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EAST MOLINE, Ill. — When Darrel DeFrance drew the pole position during the redraw ceremony Sunday at Quad City Speedway in East Moline, Ill., the crowd gave a haughty cheer.
The Marshalltown driver has been at all 473 events the IMCA Deery Brothers Summer Series for Late Models has held. Since 1987, the yellow No. 99D has become synonymous with the Summer Series, and its Iron Man has become someone fans and competitors alike revere.
Sunday night at the bullring that is QCS, DeFrance broke a Summer Series winless streak that dated back to 2013 at Dubuque Speedway, and the cheer he got in Victory Lane made the veteran racer emotional. Holding a victory cigar, the look on his face made him look much younger than a man who’s been racing for more than 30 years.
“I don’t smoke, but special occasions, I guess,” DeFrance said through a laugh as he held the cigar. “I think the fans like the young and the old. They like to see us old guys do good. It’s a humbling sport. This makes it all worthwhile.”
DeFrance got his 14th career Summer Series win after leading all 40 of the main event’s laps, holding off multiple challengers, including Luke Goedert — who fell out after contact with Rob Toland broke his left rear wheel — Jeremiah Hurst and Jesse Sobbing.
Sobbing’s run on the high side in the final five laps resulted in a side by side finish at the checkered flag, something DeFrance laughed at in relief.
He knew someone was out there in those closing laps, and with a win at his fingertips, those age-old gremlins threatened to sneak into his head. The side-by-side finish was thrilling, but a heap of stress for DeFrance.
“I didn’t have that (the winless streak) in my mind at all,” DeFrance said. “I saw (Sobbing) once (in Turns 1 and 2) and on the white flag lap, I knew he was there. I tried to use as much of that straightaway as I could. He raced me clean and I appreciate that. Good finish for the fans — not so much for me, but for the fans.”
DeFrance won ahead of Sobbing, Hurst, Rob Toland and Ray Guss Jr. — out of retirement — and took the $2,000 winner’s check back to his old yellow hauler that’s seen at every Summer Series show, too.
Sobbing likely needed just one more lap to complete the pass of DeFrance, but falling back in the middle of the race and a bobble while running along the cushion with two to go ended up too much to overcome. The series rookie had a bit of a laugh in the tech area himself, joking he was happy to make it to tech without a run-in with another driver — something he’s had happen at several races this season.
“I needed to not mess up with two to go or be better in the middle of the race,” Sobbing said. “Old Darrel, he’s pretty smooth. He did a heck of a job to keep the lead.
“I’m glad to finish in the top three, top five. I’m glad to finish. I’ve had some DNFs. It seems like we’ve had a rough go with some of these guys, and it looks like we were able to run with them just fine tonight. I’m just glad to be here in tech.”
The last few seasons have been a trying time for DeFrance. He wasn’t near as competitive as he had been in the past, and struggled to make many main events at Summer Series races.
DeFrance joked Sunday night that “as long as I’ve raced, I’ve quit 100 times (in my head) and I was always back the next week.” Persevering throughout the years despite frustrations that would push anyone to consider calling it quits, DeFrance got to enjoy the fruits of sticking with it.
But like one good golf shot keeps golfers coming back to the course, a win is an unmatched restorative. He’s won a couple weekly shows already this season, and believes he isn’t done yet.
“We’ve ended this drought; it took a while, and I hope it doesn’t take as long for the next one,” DeFrance said. “I hope this is the turnaround. We changed our car program. It’s resurrected me. I haven’t quit yet. I’m going to do this as long as I’m having fun, and tonight we’re sure having fun.”
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