Lebanon I-44 Speedway kicked off the 2019 season this past Saturday with the Nature’s Pantry 100. The Nature’s Pantry 100 featured the first ever race for the Ozark’s Asphalt Late Model Series and it did not disappoint. All four weekly classes also competed this weekend and each class put on a great show for the fans! Several new drivers found Victory Lane on opening night and they are looking to carry the momentum through the remainder of the season.
The Hornets kicked off the year with yet another door handle to door handle race on the short 1/5-mile inner track. In the heat race, Chris Albright led the field to green with Mason Mundy on his outside. Albright took control early and paced the field while the rookie, Dustin Atkinson, was breathing down his neck. At the halfway point of the race, Atkinson worked his way past Albright to steal the lead. After a quick caution on lap 8, Atkinson maintained the lead on the restart and led the remaining 2 laps to pick up the heat race win with Chris Albright in second and his brother Jeffery Albright in third. The field was set straight-up off of heat race finishes after a 0 was drawn for the field invert. Dustin Atkinson led them to the green and never looked back, but behind him, Chris Albright, Justin Gannt and Mason Mundy were battling hard. Gannt passed Chris Albright for the second position on lap 5, but Albright did not give up and managed to pass him back 5 laps later. Mason Mundy then found himself in third sandwiched between the brothers of Chris Albright and Jefferey Albright. At the checkered flag it was all Dustin Atkinson picking up the win in his first ever start in a Hornet with Chris Albright in second and Mason Mundy in third.
A solid field of Street Stocks were in attendance on Saturday and provided arguably one of the best races of the night. In the first heat race, Alex Shaw started on the pole with Trevor Icenhower to his outside. At the end of the first lap, Icenhower had made the pass and found himself in the lead picking up right where he left off in the 2018 season. Matt Pilant followed Icenhower to the front and stuck with him throughout the 6-lap feature providing a precursor of what we saw in the feature. At the line it was Icenhower, Pilant, and Alex Shaw rounding out the top 3. Heat number 2 rolled onto the High-Banks with Ben Johnson on the pole and Steve Shaw on his outside. Once again, the outside line prevailed and Steve Shaw was the leader after lap 1. Ben Johnson jumped in behind Shaw with Breken Johnson in third. Steve Shaw wheeled his No. 90 Street Stock as hard as he could for the 6-lap heat race and managed to pick up the heat win with Ben Johnson in second and Breken Johnson in third. The field was now set for the 15-lap feature with Trevor Icenhower and Steve Shaw making up the front row. Icenhower took the early lead, but Matt Pilant followed him past Shaw on the inside and immediately challenged him for the lead. Pilant stole the lead away, but the battle continued throughout the race. On lap 6, the yellow flag was displayed for the No. 9 of Alex Shaw who had spun on the front straightaway. The green flag came back out and Pilant continued to lead, but Icenhower wasn’t giving up. Steve Shaw was sitting in third watching Icenhower and Pilant go at it. Icenhower made several moves to the inside of Pilant, but just couldn’t get it done. Pilant went on to pick up the win in his first start on the High-Banks in several years. Trevor Icenhower finished second and Steve Shaw came home in third.
Big 10 Late Models
The Big 10 Late Models had a strong field on Saturday night with several new and first-time drivers. In heat race number 1, Aaron Douglas led the field to green with last year’s Champion, Jimmy Fohn, to his outside. Fohn took advantage of the high line and took the early lead. Fohn continued to lay down solid laps and earned his first heat win of the season with Aaron Douglas in second and 13-year-old Charlie Keeven rounded out the top 3 in his first ever start in an asphalt stock car. In heat race number 2, last year’s Pro Late Model Champion, Kennie Dickinson, started on the pole with Justin Blake to his outside. Dickinson took the lead and did all he could to pull away from the No. 15 of Blake. At the end of the 8 laps, Dickinson had held off Blake and went on to claim the heat win with Blake in second and Nick Cherry in third. Fohn and Dickinson led the field to the green to kick off the 20-lap feature. When the green flag waved, Dickinson used the high line to his advantage and took the early lead. Dickinson and Fohn battled for the lead in the early stages of the race while Aaron Douglas held down the third position. On lap 11, Douglas spun in turn 4 due to a mechanical failure which unfortunately ended his night. During this caution, Fohn had cut down a tire forcing him to pit for a fresh tire which sent him to the rear of the field. Dickinson and Justin Blake were now first and second. With the drama unfolding behind him, Dickinson was not phased. Dickinson led the remainder of the race to pick up the first win of 2019 with Justin Blake not too far behind in second and Jimmy Fohn, after a spectacular comeback, finished in third.
