Dec. 16 was the last racing day of the 2017 calendar for Kewanee modified driver Ray Bollinger. It also ended up being the best racing day of Bollinger’s career. 

The 42-year-old Bollinger, who has been racing competitively since 2004, took home more than $10,000 after capturing first place in the modified A feature final.

“Biggest race I’ve won,” said Bollinger. 

The race took place at the VP Gateway Dirt Nationals and is held at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, formerly known as the Edward Jones Dome that used to be the home of the St. Louis Rams.

There were approximately 16,000 people in attendance.

One of the organizers of the VP Gateway Dirt Nationals is Cody Sommer from Sheffield.

“When I won down there, he was the first one to give me a handshake in victory lane,” Bollinger said of Sommer. “It was surreal up to that point.”

The path to the title wasn’t easy for Bollinger. He won a qualifying race Friday afternoon to put him into Friday night’s modified feature. The Friday night feature race had a purse of $5,000, with the top eight in that race qualifying for Saturday night’s $10,000 race. 

The top eight in Friday night’s race also went into a redraw for Saturday’s race – meaning the starting position for Saturday would be decided randomly between those eight. 

Bollinger started 13th in Friday’s race and finished 8th.

“I just knew I had to get into the top eight,” Bollinger said. “I was doing everything I could to get in the top eight because I knew I had to get into that redraw to have a chance.”

Longtime Nascar driver and friend of Bollinger, Kenny Wallace, finished 7th in Friday’s race. Being that they were the final two of the top eight, they would be the final drivers to learn of their starting spots. When it was their turn to find out their starting position, the first and second spots were the only ones left.

Bollinger got to start on the inside and Wallace on the outside, both at the front of the pack.

“Huge advantage,” Bollinger said of starting in first. “Once I got the draw and knew I was starting in first, I came to the realization that I had a chance to win the thing.”

During the race, Bollinger drifted back to third at one point and nearly fourth, before finding his way back to the front of the field and grabbing the win by less than half of a second.

Saturday’s race had 22 drivers in total. 

“I could feel the car getting faster and faster with every lap,” Bollinger recalled. “I just stayed at my own pace being conservative with my tires early on and that’s what made the race.”

Over the course of the year, Bollinger totaled 26 feature wins, which was second nationally to six-time U.M.P modified champion Mike Harrison (34 wins). 

This was the best career finish nationally for Bollinger, after finishing 6th and 7th a couple of times each. His goal for 2018 is to win the national title.

“I wasn’t very far off first, within 60 points or so,” Bollinger said. “I really think it could be done, I really do.”

Bollinger thanks his sponsors, family and friends for making 2017 such a successful season.

To keep up with his racing, his Facebook page ‘Bollinger Racing #77’  posts updates throughout the year.