Friday, February 21, 2020

The USA Late Model Nationals

Steve Kosiski would win the inaugural USA Late Model Nationals in 1992. Ms. 34 Raceway, Jenni Carlson joins Kosiski in victory lane. - Dennis Krieger Imagery

By Kyle Ealy
Burlington, Iowa – A dream of race promoters Ron and Susan Pallister became one of the biggest late model events in the Midwest.

The USA Late Model Nationals at 34 Raceway would draw the very best late model drivers from near and far.

“These late model guys are my heroes,” Pallister would say. “They need to get the limelight. There’re been national races for other forms of racing, but never anything for the late models. This is their opportunity.”

The inaugural event in 1992 would surpass Pallister’s expectations. The original plan was for about 40 to 45 drivers to enter the event. Instead, 65 late models registered for the races.

“We didn’t think it would be this big this quick,” Pallister said. “This has exceeded what we expected to have.”

So, what drew the top drivers and their late models to the 3/8-mile dirt track located near Middletown, Iowa?

“The money,” said Rollie Frink of Davenport, Iowa.

“The money,” said Steve Boley of Oxford, Iowa.

“Definitely the money,” said Joe Kosiski of Omaha.

The winner of the 100-lap feature was to receive $5,000 plus there was an additional $1,000 in lap money.

Originally scheduled for August 25-26, 1992, the Tuesday-Wednesday format would be postponed because of heavy rains. It would be rescheduled for September 1-2 only to see those dates rained out as well. Finally, on Tuesday, September 8, the USA Late Model Nationals became reality…

The six top qualifiers in time trials automatically qualified for the feature. The next 14 positions were filled in qualifying races.

Terry Schlipman of Mendon, Ill., was the fastest driver in qualifying with a one-lap time of 16.87 seconds around the 3/8-mile oval, .02 faster than second-place driver Steve Kosiski of Omaha. Tom Hearst of Tipton, Iowa, and Ray Guss Jr. of Milan, Ill., won 25-lap qualifying features and Joe Kosiski, the NASCAR Central Region point’s leader, won the $1,000 Pallister Pallet Challenge featuring the top six qualifiers.

Rain would continue to be a factor, though, with Wednesday’s 100-lap championship feature rained out and moved forward to Thursday.

Thursday’s feature would be a family squabble as Steve and Joe Kosiski as the Omaha, Neb., drivers dominated the race, with Steve passing Joe for the lead on the 83rd lap and then holding on for the win and the $5,000 first-place prize.

A change of driving lines was enough to boost Steve past his older brother and claim the inaugural event.

“His car was a lot faster than mine early in the race, but when I quit trying to pass him on the inside and moved up the track, I found I could get more speed,” Steve said.

Joe looked like he was going to lead the entire race. He led the first 82 laps and seemed headed for the win before Steve found a new driving line.

“I couldn’t get around him on the inside,” Steve said. "When I moved to the middle of the track, I found I could get out of the corners faster and get more speed. Joe thought he was going to have to move down low to hold me off, and that’s how I got around him.”

Ray Guss Jr. finished third in the race. Jay Johnson of West Burlington, Iowa, who started 13th, finished fourth. Gary Russell of Carman, Ill., finished fifth.

The second annual USA Late Model Nationals finished up its first day of time trials and qualifying races on Monday, August 23, 1993, with no clear-cut favorite emerging.

As one driver mentioned afterwards, “Take your pick, this is one tough field.”

Bryan Wanner of Winfield, Iowa, was fastest of 41 late models, timing in at 18.06 seconds and Steve Boley of Oxford, Iowa, the NASCAR Central Region point’s leader, won the 6-car fast dash and $1,000.

The Kosiski’s, back again for more, saw Ed and Joe win 25-lap qualifying features while the defending winner, Steve, was one of the six fastest qualifiers.

Ray Guss Jr. was the 1993 USA Late Model Nationals winner. Cathy Coppes makes the trophy presentation. - Mike Svoboda Photo

The next night, one driver made it crystal clear…

Ray Guss Jr., led all 100 laps to claim the title in the event. The Milan, Ill., driver started on the front row and passed polesitter Steve Boley on the first lap. Guss would survive challenges by Steve and Joe Kosiski, as well as several caution periods late in the race which tightened the field.

