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I-96 Speedway

Babb leads all 40 laps, bags $5,000 at I-96

June 24, 2012, 4:52 pm
By Joshua Joiner
DirtonDirt.com staff writer
Shannon Babb heads for a $5,000 victory. (Steve Datema)
Shannon Babb heads for a $5,000 victory. (Steve Datema)

LAKE ODESSA, Mich. (June 24) — Polesitter Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., led every lap of Sunday’s UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feature at I-96 Speedway, holding off points leader Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., on a pair of mid-race restarts en route to a $5,000 victory. | Complete Summernationals coverage

Taking the lead over fellow front-row starter Jason McBride on the initial start, Babb pulled away from the field during the first half of the 40-lap race that served as the 11th leg of the 29-race tour that visits 28 racetracks in 32 days.

The fourth-starting Shirley moved to second on lap six, but couldn’t reel in Babb as the race ran green through lap 21. A pair of restarts two laps apart gave Shirley a chance to challenge for the lead. But Shirley couldn’t keep up as Babb pulled away and won I-96’s Summernationals event for a second consecutive year.

“My car was pretty good. I just cruised the whole time,” said Babb, who scored his first series victory since the tour’s second event. “I got the jump on Jason there and got to the outside and cruised.

“The car was good all night long. I didn’t do anything to it. It was just one of them places that fit the setup I had on it and it was good.”

Shirley settled for the runner-up finish, earning his fourth straight finish of second or better on the series. Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., advanced from the eighth starting spot to finish third with three-time series champion Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., and McBride of Carbondale, Ill., rounding out the top five finishers.

Shirley felt his car was as strong as Babb’s early in the race, but said he thought tire strategy played into Babb’s favor.

“He strategized on softer tires than we did, and it could’ve went either way,” said Shirley, who entered the race with a 36-point lead over Babb after winning two of the tour’s last three races. “If it would’ve got a little blacker we could’ve rolled up to him and maybe done something. But all in all it was a good night.”

After a rough track surface gave drivers fits during prelims, Feger was glad continued track prep made for a racy surface during the feature, allowing him to make his eighth-to-third run.

“The track was pretty rough early, but they worked on it all night and ended being pretty good at the feature,” said Feger, the 2010 series champ who’s still looking for his first victory on this year’s tour. “We were able to race on it pretty decent and moved up from eighth to third, so that’s a pretty good deal.”

Babb’s victory helps turn some momentum in the series title chase back in his favor as he and Shirley emerge as favorites in the chase for the tour’s $25,000 championship.

“A battle’s always fun,” said Babb, who along with last year also won the tour’s title in 2005 and 2006. “He’s been on the money and his car’s been real impressive every night, everywhere he goes. It definitely makes you more excited, especially when you got more races to go into.”

Sunday’s race was slowed by two cautions. The first appeared with 21 laps complete when Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., came to a stop. The pace was again slowed two laps later when Adam Thrush of Farwell, Mich., slowed at the top of the track in the middle of turns one and two.

Notes: Babb’s Victory Circle Race Car is powered by Pro Power engine with sponsorship from Petroff Towing, Donley Trucking, Allstar Performance, PRC and Kreke’s Powerhouse. ... Combined with wins by Billy Moyer Jr., Brian Shirley and Rodney Melvin, Babb's victory gives cars powered by a Pro Power engine eight victories in the tour's first 11 races. ... Sunday's program was delayed multiple times for track prep to correct an extremly rough track surface. Track crews took multiple breaks to rework the surface and appeared to have it much smoother for the main event. ... The Summernationals takes a night off Monday before beginning a stretch of 13 consecutive races with Tuesday's $5,000-to-win event at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Ind.

