FAIRBURY, Ill. (July 29) — Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., didn’t get a prime starting spot bestowed upon him for Friday night’s unique 25-lap #FALS Draw event that highlighted capped the qualifying program for the 27th annual Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury American Legion Speedway.
After tearing through the 18-car field to score a $5,000 victory, however, Richards obviously didn’t need any help.
Richards, 28, shined in the special race reserved for heat winners and other select drivers, charging forward from the 10th starting spot to take the lead from Joe Harlan of El Paso, Ill., on lap 19 and then driving off from the field for his first-ever triumph at the quarter-mile fairgrounds oval.
Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., who started 12th, made a strong advance as well. He overtook Harlan for second place on the final lap and crossed the finish line 2.547 seconds behind Richards.
Harlan settled for third place after starting fourth and leading laps 5-18. Derek Chandler of Pontiac, Ill., improved from the sixth starting spot to place fourth and Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., hustled forward from the 16th starting position to complete the top five.
Richards had his doubts about reaching victory lane after being saddled with a fifth-row starting berth in the race, which carries the unique format in which each driver draws a starting position number and then must give it to another participant. He was handed the 10th spot by fellow World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series regular Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., who had received the ninth starting position from defending PDC champion Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga.
“I didn’t know if we’d be able to win from there,” said Richards, the runaway leader of the 2016 WoO points standings. “We fired off pretty good and I kind of got in a rhythm following those local guys (including polesitter Kevin Weaver of Gibson City, Ill., who led laps 1-4, Harlan and Chandler) on the bottom. I thought we kind of stalled out there for a little bit, and then once we cleared Weaver (for third on lap 15) I just decided to get up in the middle and try it out and the car took off. It was really good.”
Richards sailed around the outside of Chandler for second place on lap 18 and executed virtually the same move to dispose of Harlan for the lead the next lap. Then there was no catching Richards, who had his father Mark’s Rocket XR1 running flawlessly after earlier in the program finishing a distant second to Chandler in the fifth heat.
“We were off a little bit in our heat race and I overheated my right-rear tire,” Richards related. “That Chandler was really, really good. I ran a couple laps hard around the top and he like, maintained, if not gained, in the middle and bottom, so I knew we had our hands full.
“We were off balance (in the heat) too, but we got that balance back in this (#FALS Draw).”
The triumph in the evening’s main attraction was enjoyable for Richards, who got a kick out of being a participant in the novelty event.
“It’s really a cool way to get the fans involved and see the drivers react,” Richards said of the manner in which starting spots are determined for the #FALS Draw. “We don’t have that a lot — it’s always serious, so it’s a fun change for sure.”
For his part, when Richards picked the 12th starting spot, he shied away from giving it to a Fairbury regular, opting instead to put it in the hands of former WoO traveler McCreadie.
“McCreadie was covering his face, so I said, ‘I gotta pick him,’” Richards said. “You know the locals are gonna be up front … that’s just how it works. I think if you go against them (and a FALS regular a bad starting spot), the fans might have something to say about it.”
The checkered flag also gave Richards a boost into Saturday night’s 100-lap PDC feature, which pays a record $27,000 to win.
“We were pretty good the first year (of the WoO-sanctioned PDC in 2013) and last year we weren’t bad,” said Richards, who finished sixth in ’13 and fourth in ’15 (he didn’t compete in ’14 while sidelined by medical issues). “But I definitely feel like this is our best chance going into it. I think we start 11th tomorrow … a hundred laps is a long time, so it’s gonna be a matter of trying to save your tires and get up through there the best you can.
“A lot can happen,” he added. “I don’t think there’s a safe spot on the track to ride. Running the cushion is like throwing a Hail Mary — you can really make it work up there, but it can also bite you. We’re gonna try not to rely on that, but we know it’s there if we need it.”
The first six starting spots in Saturday’s 100-lap headliner will be determined through a redraw of Friday’s six 15-lap heat winners — teenager Kolby Vandenberg of Ashland, Ohio, Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., Clanton, Mike Spatola of Manhattan, Ill., Chandler and McCreadie, who is the lone former PDC winner in the group.
