Something special beckons folks to the State Fair Speedway.
Something not measured by laps, dollars or league-sanctioned points.
That special interest drew more than 30 drivers and about 2,000 fans to the Historic Half-Mile for three features Sunday as the final act of the Missouri State Fair.
Sedalia native Jonathan Cornell held off California’s Dominic Scelzi, son of a drag racing legend Gary Scelzi, for three restarts to end the 25-lap winged sprints feature.
Nearly running out of fuel, Cornell feared he would continue a streak of bad luck on his hometown track. Since his most recent win at the State Fair Speedway in May 2016, Cornell had failed to complete two races and claimed third- and eighth-place finishes.
“We’ve always been fast here, and it just seems like things didn’t go our way,” Cornell said. “Tonight I thought it was going to be a recurring issue, because on the last restart, we came around on the white flag, we ran out of fuel. The car kept stumbling on us, and luckily we had just enough fumes to get it across the finish line.”
Breaking his hometown curse and fending off a fast car on a national tour — Scelzi raced in Minnesota on Saturday — made victory that much more satisfying.
“I’ve always gotten along with Dominic,” Cornell said. “We always race each other clean. We don’t race each other a whole lot, but when we do, we know we’re going to show each other some respect.
“But, you know drag car guys, they just go straight.”
Braydon Cromwell of Lone Jack captured the non-winged feature ahead of runner-up, Riley Kreisel of Warsaw.
Cromwell, snapping a winless streak, was moved to tears after the win.
“I needed it,” Cromwell said. “It’s been a tough season. It’s been a real tough season. … I’ve been driving my ass off, my crew, we’ve been getting frustrated.”
It was the first non-winged feature hosted since a crash in 2016. Cromwell said the mystique of the State Fair Speedway heightened the thrill of victory.
“All my friends are out here, and everybody’s scared of this track,” Cromwell said.
Kreisel, who holds a slim, 18-point lead in his defense of the POWRi Lucas Oil WAR Sprints tour, was similarly allured Historic Half-Mile — despite driving three races in as many days.
“Why wouldn’t you want to come run at the fairgrounds?” Kreisel said. “I think this might be one of the first places I ever saw a sprint car race, so it’s kind of cool to be able to race here.”
Miles Paulus, of Marshall, placed fourth behind Scelzi and second-place Randy Martin in the winged springs feature. He currently leads Warrior Region points standings with two months remaining on the schedule.
“It’s home,” Paulus said of the State Fair Speedway. “Or as close to home as I’m going to get. … I grew up watching sprint car races, late model races every Friday night. Me and my best friend, it was our favorite thing to do. Get picked up from kindergarten on Friday and come here.”
Among the top five in ASCS Warrior Region standings, Cornell said he was a lock to drive Sunday, despite the league declaring the race a non-points event Wednesday.
“I was coming,” Cornell said. “I was supporting this race track. I’m supporting any kind of local racing there is, regardless if it has a sanctioning body or not.”
Cornell earned $3,500 for the victory, while Cromwell received $1,200. Todd Shute of Norwalk, Iowa, won the $1,000 purse in the ULMA late model feature, beating Richmond’s Aaron Marrant and Russellville’s Cole Henson.
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2.