SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A muddy Atlas 100 on the Springfield Mile at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, which ended up being shortened by 30 laps due to time constraints, saw Jesse Love lead wire-to-wire from the General Tire Pole for his second career ARCA Menards Series (national) victory.
But the celebration for Love and Venturini Motorsports was subdued following a violent, last-lap crash in which Love’s teammate, Buddy Kofoid, collided with the slow car of Bryce Haugeberg on the frontstretch.
The first thought on Love’s mind in Victory Lane was Kofoid’s condition, but he was relieved to see Kofoid and Haugeberg climb out of their cars and walk away on their own power.
“I’m really grateful that Buddy is alright,” Love said. “That was wicked, and I don’t think any of us saw the lapped car [of Haugeberg], but thankfully he is alright [as well]. Buddy was my favorite dirt driver growing up, and I’ve always looked up to him, so it’s an honor to beat him today.”
Love, who had enjoyed a relatively peaceful Atlas 100 for most of the day, suddenly found himself under attack from Kofoid as the duo prepared to take the white flag.
Haugeberg was attempting to salvage a lead-lap finish when he lost control of his car on the frontstretch and hit the outside retaining wall, which put him directly in the line of fire of Love and Kofoid as they battled it out for the win.
With so much dust having been kicked up, Kofoid was unaware that Haugeberg had stopped right underneath the start-finish line and was left powerless to prevent a high-speed collision that flipped Haugeberg’s car on its side.
Kofoid was in good spirits following the brutal crash, but he hopes the circumstances that unfolded Sunday afternoon result in changes to safety and race-day procedures for ARCA events on dirt moving forward.
“I’ll probably be sore over the next few days,” Kofoid said. “Even when I was two [car-lengths] behind Jesse, I couldn’t see him. Having windshields makes [seeing] kind of tough, and the glare makes it 10 times worse. I’m glad [Haugeberg] is alright, and I can only assume what happened [with him], but it’s just unfortunate.”
Since the white flag lap was not scored by ARCA officials, Kofoid ended up being credited with a second-place finish despite leaving the Illinois State Fairgrounds with a destroyed car.
Kofoid felt he had a decent shot at overtaking Love despite not having time on his side. He found a comfort zone on the bottom of the track and was preparing to make a run at Love for the lead on the final lap until he crashed into Haugeberg.
“I was staying tight on the guardrail, and I felt that I was more disciplined on the throttle without hanging it out and slipping on the moisture strip near the guardrail,” Kofoid said. “That was something I found, and it was keeping me straighter so I could hit the throttle harder on exit. Within a lap or two, I probably could have moved [Love] off the groove and tried something, but I guess we’ll never know.”
Once Love saw Kofoid closing on him during the final laps, he knew he would have to apply all his prior dirt track experience to fend off one of the most promising drivers in the discipline.
Love said his resume on dirt tracks is nowhere close to what Kofoid has accomplished over the past few years, which is why he felt an immense sense of pride on Sunday after withstanding Kofoid’s late charge.
Love plans to stay active with dirt track racing as he progresses through the developmental ladder, but he also wants to make sure he and Venturini can build off the momentum from the Illinois State Fairgrounds over their remaining races together.
“[I’ll do more dirt races] if my boy Chad Boat wants to put me in a race car,” Love said. “It’s been great running with Chad in the micro and midget stuff, so hopefully Billy [Venturini] lets me run Portland next week and we can keep this one rolling.”
Ryan Unzicker, who won at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in 2020, brought Bill Hendren’s car home in the third position. Rounding out the top five were Sammy Smith and current ARCA points leader Nick Sanchez.
Rajah Caruth, Daniel Dye, Taylor Gray, Ken Schrader and Haugeberg completed the top 10.
The ARCA Menards Series returns to action next Sunday, Aug. 28, with a visit to the historic Milwaukee Mile for the Sprecher 150, which can be seen live on MAVTV Motorsports Network and FloRacing starting at 3 p.m. ET.