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Kankakee County Speedway

Rookie rules Kankakee, grabs Hell Tour opener

June 16, 2011, 6:56 pm
By Joshua Joiner
Mike Spatola (89) puts a lap on Jay Morris (77m) en route to victory. (apexonephoto.com)
Mike Spatola (89) puts a lap on Jay Morris (77m) en route to victory. (apexonephoto.com)

KANKAKEE, Ill. (June 16) — Mike Spatola of Manhattan, Ill., continued his impressive rookie Late Model season Thursday night at Kankakee County Speedway, scoring a $5,000 victory in the opening round of the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals.

The second-starting Spatola jumped into the lead over polesitter Chad Simpson on the start of the 40-lap event and led all the way in scoring his fourth victory of the season at his home track, becoming the youngest driver to capture a Summernationals event. | Complete Summernationals coverage

“I tell ya I really love racing at this place,” said Spatola, who won Kankakee’s first two weekly events this year and won an American Late Model Series race at the track in May. “I don’t know what it is, but we sure get around here good.”

The 20-year-old driver dominated the first Summernationals event of his young career, pulling to a comfortable lead on both the initial start and the race’s only restart, which came after a lap-six caution for Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill.

Spatola’s only obstacle throughout the event was slower traffic, but he navigated it perfectly and pulled away in the closing laps, forcing Simpson to settle for the runner-up finish. Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., finished third with Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., and Matt Miller of Waterville, Ohio, rounding out the top five finishers.

“I had a little bit of trouble (in traffic),” Spatola said. “I couldn’t get off the corner as good when I caught that lapped traffic. I had to pinch it down a lot more and I knew I had slowed down a ton. I was just hoping to hold on to the end.

"I just kept telling myself the whole race, 'Just be smooth and run this line, and don't do nothing until they challenge you.' "

Simpson closed the gap a number of times as Spatola battled traffic, but he was never able to mount a serious challenge to take the lead. Making his first visit to Kankakee, Simpson was happy with his effort and said that tire choice may have kept him out of victory lane.

“I thought maybe if he got into traffic we’d be able to run up on him and have something for him, but we just didn’t have the forward drive we needed,” Simpson said. “We went a little hard on tires and they just didn’t come in there like I thought they would. But first time here, we’re happy and we’ll take second.”

Shirley and Unzicker had a close battle early in the race as the sixth-starting Unzicker attempted to make a run forward. He pulled ahead of Shirley on lap nine, but contact between the two drivers sent him up the track as Shirley pulled back ahead.

Unzicker recovered from the contact, but his run seemed to stall out from that point. After the race he was none too happy about the incident and suggested that damage from the contact may have slowed him down.

“It seemed as soon as we hit the car kinda faded away after that. I’m not sure if we bent something or what,” Unzicker said. “We were coming on strong there early until that. I thought I had him clear, but I guess he thought different and decided to take my right-rear quarter panel off.”

Shirley, who was in a backup car after his primary race car picked up a vibration in hot laps, didn’t blame Unzicker for the contact, but said it wasn’t his fault either.

“I felt like he come up and I had a good run and a lot of momentum,” Shirley said. “It was nothing intentional, just kind of a racing deal. But if he’s gonna run the bottom he needed to stay on the bottom and not move up in front of me when I’m racing him up there.”

Notes: Spatola’s Pierce Race Car is powered by a Rhyne Racing Engine with sponsorship from Speedway Auto Parts & Wreckers, Chicago Heights U-Pull-It, Pic-A-Part, Big Daddy Scrap and Modern Carriage Werks. ... At 21 years and 8 months, Will Vaught was the previous youngest Summernationals winner when he won at Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill., in 2008. Spatola’s victory comes at 20 years and 4 months. ... Feger, the defending series champion, used a strong high-side run to win the B-main, but couldn’t make the outside groove work in the main event. He finished 16th after causing the only caution. ... The event was originally slated to be the second round on the tour, but Wednesday night’s opener at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway was rained out. ... The tour next moves to Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis. The 3/8-mile racetrack will host the series for a $5,000-to-win event Friday night and again for a $10,000-to-win event Saturday night.

