Something unprecedented has happened at the Kankakee County Speedway this season. Well, obviously, this is the first year a season has run a shortened schedule because of a pandemic. On the track, this season stands out for another interesting reason.
Local racing fans would be hard pressed to remember a season in which two different divisions have been dominated by a driver who hadn’t won a Kankakee feature race coming into this year. This season, two drivers have won their first feature ever at Kankakee and then went on to win four in a row.
Matt Fabrizius, of Genoa, in the UMP Stock Car division and Austen Hubbard, of Valparaiso, Ind., in the UMP Factory Stock division each won their first Kankakee features this year and then went on to win the next three, including Friday night. Both drivers battled stiff competition in races that came down to the final laps.
“These guys have figured something out,” said track promoter Tom Smith. “Racing is a crazy deal. There are some seasons where guys will catch lightning in a bottle, but don’t think for a moment that it is all the car because these guys have shown a lot of poise and skill to earn these wins.”
Some Adversity and So Many Race Cars
Two of the biggest stories at the track Friday weren’t found in the race results. First, there was a record number of cars in the pits looking to compete (138 cars). This meant extra races on the track and some creativity when it came to arranging race teams in the pits. The second hurdle to overcome was because of a pair of blown fuses. On Friday night, the track went dark, and race officials and electricians sprung into action to get the lighting system back up and running.
Updating and improving the electrical infrastructure at the track has been a focus of the speedway crew and the Kankakee County fair board since the damage was done in the storm earlier this summer. The crews worked quickly to get expertise and fuses to the speedway.
Late Model Redemption
After being disqualified last week for a rules infraction, Torin Mettille, of Cullom, found some redemption Friday night with a hard fought UMP Pro Late Model feature victory. Mettille started in the third row outside position and withstood some early race chaos to claim the victory. Bill Knippenberg and Matt Hammond both turned in solid runs, finishing second and third, respectively.
In the UMP sport compact division, it was Jake Momper taking a very unorthodox victory. Matthew Balthazor appeared to have won the race but was disqualified by track officials for rough driving. The incident in question led to race leader David Lauritson being spun on the final lap of the race. Balthazor went on to cross the finish line first, followed by points leader Jake Momper. It didn’t take long for track officials to declare Momper the winner.
Momper, who had been running third on the final lap, was a little confused when he was told to report to victory lane.
“I’m not sure what just happened, but I’m happy to get the victory,” said Momper right after being named the winner.
In UMP Modified action it was Jason Hastings, of Kankakee, winning his third victory of the season. Hastings put on a clinic with how smooth he kept his car on the high side. But the race also had its tense moments when Hastings almost lost control of his No. 35 car on the high side in the early laps.
In UMP Pro Modified action, it was Billy Knebel, of Pocahontas, holding off a furious charge from Deece Schwartz, of Ashmore, to get his second victory in as many visits to Kankakee.
Views from the Pits
To kick off the races Friday night, Kankakee Police Sargent and military veteran Gary Tison drove his Pro Late Model model car around the speedway with an American flag out the window Friday night, as candidate for Kankakee mayor Angela Shay did the honors singing the National Anthem.
Friday night at the speedway will be a $5 admission night for fans in the grandstands. The admission price is a thank-you from the track promoter and crew for all the support in this unusual 2020 race season.