WAUSEON, Ohio (July 15) — Kent Robinson thought his hopes for victory in Saturday night’s UMP DIRTcar Summernationals-sanctioned Birthday Race at Oakshade Raceway were effectively over as soon as he drew the sixth starting spot for the 60-lap feature.
With passing expected to be at a premium because the 3/8-mile oval’s track surface had already taken rubber, Robinson looked at an outside third row position as being virtually impossible to overcome.
“I wasn’t very happy,” Robinson said later. “I was like, ‘That isn’t gonna get it done.’”
Yet come the end of the A-main, there was Bloomington, Ind.’s Robinson, standing on the roof of his family-owned Billy Moyer Victory Race Car to celebrate the biggest win of his career. He couldn’t believe the turn of events that made him the winner of his first-ever Summernationals event and $10,000 first-place prize.
“I thought it was gonna be a little more one-lane than it turned out,” the 30-year-old driver admitted.
There was enough racetrack for Robinson to surge forward following a lap-21 restart, using a higher line around the speedway to go from fifth to first in a matter of seven circuits. He completed his charge by driving around the outside of race-long pacesetter Brandon Thirlby of Traverse City, Mich., for the lead on lap 28.
Robinson faced late-race pressure from Oakshade points leader Devin Shiels of Britton, Mich., but held on to beat his 37-year-old challenger by a modest 0.536 of a second.
Thirlby settled for a third-place finish after leading laps 1-27. Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio, who won last year’s Birthday Race, improved one spot from his starting position to place fourth and outside polesitter Brian Ruhlman of Clarklake, Mich., slipped backward to complete the top five.
Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., who clinched his third consecutive Summernationals points title before Thursday night’s series event at Merritt Speedway in Lake City, Mich., capped his 25-race march to the championship with a quiet 10th-place finish. He was officially crowned the champion in a post-race ceremony during which he held aloft the the $25,000 check he received for his hard work.
Robinson picked up a smaller check, but the $10,000 payoff was nonetheless quite exciting for him. It marked the first time he captured a five-figure win.
And Robinson did it with a flourish, putting together a post-restart push forward that left him amazed.
“Really, at the beginning, we knew it was gonna rubber — it was already rubbered — and I was like, ‘Man, it’s just gonna be so hard to pass,’” Robinson said. “It was rubbered down the backstretch, all of (turns) three and four was rubbered, and then you kind of drove out of it down the frontstretch and all of one and two there was no rubber, so it was a little tricky.
“I wasn’t really thinking there was anything on the outside so I wasn’t gonna try it, but I just got kind of shuffled out there to the outside on that restart. I was outside (Jon) Henry going into one and I was like, ‘This isn’t good.’ I didn’t think we were gonna be able to stick out there, and we did. Then I passed a couple cars down the backstretch (Shiels for third off turn four on lap 24 and Ruhlman for second moments later) and went off into three and I was really good there. The next you know, I was passing Thirlby and in the lead.
“I was pleasantly surprised, I guess you could say,” he added. “I realized the rubber was actually wider than I thought.”
Robinson wasn’t sure what allowed him to find traction higher on the track.
“I didn’t feel like I could go out there before the restart, so maybe it was just a culmination of a little bit of moisture coming back up and the tire combination we’re running,” Robinson commented. “This tire combination is a little bit different. We were all on right-rear (LM) 40s but then we can’t do anything but 20s everywhere so that combination of the hards with the softs … maybe they cooled off together just right and we were able to stick because of it after that restart. I mean, the tires started wearing obviously, but I never felt like I got any better after that.”
Robinson had to stave off bids from Shiels, who moved his family-owned XR1 Rocket by Thirlby for second on lap 34 and was right behind the leader by lap 40. Shiels nosed underneath Robinson a few times — including following the race’s second and final restart on lap 53 — but he couldn’t make a move stick.
“Jason (Palubicki) was giving me signals,” Robinson said of his crewman. “I couldn’t get through one and two very well so I figured (Shiels) was gaining on me there, but I was really not running 100 percent through three and four because I was so good down there and I wanted to save my right-rear when I could. I just thought, if anybody gets next to me it’s gonna be through one and two, but I was pretty confident that if that happened I could get back by him in three and four by running a little harder.
“Luckily we didn’t have to do that, but I knew he was close,” he added. “We were able to hang. I’m just really proud of my team right now.”
Shiels fell just short of what would have been a win unlike any other he’s experienced. He said the most money he’s ever collected in his racing career was $1,500.
