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A sufficiently alluring purse is always helpful. A positive break in circumstances beyond your control can never hurt.

A combination of the two suddenly has turned The Pantagraph area into this weekend's epicenter of the dirt late model racing universe.

With the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series national tour having the weekend off and a scheduled World of Outlaws event in North Carolina being postponed because of weather, a number of the nation's top dirt late model competitors are expected to descend on Farmer City Raceway for Friday night's Farmer City 74, before heading to Fairbury's American Legion Speedway for Saturday evening's FALS Frenzy.

Among them will be superstar Josh Richards of Shinnston, W. Va., who will be racing at Farmer City and Fairbury for the first time in three years.

"I'm excited to get back to both Illinois tracks this weekend," Richards told The Pantagraph. "Those two tracks are both elbows up kind of tracks and what I love about late model racing."

Richards was a perennial World of Outlaws Late Model champ before moving into the rival — but peacefully co-existing — Lucas ranks two years ago and immediately capturing the series title there.

In his last swing through the area in 2016, Richards won Farmer City's Illini 100 and Fairbury's Prairie Dirt Classic. A sweep of this weekend's events at the tracks would pocket him a tidy $20,000.

Indiana driver Don O'Neal is expected to contend for the top prize in a car owned and fielded by NASCAR's Clint Bowyer. Ohio's Devin Moran, who left the World of Outlaws field in his dust in last year's Prairie Dirt Classic, called Farmer City promoter Lance Spieker on Tuesday for the lowdown on this weekend.

"We're real excited right now," said Spieker. "We look at the Farmer City 74 as our signature event and it's looking like a stellar field of cars right now."

"We've really increased our star power for this weekend," agreed FALS owner Matt Curl. "Both of these events have built some momentum over the past couple of years and this should be the biggest so far."

The tracks also should catch a bit of a break on the weather. While sweaters and jackets likely will be necessary, parkas and umbrellas won't.

The cool, wet spring thus far can make it a challenge for crews to properly prepare a dirt surface for racing.

The track prep crew at Farmer City, headed up by Santa Anna Township Road Commissioner David Holtz, has passed the test with flying colors since the track opened the first weekend in April. With Matt Stiger and Spieker lending a hand, competitors can look forward to some racy conditions again this weekend.

The 1/4-mile bullring at Fairbury also was in good shape for its opener last weekend when Curl welcomed 112 cars to the pits on his first night as the track owner.

Both events will be co-sanctioned by the MARS Racing Series and the Sunoco American Late Model Series (ALMS).

The Wisconsin-based MARS series has had three events thus far in 2019, including its season-opening Tuckasee Toilet Bowl in Tennessee that was won by Chatham's Brian Shirley back in March.

Shirley also has won two of the weekly series events this year at Farmer City.

Reigning UMP weekly series national champion Rusty Schlenk won the ALMS series opener two weeks ago in Michigan.

Richards, off to a slow start by his standards, is hoping to grab a little momentum before he returns to the Lucas national touring series.

"We've had a fast car all year, but just haven't been able to finish up a whole night to show it," he said. "We're just going to have fun and give it all we have with no points on the line."

Bruce Yentes covers motorsports for The Pantagraph. He can be reached at byentes@pantagraph.com or at (309) 820-3391. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_yentes

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