by Darlene Miller
Consistency and patience were the big keys as 29 drivers took to the Fairbury American Legion Speedway for the 28th Annual Prairie Dirt Classic Saturday night. Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin used these traits to capture the $30,000 in the 100-lap feature and keep the big money in Illinois. The last Illinois driver to do this was in 2013 when Shannon Babb of Moweaqua took the prize. The World Of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series and DIRTcar Summit Modified Nationals drivers also did not disappoint the overflow crowd. Mike Harrison, the “Highland Hornet,” won the $5,000 purse in the Summit Racing Equipment Modified feature that also secured the championship of the SRE Nationals tour.
The top two finishers out of Friday night's Showdown races redrew for starting positions before the Late Model feature on Saturday. The “Georgia Bulldog” Shane Clanton, who started third, grabbed the quick lead over pole-sitter Devin Moran of Dresden Ohio when the green flag dropped. The first caution flag did not take long to come out as eight drivers were caught up in a crash just one lap in. Collected in the melee were Oakwood driver Bobby Pierce, Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., and Fairbury’s Scott Bull.
Clanton grabbed the top spot again when the green flag waved again, followed closely by El Paso's Ryan Unzicker, Sheppard, and Moran. The foursome quickly encountered lapped traffic on the 10th lap. The crowd went crazy when Unzicker muscled into the lead from Clanton with 79 laps to go. Unzicker and Sheppard began to switch up the lead with 63 trips to go and Sheppard, riding the top side, finally got around Unzicker for the top spot. A caution flag came out with 57 laps to go slowed the field. Pierce and Owens had worked their way back up after the first lap incident to 11th and 12th.
Bloomington driver Jason Feger, who started fifth, made his presence felt as he got around Unzicker with 55 laps to go for the second spot. Three more cautions scrambled the field and new player Chris Simpson of Oxford, Ia., was now sitting in second. With 28 circuits remaining, the leaderboard showed Sheppard, Simpson, Feger, Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., and Unzicker in the top five. Then, with 25 laps to go, Moran who had faded back to the sixth spot, was back on the move. Moran, getting stronger with every lap, put his machine in second with 16 to go. The wild scramble was on with five laps to go as Unzicker was back up to third. With just under four to go, Unzicker, on the low side, was sitting in second behind Sheppard. Sheppard was able to hold off the tough competitors by two car lengths for the win.
“This car is ready to go when we take it out of the box,” said a happy Sheppard. “We have been consistent all year, this was an awesome race. My crew keeps working hard every night. I knew if we stayed consistent and do our job every night, the wins would come.” Unzicker, who finished second said, “Even though we were running second, it felt like a win tonight with these guys. I am thankful to be up front.” Third-place finisher Moran added, “We were not patient enough. We were playing catch up. It is our first time at FALS, and we’re proud of our car.”
Feger brought home fourth followed by Brian Shirley of Chatham, Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., Simpson, Clanton, Marlar, and Pierce. Martinsville, Ind., driver Don O’Neal won the $2,000-to-win Prairie Dirt Shootout and turned down the money “to race in the PDC.” O’Neal finished 18th in the big race. Semi-Feature wins went to Rick Eckert, Cody Mahoney, and Frank Heckenast Jr.
Before the Modified feature, the top two finishers from Friday night redrew for position. Pontiac’s Jeffrey Ledford and Steven Brooks of New Lenox led the 26 drivers to the green flag in the 40-lap race. Ledford quickly established the top spot followed closely by fifth-place starter Nick Hoffman of Mooresville, N.C. Caution flags were flying with just over 30 laps in the race as Harrison, who started 17th, had moved up to eighth place. Harrison then found himself in the fourth spot with 20 circuits to go as Hoffman took the lead from Ledford. Harrison got around Ledford with 17 laps to go and was in a clear battle with Hoffman. The pair were even with 12 trips to make and Harrison moved into the lead with 11 to go, holding off another charger in 10th starter Mike McKinney of Plainfield to take the win and tour title.