Unfortunately for Shiels, he needed something extra to reach victory lane.
“There was nothing left of the tires,” said Shiels, who was scheduled to start seventh but move up to fifth when pole starter Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., relinquished his spot because his car stuck in gear after driver introductions and he had to be towed to the pit area for hasty repairs. “I used every bit of them. I could see we were gaining (on Robinson) and I tried everything I could do, but it just wasn’t there.
“He found the high line first and that won him the race. He passed three or four cars when there wasn’t much passing, and then he just kind of stayed in that rubber area and kept ‘er out front.”
Shiels didn’t hang his head, however, after recording his career-best Summernationals finish.
“To be able to run with these guys, that’s great,” Shiels said. “We’ve been running good here this year, we’ve got three feature wins, and this just boosts our confidence a ton.”
Thirlby, 30, faded slightly after leading most of the race’s first half in his family-owned XR1 Rocket. He tipped his cap to Robinson.
“I used it up (the tires), and I was so conscious about blocking the bottom that it was really screwing up my entry,” said Thirlby, who noted that he had three bald tires at the race’s conclusion. “I never thought anybody would roll me on the top like that, though.
“But this whole weekend has been awesome. I wish I could’ve finished last night (he retired with apparent suspension trouble while running fifth). I know we had a top-five car, and maybe at least second, last night … and if we did that, we might have won the Champions Week points (the FK Rod Ends-sponsored final-week standings that were claimed by eighth-place finisher Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville, Ark.).
“I just can’t be more proud of the car and the crew,” he added. “We set fast time (on Saturday night) and I had never done that in the Summernationals — and hell, I’d never run top-five in the Summernationals until this week (he finished third Tuesday night at Michigan’s Hartford Speedway and second Thursday evening at Merritt), so I’m happy.”
Notes: Robinson was just the second driver to register a first-ever Summernationals triumph this season, joining Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas. .. Robinson’s previous career-high win was his $5,000 score in the 2012 Fall 50 at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky. … Unzicker was able to return to the track to start the race at the rear after crewmen knocked his car back into gear in the pit area. He charged forward to finish 11th. … Six-time Oakshade champion Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, who finished second in Friday night’s 40-lap feature that kicked off the weekend, retired from the race on lap 25 because he was mired outside the top 10 and saw little opportunity to advance forward on the rubbered track. … Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., was running sixth when he slowed on the final lap with a flat tire. He was scored 17th in the official finish. ... The race’s caution flags were caused by James Rice of Verona, Ky., who stopped in turn two on lap 21, and Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., who slowed with a flat tire on lap 53.
Preliminary notes and results:
At 10:05 p.m., track crews were working on the surface; the call to line up the 60-lap Late Model feature was minutes away. … Ryan Unzicker’s pole starting spot not only puts him in the driver’s seat to pick up his first Summernationals triumph of 2017, but he also has a great shot to move up to third in the points standings with Gordy Gundaker, who leads Unzicker by 10 points, starting 21st after using a provisional. … Defending Birthday Race champion Jon Henry takes the green flag from the fifth spot. He’s the first driver in the lineup with a Birthday Race victory on his resume. … Gundaker and Brent Larson are Summernationals provisional starters; Bob Gardner is the UMP national provisional; and Steve Kester is the track’s provisional.
Row 1: Ryan Unzicker, Brian Ruhlman
Row 2: Brandon Thirlby, Casey Noonan
Row 3: Jon Henry, Kent Robinson
Row 4: Devin Shiels, Curtis Roberts
Row 5: Wayne Chinn, Bobby Pierce
Row 6: Travis Stemler, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 7: Rusty Schlenk, Jeff Babcock
Row 8: Cody Mahoney, Joe Smith
Row 9: Jason Feger, Matt Shipley
Row 10: Brad Wade, James Rice
Row 11: Gordy Gundaker, Bob Gardner
Row 12: Steve Kester, Brent Larson
Finish (12 laps; top 2 transfer): James Rice, Brad Wade, Rob Anderzack, Gordy Gundaker, Brad Eitniear, Jake Rendel, Curtis Deisenroth, Dustin Nobbe, Graeme Short, Ken Hahn, Dan Gehring, Ky Harper, Dusty Moore, Andrew Reaume, Bob Gardner, Steve Kester.