“I kept hitting the holes,” Guss said. “I was able to keep control, but it was rough. “The restarts made me nervous, especially at the end,” said Guss, who earned $7,000 with the win.

Steve Kosiski settled for second with big brother Joe taking third. Curt Martin of Independence, Iowa, took fourth with Steve Boley in fifth.

Gary Webb’s weekly set-up at 34 Raceway would produce the same results at the USA Late Model Nationals on Tuesday, August 23, 1994. Webb had won four weekly features at the track and also the NASCAR Busch All-Star Tour feature at the track in July.

“This is the same set-up we’ve used every night here,” the Davenport driver said as he collected the $7,000 prize money. “We didn’t change a thing.” 

Gary Webb of Davenport, Iowa, added another trophy and paycheck to an already successful season by winning the 1995 USA Late Model Nationals. Ms. 34 Raceway, Corina Nichols, makes the presentation. - Dennis Krieger Imagery

Webb led the final 25 laps of the 100-lap feature after taking the lead in a three-car duel with Johnny Saathoff of Beatrice, Neb., and Steve Boley of Oxford, Iowa.

Webb took the lead on lap 35 when leader Ray Guss Jr. tangled with second -place Steve Kosiski. That gave the lead to Webb, who was in third place.

Saathoff, who snatched the lead from Webb on the 64th lap, found himself trapped on lap 74 when Webb and Boley came up to challenge for the lead. They went three-wide into the first turn, with Webb coming out the leader.

Webb set fast time during Monday’s qualifying, touring the 3/8-mile in 17.331 seconds. Layne Meyer of West Union, Iowa, won the six-car Fast Dash while Boley and Steve Sutliff of Carman, Ill., won 25-lap qualifying features.

The fourth annual race, held on August 22, 1995, would see another Kosiski family shootout, this time with Joe outlasting his younger brother Steve.

The slightly older Kosiski led the final 37 laps to take the $8,000 top prize and become the fourth different winner of the event. Steve Kosiski was able to stay close to his brother but was never able to make a move for the top spot.

“I think the starting spot helped,” said Joe, who started from the pole position “Plus, I was able to save the tires.”

Joe Kosiski took the lead on the 63rd lap when Ray Guss Jr., the 1993 winner of the event, cut a right rear tire and slid off the backstretch.

While the Kosiski’s were battling it out, a lot of other contenders would fall by the wayside. Along with Guss Jr., Jay Johnson of West Burlington, Iowa, Monday’s fast qualifier, was among the top five when he suffered damage on lap 72. His father, Johnny Johnson, also a top-five contender, dropped a few laps later with a flat tire. Bob Dominacki of Bettendorf, Iowa was creeping up on the leaders when a tie rod snapped on lap 92.

Rick Wending of Hazelton, Iowa, would finish third in the 100-lapper followed by Ryan Fierge of Quincy, Ill., and Ryan Dolan of Lisbon, Iowa.

The USA Late Model Nationals would suffer tragedy in December of 1995 when Susan Pallister, wife of promoter Ron Pallister, passed away following a lengthy illness.

The race would go on, but with a new name…The Susan Pallister Memorial - USA Late Model Nationals.

When the fifth annual event took place on August 21, 1996, a decision awaited the field. Drivers were given a choice of tire – they could run either NASCAR or IMCA race tires for the 100-lapper. The majority of those chose IMCA tires. One driver decided to go with NASCAR tread…and he would choose wisely.

Brian Birkhofer’s decision paid big dividends. As the track began to put down rubber in the late stages, Birkhofer’s tires took hold of the track while the cars with IMCA tires began to push out in the corners. Birkhofer took advantage, passing defending champion Joe Kosiski on lap 89 and pulling away to win the $9,000 payday.

To date, it was the biggest late model victory for the young Muscatine, Iowa driver.

This is probably my biggest win yet,” Birkhofer said. “It hasn’t really hit me. The most I had ever won before at one race was $3,000. I don’t know what I’ll do with $9,000. It will definitely do my bank account good.”

