Baranek on Auto Racing: Long trek for short-tracker Cooling
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org May 22, 2012 4:00PM
Updated: May 22, 2012 6:19PM
Joliet native Chris Cooling has spent the past 12 years establishing a reputation as a top race car driver at Grundy County Speedway.
These days, he’s going to great lengths to maintain it — literally.
Cooling makes a weekly trek of nearly three hours (135 miles) from Greenfield, Wis., to Morris to run his No. 31 late-model owned by Brian Pejskar.
“My wife (Danielle) is doing a residency at the children’s hospital in Milwaukee,” Cooling said. “She’s in her third year, so we’ll be there for one more year.”
Cooling, who didn’t run at Grundy on a regular basis in 2011, is back racing full-time at the three-eighths-mile oval. Through four weeks he has posted four top-five finishes, including a second-place finish Friday behind Pat Kelly. Cooling is third in the points standings.
And, you can be sure, first in money spent on gas to get there.
“It’s tough. It’s not good,” Cooling said with a chuckle. “But I mean, what else am I going to do? This is what I’ve been doing for 12 years. I couldn’t think of doing anything else.”
Fridays get pretty complicated for Cooling, who works as a State Farm agent in the Milwaukee area.
“I had to talk my boss into letting me leave early,” he said. “I get out of work at 2 o’clock, leave (for Grundy) at 2:30 and try to get here for the second practice to get some laps in.”
Friday, he and the car were in top form. Cooling took the lead on lap six of the main event from veteran Tracy Schuler and spent the next 16 holding Kelly at bay. On lap 20, Kelly was able to work his way by on the bottom. Cooling maintained second by a short margin over Larry Schuler.
Like father, like son
You can almost take it to the bank that father and son soon will be winners on the same night at Grundy.
Pat Kelly, of Coal City, who won late-model track titles in 2000 and ’06, is racing on a weekly basis again. Friday night he earned his first feature win of 2012 and is second in points leader Eddie Hoffman. Kelly’s 16-year-old son Nathan is leading the street stock standings, with two main event wins to his credit.
“I can’t be prouder of him,” Pat Kelly said of his son. “This here is all for him. We’re trying to develop this for him and get him going. I enjoy working with him. He’s a good consistent driver who keeps out of trouble. He’s a lot of fun to be around. I enjoy working with him.”
What can go wrong ...
A lot has gone right this season for Kevin Gentile, of Elwood, in the Mid-Am division at Grundy, from two fast qualifying times to a feature win to leading the points.
Nothing went right Friday. Gentile had a right rear tire go down early in the feature race but was able to change it during a yellow flag situation and rejoin the back of the pack on the same lap. He worked his way back to sixth place before getting caught up in a multicar tangle in front of him.
This time the damage put his No. 2 in the pits for good.
“The car was so awesome,” Gentile said. “But they stacked up in front of me. Nothing I could have done. I saw it, I checked up got on the brakes, got run into from behind and the next thing I saw was the grandstands. Not a good sight.
“It hurts, but winning a championship you’ve got to go through some adversity. This is it for us.”
Ron Willems won the race, while Ron Vandermeir moved into the top spot in the standings.
To rub, or not to ...
An incredible finish to the JEGS/CRA Lisa Thomas Salon 100 came courtesy of a frisky youngster (21-year-old Daniel Hemric, of Kannapolis, N.C.) and a grizzled veteran (Orland Park-based Eddie Hoffman).
Frisky won out as Hemric, after jostling side by side with Hoffman for several laps, finally gave him a hip shot while passing on the bottom between Turns 3 and 4 and went on to score the win by 0.006 seconds.
The result didn’t take any of the grizzle off of Hoffman.
“I was getting run into three, four times,” a not-very-pleased Hoffman said later. “When you’re on the outside, you’re at the mercy of the guy inside. He can use you up, and he used me up.”
Especially in those final two turns.
“He hit me, drove me up the track,” Hoffman said. “He was down there, just using up me and the race track. He didn’t wreck me, but he used me up. Some guys race like that, some guys don’t. I try not to.”
“That was nothing more than short track racing,” Hemric said.
You can bet Hoffman will have a long memory, kid.