“We had a hard night (Friday) night and had to run the last-chance race,” said Harrison. “Give me little high side and I will make it work. I knew if I stayed out of trouble and bided my time, the win would come.” McKinney took second, Hoffman was third, with Brooks and 21st starter Ashley Newman of Ripley, Tenn. completing the top five. Josh Rice of Verona, Ky., led the second five with Ashmore's Danny Schwartz, Jacob Poel of Spring Lake Mich., Fairbury’s Jeff Curl, and Tyler Nicely of Owensboro, Ky., in tow. Harrison, Lucas Lee of Paris, Tenn., and Buffalo's Jeff Leka were semi-feature winners.
Sheppard Tops Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury
LM Story by WoO
The World of Outlaws Craftsman® Late Model Series and the team at Fairbury American Legion Speedway made history on Saturday night during the 28th annual Prairie Dirt Classic as the highest paying race to ever take place in the state of Illinois with a $30,000 payout. Brandon Sheppard wheeled his way to victory on Saturday night ultimately breaking a three-year winless streak for Illinois-drivers at the event.
The two-day show saw 65 of the nation’s best Dirt Late Model drivers compete on the Fairbury, Ill stage. The standing room only crowd nearly tripled the size of the all-American city as fans traveled from far and wide to experience one of the most anticipated Dirt Late Model events of the year.
The 28th annual Prairie Dirt Classic did not disappoint as the semi-banked quarter-mile dirt oval produced multiple lanes of racing every time cars hit the track. The 100-lap feature event was no exception, as three different drivers took command of the lead during the race including Shane Clanton, Ryan Unzicker, and eventual winner, Brandon Sheppard.
“This car is awesome every night we take it out of the box,” said Sheppard on his 11th win with the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series. “I have to thank my crew Dan, Austin, Joel, Mark, little Brian, everyone at Keyser Manufacturing, Durham Racing Engines they all keep this thing going night in and night out. I have to also thank my Dad and my Grandpa. I wouldn’t have a racing career if it wasn’t for them.”
Sheppard led 69 laps of the 100-lap event, taking total control over the lead on lap 40. He was even able to defend his lead after three restarts.
Several cars juggled positions behind the Rocket1 often battling four-wide for the final two podium positions including Unzicker, Clanton, Devin Moran, Jason Feger, Chris Simpson, Brian Shirley, and Mike Marlar.
The fight for second and third came down to the last lap as Unzicker passed Moran on lap 99 to finish second in the 29-car feature.
“I tell you what, this feels freaking awesome running second to these guys,” said Unzicker. “It feels like I’m winning a million.”
Earlier in the day during the redraw, Unzicker was explaining to Series Announcer, Rick Eshelman, that he would be satisfied with a top-five finish because he had not made the show the past three years he entered into the Prairie Dirt Classic.
“This thing ran great tonight,” said Unzicker. “I was just thankful to be up there and running with these guys. Our car was pretty decent but these guys are damn good. It was a hell of a racetrack and it was ‘falsy’.
Devin Moran finished two spots shy of sweeping the weekend. On Friday, Moran turned the fastest lap during qualifying with a 12.627-second lap. The Rookie of the Year Contender then went on to lead every lap of the first of four Showdown Features to claim the win, ultimately placing him in the redraw for the 100-lap main event. Moran’s luck continued on Saturday as he pulled the no. one wrench from the Craftsman tool box putting him on the pole for his first time at the Prairie Dirt Classic.
Moran was passed on the first lap by Clanton who started directly behind him in third. Clanton led the first 23-laps of the 100-lap feature before getting passed by relentless track-regular, Unzicker. Within the first six-laps Moran had fallen outside of the top-five but the long-distance race granted him time to find his way back to the front of the pack.
“I wasn’t quite patient enough,” said Moran. “I kind of blew the deck out of it there at the end but congrats to [Sheppard and his crew] they’ve been on their own speed level this year and we are still just trying to play catch up. We got close there tonight but we just fell back too far early in the race and that just killed us. It’s our first time at FALS so we will definitely take a third-place finish.”
Highland's Mike Harrison rallied from deep in the field to capture the $5,000 DIRTcar Summit Modified Nationals finale. With the win, Harrison overtook Nick Hoffman of Mooresville, N.C., to claim the Modified Nationals title by three points. Mike McKinney of Plainfield was second, Hoffman third, New Lenox's Steven Brooks fourth, and 21st starter Ashley Newman of Ripley, Tenn., rounded out the top five.