Rick Wendling and defending champion Joe Kosiski would lead the field to green with Kosiski getting the drop on lap 1. He would proceed to lead the next 88 circuits with Wendling in tow the whole distance.

Birkhofer, who started in the middle of the field, made his move with 15 laps to go. While Kosiski and Wendling were having problems with their cars pushing out in the turns, Birkhofer’s tires took hold on the tacky track. Birkhofer went low in the front straight-away on lap 86 to get by Wendling for second place, then set his sights on an unsuspecting Kosiski with 11 laps remaining.

“I thought there was no way I was going to win this,” Birkhofer said afterwards. “After I drew the 14th spot, I was just hoping to finish in the top 10. I was just racing, trying to find the fastest groove and pick off as many cars as I could.” 

Jay Johnson of West Burlington, Iowa, collected his biggest late model win ever in the sixth annual USA Late Model Nationals. Ms. 34 Raceway, Heidi Newman presents the check while Bill Newman presents the checkers. Johnson's children are also pictured. - Dennis Krieger Imagery

Jay Johnson would add his name to the Susan Pallister Memorial - USA Late Model Nationals trophy a year later, August 20, 1997, with a dominating performance. Johnson would lead 92 of 100 laps, taking the win and the $10,000 paycheck.

Johnson knew he had strong car when he went out to hot lap before the feature. He quickly found out how his car was handling on the 3/8-mile dirt oval.

“I found out they were clocking me on the stopwatch running the same time at the top and bottom of the track,” Johnson said. “I thought the car felt pretty good.”

Johnson took the lead on the seventh lap from Gary Russell of Biggsville, Ill., and held it until the 83rd lap, when former champion Gary Webb passed Johnson. But two laps later, Johnson went high in the third turn as Webb became trapped behind Russell and powered by Webb and took back the lead.

Johnson would build a three-second lead from there and sail to the win. Webb hung on for second while Mark Burgtorf of Quincy, Ill., who started 17th, took third. Jeff Aikey finished fourth and Jay’s father (and track owner) Johnny Johnson earned fifth after spinning out on lap 24 and restarting at the rear of the field.

Johnson, who also won one of the five qualifying heats Monday night, became the sixth different winner in the six years of the event. Webb was the only returning champion in the field.

During Monday’s preliminaries, Jeff Guengerich of Washington, Iowa, Gary Russell, Gary Webb, Johnson and Thad Trump of Kahoka, Mo. Curt Martin of Independence, Iowa, was quick timer with a time of 17.478 seconds. 

Changes were in store for 34 Raceway and the Susan Pallister Memorial - USA Late Model Nationals in 1998. One of the most successful racers in 34 history, Ron Jackson, was taking over the promotional reins. And, for the first time since it started in 1992, the USA Late Model Nationals would become sanctioned. The race would be ruled and regulated by IMCA and the event would become part of the popular Deery Brothers Summer Series tour.

How fitting it was that the tour’s hottest driver would be the winner after the checkered wave on Monday night, September 7, 1998. Cedar Falls, Iowa’s Jeff Aikey had a record-setting year on the Deery Brothers Summer Series, winning seven of the 15 races run in the series.

Aikey, starting from the third row in the 100-lap, 28-car feature race, got past IMCA national champion Mark Burgtorf on the 20th lap and never looked back. Aikey opened his lead through the middle of the race and pulled away for the $10,000 win.

For Aikey, the win was a record-setting eighth in the series this year and was the richest payday of his career. He lapped all but four cars in the 28-car feature race.

“This is my biggest win ever,” Aikey said. “This is definitely the most money I have ever won. On the way down here, I told the boys I was going to win, and I was going to lap the field.

Burgtorf finished second, just ahead of Rob Toland of Hillsdale, Ill. Tommy Elston of Keokuk, Iowa, finished fourth, while Terry Schlipman of Mendon, Ill., finished fifth.

The victory was Aikey’s eighth on the series and he became the seventh different winner in the seven-year history of the USA Late Model Nationals.

Saturday night’s prelims found Boone McLaughlin of Mediapolis, Iowa, setting fast time with a 16.829 second clocking. His heat win put him on the pole for Sunday night’s race. Burgtorf, Johnny Johnson, Terry Schlipman, Jeff Laue of West Burlington and Aikey. 

