arrived a short time later and she was gone... for a couple of days. She returned a few days later and seemed to work through the events of that Thanksgiving night. Her spirit seemed positive. Her focus emerged. Her assignments were incredible. She successfully completed treatment. She discharged.

I never saw her again.

No matter how many Thanksgivings I have yet to experience in this lifetime, I will take with me for the rest of my life the memories of those 30 minutes from that Thanksgiving. The start of every holiday season for the rest of my life will bring with them that one memory.

Although I'm not sure where she is now or what her future has held, I live with the certainty that, if for only one brief moment in time, she understood within her heart that people were helping her.

I may be naive with the thought that those moments made a difference in her life. I may be fooling myself to think that she made an honest attempt to better herself for her remaining weeks in treatment. I may be wrong to think that she wanted change for herself, that she wanted a future, that she wanted a life beyond the pain she felt on that night and countless nights before it. I may be wrong about it all, but I am right when I recall the look in her eyes for that isolated moment in time.

I saw her pain.

It's a memory like this one that has forced onto me a better appreciation for all that I have in my own life. While pain is unavoidable at times, disappointment a certainty in our own failures and frustration seemingly unbearable when we can't change the things that are destined to remain as they are, there are as many, and often times more, reasons to appreciate the good.

Family. Friends. Future. Love. Compassion. Stability. Purpose. Hope. Reason.

For every step backward we force ourselves to take, there are more driving forces in our lives that compel us to move forward. Every step backward gives us reason to continue on, gives us reason to appreciate ever more all the good in our lives.

Some days we may question why we do what we do. Some days we may feel the frustration provides us with enough doubt that what we do is done in vain. Some days we question, we judge, we hesitate … all with only a glimmer of hope. That glimmer of hope combined with 30 minutes from Thanksgiving many years ago, has made me appreciate, made me understand and made me cherish all that is important in my own life.

While our focus in the racing world is always on the next race or how we're going to spend the off-season, please take the time to enjoy the holiday season with loved ones. Embrace those around you. This life is about experiences and the people with whom we share them. Tell them you love them and never, ever take them for granted.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Grabouski, Mullen, Nichols among winners at Thunder on the Hill

For the second straight year, I made the six hour drive to Mayetta, Kan., over the weekend for the season-ending Thunder on the Hill special at Thunder Hill Speedway. The event, which annually features two complete shows for IMCA sanctioned Modifieds, Stock Cars, Northern SportMods, Hobby Stocks and Sport Compacts, draws a number of the top drivers in the region for increased prize money in one of the final events of the season in the Midwest.

Former IMCA Modified national champion Jordan Grabouski pulled double duty Saturday night and made the evening a sweeping success as he topped both the Modified and Stock Car features. Grabouski, who was pestered late by Scott Drake in the 30-lap Mod main, held on to score the victory. His Stock Car win was a bit more dominant as Grabouski sailed to victory in that 25-lapper by a near straightaway ahead of Perry Misner.

Tyler Frye, who spent Thursday night watching coverage of practice on XSAN, loaded up his #55 Northern SportMod and made the trip from Belleville to Mayetta. He promptly made his way to victory lane as he beat Curtis Dreasher to the checkers Saturday night.

Kent Husted broke free midway through the Hobby Stock feature to drive to victory in that event ahead of former IMCA Super Nationals champ Cody Nielsen. Monte Honas dominated the Sport Compact feature to score the win.

Sunday afternoon's show (more on the event schedule later) offered thrilling racing in all five divisions, which was led by Brian Mullen's trip to the winner's circle in the Modified feature.

Mullen, from Seymour, Wis., held the lead early while Chris Abelson worked the top side into contention. Abelson raced his way into the lead and started to pull away before lapped traffic impeded his progress. Mullen, who remained committed to the low groove up until that point, slipped around the outside of Abelson exiting turn two with around 20 laps complete as Abelson worked the slower traffic.

The lapped traffic briefly allowed the top five to close together, however Mullen pulled away in the waning laps to secure the win. Drake raced his way past Abelson to score runner-up honors for the second straight day. Abelson ran third ahead of David Murray and Jesse Sobbing.

Grabouski appeared poised to sweep the Stock Car division for the weekend, however Mike Nichols, who was not there for Saturday's program, showed up and spoiled his bid at a repeat trip to victory lane.

Grabouski led early while Nichols raced the low groove and kept pace with the leader. Nichols slowly worked into position to challenge for the lead before escaping with the top spot near the midway point of that event. Grabouski closed on Nichols late in lapped traffic, however Nichols held on to win.

Bryan Rigsby won a thriller in the Northern SportMods. After chasing leader Shawn Harker for much of that 20-lapper, Rigsby closed in on Harker running the low groove of the slick, fast oval. Rigsby inched ahead in the final circuits while Tyler Frye, looking for his second win in as many days, raced the top groove into a challenge.

