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Speedway 8-30-03
By Tony Baranek

Dave Weltmeyer of Illiana Speedway captures first-ever Late Model ChampionSCHERERVILLE, Ind. - Eddie Hoffman was feeling grand actually three grand - counting bonuses following his victory in Saturday night's 50-lap late-model season title race at Illiana Speedway. But fourth place on Saturday was where the ultimate dividend was paid. That's the finish that Dave Weltmeyer used to clinch his first-ever Illiana Speedway late-model season championship. 

Weltmeyer and Mike White ended their year-long battle for track supremacy the way they spent most of it, running together. White finished third behind runner-up Ronnie Breese Jr., with Weltmeyer only a couple of car-lengths behind him. Thus, Weltmeyer and White completed an entire season in which they raced for the most part as close as two racers could, without a single incident in which either spun out or crashed. "That's why my hat's off to that (White) team," Weltmeyer said. "I mean, we ran 16-17 nights this year tooth and nail, qualifying, heat races, features, passing each other, grinding each other.

"If we didn't set an example for these young guys that this could be done, racing with the talent I didin Mike White, their eyes weren't open. Chicagoland's got a lot of talent, and it showed this year."

White finished with, if not a flourish, definitely with a heaping amount of pride. He had been passed in the early stages of the race by Weltmeyer, but bounced back later on to eventually claim third.

"We worked on the car a little bit tonight, and took it from a sixth-place car to a third-place car," White said. "We were pretty good tonight. Dave Weltmeyer... man, he did what he had to do to come through the pack and claim the championship." Weltmeyer and his crew did what they had to do early in the night, after he lost the clutch during the heat race. "The racing gods were on my side," Weltmeyer said. "If it was the first lap of the feature, we'd have lost it (the title). Being the first lap of the heat, it gave me a chance to change it, and make the year a full success." The "operation" on the No. 16 took nearly an hour, with Weltmeyer working up a bigger sweat inside and outside of the car in his pit stall than he did during the race. "Dave Weltmeyer and his crew... amazing," White said. "I'm glad he got to run because if he didn't get that car back out we'd have won by default, and that's not how you want to win it. I'm happy for him." Weltmeyer joined White and Chicagoland legend Ray Young in being the only three drivers to capture late-model titles at Raceway Park, Illiana Speedway and Grundy County Speedway. All three champions posed for a group shot at the start-finish line following the feature.

"I'll tell you what. Ray Young has always been my hero. To get a picture with him almost got me teary-eyed," Weltmeyer said. "To be in the same place with Mike White and Ray Young, that's some pretty good company. I'm proud of it." Brian Muick was the first leader of the race, holding off Phil Splant but finally surrendering to Joe O'Connor on lap seven. Breese, who started in the fifth row but made rapid gains, caught O'Connor on lap 9 and made the pass on lap 10. White spent a handful of laps in second place before Weltmeyer passed him. The "Dyer Flyer" got a nose underneath Breese on a couple of occasions, but didn't push his luck. "After getting that warning in the heat race I took what we could get," Weltmeyer said. "I point-raced. I said all year I wasn't going to, but the last race of the year I did. "I almost lost it in the heat, but I got a second chance. You've got to take advantage of that."

A lap 28 restart bunched up the field and set up a chain of events that would see Hoffman start on the outside and take over second place from Weltmeyer. White was also able to muscle up and slide into third. Finally, Hoffman took the lead from Breese with an inside move in Turn 4 as they were completing lap 30. Hoffman had taken the pre-race "last to first" challenge, and netted nearly $2,000 for his efforts. Add another auxiliary bonus and the regular purse, and he left the speedway with more than $3,000.

"Three grand, that's as much as some of our NASCAR (Re/Max) races," said Hoffman. "The car wasn't great, but it sure was good. I was faster, but it wasn't an easy pass on Breese." Fifth place in Saturday's main went to Brian Schwartz. A.J. D'Ambrose was sixth.


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