Bruce Yentes

Bruce Yentes

Back in the 1980s, during his barnstorming days of a bygone era, stock car legend Bobby Allison succinctly summed up the nature of his frequent "special appearances" at weekly series asphalt late model tracks — primarily in Wisconsin and at the behest of the Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Corporation, his NASCAR sponsor.

"This here ain't money racin' like NASCAR," explained the three-time Daytona 500 winner at one Dairyland stop. "This is FUN racin.' "

For us in Central Illinois, the short-track racing fun consists primarily of dirt late models competing on quarter-mile county fairgrounds bullrings. It begins this weekend with the 6th Annual Thaw Brawl at LaSalle Speedway and stretches into October with a season-finale sprint car extravaganza at Fairbury's American Legion Speedway.

In between are a healthy smattering of special events, as well as the staple of UMP weekly series racing. 

Farmer City Raceway promoter Lance Spieker is looking forward to his track opening March 31 with the Illini 100 World of Outlaws national touring series event.

"This year might be a breakout year, I hope," said Spieker. "I'm definitely optimistic that this year can put us over the edge where we can make some needed improvements at the track."

By all accounts, Spieker and the guys (and gals) at Farmer City have been doing a bang-up job in restoring some stability at the track, after the actions of a former promoter who rented the facility left its future in somewhat dire straits just five years ago.

"It took us the first three years (since then) to kind of get things turned around and last year we saw some improvement," Spieker said. "Right now, 'seeing the light at the end of the tunnel' might be a good way to put it."

In addition to its Outlaws opener and the annual UMP Summer Nationals event in July, the track has added the "Farmer City 74" late model special to the schedule May 11-12. 

With the national touring series having that weekend off, Spieker is hoping the $20,000 top prize will attract some of dirt late model racing's top drivers.

"This is an event that we'd like to see become our 'signature event,' " Spieker said. "Right now the Illini 100 has been billed as our signature event, but that's a race where we just rent the track to the World of Outlaws and don't see a lot of the proceeds from it.

"Hopefully, we hit a home run with (the Farmer City 74) and make some money where we can make some improvements, fix the bathrooms, get a new scoreboard."

The track preparation crew at Farmer City has received high marks in recent years and Spieker says a new addition to the rolling stock will allow them to groom the track in an even-more timely fashion.

"It's a new 'motorsports drag' that was tried out at Eldora last year and later used at the indoor race at St. Louis," Spieker said.

Fairbury's American Legion Speedway annually opens a little later than the other tracks in the area and this year is no exception, with Opening Night slated for April 22.

FALS will open with new, beefed-up fencing around the track to accommodate the high-powered sprint cars that will race at the speedway on June 1, July 15 and in the first-ever Sprint Mania's FALS Classic on Oct. 6-7.

Non-winged sprints are slated for June 1, winged-sprints for July 15 and a combination of the two in October.

The track's traditional events also will stay in place with its largest event, the Prairie Dirt Classic World of Outlaws Late Model Series weekend set for July 28-29.

While the sprint car races at Fairbury will feature cars from a pair of "regional" series, Lincoln Speedway will host a national touring series sprint car race for the second year in a row.

Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Sprints are scheduled to be back at Lincoln on June 9. Less than a month later, the track has an absolute blockbuster event scheduled with the USAC National Midget Series slated to join the card for the annual UMP Summer Nationals event on July 2.

The USAC National Midget Series played a key part of the grooming ground for Stewart's ascension into NASCAR stardom, just as it was for Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, last week's Monster Energy Cup race winner Ryan Newman and current Monster Energy series points leader Kyle Larson.

Lincoln promoter Bob Sargent also will welcome the USAC national midgets back to Central Illinois a night earlier, with a July 1 race scheduled at Macon Speedway, also a property of Sargent's Track Enterprises.

Bruce Yentes covers motor sports for The Pantagraph. Contact him at byentes@pantagraph.com

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