On the last lap, Rigsby and Harker touched, which slightly slowed Harker to the top of the back stretch. Harker was able to keep pace while Frye worked the high side to make it a three-car battle off of turn four. Rigsby held on to win while Frye slid around Harker and onto Rigsby's rear bumper for second at the line as all three drivers finished within a car-length of each other.

Multi-time Thunder Hill track champion Brian Stich appeared well on his way to victory in Sunday's Hobby Stock feature until a rare miscue on his part sent his #21 into a spin exiting turn two on the final lap. Cody Nielsen inherited the point and led the final half lap to score the win ahead of Jesse Vanlaningham.

Monte Honas was the lone driver to sweep the weekend as he walked away with the Sport Compact victory Sunday for his second victory in as many days.

NOTES FROM MAYETTA
* Complete results from the weekend are available by clicking on the results tab at www.racethunderhillspeedway.com and video of all the action is at www.xsan.tv.

* Multi-time national Modified champ David Murray suffered engine problems Saturday night and was offered the back-up power plant of Jesse Sobbing to run Sunday's show. Yes, it was the first time Murray ran a crate motor and, after qualifying through his heat, Murray quickly became comfortable with the crate and beat Sobbing to a fourth place finish. Murray admitted afterward that it will take some learning, but it seems likely you can expect Murray to run a crate at events in the future.

* Ponca City, Okla., Modified driver Brendon Gemmill suffered heavy contact from a fellow competitor in Sunday's feature. That contact sent Gemmill hard into a tractor tire inside turn one which in turn sent him into a hard spin to the infield. Unfortunately, he reported that the wild wreck destroyed his race car. It was a tough break for Gemmill, who is one of the nicest racers around.

* Saturday night, Modified drivers were given the opportunity to buy in for the chance to win an increased winner's share. Already billed as $2,000-to-win each night for the Modifieds, drivers could pay an additional $100 to enter Saturday's event for a chance at $3,000-to-win. Grabouski, Saturday's winner, paid the extra cash and walked out +$900 in that transaction.

* The Saturday evening/Sunday afternoon show was scheduled for Friday and Saturday nights, however rain, sleet and snow - yes, snow - moved into the area overnight Thursday and into Friday morning forcing promoters Mike and Pam Conkwright to adjust the weekend schedule. Believe it or not, the weather was beautiful for both race programs. Although a strong breeze forced those in attendance to bundle up for Thursday night's practice, all I wore was a T-shirt and a windbreaker for both race programs. All the insulated clothing, hats and gloves I brought this year after last year's chilly event stayed in the suitcase all weekend... yes, despite snow interrupting the weekend.

* The adjusted schedule only slightly affected the car count. A number of drivers were unable to stick around for Sunday's show, but a few new ones arrived for the final day. Despite the schedule change, the car counts were fantastic both days as many opted to support the event. Among those who were unable to stay both days were Benji LaCrosse and Dustin Boney. Yes, Dustin Boney appeared in his career first IMCA sanctioned Modified event and drove to an impressive fourth place finish Saturday night. This was after he made heavy contact with the retaining wall off turn one during Thursday night's practice, which forced a lot of work for his #22 to be race ready Saturday. A birthday party for his daughter Sunday prevented him from sticking around. LaCrosse had to return to Wisconsin to go to work and was unable to race Sunday.

* As far as the day race Sunday, I asked some folks what they expected concerning track conditions. Surprisingly, there were minimal concerns. Writer Ed Reichert, who makes the yearly trip from Wisconsin, said he'd seen a day race there years ago and Thunder Hill was one of few tracks he would recommend to attend for day racing. He was right. The track was great all day, provided minimal dust and had multiple grooves all afternoon and into the evening.

* The weather forecast and eventual sleet and snow that fell at the track Friday would have scared many promoters. Rather than pulling the plug and calling it a lost weekend, the Conkwrights pushed the show back a day and were determined to get it completed if at all possible. Not only were they unfazed by the inclement weather, their attempts to dry out pit road and the pit area ran like a well-oiled machine. Their crew got into the track equipment and their own personal vehicles to ensure the races would go off without a hitch. As Pam Conkwright said, "We'll lose if we cancel or if we postpone it. We're here to race, so let's race."

* Due to the crazy weather, a number of haulers were unable to escape the pit area Friday, leaving them stranded. Of course, that meant the drivers and crews were stuck there, as well. Throughout the day Friday, photos began popping up on facebook of various race teams that were making the best of their time in their haulers and, if they were lucky, their campers, as the weather moved through. Modified driver Tom Charles and his family and crew were among those stranded in the pits and were forced to make their own entertainment before the pits were dried out Saturday. He later said that he had a TV in the camper, but they quickly came to realize they forgot the remote, leaving the TV out of commission. "Thankfully, we found a card deck," he joked Saturday afternoon.

