Michael Tobuch Jr. hitting 4-cylinder heights at Grundy County Speedway
Written By: Tony Baranek
Michael Tobuch Jr. was pretty excited before Friday night's races at Grundy County Speedway.
He had every reason to be.
The defending track champion in the 4-cylinder division, Tobuch is the current points leader in his quest for a repeat.
But that wasn't what had him pumped up.
His dad, two-time Chicago area champion Michael Tobuch Sr., was coming out of retirement — at least for one night.
"It's going to be real fun," Tobuch Jr. said. "I've tried to talk him into driving our other car, but he didn't want to wreck it, and he really can't get in and out of it too fast. I'm always giving him stuff about it."
Dad rolled his eyes, but concurred.
"The bars are too low and I'm too big," Tobuch Sr. said with a laugh.
Senior is also smiling at the possibility that junior might soon tie him in career track titles.
"Oh, it's amazing," Tobuch Sr. said. "I'm really proud of Michael. He's really got it down, but I figured it would be only a matter of time."
Success has come along fairly quickly for the 17-year-old Monee native — at least in stock cars. The younger Tobuch raced from age 5 through 12 in go-karts, and then took two years off before starting his Grundy career in a 4-cylinder at age 15.
Last season, he edged out two-time champ Dan Schmeissing on the final night to take the title.
"It's still hard to believe," Tobuch said. "I know that my dad was real proud of me. He had tears on his face. It was a really good night, a really good year."
Now he's going for a double, with dad working on the car — even if it's a tight fit getting in one.
"Oh, he helps a lot," Tobuch Jr. said, laughing. "He does everything for me. Whatever he can, he'll do."
Oh, brother: Late-model points leader Billy Knippenberg had to overcome just one hurdle to secure his first feature win of the season.
Ironically, the Plainfield native needed to pass his own backup car — with his younger brother Tommy behind the wheel.
Tommy, who started on the pole, led the first five laps before Billy worked underneath him.
"I didn't know what was going to happen there," Billy Knippenberg said. "I put my brother in a really good race car. I wanted him to run good. That's why he's here, to try to compete.
"I showed him my nose a couple of times. He washed up in the middle and I put a bumper on him. The pass really wasn't that bad. My brother is a heck of a driver. I was agonizing more when I saw the scoreboard change and the No. 8 was second."
The No. 8 belonged to top rival Eddie Hoffman, who took second away from Tommy Knippenberg on lap 13. Hoffman went into chase mode, but without a yellow never got close.
The difference at the finish was 1.760 seconds. Tommy Knippenberg was third, followed by James Gregait and Jim Weber.
First-timers: Katie Hocking went wire-to-wire to win her first career 4-cylinder feature. The 16-year-old from Joliet held off James Dean by 0.230 seconds.
"I saw the lineup before we started and I knew if I didn't get going they were definitely going to catch up," Hocking said. "There were lots of fast people behind me.
"I was overwhelmed when I crossed the start-finish line. I started crying, because it was that feeling of, 'I finally did it.'"
Five-time Illiana Speedway street stock champion Bill Serviss won his first Grundy feature in a wire-to-wire runaway over Chad Bayuk and Randy Weese. Aaron Shelton also won for the first time in the Mid-American main over Matt Clemens and Kenny Benson.
Chad Bayuk back on top of the street stock pack at Grundy County
Written By: Tony Baranek
Chad Bayuk is having a career revival at Grundy County Speedway.
The 43-year-old Dwight native is sitting atop the points standings in the street stock division. Should he stay there the rest of the way, it would be his fourth track title.
The other three happened in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Bayuk raced one full-time season in the Mid-American class in 2011 and then hung up this helmet.
"It was a rough season," Bayuk said. "I got tore up a lot. I was ready for a break."
Bayuk was a pit crew member for Tim Stewart and teammate John Senerchia in 2016. It was at the 2016 banquet that Stewart made Bayuk an offer he couldn't refuse.
"He asked if I'd be interested in driving for him this year," Bayuk said. "I accepted the offer immediately, and it's been a fun ride ever since."
Bayuk went into Friday with an 821-795 points advantage over runner-up Senerchia. He has won one feature and two heats, but more importantly has consistently finished in the top five.
Finishing is a knack that Bayuk retained from 20 years of racing between 1991 and 2011.
"It was a good run," Bayuk said. "We'd had a lot of struggles, but we also had a lot of top-five finishes at the end of the seasons. Then Bill Knippenberg helped me put it all together. He was a big part of the championships."
Push and shove: Friday's late-model feature came to a grinding conclusion when Eddie Hoffman swapped sheet metal while passing Billy Knippenberg with four laps remaining.
