Auto Racing: Female drivers making inroads at Grundy County, Illiana speedways
It may be a while, if ever, when Danica Patrick wins a NASCAR race. But it’s a sure bet female drivers are going to be carrying checkered flags at our local asphalt ovals in 2013.
One, in fact, already has, with Melissa Wilson capturing the first pure stocks heat race on opening night at Illiana Speedway.
Bobbie Jean Wall, meanwhile, was in front and looking strong in Saturday’s turbo stox main at Illiana when rookie driver Michael Gerike slowly, inexplicably, pulled his laps-down car from the infield onto the track right in front of her and the rest of the field.
The move disrupted Wall’s momentum and temporarily cost her the lead, which she retook from Matt Arvia before Jacob McKown came on late to win the race. Wall, who later spun out and had to come from the back, finished fourth.
In 2012, Wall won a feature and was third in the turbo stox standings behind five-time titlist Bill Serviss and McKown.
With Serviss planning on racing part-time this season, she and McKown figure to be favorites.
“I hope so,” Wall said, smiling. “I worked really hard last year and you could just feel ... you get a feel sometimes. I had the feel (Saturday) that I did last year when we won the feature at the end. That’s only a good sign. It can only get better from here.”
She was good-humored about Gerike’s unfortunate, momentum-killing move.
“What happened? Ha-ha ... I don’t know. He’s new. He’s still learning,” Wall said. “He was on the bottom and he was going really slow, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll just go high.’ But then all of a sudden Gerike ducked up high, and I had to check up. The spin really didn’t help us much, either. But fourth was pretty good, considering what happened.”
Wall, 23, started racing in the turbo stox class in 2006 when she was just 15.
“I feel old,” she said, laughing. “But other times I’m like, ‘Man, I’m racing against Johnny Senerchia, and Bill Serviss. They’re legends.’ I’ve known them since I was a kid. I remember coming here, helping out Keith Sterkowitz in 2003.”
Rita Fields, who finished 10th in the late-model standings at Illiana in 2012, enters her seventh season of racing with a full stable of cars but an unsure schedule.
She owns one street stock that Ryan Moore will pilot and another that she occasionally may drive. Her late-model is still in the shop.
“We made some major upgrades, such as a big motor, and chassis and suspension upgrades,” Fields said. “One issue was the track waiting until February to post rules. I had just purchased a concept motor. Had I known they were giving crates 25 more pounds (weight break) I would have purchased a new crate.
“With the additional 25 pounds crates are a bit more competitive now with the torque to weight ratio as well as horsepower to weight ratio. So many things had to be changed in order to accommodate the big motor I would have been better off just buying a new crate.”
The top female pilots at Grundy County Speedway figure to be street stockers Cheryl Hryn and Renee Farren.
Hryn, who finished sixth in the division, made the switch to Grundy in 2013 after a successful three seasons in turbo stox at Illiana.
“The biggest thing I learned last year at Grundy was how to explain to my crew what the car was doing or not doing, set-up wise,” Hryn said. “Obviously, I need my car and myself to be as smooth as possible to keep me as close to the frontrunners as possible.”
History has showed that Hryn doesn’t go backward. At Illiana, she was 10th in points in 2009, seventh in ’10 and fifth in ’11.
“I always try to improve myself the following year,” Hryn said “I don’t want to jinx myself by saying where I would like to finish, but winning a championship is what I would really like to see as my goal.”
Farren, meanwhile, can be considered a street stock veteran at age 16. This will be her third season in the No. 44, which she piloted to an 11th-place points finish in 2012.
“I learned how to improve my line on the track,” she said. “I think I’m able to work the high line better and we’re doing some work on the car that I think should help me this season. We’re expecting a top 10 in points, and we’re shooting for some heat wins and top five feature finishes.”
Another 16-year-old female on the fast track to success is Erica Ensor. A regular at Grundy on Saturday nights in the D’Arcy GMC STARS Midget Racing series, Ensor captured four feature victories en route to running away with the “Classic Modified” dwarf car division title. Ensor said she’s going to defend that title in 2013, but also is testing a late-model.
Head over heels for Love
The toughest break on opening weekend was suffered at Grundy by former street stock champ Logan Love, whose debut in a new Mid-American car lasted one lap before a mechanical malfunction resulted in a crash and his No. 88 ending up on its side against the Turn 1 Wall.
“Either it popped out of gear or the throttle stuck,” he said. “It all happened so fast, I’m not really sure. The good thing is that although it probably looked bad, it was a very soft hit. The one thing I didn’t want to happen was some big wreck. I just wanted to start in the back, feel the car out, get some seat time. This is not at all the way we wanted to start out our Mid-Am adventure.”
Love plans to return with the car in two weeks.