Scratching that late model itch with the K&N Pro Series at Lebanon I-44 Speedway
Kansas City used to be a hotbed for asphalt late model short track stock car racing, with at least two tracks here in the area. Over the years, those tracks have either closed or been covered with dirt, so now the only asphalt circle track is the big one-and-a-half-mile Kansas Speedway. But I’ve been jonsein’ to see some good late models on a paved track lately, and the only way to do that is to hit the road.
So last Sunday afternoon my dad and I took the three-and-a-half hour journey to Lebanon, Mo., to watch the NASCAR K&N Pro Series compete at the .375-mile I-44 Speedway. Now, the actual race wasn’t even scheduled to start until 7:00 p.m. (and it didn’t actually start until 8:00), there was some rain in the forecast, and there weren’t all that many cars. Plus, we had to make it back to Kansas City that night so we could be ready for work the next day. But in spite of those issues, I’m really glad we went.
It has been years since we visited this track, but time has been good to it. It’s owned by the Willard family, who has a big rock quarry and concrete company. That’s definitely a plus in this case, because it’s one of the few tracks that everything is paved and landscaped, and you don’t head home with two inches of dust in your hair. This track really is a standout, with nice suites and a great terraced backstretch parking area known as the “Wild Side.”
Like I mentioned before, the main event this night was the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. This is the touring NASCAR short track late model series that covers the western part of the United States, so most of the field consisted of drivers from places like California and Canada. I knew a couple of the drivers from the old All-Pro Series, but it seemed like the majority of the toughest competitors were 15-17-year-old kids. I mean, they are starting young in this series, and not only that, they are damn good drivers.
There were only 16 cars in this deal. It isn’t because the drivers didn’t want to come, but they had already run a race earlier in the weekend at Iowa Speedway. That track is twice as long as this one, and it did a number on some of the engines. So between that and whatever they wrecked up there, it was tough to get 30 cars to the Ozarks.
They didn’t necessarily need them, though. 23-year-old Michael Self put on a pretty good show all on his own. His Richard Childress-owned #21 Chevrolet got knocked out early in the race, so he had to work his way back up through the pack. He was sitting in third on the final lap when Cameron Haley and Greg Pursely battled side-by-side for the finish. Self then decided to dive underneath the two leaders going into turn four, and somehow managed to spin both of those guys out while keeping control for the win. It was more like a perfectly executed pool shot than a car racing maneuver, but it was nonetheless exciting to watch. By the way, you can see it too if you tune in to the rebroadcast on the SPEED Channel June 20.
They also ran the local late models and modifieds. In the late model race, Mike Slone took the checkered flag first, did a bunch of spectacular burnouts, and participated in the trophy celebration. His car then failed to pass inspection, so the win was given to Matt Wallace, who is the son of NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Mike Wallace. Awk-ward! Incidentally, Mike Wallace was the first-ever late model winner at I-44 Speedway many years earlier. The modified feature was won by Tyler Scott in his nice looking but basically nondescript #57 car.
I had a really fun time at this event. I dug my 22-year-old Larry Phillips T-shirt out of storage. I got to see some great racing. And I ran into lots of old friends that I knew from back in the days when I worked at tracks like this. Plus, track General Manager Kevin Greven gave me access to the pits so I could shoot a few pictures of the cars before the show. And as usual, I am sharing those pictures with you in the slideshow below. Or click this link for a better version.