by Rocky Ragusa
During his lustrous racing career, Donnie Moran established himself as one of the premier Late Model drivers in the country. A winner of four World 100s, Dirt Track World Championships, the Eldora Million, and a former STARS champion, Moran of Dresden, Ohio, was inducted into the Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2002. Saturday night at Fairbury American Legion Speedway, his son Devin added to the family legacy by pocketing $32,700 for winning the 29th annual Prairie Dirt Classic, presented by the Bank of Pontiac.
A standing-room-only crowd saw 29 of the finest Dirt Late Model pilots in the country line up for their chance to hoist the PDC trophy and be declared the winner of the richest paying Dirt Late Model race in Illinois. Chris Simpson led at the start before Brandon Sheppard took over on lap 20. Chris Madden and Moran followed and pulled away from the field. Moran overtook Madden for second and soon took the lead from Sheppard for the lead on lap 42. Madden got by Sheppard for second and challenged Moran for the lead, but the bottom-riding Moran was able to withstand the pressure. Sheppard slipped past Madden for second and caught Moran, as he battled through lapped traffic. Sheppard was able to lead the 72nd lap, but Moran regained the position on the following circuit. Sheppard moved into the lead on lap 78, but Moran came back again one lap later to take command. Moran, with a fast hot rod and lapped cars, was able to distance himself from Sheppard and cash the big check.“This race track and town are incredible,” a joyful Moran said. “This is our second time we have raced here and we won it. It will be hard to defend the win, but we will be back.” Outlaws points leader Mike Marlar overtook Sheppard for second in the closing laps, with Madden and Billy Drake running next. Shannon Babb led the second five home with Brian Shirley, Ryan Unzicker, Dennis Erb Jr., and Shane Clanton following.
The Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals championship was also decided as Highland’s Mike Harrison won Saturday’s $5,000 to win feature and another $5,000 for picking up his sixth title. Allen Weisser and Danny Schwartz brought the 27-car field to the green flag for the 40-lap race. Schwartz went into the lead as Jacob Hawkins followed. Hawkins repeatedly challenged Schwartz for the lead before taking over on lap 15. A caution fell on lap 25 and Hawkins’ night came to an end as he went to the pit area. Schwartz moved back into the lead with Harrison in second. Harrison moved by Schwartz for the lead as Mike McKinney’s bid for the title ended when he spun out. Harrison went unchallenged the remainder of the race, taking the win and locking up the championship. Kyle Strickler passed Schwartz on the last lap for second, with Weisser and Derek Losh in the top five. Kenny Wallace, Chris Arnold, Tait Davenport, Lucas Lee, and McKay Wenger rounded out the top 10.
Racing action started on Friday evening as 61 Craftsman World of Outlaws Late Model competitors representing 21 states took time trials. Bobby Pierce led the first group of qualifiers with a lap of 13.188 seconds, while Moran paced group two with a time of 13.427. Each driver was awarded $200 for their efforts. Four 25-lap, $2,500-to-win Showdown races were held with the top four finishers advancing to Saturday’s main event. Simpson, Sheppard, Moran and Babb won their respective races. A 25-lap, $2,000-to-win non-qualifiers race was held Saturday. The winner had the option of taking the money and loading up their car or forfeiting the check to start at the rear of the field. Pierce started 16th in the 19-car field. After a caution on the 23rd lap, Pierce shot by race leader Jason Feger to claim the win. Pierce elected to give up the money and start in the feature race. Three semi-features saw Gordy Gundaker, Billy Moyer, and Tyler Erb winning their respective races and moving on to the big show.
The Summit Modified Nationals saw Harrison and McKinney enter the weekend with McKinney holding a four-point lead for the championship. Davenport clocked a time of 13.885 seconds to lead the first group of qualifiers, while Schwartz led group two with a lap of 14.105. Four 20-lap, $500-to-win Showdown races also took place on Friday. Davenport, Arnold, Harrison, and Hawkins were the victors of their respective races. Harrison’s win tied him with McKinney for the points lead as McKinney finished fifth in his race and would have to run a semi on Saturday. Saturday gave the remainder of the drivers not locked into the main race another chance to earn their way in. Jeff Leka, Steven Brooks, and McKinney were the winners of their respective semi-features.