The open-wheel Modified division has always been a fan favorite at Lebanon I-44 Speedway and nothing has changed as they continue to provide some of the hardest racing each and every week. In the heat race, the father-son duo made up the front row and it stayed that way for the first few laps. Richard Lewis continued to pull away from the field while last year’s Champion, Ricky Icenhower, moved into the number two spot. Icenhower tried to reel in Lewis but ran out of time. At the line it was Richard Lewis, Ricky Icenhower, and Brian Lewis in the top 3. The field was set for a thrilling 20-lap feature with Richard Lewis on the pole and Ricky Icenhower on his outside. The green flag waved, and Icenhower rolled the top and moved into the early lead. For the first 10 laps, Richard Lewis stalked Icenhower and was able to make his move on lap 11 and take the race lead. The caution flag flew just a few laps later for the No. 0 of Michael Juergenson. On the restart, Icenhower and Brian Lewis battled hard for the second position which created another caution when Brian Lewis came to a stop on the backstretch after making contact with the outside wall. The green flag came back out with 5 laps to go and Richard Lewis was able to hold off Icenhower for the first win of the 2019 season. Icenhower came home second, and Chris Johnson finished third.
Ozark’s Asphalt Late Model Series
Last but not least, the Ozark’s Asphalt Late Model Series made their debut on the High-Banks of Lebanon I-44 Speedway. The night ended before it even started for the St. Louis native, Jake Piel, and also the De Soto Kansas native, Mandy Chick. Piel struggled with internal motor issues in practice while Chick lost her clutch in her first hot lap session. Both drivers will be back on April 27th to try it again! The rest of the Pro Late Model drivers kicked off their night with single car timed qualifying and the Hurryin’ Hoosier of Cole Williams paced the field with a time of 14.634. Tony Jackson Jr. was second quick with a 14.767 and Tim Swearengin rounded out the top 3 with a 14.865. A four-row invert was then applied to the field which put Dylan Bates, in his first ever Pro Late Model start, on the pole for the Nature’s Pantry 100 with the No. 35 of Steve Holt to his outside. Bates brought them into the restart box nice and easy to kick off the 100-lap feature and Steve Holt used the high line to his advantage and took control of the race early as Bates tucked into the second position. Holt, Bates, and Joe Ross made up the top 3 for the first 10 laps of the race until Brennon Willard went around in turn number 2 to bring out the first caution of the night. Cole Williams and Tony Jackson Jr. had made their way into the top 3 at this point and were looking to move past Holt on the next green flag run. Williams took the lead from Holt on lap 14, but Tony Jackson Jr. had other plans. Jackson stole the lead from Williams just two laps later and began to set the pace. While Jackson and Williams pulled away out front, the battle for 3rd-6th was heating up. Joe Ross was defending the third spot from Tim Swearengin and Dylan Bates, until the No. 67 of Jimmy Vanzandt came on strong and passed each of them one by one until he found himself in third on lap 39. On lap 48, the No. 3 of Brennon Willard blew his motor entering turn 1 which ended his night. During this caution, Cole Williams discovered an issue in the rear end of his car which turned out to be a broken axle which sent him to the trailer early. The race restarted at the halfway point with Tony Jackson Jr. in the lead and Jimmy Vanzandt had taken over second from a broken Cole Williams. On lap 57, Vanzandt and Joe Ross made contact battling for second sending them both spinning and to the rear of the field. Tim Swearengin had now recovered from a brake issue in the beginning of the race and found himself in second place with the No. 12 of Raymond Merrill in third. Terry Limberopolous and Joe Ross were now battling for the 4th position. On lap 84, Merrill made his way around Swearengin for second and tried to reel in the leader of Jackson Jr., but no such luck. At the finish line it was all Tony Jackson Jr. picking up the first $2,000 pay day of 2019 and taking the early points lead in the Ozark’s Asphalt Late Model Series. Raymond Merrill finished 2nd in his first asphalt late model start and Tim Swearengin rounded out the top 3.
The Nature’s Pantry 100 was an exciting way to kick off the season and we cannot wait to see what else is in store from these talented race car drivers! The next race at Lebanon I-44 Speedway will be held on April 27th and will feature another 100-lap Ozark’s Asphalt Late Model Series race, the Wheel Simple 100! All other weekly classes will also be in attendance, this is a race you do not want to miss! For more information regarding Lebanon I-44 Speedway and the Wheel Simple 100 check out our website at i44speedway.net or find us on Facebook!
By Dylan Bates