By Mike Bennett – South Buxton Raceway – Fellow racers and fans knew it was only a matter of time before Jim Fletcher won his first career Modified feature.
And the Louisville driver picked the perfect time to answer everyone’s expectations, winning the UMP Modified ‘A’ main in the Canadian Fall Shootout on Saturday night at South Buxton Raceway.
“I can’t believe, it still hasn’t sunk in,” Fletcher said outside of his hauler, about an hour after collecting his $2,000 cheque.
It was first his feature win since 1998 in the Sport Stock class before he took a 12-year break from racing.
He returned to run a partial schedule last season, splitting seat-time with rookie Darryl Hoekstra’s before both got full rides this year.
“I’m pretty proud to win this and glad that Eugene and Cathy (Hoekstra) gave me this opportunity to race again,” Fletcher said of his car owners.
He also became the first driver not named Brian Ruhlman to win the UMP Modified division since it was added to the Shootout in 2008.
Ruhlman, who won the first four Modified Shootouts, finished second.
Meanwhile, Blenheim’s Andrew Reaume borrowed Kirk Hooker’s car and led all 35 laps for his third Shootout win in the UMP Late Models.
Fletcher started in the sixth position but moved up to third place before the 24-car field completed its first lap.
He passed Chatham’s Brian Speelman for second on lap seven and took the lead on lap 14 when leader Louis Clements, of Chatham, broke an upper ball joint that eventually led to a tire coming off in turn two.
“I honestly don’t think I would have had a car for Louis, he was fast,” Fletcher said of Clements.
“He’s a good friend and I hated to see it happen, but it worked out to my advantage.”
For the final 15 laps, Fletcher had to keep the four-time Shootout champion at bay.
“All I was thinking, if I run my high line, Ruhlman would have to do a lot of work to get by me on the bottom,” Fletcher said.
A caution with three laps to go did nothing to shake Fletcher’s confidence as held won by for than four car lengths.
Fletcher credited crew chief Scott Ball for making changes to the car from Friday night’s third-place finish in the Schinkels Gourmet Meats Modified season championship race.
“Scott and I had a good talk and we made the changes to the shocks and springs that we thought we needed … and I could tell in the heat race that we had a contender.”
David Mielke, from Gladwin, Mich., finished third, with Shrewsbury’s Jim Dale Jr. fourth and Fletcher’s teammate Hoekstra fifth.
Reaume had what appeared to be a little easier ride to the Winner’s Circle, leading from the drop of the green until the wave of the checkered for his third Late Model Shootout win in four years.
“It was not easy at all,” Reaume admitted.
“I had to work for it. It (the track) got black and pretty slick, I had to really wheel it a few times around the cushion,” he said.
Reaume took advantage of his front row starting spot to take the lead coming out of turn two on the first lap.
Ridgetown’s Dale Glassford ran second from laps three to 26 and although he was able to get under Reaume on restarts through turns and two, he was unable to make the pass.
“When the right rear hit that cushion, I could roll in the throttle and could feel my seat move,” Reaume said of his great launch off turn two.
“I knew no one was going to pull off the bottom like that.”
Brandon Thirlby, from Traverse City., Mich., took up the chase for the final nine laps but was unable to pull off a last-lap pass as he did a night earlier on Glassford to win the South Buxton’s season championship race.
Ruhlman, who was also the defending Late Model Shootout champion, finished third, with Kevin Reeves of Hanover, Mich. fourth and Glassford fifth.
Reaume was prepared to watch the Shootout from the stands as his car was still under repair from a crash earlier n September in Ohio.
He was working on Hooker’s car last week and accepted a late invitation to run the Shootout.
“I think I was more nervous watching him race than I ever was driving myself,” Hooker said.
“It was great to see Andrew and that Country View car in the Winner’s Circle.”
On Friday, Thirlby passed Glassford coming out of turn four on the final lap to win the Glencoe Auto Recyclers UMP Late Model championship in dramatic fashion.
“I was either going to be a hero or a zero,” said Thirlby, the UMP champion for the Michigan-Wisconsin-Canada region. “I just stayed on the throttle through three and four to the checkered.”
Glassford tipped his hat to the winner.
“It’s always disappointing to finish second but that was one of the most fun races I’ve been in the last few years,” said Glassford.
“I’ve won a couple on the last lap like that this year and it’s a great feeling when you win by a half-car length,” he said.
“When you get beat like that, you have to suck it up and say that’s racing … but that sure was exciting.”
Points champion Gregg Haskell, of Chatham, finished sixth.
Dale Jr. led all 25 laps of the Schinkels Gourmet Meats UMP Modified championship race and clinch his eighth career points title.
It was the sixth time he has completed the sweep in his 31-year career. He has a track record eight championship race wins and is tied with Merlin’s Brad McLeod with eight points titles.
“This race is definitely the top one because I did with Bunky and the 39 on the car,” said Dale Jr., who transformed his No. 00 car to tribute to his crew chief, six-time track champion Brent Gibbons and his No. 39 Hallmark Flyer.
“He’s been with me forever and I don’t how many years he’s going to be with me, so I planned on doing this (tribute) since the start of the year.
“Now, I’ve got to win the points once more because I don’t want to be tied with Brad forever,” Dale Jr. said with a smile.
Hoekstra drove a solid race to finish second, with Fletcher third.
Rob Quick took the lead from fellow Cottam driver Denis DeSerrano with three laps to go to win his second carer Tirecraft Comp 4 championship race win.
Blenheim’s Shawn Jones, who also got by DeSerrano, finished second to wrap up his third straight points title.
Blenheim’s Trevor Jones was fourth and Tilbury’s Gerry Rivait fifth.
Photos by James MacDonald / www.ApexOnePhoto.com