Jeff Aikey of Cedar Falls, Iowa, would become the first two-time winner of the USA Late Model Nationals, 1998 and 1999. He's shown here in victory lane after winning the '99 race. Promoter Ron Jackson (far left), Ms. 34 Raceway Jennifer Fiedler and Bill Newman join Aikey in the celebration. - Kelly Underbakke Photo

Aikey would make history the following year, becoming the first driver to win the USA Late Model Nationals two time when he pulled off the feat on Sunday, September 5, 1999.

While not the dominant performance like the year before, Aikey took the lead from Rob Toland of lap 29 and increase his margin over the remaining 70 circuits to win easily in the non-stop, flag-to-flag feature.

“The car was tight at the beginning, but my crew told me that’s the way it was going to be,” said Aikey. “After we burned off some fuel, the car was lighter and ran perfect.”

Terry Schlipman, who started 22nd after winning a last chance qualifier, charged through the field, battled with Toland and former champ Jay Johnson for most of the race, and finished an impressive second. Toland would settle for third while Mark Burgtorf took fourth. Johnson would round out the top five.

A new winner would emerge when the USA Late Model Nationals Susan Pallister Memorial took place on September 2 and 3, 2000. Sixty-five late models attempted to qualify for the 26-car field that would compete for 100 circuits and the $10,000 winner’s share.

When the dust settled, Mark Burgtorf of Quincy, Ill., reigned supreme, becoming the eighth different driver to win the prestigious event.

Mike Smith of Jewell, Iowa, would take the lead at the drop of the green but Darren Miller of Chadwick, Ill., would scoot past him on lap 2. Miller would prove to be the fastest man on the track, extending his lead to nearly half a track’s length.

While it appeared that Miller was well on his way to victory, Burgtorf was efficiently making his way from his third row starting position. He would work his way to second place by lap 11 and begin to pull away.

With the race well in hand for Miller, disaster struck on lap 60 when he suffered a flat tire and was forced to the pit. This put Burgtorf in the top spot with two-time winner Jeff Aikey right behind him. Miller would change his tire and return to the battle at the rear of the field.

While Burgtorf stayed out front and put some distance between himself and the rest of the field, Miller had worked his way back thru the field and with only a couple of laps remaining, charged back into second place.

Miller would give it all he had in the final lap, making a charge at Burgtorf, but he would come up a couple of car-lengths short. Miller, despite a gallant effort, would settle for second followed by Aikey, Boone McLaughlin and another former winner, Ray Guss Jr., finishing fifth. 

After losing a heart-breaker the year before, Darren Miller of Chadwick, Ill., put it all together to win the 2001 USA Late Model Nationals. Deery Brothers Series sponsor Brad Deery (left) and Bill Newman join Miller in the winner's circle. - Craige Gheer Photo

There would be no flat tire to hinder Darren Miller’s progress when the 10th annual USA Late Model Nationals took place on August 16, 2001. Miller led more than half of the 75-lap Deery Brothers Summer Series event and collected $5,000 for his efforts.

He earned his starting spot in the feature by winning the B-main over Ray Guss Jr. Starting 16th in the field of 27, Miller worked his way toward the front steadily and passed Jeff Aikey for the lead after a restart midway through the contest.

Repeating his performance in the B-main, Miller proceeded to take command and extend his margin en route to a comfortable win. Aikey finished second while defending winner Mark Burgtorf took third. Joe Kosiski took fourth and a late bobble by Terry Schlipman allowed former Iowa native Billy Moyer Jr., to grab the fifth spot. 

Curt Martin of Independence, Iowa, was declared the winner of the 2002 USA Late Model Nationals after initial winner Rob Toland was found too light at the scales. Promoter Ron Jackson (left) and Bill Newman join Martin in victory lane. - Scott Tjabring Photo

Thirty-five pounds would be the difference between a $10,000 payday and disqualification during the USA Late Model Nationals on August 20, 2002.

Curt Martin of Independence, Iowa, would be declared the winner after the post-race weigh-in showed initial winner Rob Toland of Hillsdale, Ill., 35 pounds light at the scales.

