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WEST LIBERTY — For the last year or so — mid-2013 to now — IMCA Late Model racers have, for the most part, been chasing one driver all across Eastern Iowa.
Wheatland native Justin Kay has been the man to beat wherever he’s gone lately in the IMCA ranks, and kept that rolling last night at West Liberty Raceway when he won the IMCA Deery Brothers Summer Series main event.
The win marked his second in Summer Series competition this season, to go along with 15 weekly racing wins in approximately 14 weeks of competition in 2014. By just about any measure, that’s dominance.
“He found something, hit on something, and he’s really good,” said Nick Marolf, who finished second to Kay last night after swapping the lead seven times during the 40-lap main event. “We’re kind of all chasing him.”
Kay became the first repeat winner on the Summer Series tour this season, but had to work to do it. He started third, but the caution-free race was between he and Marolf the whole way.
With Kay running the low line and Marolf the high line, the two were side-by-side for the first 20 laps of the race. The only obstacles for the front two were lapped traffic and a dirty track from “crumbs” — bits of dry dirt on the inside edge of the track — being kicked into the racing groove by racers searching for grip.
Both drivers gave the other credit for racing hard but clean and said trading the lead was equal parts fun and frustrating.
“Wow, that was a great race,” said a near-speechless Kay in Victory Lane. “It seemed like I could never get two good laps in a row, one end or the other. Once I started getting (Turns 1 and 2) down, I got back in it.
“Getting by those lapped cars helped. He might’ve struggled to get by — I know I was struggling to get by. It’s all part of it.”
Kay gave a wry grin when asked why he’s been so fast this season, attributing most of the success to the man who spends more time wrenching on his orange No. 15K than anyone, Tyson Gheer.
When you’re at the top of the mountain, so to speak, you start to lose a few friends in the pits and the target on your back gets bigger every week. Kay and his team welcome the challenge, if only because it means they’re running so well.
“It’s kind of run, really, (to have the target on us),” Kay said. “There are some interesting things (some competitors) come up with that they think we’re doing and why we’re fast. Me and Tyson seem to be clicking and it just seems like he knows what to do with the car, what I’m feeling, and he knows what to change. That means everything.”
Summer Series competition director Kevin Yoder hears the gripes and the accusations from some, and has the luxury of getting to watch with benign amusement.
But he’s watching closer than anyone, and certainly hasn’t played favorites. More than once, including after Saturday night, Yoder and Summer Series officials have taken a sample of Kay and others’ tires after the race to be tested for chemicals that add grip.
It’s the nature of the beast, Yoder said, to have more attention paid — both positive and negative — when a driver is succeeding.
“Any time anyone wins a lot, their competitors start to question the legality of the car and the fans start to get on them too. I talked them yesterday, and they’re waiting for the boo birds to start,” Yoder said after the main event. “He’s won some races, but he hasn’t necessarily won them by half a lap. He just always finds himself right there at the end.”
Among his peers at the front of the pack, Kay gets plenty of respect — even if it’s in joking frustration. They recognize he’s fast and can see he’s worked for it, but that doesn’t mean they have to like it.
Marolf said he feels like he’s gaining on Kay at Summer Series races, and it’s making he and his team work even harder to beat the best at the moment.
And the man who’s chasing Kay in Summer Series points, Andy Eckrich, is conflicted, too. Kay bought his car from Eckrich’s Precision Performance, so it’s a mixed bag when Kay wins for the Cosgrove native. On one hand, it’s good for business, but on the other it’s bad for his championship hopes.
“He’s really good right now. I’m just glad they bought a car from us so we can take some of the credit,” Eckrich said through a laugh. “They’ve got good communication, good chemistry. We sometimes make fun of (NASCAR) guys saying that on Sundays, but when they’re off, they’re not off for very long. For us, it takes us two weeks (to get fast again), for them it takes a heat race.”
IMCA DEERY BROTHERS SUMMER SERIES
WEST LIBERTY RACEWAY RESULTS
1. Justin Kay, Wheatland; 2. Nick Marolf, Moscow; 3. Kyle Hinrichs, Swisher; 4. Brian Harris, Davenport; 5. Andy Eckrich, Cosgrove; 6. Denny Eckrich, Tiffin; 7. Jay Johnson, West Burlington; 8. Colby Springsteen, Wapello; 9. Tyler Bruening, Decorah; 10. Ryan Dolan, Lisbon; 11. Rob Moss, Iowa City; 12. Jeff Aikey, Cedar Falls; 13. Spencer Diercks, Davenport; 14. Jonathan Brauns, Muscatine; 15. Kevin Kile, West Liberty; 16. Tommy Elston, Keokuk; 17. Joel Callahan, Dubuque; 18. Scott Fitzpatrick, Urbandale; 19. Ron Boyse, Kalona; 20. Darrel DeFrance, Marshalltown; 21. Jeremy Grady, Story City; 22. Nate Bueseling, Silvis, Ill.; 23. Jason Rauen, Farley; 24. Ray Guss Jr., Milan, Ill.
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