Barring any unexpected developments, the Grundy County Speedway will begin its quest to crown a third-consecutive new late-model stock car champion on Friday night.
The division’s 2012 champion, Pat Kelly, has retired to focus on helping his son, Nathan, as he moves up from the street-stock division to the late-model class. Veteran Eddie Hoffman Jr., the 2011 champ, is in the field this season. His 2011 title ended a three-year run as champion by Brett Sontag, who no longer races at the Speedway.
Track promoter Tom White expects there to be plenty of competition for the vacated championship. Brothers and past champions Larry and Tracy Schuler are expected to run full schedules. So are D.J. Weltmeyer, Chris Cooling and Ricky Baker, who finished second, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the 2012 standings.
“I would strongly say that,” White said when asked if there are a large number of championship contenders. “We could have a different winner every night in all of our divisions.”
White says that Larry Schuler, who won the 1976 late model championship, has a new car, a “new outlook” and will actively pursue another in 2013. White pointed out that the late-model field will include Rich Bickle, who according to Wikipedia has made 218 career NASCAR starts, Jon Reynolds, a Rockford native who races under the moniker “Driver X,” and Ray Brackett, who raced a Mid-American sportsman at Grundy in 2012.
“I think the stars will be shining at Grundy,” White said.
The field will also include Dan O’Dell, a Morris resident who White says has been part of it every year since 1971.
White did not indicate any major changes among the top Mid-American drivers. Kevin Gentile won the championship in 2012, with Ron Willems, Ron Vandermeir, John Ventrello and Chuck Yuris finishing behind him.
The street stock class has lost its top two finishers from a season ago. In addition to Nathan Kelly, Logan Love, who was the 2012 runner-up, is moving up in ranks; Love will run a Mid-American sportsman this season. Veterans Randy Weese and John Senerchia and rookie Marqus Hoover rounded out the top five in the street stock class in 2012.
In the pure stock division, Rich Dearborn is the two-time defending champion. He was followed in the 2012 standings by Dan Schmeissing, Zach Mitchell, Nick Dearborn and Nate Fazio.
“We’re really excited about the 2013 season,” White said. “It looks like it’s going to be a banner year for our car count.”
A potential barrier in starting the season as scheduled is always the weather. Forecasts are calling for partly cloudy conditions and a high of 61 degrees on Friday. Despite chilly temperatures and flooding in the area, two test-and-tune sessions that White described as “highly successful”, were held as scheduled at the track during the past two weekends.
“We’re trying to run rain or shine,” White said. “Everybody has that cabin fever effect right now, so we’re trying to use that to encourage people to get out and come to the local race track. They may want to bring a jacket.”
“It is affordable family fun. ... There is just a lot of family tradition. A lot of people always plan to gather at the Grundy County Speedway at their Friday night racing place.”