Unzicker edges Wallace, earns $5,000 at Wilmot
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
WILMOT, Wis. (June 17) — Leading only the final lap, seventh-starting Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., earned $5,000 Sunday at Wilmot Raceway in capturing the fifth leg of the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals tour. The dramatic 40-lap victory was the third of Unzicker's career on the grueling tour that takes drivers to 28 tracks in eight states over 32 days. | Complete Summernationals coverage
The 30-year-old Unzicker edged polesitter Wendell Wallace of Batesville, Ark., by barely a tenth of a second at the checkers after Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., faltered with a deflating right-rear tire to lose the lead on the 37th lap.
The seventh-starting Unzicker struggled early in the race until slowing down and running the extreme low groove at the 3/8-mile oval while Sheppard, Wallace and many other competitors ran higher on the track.
"Once I did that, I was good, but I even messed up the last corner of the last lap, and I thought (Wallace) was going to get me,” said Unzicker, who notched his third career Summernationals victory. "But we had some good drive coming off (the corner) ... it just feels good to get another win.”
Wallace, who swapped the early lead with Sheppard before leading laps 6-18, thought the race fell in his lap when Sheppard began losing speed in the final laps.
“After chasing Brandon there and seeing his tire go down, I felt a little sigh of relief there,” Wallace said. "That last lap, I seen Ryan come up there on the bottom, but still going down the back straightaway I thought I had an edge on him enough, and if I could make it through (turns) three and four, I’d be all right. But he just got a little bit more traction than I did coming off four.”
Unzicker’s victory ended Billy Moyer Jr.’s two-race win streak, and reigning series champion Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., took a 26-point chunk out of Moyer’s 35-point lead in the $25,000 championship chase. Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, was fourth and Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., rounded out the top five finishers at a track where sprint cars, not Late Models, are typically featured.
The first start was called back when Pierce was in the middle of the scramble between turns one and two, but after the second attempt Sheppard and Wallace battled in the early laps with Wallace making an outside pass on the sixth lap to take command.
After cautions for Jason McBride’s lap-10 spin in turn three and Dennis Erb Jr.’s lap-12 spin in turn two, Wallace was still out front, but Sheppard got rolling in the extreme high groove. Sheppard swept into the lead on the 19th lap and had a scare when he was collected by the spun car of Rich Bell in turn four on lap 23.
Officials charged Bell with the caution, returning Sheppard to the lead, and he built up leads of a half-straightaway on Wallace while Unzicker was still languishing back in sixth. Unzicker picked off Jason Feger, Birkhofer and then Babb to grab the third spot by lap 32, just as Sheppard was beginning to show signs of his deflating tire. When Sheppard bogged down trying to exit turn two on lap 37, Wallace and Unzicker breezed past to set up the final dash to the checkers.
“It’s a bummer, but at least we know we were there and should’ve won,” said Sheppard, who is tackling the tour after just a month in the Rocket Chassis house car. “Actually, with about six (laps) to go, I could feel it going down, and about, I don’t know what it was, three to go, or something, was when it really got flat there, and with one to go, it ripped the tire apart and I think it broke a right-rear shock mount or something from dragging on the ground.”
While Sheppard’s hopes were over, Wallace stayed in control as Unzicker inched closer on the inside. On the final lap, the frontrunners were side-by-side down the backstretch, but Unzicker beat Wallace to the line by a mere .111 seconds.
“I seen Ryan stick his nose up that last lap, and I thought, ‘Oh no.’ And I just stayed in my groove and thought I’d momentum back to the flagstand, but we came up a little bit short,” Wallace said.
Unzicker notched his fourth victory overall of 2012 and reversed his struggles on the first week of the Summernationals that left him 10th in points without a top-five finish heading to Wilmot.
“It’s been a disaster year for us. We’ve been struggling, tearing up cars, and we’ve just been out of shape ... a lot of things have happened. We’ve got great people behind us and everybody’s been working hard at the shop.
"We weren’t prepared to come on this deal. I mean, we thrashed to put two cars together in a week and a half, and MasterSbilt thrashed to get a frame done for us. It’s just been a lot, a lot of hard work. After the way we ran the last four nights, especially Cedar Lake ... I wouldn’t have expected to come out of here with a win, but it sure feels damn good.”
