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Pat Kelly at Grundy County Speedway. (Stan Kalwasinski photo)

MORRIS Ill. — It didn’t hurt if your last name was ‘Kelly’ Sunday night at the Grundy County Speedway. Veteran Pat Kelly and his teenage son, Nathan, captured feature race wins in their respective divisions and overall track championship honors as the third-of-a-mile paved fairgrounds oval wrapped up its season, hosting its 36th annual Night of Features.

The elder Kelly made off with top honors in the late model ranks, winning the 61-lap Lee Schuler Memorial headliner. Kelly, wrapping up his third late model crown at Grundy, pushed his bright orange-colored Ford Fusion No. 16 into the lead, zipping around the outside of leader Josh Nelms for the top spot and never looking back.

Eddie Hoffman finished second with Larry Schuler, Robbie Pyle, Dave Gentile and D.J. Weltmeyer rounding out the top six. 25 cars started the feature race, which was slowed by too many caution periods. The victory was Kelly’s second Lee Schuler Memorial win as the Coal City racer had previously won in 2006.

“This is awesome. A great way to call it quits here,” said the 43-year-old Kelly, who will leave the driver’s seat and concentrate on his son’s racing next season. “We were good Friday night and tonight. The car got going pretty good a couple of weeks ago. I messed up on tires Friday night.”

Young Kelly won the 30-lap street stock main event and capped off an impressive season, winning the division title in only his second year of racing. Kelly and his black No. 16 bested season-rival Johnny Senerchia and Pete Odell.

“It’s official,” said Pat Kelly about his retirement. “We want to put the time and effort into my kid. I think Nathan has all the tools to do the job. He deserves the opportunity.”

Pat Kelly started his racing career at Grundy in 1993, competing in the Street Stock division. He was a top-running street stock competitor for three seasons before moving into the Mid-American Sportsman ranks in 1996 and winning the class championship. In addition, he was the rookie of the year on the Mid-American Stock Car Series circuit in ’96. Kelly was the co-champion in the Grundy Mid-American division the next season (1997).

Kelly tried some late model racing and was a ‘surprise’ winner at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., winning the track’s Season Championship race in 1997. He went late model racing full-time in 1999. Kelly enjoyed a great year in 2000 as he won the Late Model titles at both Grundy and Illiana. Kelly posted another Grundy title in 2006. In 2002, he won Illiana’s annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 lapper and repeated his winning ways in 2005 and 2006. In 2002, Kelly competed full-time on the American Speed Association circuit.

Ron Vandermeir Jr. was the winner of the 35-lap Mid American Sportsman main event Sunday at Grundy, giving him four wins in 2012. Vandermeir guided his Chevrolet to the win over fastest qualifier Tommy Knippenberg and John Ventrello. Second-generation racer Kevin Gentile was crowned the Mid-American champion at Grundy for 2012.

Steve Hespen surprised the crowd by winning the ‘handicapped’ pure stocks feature. Zach Mitchell and Rich Dearborn started a lap down to the field and came home second and third receptively. For the second year in a row, Dearborn was the division’s champion.

Sean Murphy won the 25-lap feature race for the Illini Racing Series midgets, getting by leader Patrick Bruns in the closing laps on a rather slippery surface. Twenty cars started the feature. 16-year-old Wisconsin driver Cory Talaska was the winner of the INEX Legends division 25 lapper with Andy Jones coming home second. Michael Marden started off the Night of Features by winning the 20-lap chase for Illinois Vintage Racing cars and drivers, taking the checkered flag in front of Nick Clubb.

North Grand Auto Parts Most Popular Driver awards were announced with Eddie Hoffman (late model), Chuck Yuris (Mid-American sportsman) and Cheryl Hryn (street stock) receiving the honors.

Grundy was the scene of the ninth annual Mazon Speed Bowl/Grundy County Speedway Racers Reunion and Hall of Fame Induction with the HoF activities taking place on Saturday. Among this year’s inductees were former stock car drivers Larry Cooper, Mike Gentile and Ken Simmons, along with midget racers John Meyers and Klaus Wever. As always, the 4,000-plus photo display was a big attraction.

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Stan Kalwasinski
Stan Kalwasinski has been involved in auto racing for nearly 50 years as both a writer and photographer. He has a particular interest in Chicagoland auto racing — primarily stock car racing. Look for him at tracks in the Chicagoland region of Illinois.