Gordy Gundaker celebrates in Macon Speedway Victory Lane (Clay Jackson - Herald & Review)
MACON — Before the fireworks finished off Independence Day and the night of racing at Macon Speedway, there was a bang on lap 98 of the Herald & Review 100.
Race leader, Moweaqua's Shannon Babb, going for his record sixth H&R 100 race win, sustained race-ending front wheel damage as he slammed into the car he was attempting to lap.
Then two-time winner Bobby Pierce Jr. crossed the finish line and appeared to win, but a yellow flag brought the drivers back to finish the 100th lap, and last year's winner — Gordy Gundaker — emerged as the repeat champion.
For Babb, it was a bitter way to lose.
"Racing down here is always tough and I know what to expect," Babb said. "It's going to be good hard tight racing and it always is. We always tell ourselves that we need to try to get to the end. We got to the end but we got in a bad position there and I just knew something was going to come.
"I was out of tire, out of fuel and struggling there a little bit and then I got into a bad position."
Babb had grabbed the lead before the first lap was completed and remained there for nearly all of the other 98 laps.
"Our car was good, it really was," Babb said. "When you are here you try to get yourself out front and stay out of trouble. If you get the lead early it makes your race a whole lot easier and that's what I tried to do so I could pick through traffic. I got to the end but a couple guys were running just as strong with me."
Though Pierce, who won the race in 2016 and 2017, crossed the finish line with the checkered flag waving, but was denied the win because of a yellow caution flag was called for a stalled car on the track.
On the restart, Gundaker emerged seemingly out of nowhere after spending much of the race deep in the pack to pass Pierce on the final turn for the win.
"I thought if we can get out of here with a top five finish, maybe a top three, that I was going to think about it as another win," Gundaker said. "But you get those yellows at the end and you find a way.
"I knew in the last lap I wasn't as good in turns one and two as I was in turns three and four and I hoped to make a decent lap down there and hopefully Bobby would screw up. I know that he usually doesn't make many mistakes, but he did there and when I came out of turn four, I couldn't believe I had him."
Gundaker's win last year was also come-from-behind and elicited an emotional reaction.
"I'm speechless, I can't believe I've won the Herald & Review 100 two years in a row," Gundaker said. "I know it had to be a a hell of a race from the stands but you should have seen it from my standpoint.
"I couldn't believe getting a yellow with two to go and then green and white flags together. I can't even explain this."
A second H&R 100 title is just a little bit sweeter than the first, Gundaker said.
"It's hard to compare them," he said. "That first one was so sweet, never having won a summer nationals race before but this second one, doing it on the last lap and passing a guy like Bobby who has won two of these and to put our name up there and win again back-to-back is absolutely unbelievable."
Although the final three laps were yellow-filled, overall the race was fairly clean, with just a handful of cautions. Babb's veteran experience on the track was clear as he was unafraid to go three-cars wide around the turns to make a pass. The aggressive give-and-take between Babb and the second-place Pierce led to Babb having his car examined for damage on two cautions.
"I had a guy working on me a little bit that got in on me a couple of times. I kind of felt that and so I had it looked at," Babb said.
Rain threatened the race throughout the evening, so the H&R 100 was moved up as the second feature of the evening. Before it, the DIRTcar Summit Modified Nationals 25-lap race saw Mike Harrison win his fourth race of the tour this year. Tyler Nicely finished second, Nick Hoffman was third and Tommy Shepard was fourth. Following the completion of the H&R 100, the Pro Mods took the track and Mount Olive's Tim Hancock picked up the victory. Decatur drivers Nick Justice and Billy Nail finished seventh and eighth, respectively.
For Gundaker, he firmly believes the racing gods were smiling down on him this Fourth of July.
"We had a race at Fairbury and I was running second and I got a flat tire with 13 laps to go. Sometimes the breaks fall your way and sometimes they don't. Tonight we caught a break catching that yellow on the last lap and finding a way to make it happen. That's the way it is sometimes but these wins don't come easy no matter what," he said.
Macon Speedway will be back in action on Saturday, July 6 with Bob Brady Auto Mall night featuring the RAMINATOR Monster Truck, a Sportsman Topless 40, the MSCT Street Stock Dean Garland Classic, and five other divisions.
More information may be available at maconracing.com.
Gordy Gundaker claims Herald & Review 100 For Second Year Straight (STLRacingPhotos.com)