While much of the United States will be celebrating what is called “The Official Last Weekend of Summer,” the ARCA Menards Series drivers are spending part of their weekend competing in race No. 17 of the season. It’s also the final dirt race of the season.
Flashing back, Michael Self and his No. 25 Venturini Motorsports team gambled halfway through the race at Illinois State Fairgrounds to score their fourth win of the season, Self’s first since Michigan in June. The Venturini’s have been a force to be reckoned with this year in the ARCA Series, winning 11 races out of the 20 race season. They look to continue their dominance this weekend in DuQuoin.
One driver looking to continue their momentum and dominance is previous race winner, Self. As in Illinois, he will also be making his first start at DuQuoin this weekend. However, that proved no problem when he won in his first-ever ARCA dirt race. Self hopes the momentum from that win at Illinois carries over to Saturday night’s race at DuQuoin.
“I had an absolute blast learning how to drive the ARCA car on dirt at Springfield and I’m hoping some of the knowledge I gained there will help out for my first time at DuQuoin. I’ve got the same mindset going into this race as Springfield and that’s that I just have to be open-minded and that I don’t necessarily know what to expect, so learning is really what’s going to be key throughout the day. I’ve been told that while they’re both dirt, they’re completely different racetracks. I’ll be leaning on a lot of the people around me for insight again.”
His teammate Christian Eckes fell one spot short to Self after having a shot to win on a late-race restart. The Middletown, New York native has one start in last year’s race where Eckes started third and finished fourth.
“I had a lot of fun at DuQuoin last year,” says Eckes. “We fought track position for most of the day but felt like we had a pretty solid car. We’re excited to get back to business. We’ve got four races to go; we’re down but not out by any means. Ready to give it our all.”
While some of the Venturini Motorsports drivers have little dirt experience, dirt standout Logan Seavey returns for his final ARCA race of the season in the No. 20 Venturini Motorsports Toyota. Seavey is the defending race winner at DuQuoin in his only start at the track. He started fourth and led 35 laps. Seavey is ready for Saturday night’s race at the fairgrounds.
“I’m ready to go again with Venturini Motorsports this weekend at DuQuoin,” said Seavey. “Springfield didn’t quite go as planned, just being a little too tight to be as good as we needed to be. But I know DuQuoin races well and fits a dirt racer style a lot better so it makes me look forward to it even more. I know the 20 Craftsman Camry will be just as good as it was last year. We just need to put the whole day together and I think we will be tough.”
Like Seavey who isn’t competing full-time in the ARCA Series, there two other one-off drivers that are also competing this weekend at the dirt track in DuQuoin. One of them is FALS Late Model Champion Ryan Unzicker who will be piloting the No. 24 Toyota. Unzicker has seven starts at DuQuoin, earning two top-fives and five top-10 finishes with 42 laps led and a best finish of fourth in the 2017 race.
“It is really tight at the front of the field for these ARCA races right now,” Unzicker said. “It doesn’t really matter if some of these young kids have any dirt experience or not. They are really talented and they’re going to pick up on it really quickly. Sometimes all they need is a 30-minute practice session and they’re set.”
Despite there being a packed field with a load of talent, Unzicker recalls his race at Illinois where he finished ninth after starting fourth.
“We had a great car in practice,” he said. “We were the fastest by far all day long. We had made some changes that worked really well for practice and qualifying when the track was still tacky but when the feature started they didn’t work at all. They weren’t anything we could undo on a pit stop so we were stuck with it. I think when we get to DuQuoin you’ll see what we’re really made of. I’ve always had better results at DuQuoin than I do at Springfield anyhow. It’s only two weeks after Springfield so I am already used to the car and the driving style. I don’t have to readjust to it after a year away from it.”
Like Unzicker who is making only two starts this season, Kelly Kovski is also competing in the two ARCA dirt tracks in 2019. Kovski is piloting the No. 16 Mike Allgaier machine with the help from Truck Series regular and former ARCA competitor, Grant Enfinger. Kovski has 13 starts, two top-fives and seven top-10 finishes with 33 laps led and a best finish of second in 2016.
“We seem to take a little time getting up to speed and to get going,” Kovski said. “The driver needs to show up. I own this car with my dad and we get a lot of help from Mike Allgaier so the last thing I want to do is go out early in practice and tear it up. I didn’t get a lot of practice at Springfield because the track was really wet and muddy early in the day. We just lacked speed at Springfield. We need to come to DuQuoin with something different so we’re going to take a shot in the dark and come with a different setup. It’s going to be more of a traditional dirt car setup and less of an ARCA car setup. It’s going to be quite different.”
As mentioned, Kovski can lean on Enfinger for advice whenever he needs it.