IMCA late models running the series had to weigh at least 2,400 pounds with the driver inside at the end of the race. Toland’s car crossed the scales several times before officials made the ruling a disqualification.

Martin qualified for the 100-lapper through the B-main, running second to Chris Smyser. Starting 18th, Martin knifed through the field, taking the lead on the lap 39.

However, Toland caught up with Martin on lap 92 and as the leader became mired in lap traffic, Toland sneaked around him and led the final eight circuits and the apparent victory.

But, with Toland light, Martin took home the series’ highest paying event on the schedule.

Smyser, of Lancaster, Mo., made an incredible run himself, starting 17th, and being promoted to runner-up after Toland’s disqualification. Gary Russell would take third, Brian Harris of Davenport, Iowa, was fourth and Jeff Aikey rounded out the top five. 

Driving a borrowed late model, UMP competitor Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., made the long haul to win the 2003 USA Late Model Nationals. - Graige Gheeer Photo

An unlikely winner was crowned the 11th different champion of the USA Late Model Nationals on August 14, 2003.

Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., a regular competitor on the United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) circuit, made the four-hour tow with a borrowed late model and came out on top of the 61 entries to claim the $10,000 first prize.

Boone McLaughlin led the field to green and would lead the first 18 circuits before Erb grabbed the top spot for one lap. McLaughlin would regain the point one lap later and with the Mediapolis, Iowa, speedster out front, the battle for second place would rage behind him with Erb, Gary Russell and defending winner Curt Martin going bumper-to-bumper.

Beginning on lap 32, race fans would see three-wide action as McLaughlin, Erb and Russell fought for the top spot and on lap 38, Russell ducked low and passed both McLaughlin and Erb for the lead much to the fan’s delight.

Russell, attempting to become the first 34 Raceway local driver to win the event, stretched his lead over the field while Erb and McLaughlin would swap second and third place several times.

Erb would finally distance himself from McLaughlin and focus on catching the leader. With 27 laps left to go, Erb had tracked down Russell and when the caution flag came out, Erb was on Russell’s bumper as the field came to green.

The Biggsville, Ill., hot shoe would hold onto his lead on the restart but only briefly as Erb went to the inside groove and powered his way past on the back stretch and into the number one slot. The Illinois ace would increase his margin while Russell was forced to battle with Curt Martin for second spot.

Russell would earn his highest finish to date with a runner-up finish while Martin held on for third. McLaughlin settled for fourth place and Rob Toland rounded out the top five. 

Rob Toland of Hillsdale, Ill., was a double winner during the 2004 USA Late Model Nationals, winning not only the 100-lap feature but clinching the Deery Brothers Summer Series crown as well. - Dana Royer Photo

Rob Toland would be a double winner when the final checker waved on the 13th annual USA Late Model Nationals Susan Pallister Memorial on September 18, 2004. Not only did the Hillsdale, Ill., speedster win the 100-lap feature, but the win also secured him his first Deery Brothers Summer Series late model title. It was Toland’s seventh win in 14 Deery Brothers events for the year.

Toland threatened to make the feature a runaway until lapped traffic midway through the contest allowed the field to close. Terry Schlipman reeled Toland in and passed him on lap 54. Toland would not give in, however, and the duo raced side-by-side for the next eight circuits until Toland was able to regain the top spot, this time for good.

Schlipman, from Mendon, Ill., crossed the finish line in second followed by Brent Slocum of Burlington, Iowa, 18th-starting Boone McLaughlin and former winner Jay Johnson.

Two drivers would cross the finish line first and second, but it was the third-place driver crowned champion of the 15th annual USA Late Model Nationals on September 17, 2005.

Terry Neal of Ely, Iowa, was credited with first place and awarded the check for $10,000 after apparent winner Brian Harris of Davenport, Iowa, and runner-up Boone McLaughlin were both disqualified for failed engine inspection nearly two hours after the race’s completion.

Bud Wollam, IMCA’s technical inspector for the Deery Brothers Summer Series, stated that Harris’ and McLaughlin’s powerplants were three cubic inches over what was legal by race standards.

“Everything is in black and white, and we have to apply the rules,” Wollam remarked. “Nothing would have made me happier than everyone passing inspection. It was a great race and you hate to have this happen.”

