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Fairbury Speedway

Upstart Allen unable to seal the deal at Fairbury

June 19, 2022, 1:25 pm
By Kyle McFadden
DirtonDirt.com staff writer
Nick Allen leads at Fairbury. (Rocky Ragusa)
Nick Allen leads at Fairbury. (Rocky Ragusa)

FAIRBURY, Ill. (June 18) — Nick Allen looked like he had everything in pristine order during Saturday’s round five program of the DIRTcar Summer Nationals at Fairbury American Legion Speedway, bottling a heat race win from mid-pack to lead the first half of the feature comfortably from the outside pole.

That’s what it looked like, at least. | Complete Summer Nationals coverage

“I’m going to be honest, I haven’t been real confident with this thing so far,” Allen said of his newest undertaking in Late Models. “I knew I was kind of a sitting duck for a while.”

The modified frontrunner led the most laps, 23 of 50, at the prominent Illinois quarter-mile but couldn’t summons the breakaway speed on a lap 24 restart to strike a $10,000 payday in just his seventh career Late Model start.

On Allen’s costly restart, Tanner English stuck a bold move to the inside while Chris Simpson stayed in the gas around the outside. That left Allen in no man’s land and in the middle of the racetrack, where a host of others stormed by and shipped him back to seventh in less than a lap. Allen eventually blew a right-rear tire and finished 19th while Simpson took the win.

“Being out front like that, you’re just kind of a sitting duck,” Allen said. “Plus, the guys behind me have way more experience. I knew I was just enjoying the lead while I could. I figured it was going to be a matter of time before they’d eat me up. And they did.”

Allen’s mood was rather neutral in the aftermath of Saturday’s demise. His words didn’t sway hard in the direction of disappointment, but he needlessly wasn’t thrilled, either.

After a number of successful years at the wheel of an open-wheel modified, the 39-year-old of Wheatfield, Ind., is doing what he can to launch a second racing career in Late Models. Saturday was Allen’s sixth start of the season in John Gallagher’s No. 21A Longhorn Chassis and by far the closest the team has tasted victory.

“Still learning. Still have a lot to learn,” Allen said. “Tonight definitely helped a little bit with confidence, but coming into tonight, I didn’t have much confidence in myself.”

Prior to this year, Allen had only raced once in a Late Model — a one-off appearance in John Hollifield’s car at Kankakee (Ill.) County Speedway roughly eight years ago. Allen recalls finishing ninth that night and departing the experience wanting more opportunities in a Late Model.

“I’ve always wanted to (race Late Models), but never had the money to do it,” Allen said. “We decided to give it a shot, and see what happens.”

Gallagher’s support is the main reason Allen’s able to make the long-awaited plunge into the expansive Late Model world. Gallagher, the owner of P&G Power of Allen’s hometown in Wheatfield, has owned and fielded Allen’s modifieds the last handful of seasons. This year, the duo reckoned it was the right time to make the switch.

“He actually just got into racing only recently,” Allen said. “We’ve been friends for a long time from the same town. He decided he wanted to own a race team years ago, and I was fortunate enough to be picked as a driver.”

Though Allen made it sound like a win Saturday was more long shot than real possibility, he certainly made the right moves until the crucial mid-race restart when he didn’t launch like he needed.

Benefitting from a reworked racing surface, Allen found the top groove before anyone and won the first heat race of the night from fifth. His chances to win appeared all the more likely when he drew the outside pole for the 50-lap feature. Tracks such as Fairbury are a natural fit for Allen, who grew up at quarter-mile Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind., and proceeded to hone his bullring prowess through the years in modifieds.

“When I go to the bigger tracks, I’m not quite as comfortable but they’re still fun,” Allen said. “But yeah these smaller tracks are what I grew up racing on.”

Allen had managed two restarts without trouble on laps 10 and 15, jumping into open track both instances and even mounting a two-second lead the first green-flag run.

“When I ran the top the whole time, I thought at some point the track would move down to the bottom,” Allen said. “I just didn’t know exactly when.”

Allen didn’t think he was running too hard while leading, but the flat tire with five laps to go indicates otherwise. Even if Allen did hold his own on the restart that derailed him, the late-race tire blowout likely would have costed him the win, too. Allen says Late Models demand harder charges into the corners and more on-throttle time than modifieds.

“These Late Models, they definitely stick to the track a little better,” Allen said. “I feel like you have to charge the corner harder with them; have to drive them harder, especially if there is moisture on the track. But then once it slicks off, it’s a lot like driving a modified, really. A lot of finesse. A lot of trying to keep the car straight, trying to keep it hooked up. It’s pretty similar to a mod in the slick.

“We’ve been working on getting them a little better in the slick. Early on (Saturday) it was tacky, which we’ve been pretty good early. Yeah, just running around there, catching the cushion just right, getting a good drive off.

“We’ve qualified really well everywhere we’ve went. We just struggle later on when it gets slick. That’s what we’ve been working, try to get better.”

Saturday’s stop at Fairbury will be Allen’s lone Summer Nationals race for a while. He and Gallagher plan to race mostly at Fairbury this season and other big events in and around Illinois.

As far as schedule, Allen says he “usually doesn’t know where we’ll race until the day before,” but has a luxury of racing anywhere he could want on weekends. Allen’s day job as a truck driver for County Highway Department requires four-day work weeks, providing more wiggle room for the Late Model rookie to simply get better.

“The modified, I’ve felt confident everywhere I’ve went, that we can usually run decent,” Allen said. “Then when we show up with the Late Model, I’m just hoping to make the show. That’s kind of where we’re at right now and get racing better.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and we’re just trying to have fun and run the best we can right now. We’re just out here tying to have fun.”

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