MORRIS, Ill. — A little luck and a fast race car proved to be the ingredients that Paul Shafer Jr. needed to capture his second consecutive Tony Bettenhausen Classic 100 presented by Elite Tradeshow Services Saturday night at the Grundy County Speedway.
The 22-year-old Portage, Ind., racer wheeled his Paul’s Auto Yard-sponsored, Chris Purdy-wrenched, Chevrolet SS to the victory in the 58th annual running of late model stock car special at the third-mile paved raceway. It marked the fourth year that the Bettenhausen 100 event has been held at the Grundy oval with the race previously run for some 50-plus years at the now-closed Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind.
A field of 24 cars started the 100 lapper with polesitter Josh Wallace leading the opening two laps. Shafer, who started third, rushed into the lead on lap three and set sail, building a comfortable margin. At the 50-lap mark, Shafer was still in command with Canadian driver Cayden Lapcevich running a close second and looking to take the lead.
Lapcevich in his Bobby Blount-crewed Fusion took the lead with 35 laps to go and began pulling away from the rest of the field and looking to be ready to become a first-time Bettenhausen 100 winner. Running some of the fastest laps of the race, Lapcevich then slowed and stopped, pulling into the infield in a “dead, shutoff” race car with 26 laps to go. Lapcevich needed a push into the pits with his crew fixing the problem and Lapcevich returning for the restart.
Inheriting the top spot, Shafer saw the likes of six-time Grundy late model champion Eddie Hoffman and fast qualifier D.J. Weltmeyer giving chase. Weltmeyer paced the 33 entries during qualifying with a lap of 15.370 seconds. Three late race cautions slowed the action with the fifth and final yellow flag flying with 15 laps to go.
When the green flag flew again, Hoffman quickly got around Weltmeyer after a double-file restart with Hoffman pressuring Shafer for the lead. Shafer ran some perfect laps with Hoffman doing everything he had in an attempt to get by Shafer.
Shafer crossed the finish line by a mere .228 seconds over Hoffman to pick up the $5,800 first prize plus lap money. Weltmeyer came home third with a recovering Lapcevich finishing fourth. Ricky Baker, race winner in 2016 and 2017, finished fifth followed by Anthony Danta.
“I had a pretty good starting spot and we got to the front pretty quick,” said Shafer. “The 16 (Lapcevich) got to us and we were fading, getting freer and freer. He checked out and was way better than we were. When he took off we were second and that wasn’t too bad. Something broke on his car and it was lucky for me. You’d rather be lucky than good. Eddie (Hoffman) was right there on the last restart. He was all over me and I was giving it all I had.
Grundy track champion this year, Hoffman, a four-time Bettenhausen 100 winner at Illiana, came up a bit short in his quest for another victory in the Chicago area event.
“We had a bad restart there with 20 laps or so to go,” said Hoffman. ”The car didn’t go right away and I lost some spots. It turned out that that was the race. On the longer runs, I think I was a tick faster than him (Shafer). We didn’t have enough laps there at the end to make something happen.”
Support division feature races saw Mark Ross Jr. win the 30-lap street stock main event over Scott Gardner and Michael Tobuch with Joe D’Ambrose capturing the 25-lap feature race for four-cylinder division competitors.
Paul Shafer Jr., Eddie Hoffman, D.J. Weltmeyer, Cayden Lapcevich, Ricky Baker, Anthony Danta, Michael Bilderback, Stan Zolodz IV, Nathan Kelly, Keith Tolf, Billy Hulbert, Austin Maynard, John Nutley, Joe Vinachi, Josh Wallace, Clay Curts, Mike White, Jon Reynolds Jr., Scott Koerner, Jim Weber, Dean Patterson, Brandon Clubb, Scott Dunning, Dan Odell.