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Baranek: Kelly takes time to stop and smell the roses

Nathan Kelly (from left) PKelly Tony Phillips.  | Kim Kemperman~For Sun-Times Media

Nathan Kelly (from left), Pat Kelly and Tony Phillips. | Kim Kemperman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 18, 2013 8:14AM



Pat Kelly sure is enjoying this temporary retirement thing.

“I feel great. I have a lot less stress, and a good girlfriend. That sure helps a lot,” the four-time late-model champion said, laughing.

The 44-year-old Coal City native isn’t defending his 2012 title at Grundy County Speedway. Instead, he’s building a new late-model for his son, Nathan, who is stepping up to the top division after winning it all last season in the street stock class.

This would have been Kelly’s 20th season of racing. Over the years, he has been one of the area’s toughest drivers to beat, especially when he was dialed in on the high side.

In 2000, Kelly pulled the rare feat of winning the late-model titles at both Grundy and Illiana. He repeated at Grundy in 2006.

Kelly said that in addition to wanting to spend more time in helping his son get his late-model career on track, he was looking to spend more time away from the speedway.

“It’s a grind to always have to be somewhere (to race), and being in the garage seven days a week,” he said. “I was probably one of those people who would get sick over it.

“When I start doing something, it’s like a disease, like alchoholics or drug addicts. Racing is my disease. This is a nice little break right now.”

Go, Johnny, go

Johnny Senerchia celebrated his 43rd birthday Friday by wheeling his 1988 Monte Carlo to his second consecutive street stock feature at Grundy County Speedway. He was chased across the finish line by Jeremy Clubb and Pete O’Dell.

“Yeah, we were just able to get through traffic,” Senerchia said. “There were a couple of wrecks there at the beginning and I kind of bounced off the wall. We got lucky, though, to get no damage.

“We’ve got a decent car, and we’re just trying to get to the front as fast as we can.”

Senerchia, a native of Blue Island, has won track titles in his career at five different area race tracks.

In 1992, he won the 4-cylinder championship at both LaSalle and Kankakee speedways. Turning to asphalt, he won the 1999 semi-pro title at Raceway Park. He won back-to-back Mid-American titles at Grundy in 2006 and Illiana Speedway in 2007.

This year, bolstered by two wins and a second, he’s riding at the top of the street stock rankings at Grundy, with a 254-238 advantage over Aaron Shelton. O’Dell is third with 235 points, while Tony Scalpelli Jr. is fourth with 225.

“We’re just having fun with my wife (Kari) and son (Jacob) and we’ll see what happens,” Senerchia said. “My son likes to work on the car and beat and bang on it in the garage, and then I have another son on the way. If it (a title) happens, it happens.”

He said what?

“This is going to be me going there to have some fun. You aren’t getting any drama from me.”

That was Rich Bickle a couple of days before the start of the season at Grundy. Friday night the former NASCAR competitor and Wisconsin short-track legend didn’t look like he was having any fun, nor was he avoiding drama, when after being passed a little less than kindly by Billy Knippenberg on a lap 29 restart he went after him and spun him into the Turn 3 wall.

Afterward, both drivers were steaming and accused each other of rough driving. The dustup cost them first- and second-place prize money and dropped them from the top of the points standing down to fourth (Bickle) and fifth.

It was, to be sure, good short track Friday night theater for fans who braved the cold. I’m sure both drivers honestly feel like they did what they had to do. Drivers in these situations rarely say, “I was an idiot.” But it just amazes me how many of them complain that tracks don’t pay enough in the purse but then are willing to throw away a solid top spot and good money just to prove a point.

Around the ovals

Kankakee Speedway has a dirt program at 7:30 p.m. Friday featuring the $3,000-to-win Land of Lincoln 40 for National late-models. Regular programs are on tap at both Grundy (8 p.m.) on Friday and Illiana (7 p.m.) on Saturday.



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