Lake City, MI (Sunday, May 16, 2021) - Night number two of the weekend for the Allstar Performance Late Model Challenge Series took drivers to Merritt Speedway in Lake City, Michigan. Another $5,000 payday was on the line along with the hope of chasing down the $13,000 Season Points Championship. After a large car count for night one at Tri City Motor Speedway, another competitive group of cars rolled into Merritt.
The night began for Late Models as always with Qualifying. Cody Bauer set the mark early and was never bested with his group one time of 13.811. Chad Finley came close in group two with a 13.846, and Dona Marcoullier paced group three with a 14.057. A total of 26 cars took time for Saturday’s show.
After heat races and the redraw helped set the starting line-up, it was time to do battle for 40 laps around the newly configured Merritt Speedway. Changes to the track included reduced and evenly spread banking and a new surface, which proved to be a challenge in all divisions. During heat race action, the track was one lane around the inside tractor tires, with the only passes of the night seemingly coming during restarts. In an attempt to widen the race track, officials moved the tractor tires out prior to the feature races, which appeared to help the passing efforts.
Steve Hilliker and Mike VanderMark, Jr led the field to the green flag, with VanderMark getting the jump into the lead. Trouble found the race track early when ninth starting Cody Bauer and 12th starting Chad Finley tangled on the exit of turn two. Bauer came off the bottom of the speedway giving Finley a hip-check before Finley spun on the backstretch. Track officials ruled that Bauer was to blame for the caution, sending him to the tale and giving Finley his position back.
On the restart, chaos broke out on the front stretch when Jeep VanWormer and Friday night winner, Eric Spangler made contact. VanWormer appeared to push high off of four on the restart, sending Spangler off the front stretch and into the guardrail. The field scattered with other contact being made throughout. The incident marked the end of the night for Clay Wenzlick, Logan Love, Bauer, and Spangler. VanWormer would pull to the infield during the next restart. Spangler was eventually disqualified for on-track retaliation before going to the pits.
VanderMark went back to the front in what seemed to be dominating fashion. Another seven laps went on the board with VanderMark setting a comfortable pace until lap 13 when Rob Lewis spun on his own to draw the caution, setting up the move of the race.
On the ensuing restart, VanderMark went back to the bottom to defend the prime real estate, while Finley marched on in the middle. On lap 14, Finley had nosed ahead of VanderMark for the first official lead change of the race and the rest is history. Finley survived one final restart with five laps to go which allowed Marcoullier to get around VanderMark for third, but he was no challenge for Finley who picked up the win in runaway fashion.
Finley was the Hard Charger of the race, gaining 11 spots over the course of the night. Behind Marcoullier and VanderMark, Hilliker and Greg Gokey rounded out the top five. Other movers included David Mielke who gained 10 spots going from 16th to 6th, and Logan Nickerson who picked up seven finishing 7th from 14th.
The next pair of Allstar Performance Late Model Challenge Series events will be during Memorial Day Weekend. Tri City Motor Speedway will host a traditional format Friday night before a two-day show heads to Merritt Saturday and Sunday. Saturday will feature preliminary and special races, with the main events being contested on Sunday. For more information, log onto either TriCityRaceTrack.com or MerrittSpeedwayMI.com.
Story - Zach Hiser, Horsepower Happenings
Photo - Randy Ellen