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Druley: Gardner’s comeback leads to points title

Published: Friday, Sept. 23, 2011 5:31 a.m. CDT
Caption
Steven Gardner of St. Charles sits in the car he races at Sycamore Speedway. Gardner will share the Sycamore Speedway’s Late Models point title after he erased a 36-point gap from earlier in the summer. (Kane County Chronicle File Photo)

Steven Gardner’s wax-on, wax-off apprenticeship under Mikey Crowe lasted just one summer.

Like his slippery and sudsy line of work at the time, Gardner has brought it full-circle a decade later. Gardner, a St. Charles resident, and Crowe, of South Elgin, will share Sycamore Speedway’s Late Models points title after Gardner erased a 36-point gap from earlier in the summer.

Crowe teetered in the late stages of the battle that concluded Saturday before gaining enough points to prevail. He since has lost his professional hold over Gardner, too.

Ten years ago, Crowe operated a car wash service called Wash ‘N Wax on Wheels that offered teenagers such as Gardner the opportunity for extra money. While Crowe has turned to truck driving and the 25-year-old Gardner now works for the city of West Chicago, their early association was not lost in pit row.

“At the end of the night, it was great,” Gardner said. “We shook hands, hugged each other, and I think the weight of the whole season and everything that happened was lifted off us then.”

Enough drama swirled about the two on the night of the season finale in Maple Park. Crowe, who led Gardner by 36 points as recently as July 2, entered racing two points behind Gardner.

Crowe surged to the fastest qualifying time to start the night, earning more traction in the points race. A comfortable path to the title appeared to emerge a little later, as Gardner’s No. 122 car was hit as Gardner entered Turn 3 on the third lap of his eight-lap heat.

What looked like a broken axle was soon smoothed over as a horde of friends and family rushed to the pits.

“We got together, went out and tested it and it ran fine,” Gardner said. “Everybody did all they could to help.”

The effort humbled Gardner and nearly put him over the top. Crowe eked out a tie at 222 points apiece when he finished second in the feature, one spot ahead of Gardner.

While Crowe missed a weekend of racing earlier in the summer for a pit crew violation, Gardner made up most of the slack himself. His remarkable charge included a July 9 feature victory to set the pace. Fellow St. Charles driver Tim Ludke – whose own late-season recovery from a wreck to his No. 20 car ended with a fourth-place points finish (182) – remembers Gardner openly discussing his urgency.

“They ran neck-and-neck all year long, those two,” Ludke said. “Steven was determined. He was like, ‘I’ve got to start doing something to close this gap with Mikey.’ ”

Gardner continued an overall climb through the circuit that started with a ninth-place Late Models finish in 2008. Gardner was fifth in 2009 and tied Crowe for fourth last season.

“Of course, it’s never fun to split it, but it’s better to split it than not win,” Gardner said.

Points races in the Spectator, Powder Puff and Compact classes are set to conclude on Saturday. Gardner will learn whether he and Crowe will share a trophy, too, at the upcoming year-end banquet.

Ring ’em up: The Kaneland baseball team is set to receive its 2011 IHSA Class 3A state championship rings in a Peterson Field ceremony following tonight’s sophomore football game against Rochelle.

Expect senior Jake Razo to stand out during the proceedings; the senior right fielder doubles as a wide receiver/defensive back for the varsity football team. Meanwhile, coach Brian Aversa – the sophomore football coach in the fall – ought to blend in.

Kaneland captured the school’s first regional, sectional and supersectional baseball titles to advance to state, winning its final 13 games overall. The team started its summer baseball program just more than 24 hours after beating Oak Forest for the title on June 11.

People watching: Motivational magnate Dane Rauschenberg started running about 10 years ago as a quick and easy way to get in shape during law school.

Rauschenberg since has reversed course with his sport and career, and blazed into town for the Fall Final 20 portion of Sunday’s Fox Valley Marathon as a renowned extreme athlete and speaker.

Between chomps of lean beef – for which he also is an advocate – Rauschenberg praised the way distance running tugs at the imagination of the casual fan.

“I say to people all the time, ‘Look at the faces in the crowd when you’re running, because you won’t see them next year, because they’re going to be running with you,’ ” Rauschenberg said. “And without a doubt that’s what happens. It’s hard to keep volunteers at races because they’re so stoked up that they’re running the race the next year.”

Big bad Bandits: Quad Cities completed a three-game sweep of Lansing on Saturday to wrap up a perfect postseason and the club’s first Midwest League championship since 1990.

The River Bandits’ 7-0 run through the playoffs included a two-game triumph against the Cougars for the Western Division title.

Kane County was the only team to hold a ninth-inning lead against Quad Cities all postseason, but surrendered four runs in the bottom of the ninth of Game 2 to lose, 6-5.

The Cougars finished 6-9 against the Bandits during the regular season. The clubs are set to open the 2012 season in Davenport, Iowa, from April 5-7.

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com. 

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