Hoffman went on to beat Larry Schuler by 0.888 seconds. Knippenberg held on for third ahead of Pat Kelly.
Knippenberg is the points leader in the division, with Hoffman and Schuler right behind by a short margin.
He was not particularly happy about the method Hoffman used to make the winning pass.
"We're playing the points game, trying to be somewhat conservative," Knippenberg said. "I'm trying to race people clean, but for some reason people you think are your friends I guess aren't your friends.
"We'll race against each other again and we'll see how that works out for us. We haven't won anything this year. I'd really like to win a race. I have a fast car, but I just don't have luck on my side right now."
Knippenberg took the lead from James Gregait with a rub and run move on lap 22. A yellow on lap 23 allowed Hoffman to close up on Knippenberg's bumper. There was some give and take for three laps before Hoffman made an aggressive move pay off.
"I pushed Billy up out of the way one time," Hoffman said "Then I tried to give him room and keep it down low. He got a couple of good bites and he was able to stay ahead of me.
"Then I got another good bite and I shoved him up in the corner and was able to get by him. It seems like a lot of that pushing and shoving is going on. Either you partake or sit back and finish fourth."
Team effort: John Senerchia had three interesting restarts to deal with before winning the annual Candyman 33 Street Stock Special.
Each time, the two cars right behind him were teammates Tim Stewart and Chad Bayuk. There were no incidents after the green came out.
"We'll race … as long as we don't take each other out," Senerchia said. "If we have to get by, we don't rough it up, but we will move each other out of the way. Everyone is fine with that."
Senerchia beat Stewart by 0.402 seconds, with Bayuk a close third.
"Oh, that was cool finishing together," Senerchia said. "It's a special race, a big race.
"The last couple of nights we have been struggling with some fuel issues, but we got it straightened out and it went pretty good."
Kevin Gentile breezed to victory over Jeff Olson in the Mid-American feature, while Michael Tobuch edged out Kristi Odom and Katie Hocking in the 4-cylinder feature.
Cody Clubb goes wire-to-wire for career first in Jake Bradley Memorial
Written By: Tony Baranek
Before the race even started, Cody Clubb felt the emotion surrounding Friday's Jake Bradley Memorial 38 at Grundy County Speedway.
"I grew up with Jake and I watched him race," Clubb said. "It's sad that he's not here."
The Coal City native honored Bradley's memory with the strongest effort of his career, leading the 38-lap Mid-American special wire-to-wire.
Bradley, who was the division's Rookie of the Year in 2016, died in November at the age of 21.
The victory was the first in Clubb's five seasons of racing in the Mid-Am class. He had success earlier in his career on dirt, but his best finish on asphalt was second.
Clubb went into the night second in points behind division leader Matt Clemens.
"Last year was more frustrating because I had more seconds and thirds than I'd have liked," Clubb said. "I knew a victory was coming. I just had to wait for it."
Clubb qualified 11th in the 26-car field and started on the pole. He was tested during the last half of the race by Jeff Olson, but Olson never got close enough to make a pass attempt. Clubb proved superior on two late restarts.
"I thought that is where they were going to get me," Clubb said. "The worst part of the race for me was the restarts.
"It was definitely a long race. I wasn't expecting this. I figured they were going to eat me up. But they didn't, and I'm proud of that."
'Turtle' remembered: The local racing community is mourning the loss of Tom "Turtle" Weckler, who died July 12 after a lengthy illness.
Weckler was a mainstay on the Chicagoland racing scene dating back to the 1970s, when he campaigned 6-cylinder and late-model cars at Raceway Park with driver Pat Echlin.
For nearly three decades, Weckler sold and mounted tires at Raceway Park, Grundy and Illiana Speedway before retiring following the 2010 season.
Jim Nickias worked with Weckler in the tire pit for 23 years.
"He was just the kind of guy who had a good heart," Nickias said. "A lot of guys wouldn't have taken their car off the trailer if it wasn't for him giving them some tires and some rope to pay him next week."
Weckler's storytelling after the races always drew a crowd.
"Oh, he was definitely the last one to leave," Nickias said, smiling. "He was just a good time. If you came by Tommy after the races, he'd offer you a beer.
"Everybody just knew to come over. He gathered that all up on himself, because he really liked that. He was really for the racers and had a lot of good ideas. I think he would have made a good promoter."
Out for bounty: Paul Shafer Jr. tuned up for Saturday's late-model ARCA Midwest Tour Wayne Carter Classic 100 by winning the 30-lap feature.
Shafer was chasing down leader Billy Knippenberg with seven laps remaining when a yellow flag brought them together for a restart.
Knippenberg held his ground for three laps before Shafer worked his way by. Shafer went on to beat Rich Bickle by a comfortable margin. Larry Schuler was third and Knippenberg fourth.
