By JUSTIN SLY
Special to The Hays Daily News
SALINA -- The 2013 "Championship Night" at Salina Speedway will be remembered fondly in at least one Salina household. Coming into Friday's races, Justin Kinderknecht was looking to wrap up a title in the Mod Lite class and make a respectable showing in his late model. He can consider that "mission accomplished".
Kinderknecht began his night with a heat win in the #28G Mod Lite. Affected by strong breezes and a tricky racing surface, he struggled at the start of the 13-car feature while Danny Morrison, Jr. and Brandon Gray battled for the lead. Gray had an ill-running mount, but persevered to pick up his third win of the season over Morrison, Brian Davidson, and "rookie" Joe Cleveland. Justin gradually made his way through the pack, running as high as third, but brought out his own caution and fell back to ninth at the finish. It was good enough to sew up the "Auto House Towing" Mod Lite Championship. Chris Unruh was the winner of the second heat.
The 29-year old Kinderknecht capped off the evening by buckling into his late model. Starting from the fourth-row, he put his #1JR on the low side of the track and chased down leaders Alan Reinert and Scott Phillips. Following a restart on lap six, the Salinan grabbed the point and led the remaining laps to pick up his first late model "A"-feature win. Phillips came home in second, followed by the father-son team of Delbert and Daniel Smith. The elder Smith held off Darrick Klima to retain his hold on the "Friesen Chevrolet" Late Model Championship. Reinert and Kelly Dunn captured the heat races.
"It's been a long time coming" Justin quipped from victory lane. "This was my kind of track. Slick and smooth. I just had to baby it home once I got to the lead"
This win was especially sweet, as the Kinderknecht family has a long history at the Salina racetrack. They have been officials, promoters (known as Tri-Rivers Speedway), trophy girls (Mom and sister), scorers, and racers. Following the post-race burnout, Justin's father, Earl, had his son lead him on a short walk.
"He's no longer following in my footsteps. He's passed me."
The "Belleville Motor Sports" IMCA Modified main event was a high-spirited duel between two families that have been through the wars together. The Lagroons and the Morrisons have risen through the classes, topping the 4-cylinder classes to the super stocks, and trading paint and positions on a weekly basis. On this night, Corey was on a mission to make the top side work while Danny Jr. used the inside groove. The pair quickly shot to the head of the 14-car field and put on a clinic for the fans. They exchanged lines, used the crossover move, and swapped the lead throughout the feature. Lagroon finally put the #24 in the lead and Brian Knoell chased down Morrison to take the runner-up spot. Mike Petersilie and Jesse Richter won the heat races. Joe Cleveland locked up the 2013 championship despite missing the setup for the finale.
The "Coors Light" Street Stocks were added to the program, allowing all seven divisions to participate. Their final points race was the previous weekend, when Duane Toyne wrapped up the title. So with only money on the line, ten cars made the call for the green flag in the feature. Experience and teamwork won out, as veterans Jerry Phillips and Shelby Steenson put car #59 into the winner's circle. Driver, Phillips, used the small amount of moisture in the track's inside groove to work past Mike and Fred Traskowsky to grab the checkered flag. Toyne was second and Scott Miller ran third. The heat races were won by Mike Traskowsky and Curtis Woods.
Falun's Kurtis Pihl had two goals in mind as he started up his #3K for the "Xtreme Motor Sports" IMCA SportMod feature. Both goals were achieved as he outlasted the other 13 starters for the win, and improved to second in the final points. There were obstacles, as Brandon Belvill suffered mechanical problems while leading. And a final restart found Tyler Frye, the 2013 champ, and Tyler Sutton on his rear sail panel. Pihl deftly held off the pair, picking up his fifth win, and Sutton blew by Frye at the flagstand for second. Pihl and Mark Franklin took the heat race honors.
The "Budweiser" IMCA Hobby Stocks heat races were won by Salinans Dennis Berry and John Steele. But out-of-towners would steal the show in the 15-lap main event. Woodbine's Mike Traskowsky, the 2013 champion, maneuvered from his inverted fifth-row starting spot to the lead until the yellow flag waved with four laps to go. Points runner-up, Aaron McBride, and G.W. Fuller made contact on the initial restart which resulted in an improved position for Topeka's Brian Stich. Making his car stick on the high side, Stich worked past Traskowsky and Tony Slothower in the dash to the checkers for his only win of the season at Salina Speedway.
The "6th Annual Barry Brittendall Memorial", a race for front-wheel drive compacts, was held for the Mini Stocks. Dallas Dunn was the winner of the trophy, given in honor of the late Salina racer. In the rear-wheel drive sector of the "T&R Dirt Construction" class, Brian Dunsworth made the evening exciting. He zipped to the early lead, spun out and stalled his car to bring out the caution, and then picked off the field in dominating fashion to take his sixth victory of the year and cement his "champion" status. Stacey Huffman ran second, followed by Montague, May, and Eidet.
Salina Speedway plays host to the "Mid-America Clash" on October 3-5. Thursday is a practice night, and the qualifying program is to begin at 8 pm on Friday. Free tickets are available for the Friday night "FanFest" event. The season finale is set for 6 pm on Saturday, when the IMCA Modifieds, IMCA SportMods, IMCA Hobby Stocks, Late Models, and Mod Lites will run for the big money.