Weekly Notebook presented by JRi Shocks
Notes: Photo finish ends 13-year drought at I-55
By Joshua Joiner and Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com
When Jeff Johns climbed from his race car following his victory in Saturday night’s UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned feature at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55, he didn’t realize just how monumental his victory was at the St. Louis-area dirt track.
Johns of Belleville, Ill., who won the race in a dramatic photo finish over Brandon Sheppard, ended a nearly 13-year winless drought at the third-mile oval. But even he couldn’t believe he’d gone that long without a victory. | Slideshow
“When I won they told me welcome back to victory lane for the first time since 1999, and I just couldn’t believe it had been that long,” said Johns, 49, who has been a regular Late Model competitor at I-55 for nearly two decades and won the division’s championship last season.
“We’ve been real competitive there. Last year we finished second like six times. We just always seemed to have something go wrong whenever we were about to win one. Still, I had no idea it’d been that long.”
When factoring in the number of runner-up finishes and near-miss victories Johns has had through the years at I-55, it’s not hard to understand how even one of the track’s most competitive drivers could go so long without a trip to victory lane. The Ken Schrader and Ray Marler co-owned track routinely draws one the toughest weekly fields of any dirt track in the country, making it challenging to win even when you’re not plagued by bad luck.
“I-55 is one of those places where you have to be on top of your game and have things go your way. I honestly think it has one of the toughest weekly shows of anywhere,” said Johns, who drives a Rayburn Race Car with a Pro Power engine and sponsorship from Heimey’s Neighborhood Inn, Lynda’s Pub, Auffenberg Ford and Precision Works Machine Shop “The guys that race there are tough and you’ve always got a couple of travelers showing up to make it even tougher.”
Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., is one such traveling hotshoe who drops in for I-55’s weekly events from time to time. Even though Johns opened a sizable lead over Sheppard throughout much of Saturday’s 25-lap feature, Sheppard, the defending Northern Allstars Late Model Series champion, gave Johns all he could handle when a series of restarts made things interesting during the race’s closing laps.
Johns briefly thought another potential victory was going to slip from his grasp when Sheppard pulled alongside him following the race’s final restart with two laps remaining. But he survived Sheppard’s onslaught and edged ahead at the finish.
“All those restarts were killing me,” Johns said. “I had a hard time getting through the first corner on that last one and there he was right beside me. I thought ‘Oh no, this is how we lose another one.’ It was close, but we ended up holding him off.”
Now that he’s ended his lengthy winless streak, Johns doesn’t plan to wait another 13 years before winning another one.
“I probably won’t make it that long still behind the wheel, and definitely I plan to win a few more before I call it quits,” said Johns, who plans to soon cut back his own racing efforts to help his 18-year-old son Andrew with his budding racing career. “Winning makes you want to keep doing it forever if you could, but I know here pretty soon I’ll have to start looking at doing other things.”
• Dewayne Kiefer won two straight races at tracks far from his St. Genevieve, Mo., home. He won April 14 at Clarksville (Tenn.) Speedway and April 20 at Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway.
• Three national touring stars picked up weekly victories over the weekend. Ray Cook of Brasstown, N.C., drove a Joe Denby-owned car to victory at Green Valley Speedway in Glencoe, Ala.; Shane Clanton of Fayetteville, Ga., won at Dixie Speedway in Woodstock, Ga.; and Darrell Lanigan won at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky.
• Mountain Creek Speedway in Grand Prairie, Texas (formerly Grand Prairie Speedway) hosted a rare Super Late Model event Friday with Patrik Daniel topping eight cars. Daniel is on a three-race win streak at three tracks with victories at Cowtown, Mountain Creek and Devil’s Bowl Speedways.
• Former Bryson Motorsports driver Chip Brindle of Chatsworth, Ga., posted a third-place finish Saturday at Dixie Speedway.
• Ross Martin of Talladega, Ala., ended the two-race win streak of his son Adam on Saturday at Talladega Short Track. Adam Martin finished fourth.
