FAIRBURY, Ill. (July 28) — Devin Moran has quickly fallen in love with Fairbury American Legion Speedway.
The rising 23-year-old star from Dresden, Ohio, has a good reason for his rapid infatuation with the venerable high-banked, quarter-mile oval, of course. In just his second career appearance at the track Moran recorded his biggest win ever, earning a $30,000 victory in Saturday night’s 29th annual Prairie Dirt Classic presented by Bank of Pontiac.
Moran was absolutely ecstatic after breaking free of a brief late-race, lead-swapping duel with defending race champion Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., to assume command for good on lap 79 and then drive away to his second World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series triumph of 2018.
“This place is just incredible,” said Moran, who proceeded his breakthrough 100-lap win at FALS with a $2,500 victory in one of Friday night’s four 25-lap qualifying features. “It’s Small Town USA with a big event. People come out of the woodwork. There’s more people in this racetrack tonight than there are that live in this town. It’s so cool to come out here and hang out and experience this race, it’s just a blast.
“This is the second time I’ve raced here and we won the deal so that’s pretty incredible. It’s gonna be pretty hard to back up, but we’ll be trying for sure.”
Moran, whose first visit to Fairbury for the 2017 PDC resulted in a qualifying feature victory and a solid third-place finish in the 100-lapper (after he damaged his car’s bodywork with a slap of the wall while running second and closing on Sheppard), swapped the four times with Sheppard between laps 72 and 79. The 2017 WoO Rookie of the Year finally wrested control of the event by abandoning the inside lane he had been using to run the outside, which he found to be a much more advantageous route around the bullring.
The son of Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer Donnie Moran wasn’t seriously threatened over the race’s final 21 circuits. He steered his Tye Twarog-owned XR1 Rocket under the checkered flag holding a healthy edge of 2.385 seconds over 14th-starter Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., who wasn’t even in the top 10 at the halfway point but came on strong to ultimately reach second place in his Ronnie Delk-owned XR1 Rocket with a lap-99 pass of Sheppard.
Sheppard, who led laps 20-41 before ceding the spot to the then low-riding Moran for the first time, settled for a third-place finish in the Rocket Chassis house car. Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., placed fourth after running as high as second in his Barry Wright Race Car house car and 1997 PDC winner Billy Drake of Bloomington, Ill., completed the top five after quietly circling the bottom of the track to move forward from the 10th starting spot in an XR1 Rocket fielded by Ray Neltner Jr. of Peoria, Ill.
Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, raced off the pole position to lead laps 1-19 but steadily faded from contention thereafter. He pitted multiple times before retiring on lap 71 for a 21st-place finish.
Moran, who started third, had eerie memories of last year’s PDC pop into his mind when he lost several positions early in the race. But unlike the race’s 2017 edition — in which Moran slipped completely out of the top 10 from his pole position start before mounting a rally that carried him as high as second place but stalled there because he slapped the wall and damaged his car — his backward slide was modest.
“The track slowed down a little quicker than I thought it would and I fell back to probably sixth,” Moran said. “I was like, ‘Just be patient. It’ll come to us. We’ll be all right.’ And it did.
“We just kept on chugging, and then that bottom finally came in. I was kind of watching them guys, waiting for that bottom to come in, and once it did I moved down there and we started plucking away. It got us to the front.”
Moran reached third with a lap-26 pass of Moweaqua, Ill.’s Shannon Babb, took second from Madden on a lap-32 restart and hugged the inside lane to grab the lead from Sheppard on lap 42. He maintained steady control for most of the ensuing two-dozen circuits, though he experienced one especially anxious moment on a lap-64 restart when contact in his left-side door from Madden sent him sideways in turn four as he was accelerating.
“I just pictured in my mind when (Don) O’Neal got spun out (leading) at Florence (Speedway in Union, Ky.) two years ago,” Moran commented. “I was like, ‘Please, do not let that happen!’ But we got ‘er straightened, I kept my composure, Wylie (his younger brother) gave me the thumbs up and we got through it.”
Madden, who lost second to Sheppard just before the lap-64 caution flag, never regained the runner-up slot. With his car's steering bent since a lap-32 restart scrape with Moran — a problem he said cost him a shot at the victory — Madden soon lost touch with Moran, who began feeling pressure from Sheppard before a lap-69 caution flag for a turn-three spin by Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., and received even more from the reigning WoO champion after the restart.
“I saw his crew guys say, ‘Elbows up. Get your muscles out,’” Moran said of Sheppard. “So I knew it was time for him to rock and roll.”