Neal, the Deery Brothers Summer Series season champion, not only picked up the big payday, but also got a $1,500 Ironman bonus for perfect attendance in the series this season. He received $500 for starting the feature, and $1,000 for winning.

Jay Johnson was moved up to take home runner-up money while Lonnie Bailey of Quincy, Ill., was credited with third-place. Former winners Mark Burgtorf and Rob Toland rounded out the top five.

“This one was a little sweeter,” said Mark Burgtorf, after becoming the second two-time winner of the USA Late Model Susan Pallister Memorial on September 16, 2006. Burgtorf, who won in 2000, added, “I won that race because Darren Miller cut a tire. We were the class of the field tonight.”

Burgtorf passed fellow Quincy, Ill., veteran Lonnie Bailey for the lead on lap 28, then worked his way through traffic over the final 72 laps to win the 15th annual event. Burgtorf collected the winner’s check for $10,000 and joined Jeff Aikey as the only two-time winners of the event.

Kevin Blum of Colona, Ill., finished second, nearly half the length of the track behind Burgtorf while Bailey held on to take third. Boone McLaughlin was fourth while Jeff Aikey clinched his record fifth Deery Brothers Summer Series title with his fifth-place finish. 

Mark Burgtorf of Quincy, Ill., would become the event's first three-time winner, winning in 2000, 2006 and shown here, winning the 2007 title. Promoter Jeff Laue joins Burgtorf in victory lane. - Dennis Krieger Imagery

Good things come to those who wait and Mark Burgtorf, the two-time winner and defending champion, could certainly attest to that old adage. The Quincy, Ill., veteran used patience to win his record third USA Late Model Nationals title on September 16, 2007.

The Quincy, Ill., veteran was running in second-place, waiting for the opportune time to get around race leader Jason Frankel, also of Quincy. That opening came on the 55th lap. As Frankel got caught up in lapped traffic, Burgtorf seized the chance and got around Frankel for the lead. That was the only break Burgtorf needed. He held off several late charges by Frankel to win the 100-lap feature and taking home the winner’s check worth $ 10,000.

Not even a brief rain shower, which halted the feature event after 15 laps for one hour and 15 minutes, could put a damper on Burgtorf’s historic night. “This one feels great,” Burgtorf said with a smile.

Frankel held on for second while ’93 winner Ray Guss Jr. held on for third. Lonnie Bailey and Joey Gower, both of Quincy, Ill., crossed the finish line in fourth and fifth but were both later disqualified during post-race inspection.

Jeremy Grady of Story City, Iowa, was awarded fourth place, giving him the Deery Brothers Summer Series title. Darrel DeFrance of Marshalltown, Iowa, was moved up to fifth place. 

Matt Strassheim would bring the hometown crowd to it's feet, winning the 2008 USA Late Model Nationals. Promoter Jeff Laue joins Strassheim in victory lane. - John Vass Photo

A hometown driver would lay claim to the 17th annual USA Late Model Nationals as Matt Strassheim would score the victory on September 27, 2008. The West Burlington pilot would lead the final 36 circuits of the 50-lapper and collect $5,000 plus lap money.

Boone McLaughlin and Gary Russell would bring the field to green with McLaughlin shooting out ahead. However, the race would be red-flagged before the first lap could be scored after Tom Goble ended up on his roof in the second set of turns.

Resuming the lead on the re-start and staying in front after what proved to be the last caution of the contest on lap 3, McLaughlin set the fast pace through lap 14, when Strassheim found his way by on the bottom groove.

The front pair didn't get into lapped traffic until after midway. Rob Toland, who started 13th, caught McLaughlin for second and closed the gap behind Strassheim to four car lengths but couldn't wrestle away the lead. Ray Guss Jr., who started 12th, passed McLaughlin for third-place late in the race. McLaughlin would settle for fourth but clinch the Deery Brothers Summer Series title. Jay Johnson rounded out the top five.

A late charge would net Jason Frankel the USA Late Model Nationals on September 19, 2009. Frankel passed two former winners of the event, first Jeff Aikey, and then Mark Burgtorf the last two times around the track to earn the $10,000 payday.