Summernationals @ I-96: (1) Shannon Babb, (2) Brian Shirley, (3) Jason Feger, (4) Dennis Erb Jr., (5) Jason McBride, (6) Ryan Unzicker, (7) Brandon Sheppard, (8) Curtis Roberts, (9) Jon Henry, (10) Brian Ruhlman, (11) Dona Marcoullier, (12) Rich Neiser, (13) Zack Olger, (14) Mike Spatola, (15) Jerry Lierly, (16) Nick Bartels, (17) Frank Heckenast Jr., (18) Scott Baker, (19) Adam Thrush, (20) Brandon Thirlby, (21) Curt Spalding, (22) Bobby Pierce. Fast qualifier (among 36 cars): Babb, 15.279 seconds. Heat race winners: Shirley, Henry, Babb, McBride. B-main winner: Lierly. Provisional starters: Heckenast, Bartels, Thirlby, Olger.

Provisionals and notes

Frank Heckenast Jr. and Nick Bartels will use Summernationals series provisionals to start the main event while Brandon Thirlby will use the UMP national points provisional and Zack Olger will use the track provisional. ... Looking to win I-96 Speedway's Summernationals race for a second consecutive year, Shannon Babb will lead the field to green in tonight's 30-lap main event. Jason McBride will join Babb on the front row with Jon Henry and points leader Brian Shirley sharing row two. ... Set to start from outside pole, Jason McBride is hoping another front-row starting spot doesn’t go to waste. After getting taken out by a lapped car while running second in the tour’s event at Fayette County Speedway, McBride hopes he can avoid trouble tonight. “It takes more than just being fast to run good in these deals,” McBride said as he awaited the start of the feature. “But some of that stuff you just can’t help.” McBride hopes his starting spot pays off on a track that’s grown high-side dominant. “The top looks like it’s gonna be that fastest, and that’s where I’m starting.” … With another mid-pack starting spot, Mike Spatola isn’t exactly enjoying himself at I-96 Speedway. “Just another fun day,” Spatola said with more than a hint of sarcasm. “It’s a lot more enjoyable when you’re running up front.” Spatola will roll off from the 15th spot. … Brian Shirley is a bit happier with the track surface after track crews have worked all night to reign in what started out as a rough surface. “It’s at least manageable now,” Shirley said. "But now it’s shaping up to be a tire game."


Polesitter Jerry Lierly took the lead when Adam Thrush's had trouble with a lapped car midway through the race and led the remaining distance for the win. The second-starting Thrush got the jump on the start and was pulling away before running into the back of a lapped car. Thrush kept his car from spinning and survived the damage to hold on to second. He'll join Lierly in transferring to the main evnet.

Finish: Jerry Lierly, Adam Thrush, Bill Bray, Phil Ausra, Nick Bartels, Pat Elhert, Ryan VanderVeen, Brad Buskirk, Eric Spangler, Brad Harden, Dave Hartman, Casey Noonan, Chad Olger, Frank Heckenast Jr., Brandon Thirlby

Redraw and notes

Looking to win I-96 Speedway's Summernationals race for a second consecutive year, Shannon Babb will lead the field to green in tonight's 30-lap main event. Jason McBride will join Babb on the front row with Jon Henry and points leader Brian Shirley sharing row two. ... Due to three cars deciding to load up instead of running the C-main, race officials have elected to scrap the C-main to limit the number of laps on the track. The six remaining cars scheduled to run the C-main will automatically transfer to the B. … After a rough track surface in qualifying, track prep before the heats appeared to help the surface quite a bit. It still was rough in a number of spots, specifically up high, leading to another round of cutting and wetting after the heat races.

Fourth heat

Leading every lap from the outside pole, Jason McBride pulled to a comfortable lead in winning the 10-lap prelim. Third-starting Jason Feger ran second for the entire race and held off Brandon Sheppard at the finish. Brian Ruhlman grabbed the fourth and final transfer position. Sheppard started from the pole but faded back to fourth early. He dropped as far back as fifth, but moved up to the fourth when Phil Ausra briefly drove off the top of the track exiting turn four and took third when Frank Heckenast Jr. had a flat right-rear tire. He pressured Feger during a final three-lap run, but couldn't find a way around. The race's two cautions were for Ryan VanderVeen on lap five and Heckenast on lap seven.

Finish: Jason McBride, Jason Feger, Brandon Sheppard, Brian Ruhlman, Phil Ausra, Ryan VanderVeen, Zack Olger, Brook Brasington, Frank Heckenast Jr.