UMP @ Kankakee: (1) Mike Spatola, (2) Chad Simpson, (3) Brian Shirley, (4) Ryan Unzicker, (5) Matt Miller, (6) Scott James, (7) Dennis Erb Jr., (8) Shannon Babb, (9) Brandon Sheppard, (10) Greg Johnson, (11) Bret Sievert, (12) Donny Walden, (13) Bobby Pierce, (14) Jack Sullivan, (15) Billy Moyer Jr., (16) Jason Feger, (17) Rusty Schlenk, (18) Aaron Ricketts, (19) Keith Piano, (20) Brandon Thirlby, (21) Jay Morris, (22) Shawn Toczek, (23) Scott Schmitt. Fast qualifier (among 37 cars): Unzicker, 14.590 seconds. Heat winners: Sheppard, Shirley, Simpson, Spatola. B-Main winner: Feger. C-Main winner: Ricketts. Provisional starters: Sullivan, Schmitt, Schlenk, Thirlby, Ricketts.

Blog-style results of Thursday's prelims:

Redraw and mid-event notebook

Chad Simpson drew the pole position among heat winners with Mike Spatola to his outside; Brian Shirley and Brandon Sheppard are in the second row. ... Three Pierce Race Cars (all but Simpson) are among the top four. ... After Jason Feger's victory in the B-main, crew members and drivers headed to the scales to see what tires he used. ... In series events drivers have a choice among Hoosier LM-20s (softest), LM-30s (medium) and LM-40s (hardest). ... "Now comes the game that I don't like. The tire" said polesitter Chad Simpson, who typically races on tours that allow only tires equivalent to 40s. ... Billy Moyer Jr. broke the yoke on the back of the transmission at the conclusion of his heat race, which in turn broke his driveshaft. The crew replaced both units and expects the car to be fine for the main event. ... Provisional starters include: Jack Sullivan, Scott Schmitt, Rusty Schlenk, Brandon Thirlby and Aaron Ricketts.


Jason Feger used the extreme high side around the racetrack to move by Donnie Walden on lap six of the B-main and held off the low-running Walden to win in a side-by-side finish. Walden's runner-up effort will earn him the final feature transfer. Among those missing a transfer finish were Kent Robinson, Jack Sullivan and Dillan White.

Finish: Jason Feger, Donnie Walden, Kent Robinson, Kevin Weaver, Dillan White, Jack Sullivan, Jim Moon, Scott Schmitt, Joe Jankowski, Aaron Ricketts, Gary Christian, Russ Adams.


After missing out on a pole starting spot in his heat race because he was changing a tire, Aaron Ricketts recovered to win the C-main and transfer to the night's B-main. He moved by polesitter Gary Christian midway through the race and pulled away to the finish. Christain finished second with Joseph Hughes third.

Finish: Aaron Ricketts, Gary Christian, Joseph Hughes, Torin Mettille, Steve Thorsten, Alan Gendusa.

Fourth heat

Mike Spatola moved to the lead midway through the fourth heat race after early leader Greg Johnson suffered a flat right-rear tire. Spatola pulled away from runner-up finisher Shawn Toczek in the run to the finish while Jay Morris brought home third. After pitting for a new tire under caution, Johnson raced through the field and moved by Jim Moon for fourth on the final lap to earn a transfer finish.

Finish: Mike Spatola, Shawn Toczek, Jay Morris, Greg Johnson, Jim Moon, Russ Adams, Brian Dunn, Mike Provanzano. Scratch: Glen Thompson

Third heat

Polesitter Brian Shirly won the third heat race after pulling away from Billy Moyer Jr. late in the caution-free event. Moyer held second the majority of the race, but slowed on the final lap, allowing Bret Sievert to take the second position at the finish. Moyer coasted across the line to finish third while Bobby Pierce finished fourth and will also transfer to the main event.

Finish: Brian Shirley, Bret Sievert, Billy Moyer Jr., Bobby Pierce, Kevin Weaver, Jack Sullivan, Scott Schmitt, Joseph Hughes, Steve Thorsten.

Second heat

Chad Simpson raced to the second heat victory after holding off polesitter Ryan Unzicker and Scott James in a tense mid-race battle. The high-running Simpson pulled away in the closing laps while Unzicker held off James for the runner-up finish. James settled for third with Shannon Babb finishing fourth to also transfer to the feature. Jason Feger and Rusty Schlenk both missed a transfer finish. The race was slowed by one caution when Torin Mettille went for a spin on lap five.