Burgtorf started outside the front row and was chased by Lonnie Bailey and Frankel into lapped traffic on the 13th circuit.

After the first of two cautions, Burgtorf, Bailey and Aikey ran three-wide for the lead before Bailey and Aikey swapped the second spot on lap 23 and again on lap 24. Bailey found the low groove to his liking on lap 29, passing both Aikey and Burgtorf for the lead.

He'd stay there until lap 47, when Burgtorf motored by. Aikey made a pass of his own for the front, which was negated when Terry Neal and Bailey got together to bring out the second and final caution on lap 53.

After slipping back as far as sixth, Frankel started working his way back up, catching Fraise and then Neal to get back into contention for the big payday. Aikey fell on lap 97 and Burgtorf gave way on lap 98.

Burgtorf settled for second ahead of "B" qualifier Rob Toland, series champion Aikey and Terry Neal.

Friday night preliminaries is all the 19th annual USA Late Model Nationals would get in as rain washed away the Saturday night finale and again for the re-scheduled Sunday evening card, September 19, 2010.

Defending champion Jason Frankel won the first of five qualifying heats, putting him on the pole for the 100-lapper but it would never come to fruition. Rain, standing water, and less than ideal track conditions forced the cancellation. Nate Beuseling of Silvis, Ill., Lonnie Bailey, Boone McLaughlin and Andy Eckrich of Tiffin, Iowa, were the other heat winners. T.J. Criss of Oskaloosa, Iowa, won the 20-lap Ironman Challenge.

A photo finish would highlight the 2011 USA Late Model Nationals, held on Sunday, September 4. 

Andy Eckrich hoist his trophy high after winning the 2011 USA Late Model Nationals. Promoters Jeff and Amy Laue join a happy Eckrich in victory lane. - Dana Royer Photo

Andy Eckrich would reel in, then hold off Ray Guss Jr. in a green, white, checkered finish for the $10,000 victory. Guss ran in front most of the 99-lapper before getting stuck in lapped traffic. Eckrich, went around on the higher line and wound up beating Guss to the checkers by a car length.

For the second year in a row, inclement weather would delay the $10,000 to win event, pushing the finale to Sunday. Unlike the year before, Mother Nature cooperated, and the main event wouldn’t disappoint.

Guss had the pole but it was fellow front-row starter Tyler Bruening grabbing the top spot and holding that edge until lap 22. The Decorah, Iowa speedster’s impressive run came to an end when the frontrunners, trying to negotiate lapped cars, traded paint, sending Bruening into a spin and out of contention.

After the caution, Guss set the fast pace ahead of Eckrich and former winner Jay Johnson. Eckrich tried inside and outside grooves and would briefly get the nose of his car out front several times but Guss would always secure the lead back.

But staying close, and patient, Eckrich made what proved to be the winning pass when Guss got caught up with slower traffic with eight laps left. After the pass, Eckrich would hold on the last two times around the 3/8-mile oval for one of the biggest paydays in his career.

A disappointed Guss would hang on for second place. Justin Reed of Quincy, Ill., would finish third, Jay Johnson fourth and Tom Goble of Burlington, Iowa, would take fifth. 

Jeff Aikey would win the 21st and final running of the USA Late Model Nationals in 2012. It would also make Aikey the event's second three-time winner. - Dana Royer Photo

The 2012 USA Late Model Nationals would see its second three-time winner of the event when Jeff Aikey scored the victory on Sunday, September 2. The race had been delayed a day because of rain. 

The 21st and final running of the event saw Mike Murphy of Colona, Ill., and defending champion Andy Eckrich lead the field to green with Murphy leading the pack for the first 19 laps before getting caught up in lap traffic.

Aikey took advantage and would take over the lead – a lead he would never relinquish. Jay Johnson would stay on Aikey’s back bumper through three restarts but the Waterloo, Iowa, hot shoe wouldn’t concede the top spot.

Eventually, Andy Eckrich would get by Johnson for second and make several attempts at Aikey as well but hold off Eckrich at the checkered flag taking the win by three car lengths.

Former winners dotted the top five with Aikey and Eckrich followed by Jay Johnson, Matt Strassheim and Ray Guss Jr.

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