Third heat

Polesitter Shannon Babb moved ahead on the start and cruised to the caution-free victory over third-starting Dennis Erb Jr. The top two finishers broke away from the field, leaving Robert Neiser and Mike Spatola to battle for third. Neiser held a slight advantage at the finish, forcing Spatola to settle for the fourth and final transfer spot. Brandon Thirlby started outside the front row, but nearly slipped over the top of the track on the opening lap, dropping him to the tail of the field. Eric Spangler was running fourth midway through the race when he pulled off the trak with mechanical woes.

Finish: Shannon Babb, Dennis Erb Jr., Robert Neiser, Mike Spatola, Nick Bartels, Bill Bray, Brandon Thirlby, Tom Sprague, Eric Spangler.

Second heat

Polesitter Jon Henry took the lead when Ryan Unzicker nearly slipped off the top of the track on lap three and led pulled away through the remaining distance. The second-starting Unzicker got the jump on Henry on the start of the race, but had to settle for second after his lap-three miscue. Curt Spalding and Dona Macoullier were third and fourth to also transfer to the feature. The race's first attempted start was waved off when Marcoullier and Dean Wilkerson tangled before even taking the green flag. It took track crews a few minutes to get the two cars untangled, but both drivers continued.

Finish: Jon Henry, Ryan Unzicker,Curt Spalding, Dona Macoullier, Adam Thrush, Pat Elhert, Dave Hartman, Brad Buskirk, Dean Wilkerson.

First heat

Brian Shirley moved to the lead from the outside pole and led every lap to beat fourth-starting Curtis Roberts to the finish of the 10-lap prelim. Roberts charged to second on the race's opening lap and trailed close to Shirely before settling for second. Scott Baker topped moved from seventh to third and while polesitter Bobby Pierce faded to a fourth-place finish in a race that transferred the top four finishers to the main event.

Finish: Brian Shirley, Curtis Roberts, Scott Baker, Bobby Pierce, Jerry Lierly, Brad Harden, Casey Noonan, Dan Hubbell, Kathy Jarvis.

Post-qualifying notes

While track crews reworked the I-96 Speedway track surface following qualifying, drivers and crew members had plenty to say about the track surface during qualifying that bounced drivers around and sent three cars off the top of the racetrack. Fast qualifier Shannon Babb was among those not thrilled with the rough track. “It’s tough just to get around there and even if you do, you’re bouncing around tearing your stuff up and costing yourself money,” said Babb, winner of last year’s Summernationals race at I-96. With a dirt clod from his car in hand, Babb pointed out that the brown-dirt surface isn’t holding together. “It’s like a garden,” Babb said as he scattered the dirt between his fingers. “At least they’re trying to fix it, but you can pour all the water you want on it and that’s not gonna pack together.” … Series points leader Brian Shirely was among drivers to complain to series director Sam Driggers about the surface. After he and Driggers chatted for a while Shirely asked when Late Models ran in the night’s program. Driggers answered that they would be last to run, to which Shirley replied: “At least I have time to take a nap before I go ride the bull again.”

Time trials

Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., mastered a rough track surface during Sunday’s UMP DIRTcar Summernationals qualifying at I-96 Speedway, topping 36 qualifiers for the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals event.

Babb’s lap of 15.279 seconds lowered the track record around the facility’s 3/8-mile oval and earned Babb the pole starting spot for one of four heat races coming up later in the evening. Other heat race polesitters after group qualifying: Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill.; Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio; and Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill.

Each of the 10-lap heat races transfer the top four drivers to tonight’s 40-lap feature with consolation race transfers and provisional starters making up the remainder of the 22-car field.

Babb's record time shattered the previous record of 16.255 seconds set by Zack Olger of St. Johns, Mich., during last year's Summernationals event, the only other time Late Models have qualified on the track's 3/8-mile oval. Until last year, race's were held on the half-mile oval around the outside of the shorter track.

A rough track surface gave drivers fits during their two-lap runs. No cars suffered significant damage, but three went off the top side of the racetrack and two more spun to the infield. Track crews immediately went to work reworking the surface once qualifying was complete.