Randy Weese finding his street stock swagger at Grundy County Speedway
Written By: Tony Baranek
When Randy Weese returned to street stock racing at Grundy County Speedway last year, he wasn't surprised to find plenty of competition.
"It has never come easy here," he said.
But the Morris native was surprised about one thing.
"The cars got a lot faster," Weese said. "Back when I started and John (Kelly) and I were doing this, we were qualifying at 18 and 19 seconds."
A year later, Weese is definitely up to speed. Friday night Weese turned a 17.688, topping the 18-car qualifying field.
That, and the fact that he entered the night with the division points lead, had the 62-year-old beaming.
"Yes sir, it feels pretty good," Weese said. "We're battling the car, too. We've gone kind of downhill the last few weeks, but I think we've got it back."
Weese got his start in racing in 1995 with help from brothers John and Pat Kelly. Pat Kelly was a Mid-American and later a late-model champion at Grundy.
John Kelly was his crew chief when Weese won his first street stock title in 1998. He repeated in 2003. Weese retired from racing after the 2012 season when he and his wife Dana opened a floor covering business.
He returned in 2016 in a street stock car built by Matt Olson and owned by Gary Bradley. By the end of May he won a feature race. Weese bought the car following the 2016 season.
Weese plans on a full-time run for the division title, but …
"At my age I kind of roll with the punches," he said, smiling. "If something breaks and we drop out or something, it isn't going to bother me. I have two championships already. I'm content with that.
"If another happens, it happens. If not, oh well. We'll just go have a beer."
Hanging tough: Ricky Baker struggled for much of the night, but came away the big winner in the 40-lap late-model midseason championship race.
The two-time champion took the lead on lap 2, but had his hands full early with Scott Koerner and later with Anthony Danta.
Baker was dueling with Danta with four laps remaining when Danta broke a rear end. Baker went on to beat Billy Knippenberg by 0.847 seconds. Eddie Hoffman edged out Koerner for third.
"I think he had the better car," Baker said of Danta. "I'm pretty sure he would have beaten me.
"We were slow when we got here for practice, we didn't qualify good and we've been changing stuff all night. I haven't driven it that hard in a long time."
In the Mid-Am feature, Matt Clemens inherited the lead when Kenny Benson and Kevin Murphy tangled with two laps remaining. Clemens went on to claim the win.
Chad Bayuk won the street stock feature over Bill Serviss.
Finding form: Chad Proctor's second-place finish behind Clemens in Friday's Mid-American feature was his best showing in a comeback season.
The only car Proctor couldn't beat was the one that he drove to the track title in 2010.
Proctor sold the car to Clemens after winning his second consecutive championship. He decided against a move up to the late-models, and sat out the next five seasons.
"The financial gap between Mid-Am and late-model I felt was too large for me to overcome," Proctor said. "I didn't see the point in spending a lot of time and money on another Mid-Am deal."
Proctor returned for a handful of nights in 2016 in a street stock prepared by John Kelly, John Ventrello and Bill Knippenberg. During the offseason he bought a Mid-Am from Kenny Benson.
"It kind of gave me the bug again," Proctor said of driving the street stock. "It was amazing. We struggled the first couple of nights, but the last night we finished third. We're having fun."
D.J. Weltmeyer makes most of last-lap chance at Grundy County Speedway
Written By: Tony Baranek
Dirty or duty?
Winner D.J. Weltmeyer and runner-up Billy Knippenberg had differing opinions.
But the final lap of Friday night's late-model feature at Grundy County Speedway, by any definition, was top-shelf dramatic.
As the white flag waved, Knippenberg was two car-lengths in front of Weltmeyer and appeared to have the race in the bag. Back in the pack, however, a spinout caused a yellow flag.
That set up a one-lap drag race to the finish.
After the restart, Weltmeyer drew up underneath Knippenberg on the back straightaway. As they raced through Turns 3 and 4, they were side-by-side.
The race to the checkered flag saw the two cars rub sheet metal. Weltmeyer edged out Knippenberg by less than a car-length.
It was Weltmeyer's first career feature win at Grundy.
"It was just something I had to do," Weltmeyer said. "I had a good run on him and I had to sneak my nose in there and had to go for it."
There was no confrontation on the postrace scales, but Knippenberg felt rubbed the wrong way.
"I'm not mad about the contact before," Knippenberg said. "I'm mad about the contact coming off of Turn 4, when it was either hit the wall or lift.
"I kind of feel that he drove me a little dirty there. But that's OK. That's how things go in racing. Someday, there will be a time, whether I give him a break or not."
Weltmeyer countered the aggressiveness was equal on both sides.
