Illinois Natives Chasing ARCA Glory At Springfield

Illinois Natives Chasing
Kelly Kovski (16) battles Travis Braden during the 2018 Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. (Brendon Bauman photo)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois State Fair dates back to 1853, and for more than 100 years has been located in the state’s capital city of Springfield.

With numerous agricultural and farming attractions, hundreds of food vendors, rides, the world-famous butter cow and more, it is one of the most popular state fairs in the country.

The ARCA Menards Series stock cars will compete in the annual Allen Crowe 100 presented by Lucas Oil around the one-mile dirt track at the fairgrounds on Sunday afternoon.

The race is the 16th of 20 on the tour for this season and will feature several drivers and teams with ties to Illinois.

Defending event winner Christian Eckes, current point leader Michael Self and Logan Seavey – the winner of ARCA’s other dirt track race at DuQuoin last year – don’t have any direct ties to Illinois, but their team owners do.

Bill and Cathy Venturini grew up in Chicago and raced throughout the Chicagoland area before making the move into ARCA competition in 1984.

The Venturinis are members of the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame and their team has won an impressive 10 out of 15 races to this point in the season.

Springfield’s Kelly Kovski returns to action as he looks to claim his first ever ARCA win and do it at his home track. Kovski was injured while spectating at a sprint car race in 2017 and is still recovering from those injuries, but that hasn’t kept him out of the driver’s seat.

In addition to running dirt modified races, Kovski competed in the ARCA dirt events last summer. He qualified 10th and finished ninth at Springfield last summer.

While he’s looking for that first win on the track as a driver, he’s already visited victory lane as a crew chief. Kovski called the shots for Grant Enfinger’s win in 2017 while he was not able to drive due to injury, and he’d like to turn those tables around this season.

“We went to DuQuoin last year and we weren’t as good as we wanted to be,” Kovski said. “We went to work on the car almost immediately. We rebuilt the front end geometry and worked on some things with the shocks and the springs. We’ve been working on this car since June to get it ready. There’s been a lot of preparation on it.

“We always put a lot of effort into these two dirt races,” Kovski added. “Springfield is always the one we look forward to with it being our hometown. We’ll have a lot of people there watching so we hope to put on a good show for them.”

Illinois Natives Chasing
Ryan Unzicker in action last year at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. (Brendon Bauman photo)

Kovski expects to be a factor to win, and if he is, one of the drivers he will have to contend with is El Paso’s Ryan Unzicker, the driver of the No. 24 RJR Transportation Toyota.

A veteran of dirt super late model competition throughout the Midwest, Unzicker traditionally runs the two ARCA dirt races every year for long-time team owner Bill Hendren. He’s scored nine top-ten finishes in seventeen career starts dating back to 2003, including four top-five finishes.

Unzicker finished third at Springfield in 2016 and a pair of top-10 runs from last year has him feeling like he could race for the win on Sunday.

“I am hungry,” Unizicker said. “Seven or eight years ago, we were okay. But being okay isn’t good with me. I want to be up there fighting for a win. One of the biggest challenges for me is that these ARCA cars are so different than what I am used to, from the tires to the weight and the attitude of the car. With the ARCA car, the fastest way is to keep the car pointed straight. I have to work on minimizing wheel spin. That’s one of the biggest challenges these young kids have, is they come in and they see what we do in our late models, and they throw their car around the same way and it burns the tires right off.

“You might see me make a lot of laps in practice just to get that muscle memory built back up again, but I think we’ll have a great shot at going for our first ARCA win.”