Notes: Unzicker’s MasterSbilt Race Car is powered by a Rhyne Competition Engine and sponsored by Pro Tire & Automotive, RJR Transportation and Schumacher’s Tyre Service. ... Unzicker has one series victory each of the past three seasons. ... The others came at Spoon River Speedway in Banner, Ill., and Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill. ... Unzicker has led only 13 laps among his three series victories. ... Unzicker’s victory stops a streak of 11 straight series points-race victories for Victory Circle Chassis. ... Series competitors take Monday off before turning to action Tuesday at Spoon River.
UMP DIRTcar Summernationals @ Wilmot: (1) Ryan Unzicker, (2) Wendell Wallace, (3) Shannon Babb, (4) Brian Birkhofer, (5) Bobby Pierce, (6) Brian Shirley, (7) Russ Scheffler, (8) Brandon Sheppard, (9) Jason Feger, (10) Scott Schmitt, (11) Mike Spatola, (12) Billy Moyer Jr., (13) Dennis Erb Jr., (14) Jon Henry, (15) Bill Rezutek, (16) Nick Bartels, (17) Jerry Lierly, (18) Chris Carlson, (19) Matt Furman, (20) Rich Bell, (21) Jason McBride, (22) Bret Sievert. Fast qualifier (among 31 cars): Babb, 16.131 seconds. Heat race winners: Pierce, Sheppard, Wallace, Birkhofer. C-main winner: Sievert. Provisional starters: Moyer, Spatola, McBride, Carlson.
While officials began calling for feature cars to line up at 8:35 p.m., a lengthy street stock feature and track prep is delaying the feature until perhaps 10 p.m. The field rolled onto the track at 9:48 p.m. to help roll in the surface. ... Polesitter Wendell Wallace will; be gunning for his fourth career Summernationals victory and first since last year at Clarksville (Tenn.) Speedway. Wallace was tied up in traffic on Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway on Sunday when he was sideswiped by an automobile. The wreck delayed him about 90 minutes. ... Outside front-row starter Brandon Sheppard is shooting for his second victory since climbing into the Rocket Chassis house car last month. ... Brian Birkhofer has seven career Summernationals victories. ... Don O'Neal never got going in the Moring Motorsports ride, and he'll miss the Wilmot feature for his third DNS in five series entries. He had an ignitiion switch go bad that kept him from competing in his heat race. ... Provisional starting spots went to Billy Moyer Jr. (series), Mike Spatola (UMP points), Jason McBride (series) and Chris Carlson (track). ... Consolation winner Bret Sievert won't be able to go in his own car after the fan got into the radiator; he'll pilot Brad Mueller's No. 89 and is expected to take only a few laps.
Bret Sievert went from the second row to the lead at the outset and led all the way. However, his fan got into the radiator and the team was scrambling to make repairs before the main event. Californian Nick Bartels got the second spot to transfer to his first career Summernationals feature, finishing ahead of red-hot series driver Billy Moyer Jr. Polesitter Randy Manos Jr. battled with Bartels for the second transfer spot early, but he lost control in turn four while negotiating the high groove and spun. He retired a few laps later.
Finish: Bret Sievert, Nick Bartels, Billy Moyer Jr., Jason McBride, Rusty Schlenk, Don O'Neal, Mike Spatola, Frank Heckenast Jr., Brad Mueller, Leon Henderson, Mark Voigt, Chris Carlson, Kathy Jarvis, Pete Parker, Randy Manos Jr.
Redraw and mid-event notes
In the redraw among heat race winners, Wendell Wallace got the pole position for the 40-lap main event. Brandon Sheppard will start outside the front row with Brian Birkhofer and Bobby Pierce in the second row. ... Billy Moyer Jr. will run the consolation race after winning two straight features at Cedar Lake, and his hopes for a third straight series victory and fourth overall appear doubtful. "Reality," Moyer said while checking out the track surface before the consolation race. He says he wished Sunday was a day off instead of Monday after Wilmot. "Now I run (bad) and I've got a whole day to think about it," he said. ... Jason Feger got rolling in the high groove in his heat race to advance from fifth to second, but he said the crumbs on the top don't provide the best traction. "There's really nothing up there — it's just the bottom is that slow," Feger said. He was glad that passing Brian Shirley for second at the checkers was exciting. "I'm broke. I've gotta sell a lot of T-shirts," he cracked.
Polesitter Brian Birkhofer led all the way in the non-stop fourth heat, staying comfortably ahead of a tight battle for second in the closing laps. Front-row starter Brian Shirley held the second spot most of the race, but fifth-starting Jason Feger got rolling on the high side and tracked down Shirley, who repelled his initial challenge on the eighth lap. But Feger stuck with it, and when Shirley gave him an outside groove heading for the checkers, flew past to get the second spot. Shirley and tail-starting Jon Henry got the other two transfer spots.
