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Auto Racing: At Illiana, pure racing from pure stocks

Heather Page celebrates her first 4-cylinder feature wFriday Grundy County Speedway. The Morris resident is 14. | Brian Nolte for

Heather Page celebrates her first 4-cylinder feature win Friday at Grundy County Speedway. The Morris resident is 14. | Brian Nolte for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 19, 2014 6:37AM



Something very cool happened at the end of a very frustrating Saturday at Illiana Speedway.

The rainout, the fifth of the season, was the result of a combination of a downpour in the morning and a very unpromising forecast that made it difficult for both drivers and fans to decide whether to come out to the track.

Illiana owner/promoter Mike Mikuly, watching the radar and seeing projections for a long break in between precipitation, decided at 1 p.m. to go for it.

Word spread via social media, but by the start of practice at 4 p.m. it became apparent the show was in trouble. There were just nine late-models on the premises and fewer than that for both the Legends and turbo stox.

Mikuly stopped letting drivers into the pits around 4:30 p.m., advising them to stay in the parking lot while he figured out what to do. Given choices of running for a reduced purse or being allowed to practice for free until sunset, the drivers chose to practice.

Except those drivers in the pure stocks class, anyway.

“When I went out (to the parking lot) to update them on the situation and they found out we were just having practice they said, ‘Well, we are going to leave if we can’t race,’ ” pure stocks driver Ryan Lagestee said. “I said, ‘Don’t leave. I have a plan, so tell people who are on their way not to turn around.’

“When Mike let everyone who was outside into the pits for practice, I stood at the gate and told every pure stocks driver the second practice (session) would be a feature. There were huge smiles and laughs. Everybody was on board.”

The drivers made up their own lineup, pure stocks coordinator Brian Kucaba and starter Tom White were notified and 20 cars pulled on the speedway to do battle for 15 laps in front of about 50 fans for ZERO payout. Zak Turner wound up taking the checkered flag for the first time in his career.

Who cares if it counted or not?

“I was nervous,” Turner said. “This was the first race for my car and I didn’t have that much seat time in it. It felt awesome to win — even it wasn’t official.”

It was official enough for the people in the stands, according to Lagestee.

“The fans went crazy,” he said. “There was a father there from Michigan for the first time with his two sons and they were bummed that we canceled. They were in the top row when we pulled out. The two kids sprinted to the bottom railing and went crazy.

“Afterward they talked about how because of our race they can’t wait to come back and are making the trip this week.”

A major change in the program at Grundy County Speedway starts Friday as the 4-cylinder cars will receive three practice sessions and for the first time take qualifying sessions. Theirs also will be the first feature race of the night (instead of the last), after intermission.

Heather Page found the 4-cylinder winner’s circle for the first time Friday at Grundy, holding off points leader Austin Blackwell in a wire-to-wire performance.

Page, just 14, will be starting high school at Minooka in the fall. She doesn’t play sports, but she can sure drive a race car. She also has one heat race victory.

“This is my sport,” she said. “I owe that to my grandmother (Robyne Tibich). She tried to be a racer when she was 18.”

Page, whose father, Burl, raced street stocks at Grundy before she was born, carries what she calls an “angel stone” in her car in dedication to her grandmother, who died during the offseason.

Jake Bradley has had some impressive runs at Grundy, but Friday the Morris native claimed his first street stock feature flag. Like Page, the 19-year-old did it in flag-to-flag fashion, with points leader Eddie Ligue knocking on the door on a late restart.

“At first I didn’t know if I was going to hold everybody off,” Bradley said. “But I knew that once I got my car out in the clear air I could kind of shoot away from everybody. On that restart, I thought I was going to get caught, but it worked out in the end.”



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