Wednesday, September 7, 2016

DuQuoin Doubly Delightful Under The Lights

The picturesque DuQuoin State Fair track has a lake in the infield
I was able to make up for the Springfield rainout of the USAC Silver Crown race two weeks ago by adding the DuQuoin round for the series to my ARCA duties this past weekend. The weather was perfect Saturday for the loud and fast open wheelers to do their thing under the lights on the hard southern Illinois clay. And they put on one helluva show as ageless Jeff Swindell led for much of the race before Chris Windom passed him for the win with less than 2 laps to go in the Ted Horn 100. There was only one incident for the whole race, which in itself was amazing considering how close these guys run with one another,. It is hard to beat the thrill of standing next to the guardrail taking photographs as they race by you just inches away. Oh my, how I love that feeling! The "Magic Mile" definitely earned its nickname Saturday night.

AJ Fike  (3) ran in the top five all night until he got a flat tire on the last lap
Only one USAC competitor was doing the DuQuoin double last weekend as AJ Fike has run almost a full time ARCA schedule this year in addition to taking in selected Silver Crown races. I love being able to see guys like AJ show off their versatility and then have the chance to talk to them in the hotel elevator late at night to get their take on how things went. This weekend was my first shooting an ARCA event since the series added my name to the staff page on its website as "Chief Photographer" and I think that helped me gain credential access through the nice folks at Track Enterprises for the USAC portion of the DuQuoin weekend. Back in the 1990's, a bunch of us used to come over from Indy to DuQuoin for the Silver Crown race when guys like Tony Stewart, Johnny Parson, Jr. and George "Ziggy" Snider were regulars in the series so this was my first time shooting Silver Crown here in years. Those races were usually hard fought affairs and this year's version was no different. And they raced close and clean all night. Imagine that! If you want to see more of my Silver Crown photos, then follow this link.

Ryan Unzicker looked like a winner but couldn't maintain the pace
The next day was ARCA's day to headline on the mile dirt and the weather was noticeably hotter than it had been on Saturday. Thankfully we did not have a "stupid-thirty" meeting at the track, as I heard someone describe it, and I was able to eat a good breakfast at the hotel before driving back the 40 or so miles to the track. The track was in good shape and unlike at Springfield, we were able to maintain the planned schedule of practice, qualifying and racing. I went outside Turns 1 and 4 during our practice session to get shots of the cars running ass-end out through the corners, so naturally I got a nice dusting of fine Illinois clay on my cameras, face and clothes.

Overheating was a serious problem and it ruined Grant Enfinger's race
The expected onslaught during the race from the local dirt track "ringers" did not disappoint as Ryan Unzicker and Kelly Kovski both looked like potential race winners throughout the day and the ARCA regulars knew they were in for a dogfight all night. Last year's ARCA champion Grant Enfinger appeared to have the field covered until a blocked radiator caused his engine to overheat which knocked him out of the race just past half distance. Late in the race, veteran Tom Hessert caught Kovski after a restart and passed him for the lead when Kovski got bogged down by a lapped car with less than five laps remaining. Kovski lost momentum and dropped back which allowed Kenny Schrader to put his Venturini Motorsports machine into second. Schrader was dogging Hessert until Kenny's own team driver, Matt Kerzejewski, spun on the white flag lap to bring out a caution and set up a one lap shootout. Quite a few eyebrows were raised when that happened but Hessert took the outside line on the restart and motored away to the win with Kovski taking second and Schrader third ahead of points leader Chase Briscoe who was penalized for jumping the last restart.

Tom Hessert and the Venturini Motors gang were ecstatic with the win
All in all it was a great two days at the race track and the Silver Crown race was kind of a bonus shooting day for me but it really helped me get ready for the ARCA race since last year we ran in the daytime and I wanted to check out the lighting. Now we go to Salem Speedway this Saturday for the 100th ARCA race at the rugged, high banked half mile in southern Indiana. This is the track where I really started to appreciate the ARCA series back in 2006 and I've been going religiously ever since. I've got some good friends down there and the racing is always fierce. Chris Bell is entered to defend his win in this year's spring race, Frank Kimmel will be in Cunningham's 22 car, and Bobby Allison will be there along with a host of other former ARCA winners at Salem. It should be another long day but it will be a blast. Until then, check out more of my photos from DuQuoin at this link.

The infield lake at DuQuoin makes a nice reflection of the Josh Williams machine driven by Michael Lira in his first dirt race

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