"There wasn't any kind of smoothness — it was just hard racing," he said. "We were both pedal to the metal, slipping and sliding. I knew he was going to door me going in, but I would too if I was in his same position. So it was just hard racing."
Eddie Hoffman finished third, ahead of Anthony Danta, Brandon Clubb and Jim Weber.
Coming up: When Nathan Bertino made the first jump of his racing career in 2016, it was a leap worthy of Superman.
At age 17, he traded in his Allison Legacy and minicup cars to drive a late-model at Grundy County Speedway.
"I thought I'd just run in the back and not worry about points," Bertino said. "But I had a good team behind me, and they pushed me to drive the best I could."
It paid off with three heat race wins and rookie of the year honors.
Now, he's ready for some bigger steps.
Bertino followed up an impressive fifth-place feature finish on opening night with a competitive run on Friday until a late spin took him out of contention.
The Lockport native raced for two seasons in both the Allison Legacy and minicup class at Grundy. He scored a handful of feature wins before getting an opportunity in a late-model.
It wasn't long before he was running up front with late-model veterans Eddie Hoffman and Anthony Danta.
"I've grown up watching them for years now," Bertino said. "I never thought I'd have the opportunity to race with them.
"They're fast. I just want to stay up there with them and improve bit by bit."
Under pressure: Mid-American competitive Kenny Benson had enough drama with veteran Kevin Murphy on his bumper in the closing stages of the feature race. Then his radiator started to overheat.
With two laps remaining, a yellow flag made the situation more dire.
"I was a little nervous," Benson said. "It was going. The motor was about to blow. Thank goodness we restarted the race. We got lucky we went back to green."
Benson beat out Murphy to claim the second win of his career. Kevin Gentile edged out Matt Clemens for third.
Derick Vertheen held off a late charge by John Senerchia to win the street stock feature. Michael Tobuch prevailed over Scott Gagen in the 4-cylinder main.
Anthony Danta flashes championship form in Grundy County Speedway opener
By Tony Baranek
Defending Grundy County Speedway late-model champion Anthony Danta is keeping his options open for 2017.
The 30-year-old Orland Park native may travel. He may stay home at Grundy. He may race part-time due to work requirements.
Danta and perennial Grundy standout Eddie Hoffman had an opening night crowd on its feet for a portion of the 30-lap feature, before Danta pulled away at the finish to record the win.
The winning pass was completed on lap 24, but it followed a side-by-side battle that began after a yellow flag tightened the field on lap 20.
"I respect Eddie a lot and I think he respects me as a driver," Danta said. "He gave me a lane when I showed him that I was there, and we raced it out. I think it was a great race for everybody to watch."
D.j. Weltmeyer won out in a battle with Larry Schuler for third. Early race leader Nathan Bertino and James Gregait completed the top six.
First flight: After back-to-back seasons in the street stock class in which she won the title and finished second, Christy Penrod made her late-model debut an impressive one.
The 19-year-old Burr Ridge resident was 11th out of 19 qualifiers and ran competitive laps in both her heat and the feature.
"We picked up some speed from practice to qualifying," Penrod said. "It was kind of a nice surprise. We weren't expecting to pull that (qualifying effort) off, but we did. And we're happy that we're going home in one piece."
The jump from street stocks to late-model is a big one. But Penrod had plenty of priming.
"It was a smooth transition because we were able to test all last season while were racing the street stock," Penrod said. "Now, to be in the late-model only and focusing on it, it seems to be going fairly well.
"Between the practices and just coming out and testing as much as we can, we really put our time in. I think it's starting to pay off."
Best battle: Randy Weese was a dominator in the 25-lap street stock feature, but the race for second was a testy one between Cheryl Hryn and Bill Serviss.
Hryn, a contender for the title at Grundy the past few seasons, led the first four laps. Hryn maintained second behind Weese until lap 20, when Serviss got underneath and made the pass.
Hryn, however, dropped down and right behind him, and with two laps remaining reclaimed the runner-up spot.
The refurbished No. 8 was fast.
"You never know… it's always a surprise on opening day," Hryn said, smiling. "I was very happy with the car until what happened (with five laps remaining), but I regrouped and got second place back. I'm fine with that."
Champ capitalizes: Defending Mid-American champion Ron Vandermeir Jr., was five car-lengths behind leader Kenny Benson with only five laps remaining in the feature event when a spun car brought out a yellow.
Vandermeir pounced on the opportunity and got underneath Benson on the restart to claim the win.
"It was going to be close (without the yellow)," Vandermeir said. "I think I may have been able to get to him with maybe one to go and give it a shot. But the caution definitely helped."
Copyright © 2017, Daily Southtown