Moran scores biggest win of career with Prairie Dirt Classic victory
The World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series headlined one of the most prestigious races in the country; the 29th annual Prairie Dirt Classic presented by Bank of Pontiac. The fast quarter-mile of Fairbury American Legion Speedway (IL), located northeast of Bloomington in Fairbury, IL on Friday-Saturday, July 27-28th served as hosts as the 100-lap main paying $30,000 to win would see a rising star emerge victorious with his first major victory of his career. The 2017 Outlaws Rookie of the Year, 23-year-old Devin Moran passed defending series champion and defending race winner, Brandon Sheppard for the final time with 21 laps to go to secure the big payday.
“Once we moved up to the top, I really found something there and the car was just so phenomenal. It’s incredible what we can do with such a little team that we have. Everyone on this team have come together and to be able to do what we’re doing is so unbelievable.” The 23-year-old rising star stated standing next to his #9 Tommy Pope Construction / Rocket XR1 Chassis / Clements Racing Engines entry. “It’s by far the biggest one, this tops them all. It’s just incredible what we’ve done, and I can’t thank God enough for blessing us with the capabilities to come out here and race let alone win.” The Dresden, OH driver, who garnered a total of $33,200 for his efforts, added.
Chris Simpson and Sheppard would bring the star-studded 29-car field to the green flag to begin the century grind. Simpson would race out to the lead early while the rest of the field settled in behind him. After following Simpson around the fast quarter-mile, Sheppard made his move to take over the top spot and he brought Chris Madden, who started fifth and Moran, who started third, with him. The trio would then pull away from the rest of the pack with Moran getting by Madden for second. On lap 42, Moran took the lead for the first time and led the field to the halfway point.
Madden would slip past Sheppard for second and began to challenge Moran for the race lead. Sheppard would regain the runner-up spot and quickly caught Moran who was mired in traffic. On what would be the final restart after a caution, coming on lap 69, Sheppard immediately began pressuring the race leader. On lap 72, Sheppard would steal the lead away only to lose it a lap later.
Sheppard tried one more time on lap 78 and again was scored as the leader only to again lose it right back the very next lap to Moran for what turned out to be the final time. Moran would put plenty of real estate and lapped traffic between himself and Sheppard to seal the victory, the biggest of his career.
“Man, I got nervous there on that last restart. Every time we restarted, that top just kept getting faster and faster. I could tell why once we moved up there and it was way better for us. (Crew Chief and brother) Wylie (Moran) just kept pulling the sticks apart so I just kept running up high and it worked out for us.” explained the Buckeye State driver. “This is so cool. We just kept fine tuning little things all weekend long and it was just really good. When we can do that, I’m happy.” Moran ended.
Current points leader, Mike Marlar, who started 14th, passed Sheppard with two laps to go to claim the runner-up position. “We had a really good race car and it was a really good race track tonight. It was so congested early, but once it cleared out, I was able to get to the front." Stated the 40-year-old driver who was able to gain some points to add to his lead in the standings in his #157 Delk Equipment Sales / Rocket XR1 Chassis / Cornett Racing Engines machine. “Also, congratulations to Devin (Moran) and his team. He’s been doing an awesome job and I’m real proud of him. If we would’ve had a caution there we might’ve had a shot. But, we had to really work to get by Brandon (Sheppard) for second, so we’ll take it and we know we did the best we can.” Added the Winfield, TN pilot.
Rounding out the podium was Sheppard who led on four different occasions for 25 total laps before finishing in third in his #1 Seubert Calf Ranches / Rocket XR1 Chassis / Durham Racing Engines entry. “We were really good the whole race, but Devin (Moran) was just a little bit better tonight. I got a little bit free when we got to the lapped traffic and that’s where we needed to be a bit better.” Explained the 25-year-old from New Berlin, IL. “It’s typical Fairbury though. There’s three grooves of racing and when you get to them. They’re all over the place and they’re fighting for position too. We’re thankful to be in the top three though.” Sheppard remarked.
