by Joshua Joiner, WoO LMS PR | Modified Nationals PR
Jonathan Davenport added another victory to his amazing 2015 campaign and added another chapter to the growing FALS legend in Saturday night's 26th annual Prairie Dirt Classic presented by Bank of Pontiac.
In another thrilling Prairie Dirt Classic A-Main at Fairbury American Legion Speedway, Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., advanced from his eighth starting spot and outdueled sixth-starting Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., in an epic back-and-forth battle through the second half of the 100-lap race before using a dramatic final-lap pass to score a $26,000 victory in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series event.
"You couldn't write this in a book any better," said Davenport, whose first WoO LMS triumph of the season gave him his 14 overall victory of 2015 and his fourth payday of $20,000 or more. "This is an awesome place. The facility, the staff, the fans, the way the racetrack races, man this place is awesome."
Fairbury's quarter-mile oval has indeed built a reputation of awe-inspiring racing, especially during the Prairie Dirt Classic. Sanctioned by the WoO LMS for the third consecutive season, the blockbuster event produced its third straight dramatic finish on Saturday in a race that featured eight official lead changes among three drivers.
In true FALS fashion, the event saw close action and building drama through the entire distance before ultimately being decided on the final lap. With a strong run exiting turn two, Davenport cut under Erb down the back straightaway, drove hard into turn three and muscled his way ahead through the final corner. Davenport edged away down the homestretch to a lead of 0.361 seconds as he took the checkered in his K&L Rumley Enterprises Longhorn Chassis.
Erb settled for second in his Black Diamond Chassis, while the Rocket Chassis driven by Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., narrowly edged 16th-starting Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., who was fourth in the Rocket Chassis house car. Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., rounded out the top five in his Capital Race Car.
The race's early portions were controlled by polesitter Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark. Moyer, a five-time Prairie Dirt Classic winner, held a slight advantage over second-starting Mason Ziegler of Chalk Hill, Pa., through the first 20 laps before Erb took second and began challenging Moyer.
After a lengthy side-by-side battle, Erb cleared Moyer for the lead on lap 31 and held the spot until a resurgent Moyer swept passed on lap 50. But Moyer's second stint out front was much shorter than his first. He jumped the cushion on lap 52, handing the lead back to Erb.
The veteran Moyer ultimately saw his hopes of a sixth PDC victory dissipate entirely when he jumped cushion again on lap 56, tagged the wall and came to stop.
With Moyer out of the race, the remaining distance was left to Erb and Davenport to sort out. Picking up the pace against Fairbury's rugged cushion, Davenport stuck with the low-running Erb following the lap-56 restart before charging ahead on lap 65.
Erb recovered quickly, however, and pulled back out front on lap 66. The two leaders raced neck-and-neck through the next 20 laps before Davenport picked up his pace to make a serious bid for the lead.
Davenport used a slidejob through turns one and two on lap 91 to again get by Erb and had opened a slight lead until jumping the cushion on lap 94. Erb took advantage and charged back out front.
The race's final caution with 96 laps complete gave Davenport a chance to regroup for a late-race charge. He took advantage of the opportunity, using a lap-98 slidejob to pull ahead. But Erb crossed over and immediately pulled back out front.
Finally, as the leaders made their final circuit, Davenport charged off of the top of turn two, crossed over to the low groove as Erb drifted high and made contact with Erb as he raced ahead in the final corner.
Davenport certainly didn't hold back with the victory on the line, but he said some close calls with Erb during their back-and-forth battle led him to be extra aggressive in making the winning pass.
"Just like my mom always told me," Davenport said, "you gotta treat everybody else the way they treat you, and that's the way I done him."
Erb, however, wasn't pleased with the final-lap run-in.
"I think we had the best race car here tonight because nobody could run with us once we stayed green," Erb said. "He just got lucky there on the last caution and made a banzai move. I think we'd been alright if we'd had more laps because we were able to pull away the longer we went."
Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., was sixth at the finish after briefly racing into the top five from his 15th starting spot. After starting from the tail of the field in his backup car, Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas, survived an early spin and recovered to finish seventh.
Tim McCreadie, the Watertown, N.Y., driver who held off Owens to win last year's Prairie Dirt Classic in dramatic fashion, ended up eighth in this year's event after a tangle with ninth-finishing Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., dropped both drivers out of the top five late in race.
Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., rounded out the race's top 10 finishers. He was also involved in a late-race tangle that left WoO LMS points leader Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., with a flat tire.
Preliminary action for the event was held on Friday, with Kevin Weaver of Gibson City, Ill., topping 64 qualifiers during time trials. Heat races were won by Junghans, Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., Erb, Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville, Ark., and Billy Moyer.
Saturday's action also featured the 30-lap Prairie Dirt Classic Shootout non-qualifiers race. Hometown driver Mckay Wenger scored the $1,500 victory with a last-lap pass of Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill.
Tyler Nicely powered to victory in a flawless feature performance to win the final night of the DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals and secure second place in the championship.
Nicely, of Owensboro, Ky., was smooth in every corner on the quarter-mile dirt oval while the field behind him was two- and three-wide trying to run him down in the 30-lap, $2,000-to-win season finale. The victory was Nicely’s first win of the 2015 tour, finally putting him over the top after he turned in four second-place finishes during the month-long season that ran primarily in conjunction with the DIRTcar Summer Nationals.
“I just kept hitting my marks right around the bottom so nobody could sneak underneath me,” Nicely said. “I knew if I didn’t make any mistakes I had a good enough hot rod. It’s huge, I’ve been wanting to win in Illinois, and Fairbury is the best track in America in my opinion. It’s awesome, and the fans make it even better. You just feel welcome here.”
There were 47 DIRTcar UMP Modifieds in competition at Fairbury, which also ran the World of Outlaws Late Model Series Prairie Dirt Classic, for a combined total of 106 cars in the pits on Saturday night. The event was delayed about an hour by rain that fell during the Last Chance Showdown.
Heat race winners included Lance Dehm, Curt Spaulding, Brandon Roberts and Tyler Nicely.
Mike Harrison earned the overall DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified championship with nine victories in 13 starts. Unfortunately in Saturday night’s finale, Harrison started 15th and was on the move when he was involved in a scary-looking crash on the frontstretch, leaving him with a 23rd-place finish.