• Chase Edge of Lafayette, Ala., had a home-state weekend sweep in NeSmith Chevrolet-sanctioned Crate Late Model action at Penton Raceway and East Alabama Motor Speedway.
• Matt Micheli of Live Oak, Calif., won Saturday at Placerville (Calif.) Speedway for his second straight Limited Late Model victory at the track.
• Joe Gorby of Bartlesville, Okla., won Friday at Salina (Kan.) Speedway as the track hosted its first regular season Late Model event in more than 20 years. Gorby took the checkers ahead of Delbert Smith and Tyler Bradshaw.
• Dustin Neat’s victory in his first-ever Crate Late Model start on Friday at Ponderosa Speedway gave the Dunnville, Ky., driver four victories in his last four starts overall.
• Mickey Trosclair of Luling, La., remained unbeaten this year in NeSmith Chevrolet Crate action at Pike County Speedway in Magnolia. Miss., by virtue of Kody Barber’s disqualification Saturday for using illegal tires. Trosclair had crossed the line second behind Barber.
Weekly points chases
UMP DIRTcar: Scott Schmidt of Tonica, Ill., leads Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., by three points based on standings as of April 15. Dewayne Kiefer of St. Genevieve, Mo., is third with Jim Moon of Zionsville, Ind., fourth. Reigning champ Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., is fifth.
IMCA: The weekly points chase for spec engine-powered Late Models kicks off this weekend. Ray Guss Jr. of Milan, Ill., topped the standings last season for his second consecutive championship.
AMRA: After his victory Friday night at Skyline Speedway in Stewart, Ohio, reigning champion Chris Garnes of Evans, W.Va., leads the standings over Ronnie Mayle of Chesterville, Ohio and Bob Adams Jr. of Racine, Ohio.
ULMA: Jason Russell of Henley, Mo., continues to lead the standings while Chris Hawkins of Neosho, Mo., remains second after winning in his first-ever visit to State Fair Speedway in Sedalia, Mo., Friday night. Kevin Coyne of Kingsville, Mo., holds the third spot.
NeSmith: With another victory and a points bonus for perfect attendance at Pike County Speedway, Mickey Trosclair jumped Jeremy Shaw of Millport, Ala., to move atop the standings. Shaw is seven points back after winning at Talladega (Ala.) Short Track on Saturday. Shannon Lee of Lumberton, Miss., is third followed by Jim McDuffie of Meridian, Miss., and Justin McRee of Cottondale, Ala.
Upcoming weekly specials
Among non-touring and independent special events this weekend at dirt tracks around the country:
Southern Ohio Speedway: The Wheelersburg track’s Southern 50 pays $6,000-to-win on April 27.
Moulton Speedway: The north Alabama oval hosts a $3,000-to-win, $300-to-win Super Late Model event on April 28.
Lake Cumberland Speedway: The Burnside, Ky., track makes up the postponed Coca Cola 40 on April 28, a $3,000-to-win Super Late Model event halted Sunday when the track’s frontstretch lights failed.
East Bay Raceway Park: The Gibsonton, Fla., oval hosts the Scott Thompson Memorial, a $3,800-to-win event for the track’s Late Model division on April 28.
Viking Speedway: The season opener at the Alexandria, Minn., track features a pair of $2,000-to-win WISSOTA points races for Late Models; it was postponed from the previous weekend.
Selinsgrove Speedway: The half-mile Pennsylvania oval pays $2,000-to-win for the April 28 Spring Championship.
Peoria Speedway: The quarter-mile oval in Illinois launches its Budweiser Late Model Seriesï¿½ with a $2,000-to-win, $200-to-start event on April 28 for UMP DIRTcar Late Models.
Jackson Motor Speedway: The Byram, Miss., oval hosts a $2,500-to-win event for unsanctioned Super Late Models.
Tyler County Speedway: Rain postponed last week’s Topless 50 at the Middlebourne, W.Va., to April 28; it pays $4,000-to-win.
Willard Speedway: Quarter-mile oval in Willard, Ky., hosts the unsanctioned Late Model Pepsi Special April 28th with $1,500 going to the winner.