Madden would finish in the fourth position ahead of Billy Drake who completed the top five with an Outlaws career high finish of a fifth. Three-time PDC winner, Shannon Babb was sixth as 2018 DIRTcar Summer Nationals Hell Tour Champion, Brian Shirley was seventh. 2017 FALS Super Late Model Track Champion, Ryan Unzicker was eighth as another former PDC winner, Dennis Erb Jr., from 20th and 2015 Series Champion, Shane Clanton, from 23rd, rounded out the top 10. Four-time Track Champion and current points leader, Kevin Weaver earned the KSE Hard-Charger award with his 25th to 11th place run.
Earlier in the weekend on Friday, July 27th, Bobby Pierce won his first PFC Brakes Fast Qualifier award of the season and second of his career with a 13.188. Simpson, Sheppard, Moran and Babb won the Showdown Qualifier Features. On Saturday, July 28th, Gordy Gundaker, three-time series champion, Billy Moyer and Tyler Erb won the Last Chance Showdowns. Pierce would pick up the victory in the Prairie Dirt Shootout and would then forgo the $2,000 payday that came with it for the 27th starting spot in the Prairie Dirt Classic.
Harrison Rewrites Summit Modified Nationals History with Sixth Championship
The 2018 Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals concluded on Saturday, July 28th as part of the 29th annual Prairie Dirt Classic presented by Bank of Pontiac. The fast quarter-mile of Fairbury American Legion Speedway (IL), located northeast of Bloomington in Fairbury, IL, was the site of a dramatic, history-making weekend for the UMP Modifieds. Coming into the weekend, Mike McKinney led five-time defending Tour Champion Mike Harrison by just four points in the chase for the Championship.
After Friday night’s action, McKinney and Harrison were tied for the points lead after Harrison won his seventh Summit Modified Nationals Feature of the season and 43rd of his career, while McKinney finished fifth in the same race. Harrison, the all-time career wins leader in the eight-year history of the Summit Modified Nationals, had to win the 40-lap, $5,000-to-win Feature to lock up his sixth title overall and second in a row.
“I usually don’t get nervous with these races, but tonight, for some reason, this one had me on my toes a little bit. I was really worried about this one,” offered the 40-year-old driver of the #24 Rinderer Farms / Impressive Race Cars / Bill Faust Racing Engines entry while being congratulated from fans, friends and fellow competitors.
“Hats off to Mike (McKinney). He had a helluva year. But to come here on the last night, having to win the big show to win the points, this one is definitely at the top of the list. I’ll remember this one for a long time,” he added.
The 200th all-time Summit Modified Nationals Feature in the Tour’s eight-year history would see Allen Weisser and Danny Schwartz bring the stellar 27-car field to the green flag. Schwartz beat the field to the first corner to take the early race lead, while the rest of the field jockeyed for position behind him. Jacob Hawkins, who started in fourth, quickly worked his way up to second and began his charge, directed at Schwartz. On lap 15, Hawkins drove by to take the point and lead the way.
Hawkins maintained the lead until lap 25, when the caution flag came out and the race leader went pit side with apparent damage. This handed the lead back to Schwartz, who now had Harrison on his back bumper. Lap 28 proved to be the most pivotal moment of the 2018 Summit Modified Nationals. Harrison took over the lead from Schwartz, and as that was happening, McKinney, who had climbed up into the top 10 from his 19th starting spot, spun in turn three. Harrison would not be challenged the rest of the way and went on to take the checkered flag first.
Kyle Strickler, who started 14th, passed Schwartz on the white flag lap to bring home the runner-up spot, while Schwartz settled for the final podium position in third. Weisser was fourth, and Derek Losh finished off the top five. 2012 Summit Modified Nationals Champion Kenny Wallace finished in sixth after starting 16th, while Chris Arnold, Tait Davenport, Lucas Lee and current FALS DIRTcar Modified points leader McKay Wenger completed the top 10.
The weekend of racing started on Friday as Davenport out-qualified the 61-car field with a 13.885-second lap. He also won a Qualifier Feature, as did Arnold, Harrison and Hawkins. On Saturday in the three Last Chance Showdowns, 2008 DIRTcar Modified National Champion Jeff Leka scored the win to transfer into the PDC, as did Steven Brooks and McKinney.