DuQUOIN, Ill. – It was a one lap shoot out for the ages, and when the dust settled in overtime, ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards veteran Tom Hessert emerged the winner of the 63rd General Tire GRABBER-Southern Illinois 100 Sunday night under the lights at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds mile dirt.
“This is so awesome,” Hessert said in victory lane. “We’ve been so close on the dirt so many times…to finally win one is just really, really cool. Very special.”
Hessert overcame an overheating issue early on in the No. 25 Detour Sunglasses Toyota to earn his sixth career ARCA Racing Series victory.
“Crazy night. We overheated so bad over that first run…we were just nursing this thing. We had a really good race car. I knew if we could just cool it down, we could win it.”
Hessert also had to work especially hard to hold off Ken Schrader, Chase Briscoe and Kelly Kovski who were nose to tail with the eventual winner over the last five laps. Coming up on the white flag, the caution came out when Matt Kurzejewski spun right in front of the leaders. That set the stage for the one lap sprint to the finish.
With Hessert electing to start on the outside, he got the jump on his Venturini Motorsports teammate Schrader. However, Briscoe got underneath Schrader into turn one and pounded the back of Hessert’s rear bumper through the corner. Hessert didn’t budge on the bottom and maintained a length advantage coming to the checkered flag with Briscoe, Kovski and Schrader trailing.
ARCA officials then ruled that Briscoe jumped the start on the inside and scored the Mitchell, Indiana rookie in fourth in the final result. Kovski after leading 14 laps, ended up second. It could have been much different for the local Illinois favorite, who gave up the lead on a late-race restart.
“Finishing second is cool, but I want to win one of these,” Kovski said. “I thought we had it won tonight. We had three or four car lengths, then the lapped car got us…the 48.”
Kovski, in the No. 16 Billingsley Towing-Hoosier Tire Midwest Chevrolet, indeed appeared to be on his way to victory lane but a restart with 10 laps to go put Kovski in a predicament with a lapped car which didn’t hold the bottom well enough to accommodate the leader.
“The lapped cars really sucked out there…no respect for the leaders. I feel like it cost me a race here tonight. The lapped traffic just didn’t hold the bottom. We got out in the marbles down in two and everyone got under us. We’ll take second, but we should have won it.”
Schrader challenged for the win late in the going but settled for third in the No. 55 Federated Auto Parts Toyota.
“We started third, run third…guess we’re just a third-place guy tonight,” Schrader said. “We didn’t overheat like a lot of ’em did…that’s a good thing. But, wow, DuQuoin at night…it was wonderful.”
In fact the race marked the first Southern Illinois 100 championship stock car race ever held at night.
Briscoe was one of those cars that overheated. After a lengthy stop to cool down the No. 77 Big Tine Ford early on, Briscoe found himself a lap down most of the way through. However, Briscoe got the Free Pass, got back on the lead lap and quickly proved he was one of the fastest machines on track.
“Good day, finishing fourth,” Briscoe said. “Felt like we had the car to win. It was frustrating. They said we apparently passed before the line. We were all just going for the same spot. We got a lap down early but the team rallied back. I definitely wanted the win, but a good points day. Really cool for Tom. He’s had a lot of struggles early on this year. He’s one of my best friends…great to see him get one.”
Another local favorite, Ryan Unzicker, also saw the win slip away, and that was after leading 33 laps in the back half in Bill Hendren’s No. 24 RJR Transportation Toyota. Unzicker elected to stay out while all the other leaders pitted on lap 15.
“It was a stupid mistake on my part,” Unzicker said. “We should have pitted. We only do this twice a year…I’m not accustomed to taking tires…probably cost us a win. We know we can win one of these. Every year I get more and more comfortable with this car.”
Unzicker, who led laps 49 to 81, built up a near straightaway advantage before a caution flag took it away. Then the El Paso, Illinois driver got hung on the outside while four cars slipped underneath on the restart. Despite a late-race spin that compounded Unzicker’s troubles, he still finished fifth on the lead lap.
Menards Pole by Ansell winner Grant Enfinger led the most laps, leading 39 circuits in the first half, before overheating issues relegated the defending race winner to 17th in the final running order.
Mason Mitchell, Tyler Speer and local favorite Joe Cooksey finished sixth, seventh and eighth. Cooksey, in Wayne Hixson No. 2 Chevrolet, was the last car on the lead lap. Thomas Praytor finished ninth, and Trista Stevenson, in her career-first start, finished 10th.
The next event for the ARCA Racing Series is the Eddie Gilstrap Motors Fall Classic 200 coming next Saturday night, September 10 to Salem Speedway. The event marks the 100th ARCA race at Salem since 1955. The party starts Friday afternoon with a historical sign dedication ceremony, driver autograph session and live band. NASCAR star Bobby Allison is the Grand Marshal.
-ARCA Racing Series Press Release & Photo