by Darlene Miller | Photos by Rocky Ragusa
It was a perfect night for racing as the DIRTcar Summer Nationals Late Model tour came blazing into the Fairbury American Legion Speedway on Saturday. The capacity crowd was not let down as Brandon Sheppard outlasted Billy Moyer in a fight to the finish to win the featured event. Chad Kinder and Andrew Funk were also feature winners on the night.
The “Moweaqua Missile” Shannon Babb set the fastest qualifying time while being the first qualifying Late Model of the night with a blistering time of 12.651 seconds. Fan favorites Sheppard, of New Berlin, and Billy Moyer from Batesville, Ark., brought the crowd to its feet as they took the green flag for the 50-lap, $10,000 top prize main event. The pair were even for the first two laps with Sheppard edging Moyer at the third lap. Moyer grabbed the lead and, with seven laps in, the lead group began facing lap traffic. With 11 laps in the book, Moyer and Sheppard were joined by hard chargers Babb and Jimmy Mars. Babb got around Sheppard with 17 laps gone and Mars, running low, got around the high-flying Sheppard. A yellow flag flew with 30 laps to go as the top four were Moyer, Babb, Mars, and Sheppard. Two laps later, Summer Nationals current points leader Bobby Pierce pulled to the infield to change a tire and rejoined the field at the back. Sheppard made another challenge to the top spot as he and Moyer were even one lap past the halfway point, but Moyer held him off and regained the advantage. Moyer then began to face a strong challenge from Babb, who eventually took the lead. A caution flag flew with 14 circuits to go for debris and Babb pulled off into the infield in turn two, seeing his night come to an end and a 20th place finish. Sheppard wrestled back the top spot with nine to go and won by three car lengths over Moyer for his 11th career Summer Nationals win. “It was tough competition tonight,” said an excited Sheppard. “I knew I had to go when I got to the top spot. I had to get up on the wheel and hit my marks. This is the best win yet.” Moyer took second followed by Mars, Michael Kloos, and El Paso’s Joe Harlan in the top five. Ryan Unzicker (who started 20th) led the second five to the line with Gibson City’s Kevin Weaver, Pierce, Manhattan’s Mike Spatola, and Pontiac’s Derek Chandler chasing. Heat winners were Babb, Sheppard, Bob Gardner, and Moyer. Chandler won the semi feature.
The DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals 25-lap, $1,500 to win race began the night of features. Front row starters Kinder and Mike Harrison soon moved away from the group and began to set a fast pace. The pair swapped the lead multiple times early but with 14 laps to go, Brent Mullins got around Harrison for the second spot. However, Mullins soon ran into trouble as spring problems made his car hard to handle and he dropped back in the field. NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Justin Allgaier soon found himself sitting in the second spot and began to challenge Kinder. A couple of caution flags flew as Mullins was off the pace and pulled off with eight to go. Kinder and Allgaier battled for the top spot and Kinder held off Allgaier by a clip for his second Summit Nationals win in a row at FALS. The Newton native, Kinder said, “I knew it was going to be a tough night and tough out there. Sometimes you gotta be lucky and we will take it.” Harrison was third followed by Pontiac’s Jeffrey Ledford and Jacob Poel. Tyler Nicely was sixth with Chatsworth’s Lance Dehm, Pontiac’s Jay Ledford, Nick Hoffman, and Ray Walsh in tow. Heat winners were Kinder, Jeffrey Ledford, Mullins, and Harrison. The semi feature went to Mike McKinney. Kinder had fast qualifying time with a 13.757 second trip.
Dwight’s Funk brought home the Street Stock 15-lap feature. Funk quickly took the lead from polesitter Steve Mattingly. Dwight’s Rick Thomas moved to second and began to challenge Funk. A trio of caution flags flew as several drivers had problems on the track. Once the green flag flew, Funk established himself as the driver to beat and won by five car lengths over Thomas. “I was working hard and have decided to go all out this year,” Funk said. “It was a great win.” Peter Odell was third followed by Kyle Miner and 17th starter Kaleb Wood. The second five were Al Gray, Don Hilleary, Mattingly, Kyle Anderson, and Terry Miller. Funk, Mattingly, and A.J. Meiferdt were heat winners and Dennis Wernle was the semi feature winner. Mattingly had fast time at 16.062 seconds.