Weaver, who was the overall fastest qualifier and finished second in the fourth heat, starts 10th in the A-Main. Right-rear bodywork damage forced the veteran to retire early from the #FALS Dash, which he won in 2015.
#FALS Draw finish (25 laps): 1. Josh Richards, 2. Tim McCreadie, 3. Joe Harlan, 4. Derek Chandler, 5. Billy Moyer, 6. Mike Spatola, 7. Jason Feger, 8. Bobby Pierce, 9. Scott Bull, 10. Steve Casebolt, 11. Steve Thorsten, 12. Shane Clanton, 13. Jonathan Davenport, 14. Kevin Weaver, 15. Rick Eckert, 16. Dennis Erb Jr., 17. Kolby Vandenbergh, 18. Chris Ferguson.
#FALS Dash lineup
Row 1: Kevin Weaver, Mike Spatola
Row 2: Jason Feger, Joe Harlan
Row 3: Steve Thorsten, Derek Chandler
Row 4: Scott Bull, Jonathan Davenport
Row 5: Shane Clanton, Josh Richards
Row 6: Bobby Pierce, Tim McCreadie
Row 7: Rick Eckert, Steve Casebolt
Row 8: Chris Ferguson, Billy Moyer
Row 9: Kolby Vandenberg, Dennis Erb Jr.
Tim McCreadie dominated the action, bouncing along the cushion to lead every lap and beat Steve Francis by a full straightaway margin. Francis grabbed second from Kloos off the final corner — and then after the checkered flag, Kloos stopped short in front of Francis as they headed to the scale.
Finish (top 3 transfer): Tim McCreadie, Steve Francis, Michael Kloos, Earl Pearson Jr., Mason Zeigler, Daniel Flessner, Austin Smith, Snookie Dehm, Gordy Gundaker.
Derek Chandler expertly negotiated his home track’s inside groove, using the line to take the lead from Josh Richards on lap four and then driving away to beat the WoO points leader by 3.168 seconds. Rick Eckert finished third, right behind Richards at the checkered flag. Three Illinois drivers — Brian Shirley, Ryan Unzicker and Jason Feger — finished in positions 4-6 and will have to run a B-Main on Saturday night.
Finish (top 3 transfer): Derek Chandler, Josh Richards, Rick Eckert, Brian Shirley, Ryan Unzicker, Jason Feger, Morgan Bagley, Brandon Overton, Kody Evans, Gary Turpin.
Pounding the cushion the whole way, Mike Spatola grabbed the lead from Kevin Weaver on lap eight and marched on to beat the night’s fast-timer by a half-second margin. Dennis Erb Jr. finished a distant third, holding off Jake O’Neil for the final transfer spot.
Finish (top 3 transfer): Mike Spatola, Kevin Weaver, Dennis Erb Jr., Jake O’Neil, Chase Junghans, Allen Murray, Billy Moyer, Don Hammer, John Gardner Jr., Lyle Zanker.
Shane Clanton was spectacular in the event, charging forward from the last spot in the lineup — a position he was saddled with after a broken rocker arm prevented him from turning a qualifying lap — to grab the lead from Shannon Babb on lap six and march to a convincing victory. Babb, who led lap five, settled for second and Darrell Lanigan placed third. Boom Briggs triggered caution-flag conditions on lap two when he slid sideways and stopped between turns one and two, and on the ensuing restart another yellow was needed because Jay Morris spun wildly on the backstretch. A third caution flag flew on lap eight when Eric Wells, who led laps 1-4, rolled to a stop on the backstretch after falling from a transfer spot and his powerless car was pushed to the pit area. The caution-filled race also included a lap-12 slowdown for G.R. Smith, who fell off the pace on the homestretch and rolled to a stop. Jason Jameson was fourth on a lap-eight restart, but he pulled out of line before the green flag flew and officials kept the caution out to penalize him two spots; he rallied to finish fourth.
Finish (top 3 transfer): Shane Clanton, Shannon Babb, Darrell Lanigan, Jason Jameson, Boom Briggs, Cole Swibold, Jay Morris, G.R. Smith, Eric Wells (DNS) Riley Hickman.
