Unzicker Earns Summer Nationals Victory; Dehm Scores Modified Nationals Win

by Bruce Yentes, DIRTcar, & Darlene Miller

In a grueling, 31-race marathon where competitors will visit nine states and log approximately 5,700 highway miles, El Paso’s Ryan Unzicker says you simply can’t beat winning 20 miles from home. Unzicker did just that Saturday night, motoring past Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, with only 12 laps remaining and then charging to the checkered flag in the UMP Summer Nationals main event at Fairbury’s American Legion Speedway.

“By far this is my biggest win,” said Unzicker of his fifth career Summer Nationals victory, a win worth $10,000. “We won that $10,000 at Oakshade (Ohio) last year which was awesome because that was my first $10,000 win. But to win here at my home track, 20-some miles away, means the world to me. We’ve got a lot of fans here and I’ll probably sell out all of my T-shirts. I don’t even know if I’ll have enough.”

Up to that point, Unzicker’s biggest dilemma involved trying to get past Birkhofer, the reigning champion of the World 100, dirt track late model racing’s premier event. With Birkhofer’s car literally slipping away from him in the closing laps, Unzicker finally got the job done after moving into contention for the lead from his fourth starting spot.

“When I’d pick the gas up the car was wanting to kind of tail out and slip up the race track,” Birkhofer said. “I was struggling to keep the car straight and I knew that wasn’t going to get it done with the caliber of guys that were here.”

“I think I caught (Birkhofer) with some lapped traffic,” Unzicker said. “I felt I could hang with him and when I moved up (from the low groove) it freed the car up a little bit and got my momentum going and everything worked out great.”

Birkhofer started the race from the pole position, but relinquished the early lead to outside front row starter Kevin Weaver of Gibson City. With Birkhofer on the inside and Weaver up high, the pair raced side-by-side for most of the first half of a splendidly competitive 50-lap main event. “(Weaver) had the momentum off the top and I had to go in and just kind of rely on corner speed somewhat,” Birkhofer said. “I thought maybe I could get him, because it looked like he wanted to move down but couldn’t because I was there.”

Weaver, indeed, was intent on moving down on the track but was unable to before it was too late. “The high side can be good or it can be your enemy,” Weaver said. “It was good for awhile. I tested the waters a little bit in (turns) three and one, but felt I was a little bit loose so I just favored going back to where I was and it ended up biting me.”

Weaver faded a bit after being passed by Birkhofer for the lead and finished fifth. “All in all, it was a good night,” he said. “We needed to finish. The last couple of nights we haven’t finished so we’ll take a fifth tonight.”

Summer Nationals series points leader Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin and Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., joined Unzicker and Birkhofer in getting past Weaver and finished third and fourth, respectively. “We started off a little bit slow but the car was just great in the feature,” Sheppard said. “I missed my line a little bit in qualifying and it got us behind a little, but it ended up being good. The car got better the longer we went.”

Defending series champion Brian Shirley finished sixth with Fairbury “regular” Joe Harlan taking seventh. Oakwood’s Bobby Pierce, Shannon Babb of Moweaqua and Chris Simpson rounded out the top 10. Among other “Fairbury regulars,” Daren Friedman of Forrest won a heat race and finished 12th, while Daniel Flessner was 19th. Reigning track champ Scott Bull finished 21st, a spot ahead of Pontiac’s Derek Chandler.

Friedman Makes Top Side Work in Allen Memorial

by Rocky Ragusa

Following the 2012 race season at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway, track officials went to work on the racetrack. The top groove of the track seemed to be the fastest way around and officials wanted to make the bottom and middle work, as well. Drivers that normally ran the top in the early 2013 races had their problems making their cars work on the top. After a caution flag with six laps to go, Daren Friedman made the top groove work and won the $2,000 to win, Bob and Pappy Allen Memorial race for the UMP Dirt Car Late Models.

Pole sitter Derek Chandler took an early lead in the 30 lap contest, with Torin Mettille, Joe Harlan, Eric Smith, and Daren Friedman following. After back to back cautions on lap three, Chandler led, as Harlan raced with Mettille for second. Trailing several car lengths back, Smith running the bottom and Friedman at the top, ran side by side, in a battle for fourth. On the ninth circuit, Chandler encountered slower cars. Harlan had gotten by Mettille two laps prior and was able to claim the lead from Chandler. Chandler jumped the berm allowing Mettille and Smith to get by. Slower cars that were racing for position allowed Mettille and Smith to close the margin on Harlan. On lap 18, Mettille pulled alongside of Harlan, and on the next lap Mettille moved into the lead. Mettille led by 5 car lengths as Harlan and Smith raced side by side for second. Smith took the second position with 9 laps to go. Cars were running single file and with 7 laps left, Smith slowed in turn four, causing Friedman, Harlan, Chandler, and Donny Walden to make contact. The caution came out with six laps to go. With the track clean and green, Friedman made his move and ran the high side of the track. Taking the lead on the next lap, Friedman powered his way to a five car length lead and picked up his second win of the weekend. Mettille, Smith, Harlan, Mike Mullvain, Jay Morris, Walden, Aaron Ricketts, Bill Hough, and Kenny Adams took the top ten positions. Hough was the race’s hard charger. Chandler, Mettille, and Harlan were heat race victors. Chandler set fast time at a 12.987.

Craven Rolls to Sportsman Special Win

by Rocky Ragusa

Debuting a new race car before an enthusiastic crowd, Richard Craven got the hat trick Saturday night by setting fast time, winning his heat race and then taking the $800-to-win feature at Fairbury American Legion Speedway. Craven, the defending sportsman track champion, missed the first two races at FALS because he was preparing the new race car for competition.