Sheppard, 25, turned up the wick, tossing his machine along the cushion to pull alongside Moran and nose ahead to lead lap 72. Moran went right back in front the following circuit, but Sheppard kept up the pressure and inched into the lead again on lap 78.
Then Moran made the move that ultimately decided the race in his favor. He nipped Sheppard for the lead by inches on lap 79 and then shot to the outside lane in turns one and two, assuming the lane that Sheppard had shown was fast.
“On the restarts (the officials) kept moving them uke tires out so I wasn’t too worried on the initial restart, but once we got going again and got those tires pushed back in I figured we’d be alright,” said Moran, . “Then we got to them lapped cars and (Sheppard) was beside me, but I found a little opening there and I got up in front of him. I probably took the air off him a little bit, and then we actually picked up speed once we were up there. I just stayed up there and railed it the rest of the race.
“I was like, ‘Holy smokes, I should’ve been up here about 10 laps ago!’” he added. “I just felt way better. Then Wylie started widening out the (signal) sticks. They never got any closer, so I was happy about that.”
Indeed, Moran ran without a challenge the rest of the distance.
“I was like, ‘Please, no cautions,’” Moran said of the final circuits. “I seen 10 to go and Wylie started his pulling sticks apart. They kept getting further and further apart, and then they got about stable right there with about four or five to go, but it was a pretty big gap so I was just like, ‘Don’t don’t anything stupid, just run my line,’ and that’s what we did.”
Moran, whose previous career-high payoff for a victory was $10,000, celebrated his signature triumph by doing donuts in front of Fairbury’s backstretch grandstand. He hailed his team when he emerged from his car in victory lane.
“Keith Berner (of Accu-Force Dynes) and everybody on our team, we just did fine-tune adjustments all weekend long,” said Moran, who recorded his fourth career WoO win. “It showed tonight. We had a good enough notebook from last year and we came in here and we were good starting off early and we just kept getting better and better. Even though we were good, we just kept working so we didn’t fall behind.”
Sheppard proved unable to stop Moran this time.
“There’s a bunch of different variables that could’ve happened, but Devin just did a really good job,” said Sheppard, who started on the outside pole. “His car was pretty good.
“We had a good car there early in the race when there was a little bit of brown and then I faded little bit toward the end. But all in all, I was happy with my car. I was maneuverable, pretty balanced, I could go where I needed to go. (But) I got a little bit free there toward the end. Maybe if I slowed down on the bottom I would’ve been a little bit better, but I don’t know.”
Marlar, 40, might have finished second but he never got remotely close to Moran. He struggled to find his rhythm early as he nearly fell out of the top 20 and didn’t even crack the top five just over 25 laps were left.
“I just didn’t have a lot of racetrack early,” said Marlar, who maintained his WoO points lead. “I had a pretty good race car the whole race, but they was racing everywhere, which is awesome for the fans but wasn’t good for me. It was just a rolling road block everywhere I went.
“As I weeded ‘em out one at a time — it was three laps passing one guy, give laps passing this guy, 10 laps on this guy — I got up there where I could see the light a little bit and I could start maneuvering on the racetrack to where my car worked best. When I quit getting the leftovers, I could get up through there pretty good.
“I just should’ve done better in the heat yesterday. I was just a little bit off for whatever reason. I could gripe about where I started (in the 100-lapper) or whatever, but I put myself in that position by screwing myself in the heat.”
Marlar threw out a hearty congratulations to Moran.
“If I couldn’t win, it was cool to see Devin win that race,” Marlar said. “My wife (Stacy) used to be his babysitter … that whole family is awesome. They’re just a good bunch of guys and I’m happy for them to get a big win.”
Ten caution flags slowed the event, including the first one before a lap was even completed because Jason Jameson of Lawrenceburg, Ind., slowed with terminal mechanical trouble on the original start.
The most significant incident occurred on lap 66 when Michael Kloos of Trenton, Ill., spun between turns three and four — he blamed his twirl on contact from Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas — and was clipped hard by Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind. Both drivers’ cars were towed off.
Other cautions flew on lap 31 for David Breazeale of Four Corners, Miss.; lap 32 for a tangle in turns one and two involving Larson and Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., whose hopes of repeating his dramatic charge to victory in the Non-Qualifiers’ Race were effectively dashed by the incident; lap 36 for Rick Eckert of York, Pa., who slowed in turn three and was hit by Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga.; lap 49 for Tanner English of Benton, Ky. (spin in turn four); lap 58 for Eckert slowing and retiring from further action; a lap-58 restart for a turn-four tangle involving Larson and Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn; lap 64 for Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., slowing with a broken j-bar while running in the top 10; and lap 69 for Larson’s turn-three spin.