(12 laps; top 2 transfer)
Row 1: Brad Wade, James Rice
Row 2: Curtis Deisenroth, Rob Anderzack
Row 3: Bob Gardner, Jake Rendel
Row 4: Gordy Gundaker, Graeme Short
Row 5: Dusty Moore, Dan Gehring
Row 6: Brad Eitniear, Andrew Reaume
Row 7: Steve Kester, Ken Hahn
Row 8: Dustin Nobbe, Ky Harper
First C-main finish (top 2 transfer to B-main): Steve Kester, Dustin Nobbe, Bob Mayer, Mathew Chapman, Hillard Miller, Ron Miller, JR Gooden, Paul Stubber, Doug Baird, Brent Larson, Jeff Robertson, Zach Calkins, Ryan Missler.
Second C-main finish (top 2 transfer to B-main): Ken Hahn, Ky Harper, Mike Bores, Steve Miller, Brian O’Brien, Chris Sands, Rody Schroyer, Nicholas Fenner, Scott Moyer, Brett Miller, Dan Shaffer.
(10 laps; top 2 transfer to B-main)
Row 1: Bob Mayer, Dustin Nobbe
Row 2: Ryan Missler, Michael Kloos
Row 3: Brent Larson, Steve Kester
Row 4: Mathew Chapman, Hillard Miller
Row 5: Paul Stubber, JR Gooden
Row 6: Ron Miller, Zach Calkins
Row 7: Jeff Robertson, Doug Baird
Row 1: Ken Hahn, Ky Harper
Row 2: Adam Bowman, Chris Sands
Row 3: Brian O’Brien, Brett Miller
Row 4: Josh Robertson, Dan Shaffer
Row 5: Steve Miller, Rody Schroyer
Row 6: Mike Bores, Scott Moyer
Row 7: Brett Glass, Nicholas Fenner
Jon Henry scored a flag-to-flag win, but Billy Moyer Jr. closed within striking distance in the final laps before settling for second, 0.458 of a second behind. Matt Shipley came out on top of the battle for third; he was initially disqualified afterward for using what officals called a grooved right-rear tire, but after further discussion the tire was deemed to have been siped within the rules and he was reinstated as the third-place finisher. Cautions flew on the opening circuit and lap one for spins by Steve Miller.
Finish: Jon Henry, Billy Moyer Jr., Jake Rendel, Andrew Reaume, Adam Bowman, Brett Miller, Steve Miller, Scott Moyer (DQ) Matt Shipley.
Smooth and steady from start-to-finish, Casey Noonan held off a late bid from Bobby Pierce to take the win. Pierce settled for second after taking the position from Rob Anderzack on lap three and Joe Smith placed third after slipping past Anderzack on a lap-five restart. An opening-lap tangle in turn four involving Mike Bores, Joe Smith and Nicholas Fenner brought out a caution flag; a second caution flag on lap five for debris on the backstretch.
Finish: Casey Noonan, Bobby Pierce, Joe Smith, Rob Anderzack, Dan Gehring, Ky Harper, Brian O’Brien, Dan Shaffer, Mike Bores, Nicholas Fenner.
Brandon Thirlby ran away from the field, leading from wire-to-wire to take the checkered flag 2.049 seconds in front of Curtis Roberts. Jeff Babcock finished third, several car lengths behind Roberts. A caution flag flew on lap four when Rod Schroyer spun while running sixth.
Finish: Brandon Thirlby, Curtis Roberts, Jeff Babcock, James Rice, Grame Short, Ken Hahn, Chris Sands, Josh Robertson, Rody Schroyer.
Ryan Unzicker overtook Bob Gardner for the lead on lap two and never looked back en route to victory. Travis Stemler wrestled second away from Jason Feger on lap six and was the runner-up, 0.972 of a second behind Unzicker. Feger held on to finish third while Gardner fell from the pole to one spot short of transferring.
Finish: Ryan Unzicker, Travis Stemler, Jason Feger, Bob Gardner, Brad Eitniear, Ryan Missler, Steve Kester, Paul Stubber, Zach Calkins.
Kent Robinson stuck to the inside lane and led all the way, keeping Wayne Chinn at bay to emerge victorious. China finished 0.399 of a second back in second and Cody Mahoney grabbed the final transfer spot.
Finish: Kent Robinson, Wayne Chinn, Cody Mahoney, Curtis Deisenroth, Dusty Moore, Dustin Nobbe, Brent Larson, Hillard Miller, Ron Miller, Doug Baird.
Brian Ruhlman dominated the action, scoring a flag-to-flag win. Devin Shiels passed Rusty Schlenk for second early in the race and finished in the spot, 1.172 seconds behind Ruhlman.
