Rocky Ragusa's Speed Week column

During the off season of 2017, Fairbury’s Jeff Curl found a complete late model operation for sale. The Rocket Race Car was a proven winner in the past and all it was going to take for Curl to become acclimated was learning the differences of racing a modified to a late model.
    In only his eighth race ever in a late model, the 40-year-old driver was able to score his first-ever late model feature last Saturday night at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway.
    The 18-year racing veteran had always hoped to one day turn his attention to racing in the premier class of the UMP. Racing his No. 12 modified, Curl is a past AMS Modified champion and three-time track champion at Fairbury.
    Becoming burnt out and with the modified becoming more like work, the time was right to change directions in his racing career.
    “It is tougher now with the modified. It got harder to stay on top of our game and keep up with the newest technology,” said Curl. “We didn’t travel as much and some nights, it would become harder to go to the shop and work on the car. Now, the late model has energized us.”
    Curl, along with his crew members Ryan Shiflett and Kerry Tredennick,  have shown enthusiasm and eagerness to learn the various components on what makes a late model work.
    “We are anxious to learn about the technology of the car. It is challenging for us,” Curl said. “I am starting over, but at a higher level than I did with the modified. Scott Bull and McKay Wenger both were successful with their modified and late model program. That is the kind of path I want to follow.”
    Originally, Curl had plans to race in the regular weekly late model shows and run in the higher paying modified races.
    “The idea was with some weeks, the late model class wouldn’t have full fields and we would be able to get plenty of laps and the experience,” Curl said. “We have made strides each week.
    “After the win last week, I decided to race in the Summer National race at Fairbury. This week is our gauntlet. We will need to have our ‘A’ game on to make the show.
    “Hopefully, I can qualify better and start toward the front of the feature. The race will be 50 laps. I will need to manage my tires and if things go our way, I feel we can be towards the front.”
    A longtime fan of Billy Moyer, Curl will get the chance to finally race against his idol. In the past five years during Fairbury’s Summer National and Prairie Dirt Classic, Moyer has parked beside Curl and offered him advice on his modified.
    “That is another reason I decided to race this weekend,” Curl stated. “I always wanted to be like him. He has always been one of the best in the business. I will now, hopefully, be able to say I raced against him before he hangs up his helmet.”
    Along with his crew, Curl mentions several more people that have helped or stood by him this year. “Mike Spatola has been a tremendous help on setup advice for me. Roger and Daren Friedman, not only build my motors, but have helped us with different ideas with springs and shocks.
    “My wife, Bridget, has been so supportive of this deal. Racing wives can never get enough credit for all that they have to put up with. The time commitment is tough when you spend time in the shop. A lot of times, Bridget will go solo to weddings or family reunions. She is the main reason that our racing has worked out.”
    While part of his dream has been checked off with his first win, Curl has other long term goals before he ends his career.
    “I have aspirations to win a late model track championship. With the right opportunity, I don’t see why I can’t go to Eldora and try to make the World 100 or go to Knoxville. I might not make the show, but these are some of the races that I have only dreamed about being part of.”
Friday Racing
Farmer City Raceway
    The Vintage Racing of Illinois make a special appearance this week, plus there is a reunion of all the past greats from Farmer City. Late models, modified, pro late models and street stock racing is also planned. Hot laps start at 6:30 p.m., with time trials and racing to follow.
    Kevin Weaver (late model), McKay Wenger (modified) and Josh Griffith (street stock) were among last week’s winners.
Grundy County Speedway
    An on-track autograph session will take place before the night’s racing at 7. A full show will be featured in four classes. Qualifying is at 6:15 and racing at 8.
    Ricky Baker won the Frank Welsh Memorial late model race over second generation driver, Paul Shafer Jr.
Kankakee County Speedway
    Street stock drivers will compete in a $500-to-win special, plus racing in all the regular classes. The green flag waves at 7:30 p.m.
    In last Thursday’s Summer National race, Shannon Babb was the winner of the $5,000 late model race, while Mike Harrison took the modified special. Torin Mettille was the pro late model feature winner.
    Mettille made his first-ever trip to Shady Hill Speedway (Indiana) a successful one by winning the $1,000 race.
Lincoln Speedway
    Racing will return on July 1 for the DIRTcar Summer National special.
Saturday Racing
Fairbury American Legion Speedway
    On July 4, 1986, FALS held tits first-ever Summer National race with Springfield-area racing legend Dick Taylor taking the featured race. Since that time, the track has held the traditional summertime racing event 28 times. Billy Moyer heads the list with six wins, followed by Shannon Babb, Kevin Weaver, Dennis Erb Jr., Bobby Pierce and Jimmy Mars with three.
    This Saturday night, the series makes its annual stop to Fairbury for a 50-lap, $10,000-to-win show with Rhino Ag serving as the event sponsor. The Summit Modified Series will also be part of the night’s festivities with a $1,500 payout to the winner of the night’s show. Street stock drivers will also race on the night, with $800 going to the race winner.
    Fans can expect many of the top drivers from throughout the region. Hot laps will start at 6 p.m., followed by time trials and all the racing action.
    Race teams and fans that will be arriving early are encouraged to support the SELCAS Ambulance Service biscuit and gravy breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. All proceeds will benefit the Chenoa 4th of July fund. The breakfast will take place at the American Legion building, east of the track, at the corner of Pine and 4th Street.
Macon Speedway
    Twin 40-lap features for the pro late models and modified class headline the night’s card, with action in four other classes. Hot laps will start at 6 and the first green flag waves at 7.
    Dakota Ewing (pro late model) and Tommy Sheppard Jr. (modified) were among last week’s winners.
Peoria Speedway
    Six classes will be featured this week as a regular night of racing be take place. Hot laps start at 5:30 and racing at 6.
    Billy Drake won on the opening night of the DIRTcar Summer Nationals, while Mike Harrison took the modified portion.
Sunday Racing
Bohmer’s Rt. 66 Raceway
    Kart racing is planned for this Sunday. Gates open at 10 a.m. with racing at noon. Free admission and full concessions are available.