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Baranek: Winner’s circle a crowded place at Grundy

Late-model driver Ricky Baker. | Kim Kemperman~For Sun-Times Media

Late-model driver Ricky Baker. | Kim Kemperman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 8, 2013 6:42AM



The weather could have been better, but a local racing fan couldn’t ask for more variety than we’ve seen in the late-model winner’s circle this season at Grundy County Speedway.

So far, there have been five different winners in the five features run.

And how about this?

None of them was Eddie Hoffman.

The points leader isn’t one of them, either.

There’s a good chance the streak will be broken Friday with two late-model features on tap, the first of which is a makeup of the May 31 rainout. The Mid-American class also will see a makeup main.

Anyway, let’s make our first breakdown of the points as the spring portion of the schedule at Grundy and Illiana speedways winds down.

At Grundy, the late-model winners have been Billy Knippenberg, Mark Sontag Jr., Chris Cooling, Paul Shafer Jr. and Rich Bickle.

All but Cooling have won from the front row, but the feature races generally have been competitive, especially the last one in which Larry Schuler wound up spinning across the finish line while trying to pass Bickle coming out of Turn 4.

Cooling’s victory was the most unusual, coming when he inherited the lead with just a couple of laps remaining when Bickle spun Knippenberg in Turn 3 while battling for the lead.

Hoffman, who usually by this time of the year has at least two or three wins, has missed one night, crashed out on a couple of others, and had mechanical difficulties to boot. He’s had just one top-five finish, that coming on opening night when he was second behind Knippenberg. Hoffman is 10th in points.

The division leader is rock-steady Ricky Baker, who has a 388-372 points edge over Cooling. Baker’s highest finish in a feature has been third place, which he’s accomplished three times. The other two nights he was fifth. He’s the only late-model driver to register a top-five finish every week.

The 16-year-old Shafer, meanwhile, continues to impress; he’s only 30 points back at 358. Larry Schuler (350), Knippenberg (347) and Tracy Schuler (338) all are within close striking distance. Bickle (298) missed one night, as did D.J. Weltmeyer (262).

In the Mid-American class at Grundy, Knippenberg’s little brother Tommy is off to a fantastic start with two victories and, if not a commanding, then impressive 447-404 edge in points over Joe Vinachi. Matt Clemens (399), John McMahon (356), Cody Clubb (342) and Chuch Yuris (326) complete the top six.

John Senerchia just keeps on winning in the street stock class. Friday’s rain-shortened 18-lap victory was his fourth, to go along with a second place and a third. He’s got a 509-474 points lead over Tony Scalpelli Jr. Aaron Shelton (456) and Pete Odell (443) are the next closest, while Jeremy Clubb (398), Cheryl Hryn (378), Darrell Gay (356) and Renee Farren (355) top the next tier of points getters.

Dan Schmeissing is starting to stretch things out in the pure stocks class with a 498-446 lead over Alex Gay. The May 31 winner, Chris Mihalski, is third with 445 points.

Five-time Illiana Speedway champion Mike White has been the class of the field the last couple of weeks, but the points leader in the late-model division at the half-mile Schererville, Ind., oval is Shafer, who has a 522-506 edge over John Nutley. Jeff Cannon (500), Anthony Danta (488), Jack Kalwasinski (483) and Weltmeyer and Mark Ross Jr. (479 each) represent the rest of the top seven.

Virtually every one of the usual top contenders has had some sort of misery, whether it be mechanical problems or crashes. White missed one night, otherwise with two firsts and a second he’d probably be near the top in points. As it is, he’s 14th, two spots ahead of defending titlist Hoffman, who also has missed a night.

The two other late-model feature winners at Illiana besides White are Hoffman and Ross Jr. Ross seemingly caught lightning in a bottle on May 4 when he beat out Danta and Cannon, but the 23-year-old backed it up with a sixth-place finish on May 25.

There is little doubt who the top dog is in the Legends class at Illiana. Chris King has three wins and a second in feature activity and holds a 573-528 advantage in points over Paul Shafer Sr. Garrett Harris, who beat King on opening night, is fifth in points.

Johnny Senerchia’s victory May 25 vaulted him into the lead in the turbo stox class. It’s a slim edge, though, 539-536 over opening-night winner Jacob McKown. Bobbie Jean Wall is a close third with 518 points, while Pat Ligue looms in fourth with 504. Eddie Wolf and Ryan Moore also have carried feature flags.

The pure stocks don’t have division standings at Illiana, but the four feature winners have been Doug Verkaik, Dan Schmeissing, Mike Wojcik and Alex Treptow.



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