Auto Racing: Ricky Baker getting points across at Grundy County Speedway
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org June 27, 2013 10:08PM
The cars of Anthony Danta (1) and Paul Shafer Jr. (7) are both into the wall between Turns 1 and 2 during Saturday's late-model feature at Illiana Speedway. | Chris Goodaker~For Sun-Times Media
NHRA driver Justin Schriefer races harder than most to honor the memory of his daughter, Ericka, who died in 2010.
Updated: July 30, 2013 8:34AM
Winning a late-model track title without winning a single feature race has been done before at an area oval.
Bobby Dotter did it at Illiana Speedway in 1981.
In 1992, Santa Fe Speedway late-model king Frank Reaber didn’t win his first main until the second-to-last night of the season.
Almost halfway through the 2013 campaign at Grundy County Speedway, Ricky Baker is in line to join a pretty exclusive club.
“Oh, I sure hope that doesn’t happen. I mean, we’re trying (to win),” Baker said, laughing. “We’ll get one one of these days.”
Baker had just finished in third in the June 21 feature at Grundy. He was plenty fast, having set quick qualifying time and coming from well back in the field to, if not be in a position to win, at least pick up plenty of points by finishing behind winner Eddie Hoffman and runner-up Larry Schuler.
“Probably a caution or two would have helped out a little bit,” Baker said. “The car was OK in the feature, but it was bottoming out pretty bad. I tried passing Larry on the outside, but it was just hitting bottom and sliding around. So I put it on cruise control the last 20 laps or so, just kind of hoping those guys (in front) would burn their tires up.”
There have been eight feature winners in the nine main events run at Grundy so far in 2013. Hoffman is the only repeat winner, with Chris Cooling, Larry Schuler, Billy Knippenberg, Rich Bickle, Paul Shafer, Anthony Danta and Mark Sontag Jr. prevailing once each.
But none can match the 652 points amassed by Baker, a 28-year-old Plainfield native, who has had eight top-seven finishes in nine tries, with four thirds, three fifths and a seventh.
“The guys have been working hard. This car is hooked up pretty good,’ Baker said of his new Pathfinder chassis, which has been two years in the making. “It’s kind of been a nightmare getting it all figured out and setting it up right, but we finally got it done.”
Points of view
You could see it coming. Saturday’s big wreck in the late-model main at Illiana Speedway was a classic case of four similarly fast cars in a bunch for way too long of a time.
Something was bound to happen. And it did.
On lap 24, D.J. Weltmeyer had just broken away from Eddie Hoffman, Anthony Danta and Paul Shafer Jr. when in Turn 1 things got crazy. Shafer wound up in the wall. Hoffman and Danta had heavy contact, and on Hoffman’s way down after a spin he got into his twin car, driven by Josh Nelms.
Hoffman, Danta, Shafer and Nelms were eliminated from the race. And the interpretations began.
“Everyone was racing real hard on a restart,” Danta said. “It happened so fast, the next thing I knew I was wrecked. I don’t know if it was anyone’s fault, or everyone was just racing hard.
“The front stub’s probably bent, so it’s probably going to be out for a few weeks, if not the rest of the year. Hopefully we can get it back together.”
Shafer thought part of it had to do with an earlier incident he had with Hoffman.
“I felt like Eddie roughed me up out of Turn 4, and coming into Turn 1 where we wrecked he came up and I know he doored me for sure because of what happened earlier in the race.
“(Earlier,) I got underneath him and I felt I was there. I might not have been there, but I thought I had the spot. Then he came down and I turned him sideways. He looked like he got it pretty well saved, but I think he lost a couple of spots.”
Was it retribution? Curiously, Hoffman didn’t mention Shafer.
“People were bouncing off each other (out of 4) and we all made it through,” Hoffman said. “That was fine. But then Danta just turned me getting into 1 and that started the last melee. When you run into the back of somebody in the corner, then you’re going to have a real problem.”
The only for-sure innocent victim was Nelms.
“I saw Hoffman get turned sideways by the 51,” Nelms said. “Eddie started sliding up the track. I was already on the bottom and was just hoping he’d stay up there. Unfortunately, he slid down and got me as I came by and sent me for a ride.
“Eddie and I talked and we were both victims. It’s a shame, too. We were fast.”
Hopefully, they’re resilient.
Setting it straight
The delight Kevin Gentile felt after crossing the finish line first in the June 21 40-lap special for the Mid-Am traveling series at Grundy turned to disappointment when almost an hour after the race he was disqualified for a motor infraction.
Gentile was more worried, though, about his reputation than the prize money lost. He wants to explain.
“On May 3, when we were leading the feature we had engine trouble, which forced us to change engines,” the 2012 champion said. “Unfortunately, this engine had just been bought and had not been to our engine builder to be checked. It turned out that the heads were slightly illegal.
“Being called a cheater would be the biggest insult to me and my team. We apologize to everybody for the mixup. We accept the decision by Mid-Am, and are putting new heads on the engine. Also, I’d like to congratulate Ron Vandermeir (the declared victor). I’m glad a Grundy local still got the win.”