* Despite Friday's postponement, I had a great time socializing with the Thunder Hill crew at Prairie Band Casino, which is only a couple miles from the race track. If you've never been to Mayetta, it's a "blink and you'll miss it" community a few miles east of the track. Aside from the casino, there's really not a whole lot within 15-20 miles. A number of us stayed at Prairie Band and had a great time passing the afternoon and evening with conversation, stories and the occasional casino game or two. Yes, I spent extended time in a casino and actually came out ahead!

* Thanks to announcer and track writer Bill Grit for letting me call a few races with him over the weekend and for letting me make occasional trips to the booth. Thanks also to XSAN announcer Chet Christner and camera pro Darren Shanley for letting me join them throughout the weekend. I also have to thank scorer Jeni Moore-Baxter for being the target of my sarcastic joking all weekend!

* Speaking of the Thunder Hill Speedway crew, a huge shout out goes to Mike and Pam Conkwright and the incredible staff they have assembled. I've been to a lot of tracks through the years and have met a lot of track workers, but the folks at Thunder Hill are special. I mean it when I say it is the friendliest and most professional staff I have ever seen at a race track. Whether you're talking about the track officials, concession workers, ticket sellers or security, if they work at Thunder Hill Speedway, they do it proudly. They are a top notch staff. Yes, the facility is awesome and the racing is incredible, but it's the people that make the entire experience worth the trip. You rarely see promoters thank their staff both prior to and after a show, but Mike and Pam do that on the track radios and in person every night without fail. And they mean every word of it. They are the definition of racing family. Some folks I spoke with over the weekend said Mike's past experience as a race car driver has given the Conkwrights the benefit of knowing how to run a track. That may very well be true, but I believe they run the track so well simply because they're great people who know how to treat others. The fantastic staff surrounding them is just one indication of that. I know I said this last year, but I'm going to say it again... You have to visit Thunder Hill Speedway if you have the opportunity. You often hear drivers and fans say, "I wish that track was closer to home because I'd be there every week." Thunder Hill Speedway IS that track. I guarantee I'll be back next year.

With 87 race nights in the books for me this season, I'm unsure if I'll make it to anymore this year. I'm still considering Shiverfest at Lee County Speedway in Donnellson this coming weekend, but those plans are still up in the air. I'm also uncertain about the Duel in the Desert in Las Vegas next month, but that is still a strong possibility. If there are any remaining races in your area, please be sure you get out and support a track before the season comes to an end.

As always, thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lauritzen holds off Hogan in Fall Extravaganza at Lee County Speedway

After battling a nasty cold and sinus infection over the last two weeks, I felt well enough to make the trip south Saturday to Lee County Speedway in Donnellson for the Fall Extravaganza.

Ronn Lauritzen earned a thrilling win in the Modified division. After starting outside the front row next to fast dash qualifier Scott Hogan, Lauritzen worked the low side into the lead in the early going of that 25-lapper.

While Lauritzen put a little distance over the field, Kyle Brown worked through the pack to challenge Hogan for second. Hogan worked the top side with Brown down low and Lauritzen out front also running the low groove.

A couple cautions kept the field bunched, but Lauritzen took charge each time the green flag waved. Hogan, in fact, appeared to struggle exiting turn four over the final half of the event. While he seemed poised to challenge for the win early on, he found himself in a late tussle with Brown for second.

With less than a handful of laps to go, Hogan found something on the top of turn four. After the race, Hogan said he just "through it in harder and deeper," and that must have done the trick.

While Lauritzen was dealing with slower traffic on the bottom groove in the final laps, Hogan surged from the top side and was able to pull even with Lauritzen. One last dive to the bottom exiting turn four wasn't enough for Hogan, however, as Lauritzen escaped with the thrilling win.

Abe Huls raced the low groove to victory in the 25-lap Stock Car main. Huls slipped beneath John Oliver Jr. and then held off a pestering Todd Reitzler to take the victory.

Curtis Van Der Wal led throughout the 22-lap SportMod feature to score the victory. He was challenged late by Tony Dunker, but sailed to victory in an event that was stopped numerous times for caution - one that involved as many as eight cars.

Dustin Griffiths was the winner in the Hobby Stock feature after surviving early pressure from Mike Hughes. Adam Gates dominated the 18-lap Sport Compact feature to drive to victory. Those two drivers defended their Fall Extravaganza victories from a year ago.

I didn't intend to blog on Saturday night's event, however it's been so long since I've written, I figured I needed to let my readers know I'm still around! For a more thorough rundown of Saturday's action, visit Dick and Joyce Eisele's The 4dfan Report and check back later for Brian Neal's Midwest Racing News.