Finish: Chad Simpson, Ryan Unzicker, Scott James, Shannon Babb, Jason Feger, Rusty Schlenk, Joe Jankowski, Gary Christian, Torin Mettille.

First heat

Brandon Sheppard drove around Matt Miller for the lead midway thought the first heat and pulled away to the victory. Miller finished second after holding off Dennis Erb Jr., who raced forward from his mid-pack starting position to finish third. Keith Piano finished in the fourth and final transfer position in the caution-free race. Aaron Ricketts was scheduled to start from the pole, but was late getting to the track and had to start from the tail. He finished ninth.

Finish: Brandon Sheppard, Matt Miller, Dennis Erb Jr., Keith Piano, Donnie Walden, Kent Robinson, Dillan White, Brandon Thirlby, Aaron Ricketts, Alan Gendusa.


Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., topped 37 qualifiers Thursday night at Kankakee County Speedway during time trials for the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals opener. Unzicker’s lap of 14.590 seconds puts him on the pole of the first of four heat races coming up at the third-mile oval.

Other heat race polesitters after group qualifying: Aaron Ricketts of Fairbury, Ill.; Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill.; and Mike Spatola of Manhattan, Ill.

Four heat races will send four cars apiece to the 40-lap, $5,000-to-win main event. Consolation races will transfer two more drivers to the feature with provisional starters rounding out the 22-car field.

Time trials (unofficial)

(Heat race lineups start straightup by qualifying)
First group
Aaron Ricketts (95), Fairbury, Ill., 14.8
Brandon Sheppard (5B), New Berlin, Ill., 14.833
Matt Miller (7), Waterville, Ohio, 14.94
Dillan White (54) Crofton, Ky., 14.974
Kent Robinson (7r), Bloomington, Ind., 15.051
Keith Piano (21p), Oglesby, Ill., 15.16
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 15.166
Donnie Walden (1w), Towanda, Ill.), 15.35
Brandon Thirlby (m14), Traverse City, Mich., 15.506
Alan Gendusa (42a), New Lenox, Ill., 15.816
Second group
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 14.59
Chad Simpson (25s), Mount Vernon, Iowa, 14.818
Scott James (81), Lawrenceburg, Ind., 14.866
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.92
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 14.963
Joe Jankowski (6j), Columbus, Ind., 15.19
Rusty Schlenk (91), Jackson, Mich., 15.563
Gary Christian (58x), Broken Bow, Okla., 15.611
Torin Mettille (116), Cullum, Ill., 16.179
Third Group
Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 15.221
Kevin Weaver (B12), Gibson City, Ill., 15.252
Billy Moyer Jr. (21jr), Batesville, Ark., 15.308
Bret Sievert (5), New Berlin, Wis., 15.319
Scott Schmitt (10), Tonica, Ill., 15.339
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.35
Jack Sullivan (1), Greenbrier, Ark., 15.413
Joseph Hughes (7h), Springfield, Ill., 15.779
Steve Thorsten (7t), Chebanse, Ill., no time
Fourth group
Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 15.027
Greg Johnson (49), Bedford, Ind., 15.149
Shawn Toczek (05), Griffin, Ind., 15.283
Jay Morris (77m), Pittwood, Ill., 15.718
Russ Adams (74), Princeville, Ill., 15.868
Mike Provenzano (m27), Marseilles, Ill., 15.982
Jim Moon (1m), Zionsville, Ind., 16.231
Brian Dunn (5d), Fairbury, Ill., 16.444
Glen Thompson (14), Herschel, Ill., no time

Correction: Fixes spelling of Shawn Toczek's first name.

Feature lineup

Row 1: Simpson, Spatola
Row 2: Shirley, Sheppard
Row 3:
Miller, Unzicker
Row 4:
Sievert, Toczek
Row 5:
Erb, James
Row 6: Moyer, Morris
Row 7: Piano, Babb
Row 8: Pierce, Johnson
Row 9: Feger, Walden
Row 10: Sullivan, Schmitt
Row 11: Schlenk, Thirlby
Row 12: Ricketts

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