After a break for the track surface to be reworked and in-car driver introductions to take place, the 29-car Prairie Dirt Classic field fired up and rolled off for pace laps at 10:49 p.m. CDT.
Row 1: Chris Simpson, Brandon Sheppard
Row 2: Devin Moran, Shannon Babb
Row 3: Chris Madden, Kyle Bronson
Row 4: Ryan Unzicker, Brian Shirley
Row 5: Don O’Neal, Billy Drake
Row 6: Rick Eckert, Tanner English
Row 7: Paul Parker, Mike Marlar
Row 8: Michael Kloos, Jonathan Davenport
Row 9: Gordy Gundaker, Billy Moyer
Row 10: Tyler Erb, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 11: Jimmy Owens, Jason Jameson
Row 12: Shane Clanton, Jason Jameson
Row 13: Kevin Weaver, Daniel Flessner
Row 14: Bobby Pierce, David Breazeale
Row 15: Brent Larson
Prairie Dirt Shootout
Starting 16th, Bobby Pierce had only one option when the 25-lap Prairie Dirt Shootout Non-Qualifiers’ Race began: run every lap as hard as he possibly could. He had to win, after all, to earn a berth in the 100-lap Prairie Dirt Classic.
And that’s exactly what the 21-year-old sensation did. Driving his heart out from start-to-finish, Pierce reached second place on lap 19 and then shot past race-long pacesetter Jason Feger for the lead following a lap-23 restart to score a dramatic victory.
Pierce could have taken the race’s $2,000 first prize and loaded up. But not surprisingly, he elected to decline the money and take the 27th starting spot in the $30,000-to-win A-main, joining Jonathan Davenport (2016) and Don O’Neal (’17) as Prairie Dirt Shootout winners who moved on to the 100-lapper.
Pierce tried to fake out the fans when he made his decision to race or head home in victory lane, but it was half-hearted at best.
“It’s been a long week,” Pierce said. “I think I’m just gonna take the … feature start.”
With his car’s engine roaring into the corners and his machine bouncing repeatedly along the cushion, Pierce cracked the top 10 on lap seven. After a caution flag on lap 10 for debris closed up the field, he shot to fifth on lap 13 and then relentlessly continued his charge, overtaking Brent Larson for fourth on lap 16 and Allen Weisser for third on lap 18 before sailing by Bob Gardner for the runner-up spot with six laps remaining.
Pierce had caught Feger — with a pack of lapped traffic ahead — just as Glen Thompson spun between turns one and two to bring out a caution flag on lap 23. He followed Feger around the top of turns one and two on the restart, but, when Feger bobbled off the second corner, Pierce surged to the inside and slid ahead in turn three.
Feger attempted to cross back underneath Pierce off turn four, but Pierce was the leader as lap 24 was scored and held on for the final circuit to defeat Feger by 0.402 of a second.
“If that (caution) didn’t come out (Feger) might have got it because he was just running a good line,” said Pierce, whose car sported crushed right-rear bodywork after the race. “You get out of your rhythm sometimes, and then he hit that hole over there (in turn two) and I just so happened to have a helluva run.
“Man,” he continued, “I’ve had so much bad luck lately, I just have to give a huge thanks to everybody for staying behind me. We’ve been behind the eight-ball so much the last two races, and to pull it off starting in the back … I said all day, it’s going to be harder getting in the feature starting where I am than it will be to possibly come from the back and win it because now we’ve got a hundred laps to work with.”
Weisser finished third, followed by Gardner and Jeff Curl.
Larson pitted during the final caution and finished 14th, the last driver on the lead lap. He will start the feature, however, using a WoO emergency provisional; he ran the Non-Qualifiers’ Race in hopes of winning it to avoid forfeiting his feature start money.
Larson’s rival for the WoO Rookie of the Year award, David Breazeale, opted to skip the Non-Qualifiers’ Race and take his emergency provisional. Breazeale will start 28th and Larson 29th in the PDC.
