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WEST LIBERTY — As the IMCA Deery Brothers Summer Series for Late Models rolled into West Liberty Raceway on Saturday night, two of its perennially successful drivers came with more than one car in tow.
Two-time series champion Justin Kay and multi-time winner of the Yankee Dirt Track Classic Joel Callahan came as usual with their Late Models, but also with IMCA Modifieds. Kay picked up his second win in as many nights, backing up his Modified win Friday at Davenport Speedway with another Saturday at West Liberty.
Kay first dipped his toe in the Modified water in 2015 and ran several big money shows in it last year. For Callahan, Saturday night was the first time he’d ever turned a lap in a Modified. They’re two among a group of Late Model racers who are enticed by the myriad high-paying Modified races in the area — including but not limited to the $50,000-to-win Super Weekend at Farley Speedway in May.
“With the IMCA Modified you can travel, and it’s kind of fun to be able to go different places,” Kay said. “And it’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of money races around here.”
Kay and Callahan are joined in the Modified foray by seven-time Summer Series champion Jeff Aikey, who has yet to get his Modified on track, as well as Oxford racer Chris Simpson — who races Open Late Models primarily — who finished fourth in the IMCA Frostbuster race at Marshalltown Speedway on Friday night.
Fellow Late Model racer Matt Ryan, who won Friday night’s Rebel 5k, taking home $5,000 at Davenport Speedway, said he toyed with the idea in the offseason, too.
While it was tempting, he said, he felt like he wants to “ride this (Late Model) ship out until it sinks.”
“We got to thinking about it, and it wasn’t any cheaper of an option for us to do what I wanted to do going Modified racing,” Ryan said. “I can see why a lot of guys are doing it. It’s got a lot of guys interested. I just didn’t have time to keep two ready. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing.”
Kay eased into running Modifieds with regularity, and said it took him a while to be able to race both in the same night and be completely confident in separating his thought process. His success in Late Model in the last several seasons — more than 90 IMCA wins dating back to 2013 — was followed by a good amount in the Modified last year.
Kay won several main events, including a Hawkeye Dirt Tour main event at Knoxville Raceway, beating eventual series champion Chris Abelson head-to-head. He said his success in both cars has a lot to do with crew chief Tyson Gheer, but also with being able to split his focus effectively.
“Get good help around you; that’s the most important part,” Kay said. “I try not to think about the other car when I’m in one. If there’s extra money for both cars, why not take it?”
While Kay has established himself confidently in the Modified, Callahan got his first taste of pulling double duty.
Callahan said his first laps in the Modified “was like driving a go-kart,” and said the primary objective of racing both at West Liberty was to “shake it down a little bit,” and log some laps before those big races. Callahan joined Jason Rauen and Roger Simon in purchasing Farley Speedway, and their ownership group now promotes the races at West Liberty, Farley and Dubuque.
Big money shows are the greatest impetus, but Callahan also has some family to think of, as well.
“There are a bunch of Modified races coming at both Dubuque and Farley, and I’ve got a couple young boys who are going to start breaking into racing,” Callahan said. “We don’t know much about them, so we’ll learn as we go.”
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