FARMER CITY, Ill. – The chase for the $20,000 Illini 100 champions prize began on Thursday night at Farmer City Raceway.
A total of 29 dirt-late-model drivers participated in an open practice session to kick off the blockbuster World of Outlaws Late Model Series weekend, which features Ohlins Shocks Time Trials and heat races on Friday night (April 5) and Last Chance Showdowns and the 100-lap A-Main on Saturday evening (April 6).
Among Thursday nights hot-lappers were all three former winners of the Illini 100 - Billy Moyer, Shane Clanton and Jimmy Mars - and more than two dozen other racers hoping to join them on the events victory list.
The group of drivers aspiring to Illini 100 glory included Shannon Babb, Brian Birkhofer, and two-time WoO LMS titlist Josh Richards, three perennial event contenders who possess the best career performance records in the Land of Lincolns richest dirt Late Model race.
No entrant in this weekends action craves a triumph in the Illini 100 more than Babb, a two-time race runner-up and the only driver to finish among the top five in all four editions of the event. He was nipped at the finish line in heartbreaking fashion by Moyer in 2008 and ‘10 and placed fifth in ’09 and third in ’12.
Babb, 39, admitted after his practice laps around the quarter-mile oval that he has plenty of room for improvement, but he was certainly upbeat about the weekend to come.
“It feels good to get back here and race,” said Babb, who spent his formative years in the dirt-late-model division competition regularly at Farmer City. ”This is a racetrack I could race at every night of the week. I love this place, so it would be a blast to be the first driver from Illinois to win this race.
“We’ll have some work to do tomorrow,” he continued. ”Tonight was some of the first laps the tracks had on it all year and it was pretty brutal, pretty hard to hold on to. I don’t think it’ll be like this tomorrow, so instead of changing a bunch of stuff and chasing it all night, I think we’ll wait till they work on the track again and well work on our car too.”
Birkhofer, 41, is just one stroke of misfortune - his run-in with a turn-four rut that knocked him from the lead midway through the inaugural Illini 100 in ’08 - from owning four career top-five finishes and perhaps even a victory. Aside from his 20th-place finish in ’08, hes run second (’09), fourth (‘10) and fifth (’12).