A sizable contingent of NASCAR fans will tell you "it ain't no racin' if there ain't no Earnhardt in it."

At Central Illinois dirt tracks, simply substitute the name "Moughan" for "Earnhardt" when it comes to fans of grassroots level sprint car racing.

Beginning with the post World War II era of dirt track racing, there's a distinct possibility that if there was a sprint car race at a county fairgrounds within 100 miles of Springfield, there would be a Moughan competing.

That will be the case once more this weekend when veteran Jim Moughan and the regional MOWA Sprint Car Series headlines special events on Friday night at Lincoln Speedway and Saturday night at Fairbury's American Legion Speedway (FALS).

"When we first learned that (MOWA) would be racing at Fairbury this year somebody asked me if I'd ever been there before," said Moughan, who along with nephew, Joey, ably continues the family tradition.

"My dad raced there in the '50s, '60s and early '70s and I remember being there in the '70s to watch him. I ran there myself once or twice in the '80s and maybe once in the '90s."

With at least 20 years elapsed since his last trip to Fairbury, Moughan is still putting the hammer down at MOWA-sanctioned events, pounding away against "guys young enough to be my grandkids" with the same relish he employs in pounding nails as a Springfield-area home builder.

Still going strong, he's been joined by another sprint car guy in testament to age being just another number.

When Tony Stewart won a sprint car race in Florida earlier this year at age 46, he hopped out of the car and announced in his victory lane interview over the public address system that all of the internet chat room experts who said he was too old to be competitive in a sprint car could kiss his behind (behind is our word, not his).

At 61, Moughan still searches for his first victory this year, but enters Friday's race at Lincoln a competitive third in the MOWA point standings and looking to climb the ladder.

"We're having a decent year, we'd just like to be a little bit faster than we have been," Moughan said. "We're trying some aerodynamic things, trying to get it to the optimum level. It's kind of a one thing at a time deal.

"We've been experimenting with stuff all year long and I'm hoping with the changes we made, we'll be a little bit better at the end of the night at Lincoln and Fairbury."

Based on longevity alone, few would know their way around a sprint car better than Moughan. Over the years, he's seen gains in technology leading to more speed. While sprint cars have been running at Lincoln for a number of years, fans at Fairbury are likely see the track's all-time qualifying record shattered.

"The cars have a lot more horsepower now and they've gotten lighter, so there's more speed," Moughan said. "They're quite a bit faster and also quite a bit safer. I'd say the biggest thing is the safety features. The safety has gotten quite a bit better."

Moughan says it's also more competitive than when he started around 40 years ago.

"Back then there were probably three or four guys capable of winning," he said. "This weekend at Lincoln and Fairbury, there will be 10 to 15 guys capable."

There have been six different winners in seven MOWA races this year, including Joey Moughan, who won at Jacksonville on May 26. Kody Kinser won the series' most recent outing July 2 at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind.

Missouri driver Brad Loyet, a three-time Lucas Oil POWRi National Midget Series champion, is the only repeat MOWA winner of 2017 and leads the points standings.

UMP Pro Late Models, modifieds, POWRi DII midgets and UMP hornets will join the MOWA sprint cars on Friday night at Lincoln, where tickets are $20.

The weekly series UMP late models and modifieds are on the card with the sprints on Saturday night at Fairbury.

With El Paso's Ryan Unzicker scheduled to compete in the Summer Nationals this weekend in Ohio, Fairbury's Scott Bull and Gibson City's Kevin Weaver will hope to put a dent in Unzicker's points lead in the weekly series late model title chase at FALS. Jeff Curl leads the modified division points. Tickets are $25 Saturday night.

Bruce Yentes covers motor sports for The Pantagraph. He can be reached at byentes@pantagraph.com. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_yentes.

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