Steve Casebolt led the prelim from flag-to-flag, surviving a frenetic mid-race battle with Don O’Neal and Bobby Pierce to emerge triumphant by 1.390 seconds over O’Neal. Pierce fell markedly off the pace of the leaders over the final six laps and was overtaken for third place by Joe Harlan with two laps remaining, sending Pierce to a Saturday B-Main. A red flag was put out on lap two to clean up a tangle off turn four involving Joey Coulter and Jay Sparks; both cars were towed off with Coulter’s machine showing significant right-front damage. Another incident — Mike Mataragas riding the wall between turns one and two — brought out a caution flag on lap three.
Finish (top 3 transfer): Steve Casebolt, Don O’Neal, Joe Harlan, Bobby Pierce, Bob Gardner, Scott Bull, Steve Thorsten, Mike Mataragas, Joey Coulter, Jay Sparks.
Teenager Kolby Vandenbergh ceded the lead to Chub Frank at the start, but the youngster recovered to take the top spot on lap 11 and chugged off in the inside groove to win by 1.732 seconds over Frank Heckenast Jr. Heckenast grabbed second from Frank on lap 13 and Billy Moyer Jr. slipped ahead of Frank off turn four to finish third by barely a tenth of a second. The caution-free event saw defending race winner Jonathan Davenport only climb two spots to finish sixth, while Chris Ferguson was seventh after running as high as fifth.
Finish (top 3 transfer): Kolby Vandenbergh, Frank Heckenast Jr., Billy Moyer Jr., Chub Frank, Jonathan Davenport, Scott Schmitt, Chris Ferguson, Tyler Erb, Billy Hough, Glen Thompson.
Fairbury legend Kevin Weaver of Gibson City, Ill., thrilled his home track faithful, ripping off a lap of 12.837 seconds in the second group that stood up as the overall fastest of the qualifying session. It was the second straight year that Weaver set fast time at the PDC.
Teenager Kolby Vandenbergh of Ashland, Ill., was fastest in the first group with a lap of 12.932 seconds.
Joining Weaver and Vandenbergh as heat-race polesitters are Don O’Neal, Eric Wells, Josh Richards and Tim McCreadie.
Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., who recorded his sixth WoO win of the season Friday night at Quincy (Ill.) Raceway, did not log a qualifying time because his car was felled by a broken engine rocker arm as he sat in the staging area for time trials.
Also failing to register a qualifying lap was Bob Gardner of East Peoria, Ill., whose hasty attempt to repair a rear-mount power-steering fuel-pressure problem in hot laps fell short. His car failed to make it on the track for his spot in the qualifying order.
Wells rides out rough crash
Dirt Late Model hot laps came to a screeching halt during the fourth of eight sessions when Eric Wells of Hazard, Ky., flipped wildly between turns one and two, heavily damaging his Longhorn Race Car but leaving the 27-year-old driver uninjured.
Wells’s machine was sent into a series of high-speed barrel-rolls when it literally dug into the quarter-mile oval’s heavy early-evening surface — when it bicycled onto its right-side, both wheels burrowed into the soft dirt and left clear indentations in the racetrack. Thick chunks of mud ended up inside Wells’s cockpit and his car clipped the catch fence above the outside wall as it gyrated, forcing safety crews to make some repairs before practice resumed.
After taking a moment to regain his composure, Wells exited his cockpit under his own power and declined medical attention. He rode back to the pit area on a gator with WoO official Tyler Bachman and immediately went to work with his crew to ready his second car, a brand-new Longhorn mount that he recently tested but has never raced.