Finish: Brian Ruhlman, Devin Shiels, Rusty Schlenk, Brad Wade, Gordy Gundaker, Bob Mayer, Michael Kloos, Mathew Chapman, JR Gooden, Jeff Robertson.
Brandon Thirlby of Traverse City, Mich., was one of the last drivers to qualify in the split 58-car session, but, with the track surface apparently taking rubber and becoming progressively faster, he ripped off a lap of 15.124 seconds to give him the overall fastest circuit of the night. He will start from the pole position in the fourth heat.
Brian Ruhlman of Clarklake, Mich., was quickest in the first group with a lap of 15.496 seconds, giving him the pole in the first heat.
Other heat polesitters are Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., Bob Gardner of East Peoria, Ill., Casey Noonan of Toledo, Ohio, and Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio.
With absolutely gorgeous weather conditions prevailing — sunny skies with temperatures in the high 70s — the 2017 UMP DIRTcar Summernationals finale appears set to run before a standing-room-only crowd. As the 58-car field was warming up to head out for hot laps at 6 p.m., traffic entering the speedway grounds was backed up in both directions from the track entrance. … General admission for the $10,000-to-win event is a Summernationals-low $12. … Friday night’s 59 entrants marked the highest Summernationals car count for a single event in the DirtonDirt.com era (since 2008). Oakshade broke its own mark over the timeframe, drawing 58 cars in both 2009 and ’10. … Hot off a Friday-night feature win and the knowledge that he had clinched his third consecutive Summernationals title without even turning a lap this weekend, Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., had a very relaxed look as he hung out in the pits on Saturday afternoon. “I like not having the stress of the points at the last race,” he said with a smile. … Pierce is one of seven drivers who will finish the 25-race Summernationals with perfect attendance, joining Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville, Ark., Gordy Gundaker of St. Charles, Mo., Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., Bob Gardner of East Peoria, Ill., Dustin Nobbe of Batesville, Ind., and Australia’s Paul Stubber who becomes the first international driver to run the full Hell Tour schedule. … Gundaker, who sits third in the Summernationals standings but is just 10 points up on Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., found a problem in his car’s rearend after Friday night’s action that had him worried about his status for this evening’s action. His younger brother, Trevor, said the situation would be handled, however, by their father, Kevin Gundaker. “Big G’s here today,” Trevor said. “He’ll figure it out.” And Kevin did, finding that the birdcage was seized up on the axle tube. … A new addition to the field is James Rice of Verona, Ky., who is making his third start in a Black Diamond car fielded by Toedter Family Racing. Team owner Bill Toedter purchased the machine from Rice’s former team, Kuzman Racing, and, with a Dickens engine provided by Sunesis Construction, the new pairing hopes to run selected specials for the remainder of the season, including the World 100. … Brandon Thirlby of Traverse City, Mich., appeared headed to his third straight top-five finish on the Summernationals trail on Friday night, but an apparent shock problem that caused his car’s left-front corner to rise up forced him out midway through the race. … Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., said a right-rear tire that sealed over prompted him to retire from further action while running just outside the top five midway through Friday’s A-main.
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals points race comes to an end Saturday night with the running of the annual Birthday Race at Oakshade Raceway, a series stalwart has hosted the Hell Tour every year since 2000. Only once, in 2002, was the speedway’s event not the finale of the Summernationals.
After Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., celebrated having already clinched his third consecutive Summernationals championship by winning Friday night’s 40-lap Prelude to the Birthday Race feature, 14 drivers have won Summernationals features at Oakshade. Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., and Matt Miller of Whitehouse, Ohio, lead the way with three victories apiece; neither driver is in this weekend’s field. Other former Hell Tour victors include Billy Moyer (two), Kevin Weaver, Don O’Neal, Brian Shirley, Jeep VanWormer, Tim McCreadie, Rusty Schlenk, Ryan Unzicker, Billy Moyer Jr., Jason Feger and Jon Henry.
Saturday night’s program will feature two split time trials with drivers in the first group vying for positions. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and racing is set to get the green flag at 7:30 p.m.