Pole sitter Craven raced side by side for five laps with Jimmy Dehm before taking sole possession of the lead. While working slower traffic on the 11th lap, Craven made contact with the slower car of Michael Maestes to bring out a caution flag. After the track was cleared, Dehm made several attempts to overtake Craven but Craven was able to pull away. Dustin Mounce and Richie Rich trailed the leaders by 10 car lengths before Mounce was able to break away from Rich and close the margin on Dehm. With five laps to go, Craven held a half-straight away lead and Mounce had caught up to Dehm. Mounce went to the top of the track to get by Dehm on the 18th circuit but time ran out as Craven cruised to the win.

“Everything on this car is brand new,” Craven said after the feature victory. “The guy that built my car had been in the hospital and I didn’t want to race without him. The car was awesome.” Mounce, Dehm, Jim Felker and Rich made the top five while Troy Dodson, Paul Graf, Timmy Dick, Ryan Huddleston and Scott Hatzer completed the top 10. Dehm and Rich joined Craven as heat race winners and Hatzer was the race’s hard charger.

Weaver Holds off Stout Field

by Rocky Ragusa

It was another typical Saturday night of racing action at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway. A large crowd witnessed plenty of door handle to door handle, three and four wide racing.

The featured event of the night was a 30-lap, $2,000 to win, UMP vs. ALMS series race. 41 drivers from seven states vied for a starting position in the main event. Two time track champion Eric Smith set quick time at a 12.740. Shannon Babb, Kevin Weaver, Smith, and Brian Shirley took heat race wins, while Scott Schmitt and Torin Mettille advanced to the feature by winning the semi features.

Babb and Weaver took the green flag from starter Jim Whittington and fourth starting Shirley took a brief lead, before Weaver took over on lap two. After cautions on lap two and three Babb used the top groove to take second from Shirley, as Weaver opened up a five car length lead. On lap seven, Shirley went to the top of the track to get by Babb and closed up to Weaver, with Babb on Shirley’s bumper. The following lap, Shirley tried to take the top spot, but Weaver held on. 19th starter, Brandon Sheppard, quickly moved into the top five and battled with Scott Bull for the fourth position. As the top three drivers were able to run three wide for first place, Bull and Sheppard closed the margin on the front threesome. Weaver stuck to the bottom of the track, while Babb, who moved into second, and Shirley, tried the top and middle to take the lead. Shirley came back to take second back, but in the closing laps, jumped the cushion, allowing Babb to take second back.  Weaver and Babb ran side by side for several laps, before Weaver was able to hold on at the checkered for his first win of the 2013 season. Babb took second, over defending track champion Scott Bull, Donny Walden, Shirley, Steve Sheppard Jr., Ryan Unzicker, Smith, Daren Friedman, and Brandon Sheppard. Brandon Sheppard was the race’s hard charger.

Chandler, Curl, Mounce, Clubb Take Season Opening Wins

by Rocky Ragusa

With all the rain in the area it has been a tough time for the Fairbury American Legion Speedway to get their first race in. The third time proved to be the charm as the speedway finally got the first race in Saturday night.

In the 30-lap, UMP Late Model feature, Daren Friedman and Derek Chandler led the field to the green flag. Friedman jumped to the top of the track to take an early lead, with Chandler, Joe Harlan, Torin Mettille, and McKay Wenger following. Friedman and Chandler were able to pull away to a ten car length lead. On the fourth lap, Wenger moved to third and closed up on the leaders. Chandler was able to lead lap seven, but Friedman came back to reclaim the lead on the following circuit. After a caution on lap nine for debris, Friedman led Chandler, Wenger, Eric Smith, and Harlan in a tight formation. Chandler took the lead on lap 16 and began to separate himself from the field. Friedman had to contend with Smith and Harlan, with Wenger, Donny Walden, Scott Bull, and Mike Glasscock trailing. Back to back cautions on lap 24 bunched the field and gave Friedman an opportunity to retake the lead. Chandler was able to hold off Friedman as a caution flag came out with two laps remaining. When the green flag fell, Chandler motored away from the contenders and picked up a hard earned victory. In a mad scramble for second, Harlan edged Smith, followed by Bull, Friedman, Wenger, Walden, Matt Furman, Mike Mullvain, and Jay Morris. Kevin Weaver set fast time at a 13.04. Chandler, Friedman, and Wenger took heats; while Mullvain won the semi feature.

Jeff Curl started on the pole position for the 20-lap, UMP Modified race, with Joel Funk alongside. Curl took a commanding lead at the start, with Funk holding off the challenge from Lance Dehm for second, with Tommy Duncan, Justin Delong, and Jeb Friedman trailing. After a caution on lap three, Dehm had a good run coming off of turn two and got by Funk for second. By the sixth lap, Curl held a straight away lead over the field. Dehm and Funk ran side by side for six laps, before a caution fell on lap 12. Following the caution, Dehm tried the top of the track to take the lead, but Curl, running the bottom, proved to be too much. Funk got by Dehm, briefly, for second, with Duncan and Jim Farris in hot pursuit. With three laps remaining and Curl in full control, Dehm got along side of Funk before taking over the position with one to go. Curl picked up the win, with Dehm, Funk, Duncan, Farris, Delong, Gary Turpin, Jeb Friedman, Jared Cagley, and Dan Rork completing the top ten. Dehm was the fast qualifier at a 14.04. Funk, Curl, and Duncan won heat races.