The Prairie Dirt Classic begins on an absolutely beautiful summer day — sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s. … The 59-car field is down slightly from 2015 when 64 cars signed in. … WoO regular Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., said he’s “still a little sore” after experiencing an attack of kidney stones that forced him to make an emergency room trip on Wednesday night, but he passed the stone before Thursday night’s WoO event at Quincy (Ill.) Raceway and is ready to turn his first-ever laps at Fairbury. “I’m about 80 to 90 percent,” he commented. … Other first-time visitors to Fairbury are Chris Ferguson of Mt. Holly, N.C., Jake O’Neil of Tucson, Ariz., G.R. Smith of Trinity, N.C., Jason Jameson of Lawrenceburg, Ind., Joey Coulter of Charlotte, N.C., and Austin Smith of Cedartown, Ga. … This weekend’s action completes a long road trip for Austin Smith, who has been running with the WoO since the June 21 event at Weedsport (N.Y.) Speedway and has interspersed some UMP DIRTcar Summernationals starts as well. He plans to finally head home after Saturday night’s program. … Riley Hickman of Ooltewah, Tenn., is back at Fairbury one month after failing to qualify for the track’s UMP DIRTcar Summernationals event in his FALS debut. … Eric Wells of Hazard, Ky., had to replace the distributor on his Longhorn machine after problems knocked him out of Quincy’s feature as he was in contention for a top-five finish. … WoO rookie Tyler Erb of Magnolia, Texas, is making his second start in a new Rocket XR1 car. The Rocket XR1 he debuted earlier this month was badly damaged last Sunday when he crashed hard while testing at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb., prompting him to make a cross-country drive to Rocket Chassis in Shinnston, W.Va., to pick up a new car and then turn around to head back to Illinois. … Steve Francis of Bowling Green, Ky., is making his return to competition for the first time since suffering a concussion and broken nose after being struck in the helmet by an apparent piece of lead on July 15 at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill. He received a clean bill of health after a Tuesday afternoon doctor’s visit, freeing him to drive David Peterson’s car this weekend. … Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., is behind the wheel of Larry Moring’s mount.
The 27th annual Prairie Dirt Classic — the biggest Dirt Late Model event of the season in the state state of Illinois — kicks off Friday night with a qualifying program that includes the intriguing #FALS Draw special event that proved so popular when it debuted in 2015.
After Friday’s WoO time trials and heat races are completed, the action will continue with the #FALS Draw, a 25-lap invitational event that includes a cross-section of 18 WoO, national, regional and local drivers. A $5,000 top prize will be on the line in the short sprint plus a $1,000 bonus to the hard charger, a $500 bonus to the driver who gains the second-most positions and a $500 bonus for winning from the last row.
The most direct route into the #FALS Draw will be by winning one of Friday night’s six heat races. In addition, the top two non-qualified drivers in the Fairbury and WoO points standings leading up to the PDC will be locked in; the two-highest rated Illinois and national drivers in this week’s DirtonDirt.com Top 25 ranking will earn berths; and the top four vote-getters in fan voting on the Fairbury website that started July 8 and ended earlier Friday will receive the opportunity to race.
Starting spots for the 25-lapper will again be determined by the unique draw in front of the backstretch grandstand in which drivers will pick positions and then be required to give it to another starter in the race.
Bonus awards for the #FALS Draw include $500 to any driver who can crack the top-three from starting spots in the last two rows and a pair of Hard Charger awards ($1,000 to the driver who passes the most cars and $500 to the racer who passes the second-most).
The Prairie Dirt Classic will conclude on Saturday night with WoO B-Mains, the Prairie Dirt Shootout for non-qualifiers and the 100-lap PDC boasting an event-record $27,000 top prize.
Heat race lineups
(15 laps; top 3 transfer)
Row 1: Kolby Vandenbergh, Chub Frank
Row 2: Scott Schmitt, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 3: Billy Moyer Jr., Chris Ferguson
Row 4: Tyler Erb, Jonathan Davenport
Row 5: Billy Hough, Glen Thompson
Row 1: Don O’Neal, Steve Casebolt
Row 2: Mike Mataragas, Joey Coulter
Row 3: Bobby Pierce, Joe Harlan
Row 4: Scott Bull, Jay Sparks
Row 5: Steve Thorsten, Bob Gardner
Row 1: Eric Wells, Shannon Babb
Row 2: Jay Morris, Darrell Lanigan
Row 3: Jason Jameson, Boom Briggs
Row 4: G.R. Smith, Riley Hickman
Row 5: Cole Swibold, Shane Clanton
Row 1: Kevin Weaver, Mike Spatola
Row 2: Dennis Erb Jr., Chase Junghans
Row 3: Jake O’Neil, Billy Moyer
Row 4: Allen Murray, Don Hammer
Row 5: Lyle Zanker, John Gardner Jr.
