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Auto Racing: Drivers grumbling over rash of crashes at Grundy County, Illiana speedways

John Nutley's car is badly damaged after crash final lap late-model herace May 25 IllianSpeedway. | Goodaker Photography~For Sun-Times Media

John Nutley's car is badly damaged after a crash on the final lap of a late-model heat race May 25 at Illiana Speedway. | Goodaker Photography~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 2, 2013 7:46AM



Double, double toil and trouble. Race cars crash and drivers grumble.

There certainly has been a lot of both early this season at Grundy County and Illiana speedways.

A couple of weeks ago almost half of the turbo stox field at Illiana was invited to leave the feature race because of rough driving. Only three cars were on the track at the finish.

The highlight of the grumbling there was one angry driver, as he was pulling off the track, berating an official for protecting “your favorite little princess,” even though Bobbie Jean Wall already had been black flagged.

On May 24 at Grundy, there was near disaster at the conclusion of the late-model feature when leaders Rich Bickle and Larry Schuler were banging around in Turns 3 and 4 on the final lap before Schuler’s No. 30 went into a spin and careened into the infield.

Bickle was able to hang on to his No. 45 to score the win. Luckily, Schuler didn’t hit anything and crossed the line in fourth place. Both took it all with fairly good humor afterward in the pit area.

John Nutley wasn’t quite so lucky Saturday night at Illiana.

The longtime late-model driver was battling with Tracy Schuler in the fast heat when, coming out of the fourth turn he tried to get underneath Schuler. Both cars wound up backward as they crossed the line, with Schuler first and Nutley second. Schuler’s No. 61 basically was undamaged, but Nutley’s No. 96 smashed into the frontstretch wall with a fury and was quite the mess when it came to a screeching halt.

Schuler, who appeared to have the race won coming out of Turn 4, seemed a little surprised Nutley would challenge him in such a manner to try to win a heat.

“I don’t know what he’s thinking. I never have,” Schuler said. “He’s been here for a lot of years racing. I just don’t know what he’s thinking. At least the perpetrator got his car messed up.”

Of course, I had to ask Nutley what he was thinking.

“I was just racing,” Nutley said. “He gave me the room on the bottom. I went underneath and he chopped me. I come off sideways and he kept coming down on me going for the checkered. I mean, it’s only a heat race win for 100 bucks. It isn’t worth it. Now it’s a tail section and a front end.

“(Schuler) was rubbing me before the green even started. I knew it was going to be tough trying to get by him. Then to pull that stupid stunt ... He had me beat. All he had to do was drive straight, he didn’t have to come down on me. I just wanted to make it interesting, you know.”

Nutley did find a friend later in the night in fellow competitor Dean Patterson, who offered to let him drive his No. 64 car and gain some points. Nutley gratefully accepted. He’s expected back in another car Saturday night.

The Nutley-Schuler imbroglio was only a warmup for the drama to come later.

The first 20 laps of the late-model feature saw Tracy Schuler lead in a relative cakewalk. D.J. Weltmeyer and Anthony Danta, in second and third, respectively, were challenging one another more than they were challenging Schuler. On lap 21 Schuler suddenly slowed and left the track. Then things really started heating up.

Weltmeyer, the new leader, still had Danta working him over when Mike White joined them. The track is designed for a low and a high side. In this case, with about two laps remaining, there was a low, high and higher side, with Danta on the bottom, Weltmeyer on the high side and White on the higher side, almost to the wall.

White, in fact, was forced into scraping the frontstretch wall on one lap but managed to keep his No. 14 under control. Less than two laps remained when there was contact between Danta and Weltemeyer in Turn 2, with Weltmeyer turning around and bringing out a caution.

Weltmeyer had to leave the race while Danta went to the pits, but returned at the back of the field. White inherited the lead and went on to score the win over Eddie Hoffman.

“Hard racing at the end,” White observed. “You can expect that kind of stuff. Everybody wants to win. I don’t think you can fault anybody for that, from what I saw, really. I just think the whole night was just a lot of hard racing.”

Danta, who happens to be White’s nephew, couldn’t have agreed more.

“Well, yeah,” Danta said. “(Weltmeyer) was sliding out a little bit. He slid up into 1 and I put my nose down there. He thought he still had the bottom, which ... at the end of the race you’re both going for the win. There was actually three of us there.

“So that’s racing. I don’t do that stuff intentionally. I tried talking to him and he didn’t want anything to do with it. So if that’s how he wants to be, that’s how we’ll be from now on.”

Weltmeyer’s take?

“We tightened up there at the end,” he said. “I was just trying to hold the bottom and sort of just got punted in the middle of 1 and 2 there. The first 15 or 20 laps everything seemed to be going all right and nobody was really running into anybody. But when it came down to it, people just started slicing and dicing, and things got a little hectic there at the end.

“I just wanted to hold my line. I didn’t want to give it away. At least I can say I gave it my all. I didn’t give it away, I got it taken.”

A new weekend awaits.



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