As hard as he had to battle to take second place away from Larry Schuler, it didn’t even seem possible Eddie Hoffman could have enough left in the tank to chase down Chris Cooling at the end of Friday night’s late-model feature at Grundy County Speedway.
But he did. In fact, the Wheaton speedster seemed to get stronger over the final handful of laps en route to claiming his fifth victory.
“I don’t know if we got stronger,” Hoffman said. “I think we just didn’t fall off, that same old story.
“I wasn’t sure we were going to get by Larry, either, because he was running pretty good. But when we got by him, I guess we just took off and chased down the next guy.”
The 30-lap feature went wire to wire without a yellow flag. That seemed to make it advantage Cooling, who after taking the top spot from Mark Sontag Jr. on lap 3 opened up a significant lead.
Well behind him, Schuler and Hoffman engaged in a raging battle for second, with Schuler on the outside and Hoffman on the bottom. At one point both got crazily out of the groove before making remarkable saves.
“I never touched (Schuler) but he was getting looser and looser,” Hoffman said. “I was like, ‘Oh, boy.’ I was going to go around the outside, but then he got so loose I was afraid he was going to right turn and hit me.”
At one point both appeared to freeze in their positions.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of choice,” Hoffman said, laughing.
Hoffman finally cleared Schuler with nine laps remaining. Four laps later, he had reeled in and passed Cooling.
“I knew what was happening behind me,” Cooling said. “I knew I was a long way out front, but I was looking at my lap times and I was consistently getting a tenth (of a second) worse, a tenth worse, as it went.
“I hung on and hung on as much as I could, but it is what it is. I’ll take a second, for sure.”
Points leader Ricky Baker came from well back in the field to claim third place, while Schuler, John Nutley and Sontag Jr. completed the top six.
Late-model heats went to Cooling and Ron Vandermeir Jr. Quick time was set by Baker.
Tommy Knippenberg moved another step closer to clinching his second consecutive Mid-American track title by capturing his ninth feature win.
Knippenberg made his winning move on lap 10, slipping underneath and past John Ventrello. From there Knippenberg ran off and hid, beating runner-up Ventrello by a whopping 4.255 seconds.
“We lost what we had there for about a month,” Knippenberg said. “We made some changes and got things better. I couldn’t be happier right now.
“We’re working on a second (championship), but it’s not over until it’s over. So we’ll see what happens.”
Behind the top two, Josh Nelms copped third place, ahead of Joe Vinachi, Kenny Benson and Luke Baldwin. Ventrello and Cody Clubb won heats, with Knippenberg setting fast time.
Pure stocks division leader Austin Blackwell took the lead from Mikey Slabenak on lap 6, then survived a late challenge from Zach Sontag to prevail in the 15-lap feature.
The win was the second of the season for Blackwell, who went into the night with a 41-point lead over Slabenak.
Third went to Slabenak, followed by Dan Schmeissing, Justin Mikel and Jim Gross. Alex Gay, Sontag and Slabenak were heat winners, with Spencer Leake setting fast time.
A caution-filled street stock feature went to points leader Eddie Ligue, his sixth of the season.
Ligue took the lead from Logan Love on lap 4 and stayed there the rest of the way. Second went to Jake Bradley, followed by Josh Nelms, Bob Davis, Timmy Stewart and Peter Hernandez. Bradley set fast time, with Ligue and Love winning heats.
Story by: Tony Baranek
Photo Credit: Brian Nolte/Fourth Turn Photos