Finish (25 laps): 1. Bobby Pierce, 2. Jason Feger, 3. Allen Weisser, 4. Bob Gardner, 5. Jeff Curl, 6. Kolby Vandenbergh, 7. Justin Duty, 8. Myles Moos, 9. Jay Morris, 10. Kody Evans, 11. Sammy Epling, 12. Derek Doll, 13. Mike Mataragas, 14. Brent Larson, 15. Bill Kettering Jr., 16. Steve Thorsten, 17. Glen Thompson, 18. Jonathan Brauns, 19. Mike Spatola.
Prairie Dirt Shootout lineup
Row 1: Justin Duty, Jason Feger
Row 2: Bob Gardner, Allen Weisser
Row 3: Brent Larson, Mike Spatola
Row 4: Jeff Curl, Spencer Diercks
Row 5: Kolby Vandenbergh, Mike Mataragas
Row 6: Jay Morris, Kody Evans
Row 7: Myles Moos, Sammy Epling
Row 8: Hudson O’Neal, Bobby Pierce
Row 9: Steve Thorsten, Derek Doll
Row 10: Bill Kettering Jr., Jonathan Brauns
Row 11: Glen Thompson
Inheriting the lead when race-long pacesetter Hudson O’Neal was knocked from the top spot on lap nine due to a tangle with a lapped car, Tyler Erb, who started from the pole but was penalized to third after starting outside the rolled on to take the checkered by 0.865 of a second over Jason Jameson. Chase Junghans finished third after his last-lap bid to overtake Jameson fell short. O’Neal appeared headed to victory until his attempt to slide underneath the slower Jim Rogers in turns one and two on lap nine resulted in Rogers running into the back of O’Neal’s car, causing O’Neal to immediately fall off the pace and draw a caution flag. O’Neal returned after a pit stop but finished eighth.
Finish (15 laps; top 2 transfer): Tyler Erb, Jason Jameson, Chase Junghans, Bob Gardner, Mike Spatola, Kolby Vandenbergh, Kody Evans, Hudson O’Neal, Derek Doll, Kevin Weaver, Glen Thompson, Curtis Radke, Jim Rogers, Joey Moriarty (DNS) Collin Alexander.
Billy Moyer cruised to a flag-to-flag triumph, beating Jimmy Owens by 1.820 seconds. Owens lost second place to Jason Feger on a lap-six restart but regained the position following a lap-seven caution period and never was seriously threatened again. Feger settled for third with WoO regular Brent Larson fourth. Caution flags flow on lap two (debris); lap three (Taylor Scheffler’s turn-four spin); lap six (Blake Spencer stopped in turn one); and lap seven (twice, both for turn-one twirl by Matt Shannon).
Finish (15 laps; top 2 transfer): Billy Moyer, Jimmy Owens, Jason Feger, Brent Larson, Spencer Diercks, Jay Morris, Sammy Epling, Steve Thorsten, Jonathan Brauns, Brian Dunn, Matt Shannon, Taylor Scheffler, Blake Spencer (DNS) Jay Sparks, Scott Schmitt.
Gordy Gundaker perched his car up high and led the entire distance to take the victory, but the story was Bobby Pierce’s bid to charge from deep in the pack to a transfer spot. Pierce was able to momentarily slide by Dennis Erb Jr. for second on lap nine, but two lapped cars prevented him from staying ahead. Erb and Pierce cleared the slower machines on lap 12, but Pierce’s slider attempt in turns one and two on lap 13 cost his ground to Erb; then, on the final circuit, Pierce caught Erb off turn two but clipped the wall and moments later, in turn four, spun around after contact from the closely-tailing Justin Duty. The checkered flag was already out for Gundaker, so Erb finished second while Pierce placed ninth — the same spot in which he started the race. A caution flag flew on lap two for a tangle between turns three and four involving Myles Moos and Rob Toland as they battled for fifth. WoO regular Shane Clanton, who started at the back of the pack in 15th, opted to use the last-chance race as a test session and fall back on his series provisional to gain entry to the feature.
Finish (15 laps; top 2 transfer): Gordy Gundaker, Dennis Erb Jr., Justin Duty, Allen Weisser, Jeff Curl, Mike Mataragas, Myles Moos, David Breazeale, Bobby Pierce, Bill Kettering Jr., Greg Wagner, Daniel Flessner, Shane Clanton, Rob Toland (DNS) Russ Adams.