Row 1: Josh Richards, Brandon Overton
Row 2: Derek Chandler, Brian Shirley
Row 3: Rick Eckert, Jason Feger
Row 4: Ryan Unzicker, Kody Evans
Row 5: Morgan Bagley, Gary Turpin
Row 1: Tim McCreadie, Michael Kloos
Row 2: Gordy Gundaker, Daniel Flessner
Row 3: Steve Francis, Mason Zeigler
Row 4: Earl Pearson Jr., Austin Smith
Row 5: Snookie Dehm
Kolby Vandenbergh (15), Ashland, Ill., 12.932
Don O'Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 13.008
Eric Wells (18), Hazard, Ky., 13.058
Chub Frank (1*), Bear Lake, Pa., 13.06
Steve Casebolt (c9), Richmond, Ind., 13.068
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 13.093
Scott Schmitt (10S), Tonica, Ill., 13.105
Mike Mataragas (1M), Dekalb, Ill., 13.116
Jay Morris (77M), Watseka, Ill., 13.145
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99Jr), Frankfort, Ill., 13.146
Joey Coulter (2c), Charlotte, N.C., 13.166
Darrell Lanigan (15L), Union, Ky., 13.188
Billy Moyer Jr. (21jr), Batesville, Ark., 13.209
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 13.214
Jason Jameson (12), Lawrenceburg, Ind., 13.224
Chris Ferguson (22), Mt. Holly, N.C., 13.253
Joe Harlan (Z), El Paso, Ill., 13.297
Boom Briggs (99b), Bear Lake, Pa., 13.391
Tyler Erb (91), Magnolia, Texas, 13.393
Scott Bull (83), Fairbury, Ill., 13.394
G.R. Smith (22*), Trinity, N.C., 13.395
Jonathan Davenport (6), Blairsville, Ga., 13.484
Jay Sparks (7S), Metamora, Ill., 13.508
Riley Hickman (R1), Ooltewah, Tenn., 13.513
Billy Hough (33H), Thomasboro, Ill., 13.545
Steve Thorsten (7T), Milford, Ill., 13.99
Cole Swibold (98), Fairview, Ill., 14.026
Glen Thompson (14), Buckingham, Ill., 14.154
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., no time
Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., no time
Kevin Weaver (b12), Gibson City, Ill., 12.837
Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va., 12.92
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 12.996
Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 13.023
Brandon Overton (76), Evans, Ga., 13.081
Michael Kloos (6K), Trenton, Ill., 13.104
Dennis Erb Jr. (28e), Carpentersville, Ill., 13.111
Derek Chandler (35), Pontiac, Ill., 13.146
Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 13.159
Chase Junghans (18c), Manhattan, Kan., 13.204
Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 13.214
Daniel Flessner (9D), Roberts, Ill., 13.231
Jake O'Neil (0), Tucson, Ariz., 13.26
Rick Eckert (7), York, Pa., 13.286
Steve Francis (15), Bowling Green, Ky., 13.287
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 13.306
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 13.355
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 13.366
Allen Murray (2), San Antonio, Texas, 13.42
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 13.436
Earl Pearson Jr. (1P), Jacksonville, Fla., 13.437
Don Hammer (45), Clinton, Ill., 13.461
Kody Evans (4G), Camden, Ohio, 13.481
Austin Smith (11), Cedartown, Ga., 13.491
Lyle Zanker (9), Rockford, Ill., 13.542
Morgan Bagley (14M), Tyler, Texas, 13.571
Snookie Dehm (D2), Chatsworth, Ill., 13.649
John Gardner Jr. (38c), Germantown Hills, Ill., 13.719
Gary Turpin (75), Bloomington, Ill., 14.162
Friday’s schedule of events
5:30 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting
6 p.m. – On-track action begins
• UMP modified hot laps
• WoO hot laps
• UMP modified time trials
• WoO time trials (2 groups, 2 laps per car, 2 cars per session)
• UMP modified heat races (10 laps)
• WoO heat races (15 laps)
• American mod B-Mains
• Track prep
• #FALS Draw pick for starting positions
• #FALS Draw feature (25 laps; $5,000 to win)
• American mod feature
• WoO practice for non-#FALS Draw cars