Rather than rehash the event, I did take a few mental notes. Bear with me, I hope my sinus congestion hasn't clouded anything I took from Saturday's show...

* The two-day show featured inverted heat race qualifying in all five divisions Friday. Drivers each raced two heat races Friday night - the first based on their draw upon signing in and the second an invert that also allowed them to compete with drivers different than during the first set of qualifiers. Saturday's last chance qualifiers and championship racing included fast dash races for top points earners from Friday's show. The dashes determined the starting lineups at the front of Saturday night's features. It was a unique format that offered a twist to the normal draw/redraw format. It seems a number of tracks have started to consider this for post-season non-points specials. It will be interesting too see how the trend will continue or be altered when spring specials approach in March and April.

* I enjoyed most of the show in a VIP booth with fellow bloggers Dick and Joyce Eisele. As we have done during many of the special events toward of the season, the three of us predicted the feature winners as the events rolled out of staging. I managed to get one correct winner on the night. Thank you, Curt Van Der Wal, for making me look smart for a brief moment in time! Of course, I was lucky enough to have the first pick of the SportMod main. If you've never taken the time to visit Van Der Wal, be sure to do so the next time you're at a track where he's competing. He is a class act and always makes time to chat. Not only is he one of the genuine, good guys in our sport, he has a hell of a race program. Congrats on the win, Curt! Plus, don't worry, awards season isn't far away in Hollywood, Nashville and all points in between. I'll try to entertain you with my snide award show remarks on facebook!

* Race day opportunities are quickly winding down in our area. Along with a special this coming weekend at Farley Speedway, I believe an October 19 special at Jackson County Speedway in Maquoketa and Shiverfest in Donnellson October 26 will be your final chances to go racing in the Hawkeye state this season. Just across the border in Memphis, Mo., a two-day fall special will be held this coming weekend.

* A number of drivers I spoke with Saturday were uncertain of their plans for the next couple weeks. Many of them have followed the fall specials at Webster City, Oskaloosa and Donnellson, but were taking things day-by-day to determine just how long they'd extend their seasons. Most often I heard, "If we survive this weekend with little damage, we may race next weekend." One of those drivers was Modified driver Scott Hogan, who had a rough go of things in Webster City and Oskaloosa. Although he had a great run Saturday, his wife's facebook page indicates they're going to end the season on a high note and call 2013 complete. After chasing points for much of his career, Hogan limited his race nights this year and focused on fun rather than the work involved in chasing points. Although his plans are undecided for 2014, I wouldn't be surprised to see Team Hogan take the same approach next season.

* As I mentioned at the top of this blog, I was among the sickly for the last couple weeks. In short, I was knocked on my ass for a good two weeks. Along with a cold and sinus infection, my history with cluster headaches reared its ugly head again. Although it had been almost two years since my most recent episode, I was either in bed or on the couch for five straight days while also battling whatever bug I had. I'm getting back up to speed, though, so I hope to take in a few more races before the season is over.

Saturday night was my 85th race of the year - a personal record. I joked with Positively Racing web mistress Sue McDaniel on Saturday that my readers probably had no idea I've been to that many races. As I mentioned in my most recent entry, this is the time of year I enjoy socializing and watching the races without worrying about what to write, but I got the itch after last night's show and it's good to be back.

My next race will include a six hour trip later this week as I head to Thunder Hill Speedway in Mayetta, Kan., for the second straight year for Thunder on the Hill. If you haven't been there and are still able to make plans to go, GO! The event starts Thursday, Oct. 17 with practice and then complete shows both Friday and Saturday. The facility is awesome, the racing is incredible and Mike and Pam Conkwright are top-notch promoters.

After that, I plan to make it back to Lee County Speedway in Donnellson for Shiverfest the following weekend. It's one of few special events in eastern Iowa I've never attended, but I'm hoping to finally make it this year. After Shiverfest, I'm hoping for one more racing weekend and that's to make the trip to Las Vegas next month for the Duel in the Desert. Plans are still in the works for that one, but it would be a great way to end the season before banquet time begins.

Speaking of banquets, the Independence Motor Speedway banquet is slated for Saturday, November 23. Invitations should be sent in the mail this week. I'm hoping to have details finalized and ticket order forms mailed out before I head to Kansas.

Also, I'm honored to say I've been invited back to be an emcee at the IMCA National Banquet in Lincoln, Neb., November 30. It will be my third year in Lincoln and I'm looking forward to spending that weekend celebrating and honoring the best in IMCA racing.

I hope to see many of you in Kansas this week. If not, make plans to head to Farley, Maquoketa or Memphis. Race days in the Midwest are numbered and we need to get our fix while we can.

As always, thanks for reading!