The Prairie Dirt Classic weekend draws to a close on another gorgeous summer day. Conditions are an almost mirror image of Friday: sunny skies, an afternoon high of about 80 degrees and not even a slight rain threat. … Five former PDC winners are already locked into the 100-lapper’s field: Brandon Sheppard, Jonathan Davenport, Shannon Babb, Don O’Neal and Billy Drake. Four more racers with PDC victories — Billy Moyer, Jason Feger, Dennis Erb Jr. and Kevin Weaver — are scheduled to start B-mains. … WoO regular Shane Clanton is staring at using a provisional to start the feature since he’s saddled with the 15th starting spot in the first B-main. He was an early retiree from his Friday qualifying feature after he made contact with Rick Eckert on lap one and broke a right-front tie-rod, sending him into a uke tire inside of turns one and two. “And then the only other Capital car in the pits hit me and almost turned me over,” Clanton said with a smile, referring to Michael Kloos, who recovered from the incident to finish fourth and transfer to the feature. … Illinois racer Scott Schmitt was in contention for a transfer spot in a Friday prelim when he was forced pitside with terminal engine trouble. He has scratched from this evening’s action. … WoO traveler Chase Junghans pulled out of his qualifying feature after losing his car’s power steering. … DIRTcar director Sam Driggers was at FALS for only a short time on Friday because he was feeling faint and sought medical attention. He was checked out locally and no serious problems were found; he’s back at the track this evening feeling much better and said he probably hadn’t eaten enough and needed some rest. ... The national anthem was performed by nationally-known recording artist D.J. Ashba, a Fairbury, Ill., native whose musical resume includes a stint as the guitarist for the legendary band Guns 'n Roses. He played the anthem on his electric guitar while standing on a lift in the middle of the racetrack's infield.
The conclusion of the biggest Dirt Late Model weekend of the season in the state of Illinois includes B-Mains, a non-qualifiers’ race and the 100-lap Prairie Dirt Classic paying $30,000 to win. It’s the second consecutive year that the event offers a 30-grand top prize.
Three 15-lap B-Mains transferring two drivers are expected to lead off the program. The PDC field will be filled by two WoO points provisionals, two track provisionals and any WoO drivers who are eligible for emergency provisionals, plus the possible addition of the non-qualifiers’ race winner.
The first- and second-place finishers in Friday night’s four 25-lap qualifying features — winners Chris Simpson, Brandon Sheppard, Devin Moran and Shannon Babb — will redraw for positions 1-4 in the 100-lapper. Friday’s runners-up — Kyle Bronson, Chris Madden, Ryan Unzicker and Brian Shirley — will redraw for spots 5-8.
Saturday’s program, which also includes B-mains and a 40-lap, $5,000-to-win feature for UMP modifieds, is scheduled to begin with hot laps at 5:45 p.m. CDT.
(15 laps; top 2 transfer)
Row 1: Dennis Erb Jr., Gordy Gundaker
Row 2: Allen Weisser, Jeff Curl
Row 3: Daniel Flessner, Myles Moos
Row 4: Mike Mataragas, Rob Toland
Row 5: Bobby Pierce, David Breazeale
Row 6: Greg Wagner, Justin Duty
Row 7: Russ Adams, Bill Kettering Jr.
Row 8: Shane Clanton
Row 1: Jimmy Owens, Billy Moyer
Row 2: Brent Larson, Spencer Diercks
Row 3: Jason Feger, Jay Morris
Row 4: Taylor Scheffler, Steve Thorsten
Row 5: Matt Shannon, Jay Sparks
Row 6: Jonathan Brauns, Scott Schmitt
Row 7: Blake Spencer, Brian Dunn
Row 8: Sammy Epling
Row 1: Tyler Erb, Bob Gardner
Row 2: Hudson O’Neal, Jason Jameson
Row 3: Mike Spatola, Kevin Weaver
Row 4: Chase Junghans, Joey Moriarty
Row 5: Glen Thompson, Kolby Vandenbergh
Row 6: Derek Doll, Curtis Radke
Row 7: Jim Rogers, Kody Evans
Row 8: Collin Alexander
Saturday’s schedule of events (all times CDT)
4 p.m. - Drivers autograph session (vendor row)
5:15 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting
5:45 p.m. - On-track action begins
UMP modified hot laps
WoO hot laps for B-Main cars
Opening ceremonies and WoO/mod feature redraws
UMP modified B-Mains
UMP modified Friday qualifiers hot laps
WoO feature qualifiers hot laps
WoO B-Mains (15 laps; top 2 transfer from each)
Modified feature (40 laps)
Prairie Dirt Shootout for Late Models (3-12 from B-Mains; 25 laps)
Prairie Dirt Classic (100 laps)