Finish: Brian Birkhofer, Jason Feger, Brian Shirley, Jon Henry, Jason McBride, Mike Spatola, Frank Heckenast Jr.
In a dramatic, groove-swapping battle for the early lead, polesitter Wendell Wallace came out on top of Ryan Unzicker and led the rest of the way for a victory. Unzicker, who dropped to the inside groove to edge ahead after starting outside the front row, settled for second with home-state driver Russ Scheffler far behind in third. Dennis Erb Jr. held the third spot most of the way before losing it to Scheffler in the closing laps of the caution-free prelim. Ohio's Rusty Schlenk made a bid on the outside against Erb and Scheffler early, but couldn't find a way past before fading.
Finish: Wendell Wallace, Ryan Unzicker, Russ Scheffler, Dennis Erb Jr., Bret Seivert, Rusty Schlenk, Leon Henderson. Scratched: Pete Parker.
After a side-by-side battle among front-row starters over the first two laps, Brandon Sheppard (outside) edged away from fast qualifier Shannon Babb (inside) for the 10-lap victory. Babb finished a half-straight behind in second while Matt Furman and Bill Rezutek got the other two transfers spots. Billy Moyer Jr., winner of three of the first four series races including two in a row at Cedar Lake Speedway, was a non-factor in finishing sixth.
Finish: Brandon Sheppard, Shannon Babb, Matt Furman, Bill Rezutek, Nick Bartels, Billy Moyer Jr., Mark Voigt, Chris Carlson.
Outside front-row starter Scott Schmitt outran polesitter Bobby Pierce on the first lap, but Pierce stayed with him throughout the race and made the winning pass on the frontstretch on the eighth lap. Schmitt settled for second at the 3/8-mile oval, far ahead of third-place finisher Rich Bell. Jerry Lierly was just behind Bell in fourth to qualifying for his first career Summernationals feature lineup. Don O'Neal, the third winningest series driver all-time, scratched from the heat in the Moring Motorsports No. 1 car.
Finish: Bobby Pierce, Scott Schmitt, Rich Bell, Jerry Lierly, Randy Manos Jr., Brad Mueller, Kathy Jarvis. Scratched: Don O'Neal.
Reigning series champion Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., topped 31 qualifiers Sunday at Wilmoth Raceway, a haven for open-wheeled cars that’s hosting the fifth leg of the 29-race UMP DIRTcar Summernationals for a $5,000-to-win Super Late Model event.
Babb’s lap of 16.131 seconds at the 3/8-mile oval puts him on the pole of one of four heat races. Other heat race polesitters based on group qualifying: Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., Wendell Wallace of Batesville, Ark., and Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa.
Billy Moyer Jr., of Batesville, Ark., who entered 2012 winless on the so-called Hell Tour, will be gunning for his third straight victory and fourth overall after a $15,000 weekend sweep at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis., five hours to the northwest.
Four drivers from each of four heats will transfer to the main event with two drivers from a consolation race and four provisional starters. The 40-lap main event pays $5,000-to-win.
The Wilmot event is co-promoted by Steve Sinclair and Tony Izzo Jr. ... A rule change was announced at the drivers’ meeting. A car that spins to trigger a caution will be sent to the tail, even if the driver manages to keep his machine moving. The change was made in reaction to two separate incidents in the first four races, including when Shannon Babb was restored to second place Saturday night at Cedar Lake. ... The tour is making its second-ever visit to Wilmot, about 60 miles northwest of central Chicago on the Wisconsin-Illinois border. Rodney Melvin won in 2010, but he’s not among this year’s entries. ... Red-hot Billy Moyer Jr. had his best previous chance for a victory in his 2010 trip to Wilmot, finishing second to Melvin after losing the lead on a lap-23 restart in a 30-lapper. ... Some Wisconsin Dirt Late Model Association standouts, including Russ Scheffler of Waukesha, Wis., are on hand. ... Modifieds, with about 50 cars entered, are in action along with street stocks. ... Wendell Wallace and Rusty Schlenk are back on the tour after skipping the Cedar Lake swing. Schlenk won Friday in Kankakee, Ill., with Wallace second, while Wallace was 8 pounds light after a heat race on Saturday at Fairbury, Ill. Wallace said extra laps in the heat race before the race and during a caution apparently caused a fuel burnoff that made him too light, he said. ... The Summernationals drivers get their first day off on Monday before returning to action Tuesday at Spoon River Speedway in Banner, Ill.