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KANKAKEE — Had it not been for Dave Wittington and the rest of Kankakee County Speedway’s pit crew working tirelessly all Friday evening there wouldn’t have been seven newly crowned feature winners on Friday night during the jam-packed event which featured an extra UMP Pro Late Model feature race.

Up until around noon on Friday, it looked like action at Kankakee County Speedway was going to have to be cancelled for the second time in three weeks. However, that was until Wittington and his crew dialed in for about 11 hours starting at 8am in order to get the track ready by race time.

“I got to the track at about 8:30 in the morning and it was still pretty wet from the Wednesday rain,” Wittington said. “...we were able to get the track somewhat solidified to be able to start working and I was finally able to grade it by 2:30 p.m.”

A huge part in getting the track ready was using a road grader to make the track as smooth as possible. That, along with a sheep's foot roller to compact the wet clay together allowed Wittington to avoid having to cancel the races that included a rare extra feature race on the agenda. Thanks to a couple of sponsors, the speedway was able to hold two UMP Pro Late Model feature races, an anomaly from the standard racing night.

“Basically giving the racers two features is for double pay,” Wittington said. “Instead of running a heat race and one paid feature, they get a chance to compete for two paid features, which means more money in their pockets.”

Erwin’s win draws mixed reaction from the crowd

After securing first place in the first heat, UMP Stock Car racer Megan Erwin set herself up perfectly by getting the inside position on the front row to begin the 15-lap feature race. It allowed her to jump out to an early lead before three yellow flags were drawn due to collisions, with the latest one coming with one lap to go.

Erwin held a slight lead over Zane Reitz who was coming on strong on the outside position heading into turn three when the two made contact and put Reitz into the wall. Erwin held on to the lead and took the victory. In victory lane she and drew mixed a combination of cheers and boos from the crowd.

“I know some people won’t believe this, but I didn't see him there,” Erwin said on Victory Lane.

UMP Factory Stock Car Feature comes down to the wire

Unlike most of Friday night’s feature races, the 15-lap factory stock car feature came down to a two-man race between Nathan Arterberry and Jacob Kolwyck. Driving the No. 22 car, Arterberry started the race off in second-place before he quickly took the lead on first lap. Following two yellow flags with 13 and 11 laps to go, Kolwyck nearly cut off Arterberry on lap six following a turn, but Arterberry held him off as the two went neck and neck down to the final turn where Arterberry secured the victory.

“It was a lot of fun going side by side with Kolwyck,” Arterberry said. “I appreciate him racing me clean... he’s a good dude.”

The win gave Arterberry his first feature win of the 2021 season.

Big collision in the UMP Pro Modifieds

Jake Montgomery and Billy Knebel looked like they both were in prime position to come out on top in the 15-lap feature race. Montgomery jumped Knebel in lap one to take first-place where the two continuously fought for the top position before the two collided with just eight laps to go.

Neither racers could overcome the damage to their UMP Pro Modified race cars which left Deece Schwartz, who began the race in fifth position, to maneuver himself into first-place after the final yellow flag was waved with eight laps to go. It was a position he never gave up as he cruised to the checkered flag with ease to secure the victory.

“I was kind of hoping that would happen with all four of us racing each other, and so I was kind of disappointed with the crashes,” Schwartz said. “It happens to everybody and so you can't really say anything else.”

Nonetheless, the first-place win helped Schwartz gain his fifth feature victory of the season.

Allen sneaks a victory in the UMP Modifieds

If the first lap was any indication, Nick Allen wasn’t going to come out on top in the 20-lap feature event. Allen made an uncharacteristic mistake sliding off the top of turns one and two on the opening lap losing several positions. Allen slowly but surely got himself to front of the pack thanks to finding some consistency on a track that was still tacky and developing ruts.

With about half of the race completed, Allen managed to overtake Steven Brooks for second before he slid past Rich Dawson using a strong low groove run with nine laps to go before he went on to celebrate in victory lane.

“Me and my crew have been working on some things trying to get through the runs a little better and so I think we made a little bit of an improvement today,” Allen said.

Local driver wins extra feature race

Typically, Kankakee County Speedway only holds six feature races throughout the night. However, when it came to Friday night’s contest, the track opted to hold an extra UMP Pro Late Model race.

The 20-lap race was held in between the track’s heat races, which determined the positioning for the feature races held later in the night, and it wasn’t even close. Matt Hammond, a Bourbonnais native, completely dominated the feature event by going on to lead every single of the 20-lap race to help him secure his second feature victory of the season.

Knippenberg wins in a clean race

The only feature race of the night to avoid any yellow flags came in the second 20-lap UMP Pro Late Model race of the night. Nathan Lynch began the race on the pole position before Billy Knippenberg edged him out on the final turn of lap one. From there Knippenberg turned on the jets, cutting each turn with precision to pave his way to his second feature victory of the season after never surrendering his lead for the final 19 laps.

“It’s awesome to be here on victory lane because this is my first feature win here ever,” Knippenberg said. “...I’ve won a lot of features over the years. In fact this is the 75th feature victory of my career and so I’ve won a lot of championships, but this one means a lot to me because it's the one I didn’t have. I thank Kankakeee speedway for working as hard as they did because they had a lot of work to do here to get the track ready all night long.”

Bathalzor wins final race of the night

The final race of the night was a bloodbath with three-straight yellow flags being drawn with five and six laps to go.

Matthew Balthazor was able to avoid the chaos to come up with the victory after he took the lead with 10 laps to go and never looked back.

“It’s memorable that in the heat race I had a flat tire and just barely won it still and then in the feature it was pretty easy,” Balthazor said. “I don’t know how far the cars were behind me...I just had to get the win.”

Cody is a sports journalist who's been with the Daily Journal since 2020. He's been a sports reporter since his days at the University of Iowa where he graduated in 2019.