Auto Racing: Ricky Baker leads title wave at Grundy County Speedway
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org September 4, 2014 8:02PM
Ricky Baker clinched the 2014 late-model crown at Grundy County Speedway. | Tony Baranek/Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 5, 2014 11:59PM
Final points standings still are under review and won’t be released for a few more days, but we know who the champions are at Grundy County Speedway, so let’s hail them.
Ricky Baker clinched the late-model crown with his second-place finish behind Larry Schuler in Sunday’s Lee Schuler Memorial.
Baker finished the season with eight feature wins, nine fast qualifying times and one heat race victory. Second-ranking Eddie Hoffman captured five main events and set five fast times. Other feature winners were Anthony Danta and Brett Sontag (2 each), and John Nutley, Paul Shafer Jr. and Schuler (1 each).
“This year had some of the best racing I’ve ever seen there in the late models,” Baker said. “Everyone raced pretty clean, so it helped being able to make the car better during the week instead of fixing body panels.”
It was the second consecutive late-model crown for the 29-year-old Plainfield native.
“It means a lot. There are a lot of big names that are multiple champions out here,” Baker said.
Tommy Knippenberg also was a repeat champion this season in the Mid-American class. The Channahon native totally dominated the field, with nine victories and 13 quick times. He beat out Joe Vinachi, who ended his season on a positive note by winning the final (and his only) two main events.
“This was definitely a dream season for a racer to have,” Knippenberg said. “I really did not expect to have the season I had. I only had two weeks to get a completely different car ready with the help of my dad and crew. These Bill’s Speed Shop cars are rockets and I’m very fortunate to have my dad to turn to for advice.”
Other Mid-Am feature winners were Kevin Gentile (2) and Kenny Benson, Ron Vandermeir Jr., Matt Clemens and Kevin Murphy (1 each).
Eddie Ligue’s first season at Grundy in the street stock division turned to gold. The Chicago resident won six features and two heats and held off a late challenge by Jake Bradley in a car he bought from defending track titlist John Senerchia.
“A week before Grundy started Johnny and I were talking about racing and he said he wanted to sell the car,” Ligue said. “I told him I was interested so we worked out a deal. Then I talked to Chad Bayuk and (his) guys to see if they could help me out, and they were ready to go for it.
“The car was good right off the bat. We made just a few changes and just tried to stay focused and keep finishing in the front.”
Senerchia, racing part-time, won three features, while Bradley (2) and Tim Stewart, Chris Woodall, Bob Davis, Pat Kelly, Rob Scamen and Logan Love all found victory circle.
The pure stocks division crown went to Austin Blackwell, of Braidwood, who won two features and prevailed in a really tight battle with Mikey Slabenak and 2013 titlist Dan Schmeissing.
“Just making every night and finishing in the top five was the big thing,” Blackwell said. “I just tried to stay out of trouble and keep the car running.”
Other feature winners were Zach Sontag (4), Spencer Leake (3), Cirk Lindemuth (2), and Danielle Dobczyk, Billy Rud, Mike Yuris, Blaine Passini, Ricky Wilson, Tom Kaminski, Heather Page, James Gross and Ryan Lagestee (1 each).
NASCAR race fans are rallying ...
Chicagoland Speedway will have three days of racing Sept. 12 through 14, culminating with the Sprint Cup Chase-opening MyAFibStory.com 400, but the activities are to start sooner than that.
The 14th annual Race Fan Rally is scheduled for 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday in downtown Joliet. The event is free, and includes a Sprint Cup Series hauler parade, driver appearances, race simulators, live music and a KidZone area for children.
“Race Fan Rally is an event the community has come to know and love over the years, and it provides a great opportunity for us to collaborate with the city to extend our NASCAR weekend into the downtown Joliet area,” said Scott Paddock, Chicagoland Speedway president. “It also underscores one of the many benefits of having a world-class sports and entertainment facility right here in our local community, where in this case you have large crowds heading into downtown businesses, restaurants, hotels and stores in the days leading up to the race weekend.”
The racing schedule for will feature the truck series Lucas Oil 225 on Sept. 12, the Nationwide Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast 300 on Sept. 13 and the Chase opener for Cup cars on Sept. 14.