Pre-race notes

The evening's on-track action kicked off at 5:40 p.m. with a makeup modified feature. Zack Olger, who's pulling double-duty tonight in both Late Models and modifieds won the 20-lapper. ... Crews reworked the track surface after it developed a number of ruts during the modified race. Late Model hot laps rolled at 6:15. ... With two victories and a runner-up finish in the tour’s past three races, Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., leads the series standings with 665 points. Reigning series champion Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., is 36 points back in second followed by Billy Moyer Jr. (-136), Jason Feger (-140) and Ryan Unzicker (-160). … Billy Moyer Jr., who won three of the tour's first four events, has elected to skip Sunday’s race and head back home to Arkansas. Moyer, struggled to find consistency with only other top-10 finish in the tour's first 10 races, plans to rejoin the tour Thursday at Clayhill Speedway in Atwood, Tenn. … Shannon Babb won last year’s series race at I-96 after Brian Shirley hit the wall while leading by more than a straightaway. The event was marred by a number of roll over accidents as drivers struggled to adjust to the facility’s then-new 3/8-mile oval that was constructed on the inside of the half-mile oval races used to be competed on. … Brandon Thirlby of Traverse City, Mich., won the tour’s only previous Late Model special this year, leading every lap of the track’s Allstar Performance Michigan Dirt Cup event on May 19. ... The entry list for the tour's first and only race in Michigan has quite a different look than previous events with 21 home-state drivers signed in.

Qualifying (unofficial)

First group

  1. Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.409
  2. Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 15.514
  3. Jerry Lierly (7L), Camp Point, Ill., 15.591
  4. Curtis Roberts (9r), Coleman, Mich., 15.646
  5. Dan Hubbell (32), Hastings, Mich., 16.098
  6. Brad Harden (52), Onid, Mich., 16.359
  7. Scott Baker (13) Ionia, Mich. 16.530
  8. Casey Noonan (1), Toledo, Ohio, 16.769
  9. Kathy Jarvis (30), Park City, Utah, 16.870

Second group

  1. Jon Henry (15) Ada, Ohio, 15.892
  2. Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 15.909
  3. Dona Marcoullier (6m), Houghton Lake, Mich., 16.057
  4. Pat Elhert (71), Ovid, Mich., 16.104
  5. Curt Spalding (111), Hartford, Mich., 16.334
  6. Dean Wilkerson (78), Muskegon, Mich., 17.006
  7. Dave Hartman (12), Howard City, Mich., 17.114
  8. Adam Thrush (91), Farwell, Mich., 17.308
  9. Brad Buskirk (45), Alma, Mich., 17.458

Third group

  1. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 15.279
  2. Brandon Thirlby (14m), Traverse City, Mich., 15.423
  3. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 15.743
  4. Eric Spangler (27), Lake City, Mich., 15.931
  5. Robert Neiser (87), Fruitport, Mich., 16.091
  6. Nick Bartels (27), El Segundo, Calif., 16.110
  7. Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 16.187
  8. Bill Bray (94), Spring Lake, Mich., 16.293
  9. Tom Sprague (21), Muskegon, Mich., 16.318

Fourth group

  1. Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill. 15.557
  2. Jason McBride (77), Carbondale, Ill. 15.718
  3. Jason Feger (25) Bloomington, Ill. 15.751
  4. Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill. 16.276
  5. Zack Olger (0X), St. Johns, Mich. 16.385
  6. Phil Ausra (15), Dowagiac, Mich. 16.454
  7. Brian Ruhlman (49), Clarklake, Mich. 16.771
  8. Ryan Vanderveen (23v), Six Lakes, Mich. 16.854
  9. Brook Brasington (5), Evart, Mich. 17.041

Feature lineup

Row 1: Babb, McBride
Row 2: Henry, Shirley
Row 3: Roberts, Unzicker
Row 4: Erb, Feger
Row 5: Baker, Spalding
Row 6: Neiser, Sheppard
Row 7: Pierce, Marcoullier
Row 8: Spatola, Ruhlman
Row 9: Lierly, Thrush
Row 10: Heckenast, Thirlby
Row 11: Bartels, Olger

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