Heat race lineups
(10 laps; top 3 transfer)
Row 1: Brian Ruhlman, Rusty Schlenk
Row 2: Michael Kloos, Devin Shiels
Row 3: Bob Mayer, Gordy Gundaker
Row 4: Mathew Chapman, Brad Wade
Row 5: JR Gooden, Jeff Robertson
Row 1: Kent Robinson, Cody Mahoney
Row 2: Curtis Deisenroth, Wayne Chinn
Row 3: Dusty Moore, Dusin Nobbe
Row 4: Brent Larson, Hillard Miller
Row 5: Ron Miller, Doug Baird
Row 1: Bob Gardner, Ryan Unzicker
Row 2: Steve Kester, Jason Feger
Row 3: Travis Stemler, Ryan Missler
Row 4: Brad Eitniear, Paul Stubber
Row 5: Zach Calkins
Row 1: Brandon Thirlby, Curtis Roberts
Row 2: Jeff Babcock, James Rice
Row 3: Graeme Short, Rody Schroyer
Row 4: Ken Hahn, Chris Sands
Row 5: Josh Robertson, Brett Glass
Row 1: Casey Noonan, Rob Anderzack
Row 2: Bobby Pierce, Mike Bores
Row 3: Ky Harper, Dan Gehring
Row 4: Joe Smith, Brian O’Brien
Row 5: Nicholas Fenner, Dan Shaffer
Row 1: Jon Henry, Matt Shipley
Row 2: Andrew Reaume, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 3: Jake Rendel, Scott Moyer
Row 4: Steve Miller, Adam Bowman
Row 5: Brett Miller
Brian Ruhlman (49), Clarklake, Mich., 15.496
Kent Robinson (7R), Bloomington, Ind., 15.576
Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., 15.709
Rusty Schlenk (91), McClure, Ohio, 15.841
Cody Mahoney (4), Hanover, Ind., 15.894
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 15.901
Michael Kloos (6k), Trenton, Ill., 15.909
Curtis Deisenroth (77D), Oak Harbor, Ohio, 15.912
Steve Kester (77K), Holland, Ohio, 15.959
Devin Shiels (51), Britton, Mich., 15.991
Wayne Chinn (26), Bradford, Ohio, 16.028
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 16.034
Bob Mayer (42*), Holland, Ohio, 16.068
Dusty Moore (75), Swanton, Ohio, 16.113
Travis Stemler (2s), Ionia, Mich., 16.121
Dustin Nobbe (5N), Batesville, Ind., 16.155
Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 16.155
Ryan Missler (50Y), Bellevue, Ohio, 16.161
Mathew Chapman (51M), Tecumseh, Mich., 16.179
Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 16.236
Brad Eitniear (B4U), Wauseon, Ohio, 16.313
Brad Wade, (23), Dundee, Mich., 16.329
Hillard Miller (39), Defiance, Ohio, 16.336
Paul Stubber (31AUS), Bunbury, WS, 16.454
JR Gooden (52Jr), Toledo, Ohio, 16.565
Ron Miller (35), Lambertville, Mich., 16.627
Zach Calkins (C4), Milford, Mich., 16.828
Jeff Robertson (P3), Defiance, Ohio, 16.930
Doug Baird (69R), Aluada, Ohio, 17.549
Brandon Thirlby (M14), Traverse City, Mich., 15.124
Casey Noonan (1N), Toledo, Ohio, 15.224
Jon Henry (15H), Ada, Ohio, 15.524
Curtis Roberts (9R), Coleman, Mich., 15.554
Rob Anderzack (8), Metamora, Ohio, 15.556
Matt Shipley (44s), Weston, Ohio, 15.573
Jeff Babcock (7B), Wayne, Ohio, 15.659
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.676
Andrew Reaume (88), Blenheim, Ont., 15.698
James Rice (11R), Verona, Ky., 15.735
Mike Bores (15B), Bellevue, Ohio, 15.736
Billy Moyer Jr. (21Jr), Batesville, Ark., 15.759
Graeme Short (6*), Archbold, Ohio, 15.82
Ky Harper (34), Delta, Ohio, 15.877
Jake Rendel (06), Adrian, Mich., 15.961
Rody Schroyer (66s), Ottawa, Mich., 15.97
Dan Gehring (31G), Pettisville, Ohio, 15.983
Scott Moyer (77M), West Unity, Ohio, 15.986
Ken Hahn (27), Oregon, Ohio, 16.007
Joe Smith (71), Sylvania, Ohio, 16.092
Steve Miller (95), Toledo, Ohio, 16.106
Chris Sands (78), Morenci, Mich., 16.17
Brian O'Brien (0), Morenci, Mich., 16.376
Adam Bowman (77), Seymour, Ind., 16.414
Josh Robertson (P33), Defiance, Ohio, 16.445
Nicholas Fenner (22F), Morenci, Mich., 16.983
Brett Miller (97), Greenville, Tenn., 17.533
Brett Glass (P33x), Defiance, Ohio, no time
Dan Shaffer (B18), Morenci, Mich., no time