“Grant’s one of my best friends,” he said. “We go back to when he was driving for the Allgaier’s in 2011. We had a lot of ups and downs. We’ve yelled at each other a little. We’ve had a lot of really good times together. I worked with him almost throughout his entire ARCA career. I love that he wants to come back and work these two dirt races. I absolutely know that the Truck deal is a priority but it really makes me feel good to know he wants to be here and he puts as much effort into this as he does.”
Chad Bryant Racing’s Joe Graf Jr. is hoping to break the dirt standouts and the Venturini powerhouse team, Graf pilots the No. 77 Eat Sleep Race machine and had a great race going until he was involved in an accident at Illinois, but he was able to come back and finish 10th. Graf has one start with a finish of 11th in 2018.
“I feel like we got robbed a little bit at Springfield,” said Graf who sits fifth in the ARCA Menards Series standings. “We had a decent day, made some strides, but just had some misfortune that kept us from a better day.”
Graf hopes to have a better outing this weekend at DuQuoin.
“I’m ready to get after it,” Graf added. “Night racing on the dirt should be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a little different and we’re going to have to make sure we keep up with the adjustments from practice and qualifying but once that green flag drops, it’s go-time and I’m going to do everything I can to get our No. 77 EAT SLEEP RACE Ford Fusion up front and stay there.”
Graf’s teammate Corey Heim will be making his first DuQuoin start Saturday night. Heim raced at Illinois and had a shot to win in an overtime restart before checking up and falling back to finish seventh after restarting on the outside front row.
“We were so close,” said Heim. “I know things got very interesting and bumpers were used late at Springfield and I’m sure if roles were reversed, I would have done the same thing – but our finish wasn’t any indication of our performance throughout the race and that’s frustrating for me as a driver because I don’t settle for anything less than perfection.”
“At Springfield, we were almost perfect. “He (Self) was down on the inside and he pushed me up the track and used me up. I got up into the loose dirt and gave up a lot of spots. It’s disappointing to go from second to seventh but that’s part of racing for the win.”
Bret Holmes is making his second ARCA DuQuoin start in his family-owned No. 23 machine. Holmes competed in this race two years ago, starting 11th and finishing 12th, one lap down. In the previous race at Illinois, he earned a third-place finish. Holmes is hoping to better his DuQuoin finish from 2017.
“We didn’t get the finish that we should have gotten two years ago at DuQuoin (State Fairgrounds). We actually got wrecked as we were taking over the lead. DuQuoin is a little bit different than Springfield. It’s a little bit slicker and harder on tires. I have the experience on dirt tracks. Two weeks ago, we ran really well. I think we’ll have the same showing this weekend and hopefully go for the win this time.”
Carson Hocevar, who competed in the Eldora Dirt Derby earlier this month, is excited for another start on dirt. This will be Hocevar’s second dirt ARCA start in his career.
“I am really pumped up for DuQuoin this weekend. My confidence going in is at an all-time high based off our speed at Springfield. Our finish doesn’t show it but we were the fastest car there and we’ve got even more ideas going into this weekend to improve our speed. It’s been a little bit of a frustrating year based on results, but if we execute in every area throughout the day we should be in the right spot to finally win in our No. 28 GMPartsNow Chevrolet.
Drag boat driver Tyler Speer will be making a rare ARCA appearance this weekend. Speer has starts mainly on the dirt tracks in the ARCA Racing Series with the exception of Rockingham, Talladega and Mobile. However, it will be Speer’s first race in over two years in the ARCA Menards Series, where he finished 14th in the 2017 DuQuoin race.
“Last year we only planned on doing a couple of boat races but we got off to such a great start that we stayed with it the whole year,” he said. “We set a fast time and won the first two races of the year so we decided to chase the championship after that. We always like coming and running these ARCA races and we’re happy the schedule lined up just right to let us do it this weekend. I wish we could do more of them.”
Other drivers on the entry list include Wayne Peterson, Dick Doheny, Tommy Vigh Jr., Bobby Gerhart, Riley Herbst, Travis Braden, Brad Smith, Will Kimmel, Tim Richmond and dirt track ace Ken Schrader.
There have been tons of race winners at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. The include names like Lee Raymond, Dean Roper, Bob Keselowski, Bob Strait, Bob Brevak, Bob Schacht, Billy Thomas, Jeff Finley, Frank Kimmel, Tony Stewart, Ken Schrader, Parker Kligerman, Steve Arpin, Chris Buescher, Grant Enfinger, Tom Hessert, Austin Theriault and Logan Seavey.
It’s a one day show for the ARCA Menards Series drivers with practice starting at 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday and lasting an hour. General Tire Pole Qualifying follows at 5:30 p.m. CT. There is no live TV coverage for either event but you can follow along at arcaracing.com.
The Southern Illinois 100 is slated to get underway Saturday, shortly after 8 p.m. CT, 9 p.m. ET. The race is 100 laps and 100 miles and can be seen live on MAVTV.