LaSalle, Illinois- 48 Lucas Oil MLRA Late Models converged on the tight quarter mile bullring at the LaSalle Speedway in LaSalle, Illinois for the opening night of the 7th annual Hoker Trucking Thaw Brawl on Friday night, March 30th. After Manhatten, Illinois pilot Mike Spatola set the night’s overall fast time with a lap of 13.339 seconds and all of the qualifying action was completed, Myles Moos lead the 22 car staring field to the green in the 50-lap, $5,000 to win weekend opener.
On the start, outside front row starter Rusty Schlenk took the initial lead, only to have the start taken back because of a Rodney Sanders spin in turn 1, but Schlenk was up to the challenge on the second start and took the top spot again from Moos before the second caution of the event flew on lap 1 for a three car crash involving JC Wyman, Rich Bell and Will Vaught in turn three. Again on the start, Schlenk put his #cj1 on the cushion and blasted back off into the top spot with great side by side battles taking place behind throughout the field, most notably for second between Ricky Weiss, Chad Simpson and Dennis Erb Jr early in the going.
A lap 15 caution bunched the field again, but again Schlenk took back off out front on the restart with Erb slipping by Weiss into second as the field completed lap 16. Erb began to pressure Schlenk for the lead while Erb, Simpson and Brandon Sheppard, who appeared in the top five on lap sixteen began to search around for the fastest way toward the front. A lap 19 caution again slowed the action, but just had been the case on the previous restarts, Schlenk forged ahead again and continued to lead as a 9 lap green flag run saw the drivers in the top ten jockeying for position lap after lap with Weiss and Sheppard running very close for second, while trying to stay within striking distance of Schlenk out front. Weiss was able to reel back in Schlenk just past the half way point of the event and pulled a slider in turns three and four on lap 28 and stole the lead from Schlenk just as the 5th caution of the event flew. Weiss was scored the leader on the lap and restarted out front with Schlenk and 5th starting Brian Shirley now in tow.
Weiss took off out front and lead lap 29 before another caution flew, stacking up the field again and allowing Shirley to blast by Weiss into the lead on lap 30. Two more quick cautions flew on laps 31 and 32, keeping the field tight, while Shirley was able to keep the field behind him all the while. The battles behind Shirley were intense as Weiss and Schlenk ran side by side for second with 12th starting Shannon Babb, Erb and Sheppard waging their own three car war for fourth for the majority of the race.
After a lap 36 caution, Shirley again set sail out front with Weiss and Schlenk in tow, while Babb and Sheppard were again door to door for fourth with just ten laps to go.
The tenth and final caution of the event flew on lap 42, forcing an 8 lap dash for the $5,000 top prize. Shirley reassumed the lead on the final restart and looked as if he was going to drive off for the victory, while Babb put his #18 on the top side and built up his momentum lap after lap, screaming by Weiss into second on lap 45 and charging after Shirley with just five laps to go. Babb ducked under Shirley on lap 46 but Brian was in the preferred groove and it appeared Babb was going to be content to ride home in second until Shirley jumped the cushion in turn one on lap 48 and upset the car enough to allow Babb to sneak under him for the lead as the field was headed for the white flag. As Babb raced under the white flag, Weiss made one last ditch effort to snag the top spot and pulled even with Babb as the duo raced down the backstretch for the final time. Weiss dug deep on the bottom, while Babb pounded the cushion one last time through turns three and four and Babb edged Weiss in a thrilling finish by 0.172 seconds in a near photo finish for the victory. Weiss would come home with a solid second, while Erb edged Sheppard for third and Simpson snuck by Shirley at the end to round out the top five.
A very happy Babb said in victory lane that ‘this is our first race of the season. We have been sitting on the couch, so I feels great to get this win to start the season off right.’
Babb advanced 11 positions from his 12th starting spot to claim his first victory of the 2018 season in front of a hearty group of race fans, who braved the cold weather to witness a thriller of a main event. The race lasted 45 minutes and was slowed by ten cautions. Thirteen of the original twenty two starters were running at the finish.
Night #2 of the Hoker Trucking Thaw Brawl is set to go green at 7pm on Saturday night with a $15,000 top prize on the line for the Lucas Oil MLRA feature winner. IMCA Modifieds and IMCA Sport Mods will be on the card for the second night in a row as well.