NEW RICHMOND, Wis. (June 12) — The smooth, steady inside lane around Cedar Lake Speedway ultimately proved triumphant for Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis.
Sticking to the bottom of the 3/8-mile oval, the 43-year-old Mars nosed past race-long pacesetter Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., for the lead on lap 38 and hold off both Feger and Frank Heckenast Jr. of Orland Park, Ill., on a frenetic final circuit to capture Friday night's 40-lap UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feautre at Cedar Lake Speedway.
Mars’s $5,000 victory in the first half of the 17th annual Masters weekend came by a mere 0.413 of a second over Feger, whose last-ditch bid to regain command amid lapped traffic on the last lap fell short. Heckenast was just two-tenths of a second farther back in third place as the top three finishers reached the checkered flag under a virtual blanket.
Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., finished more than three seconds behind the race’s lead trio in fourth place after starting 10th, and Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., rallied from the 17th starting spot to finish fifth on a night he began in frustrating fashion by blowing a blown right-rear tire with two laps remaining in his heat race.
“That was a good one,” said Mars, who registered his seventh career victory in UMP DIRTcar Summernationals competition. “I just got lucky that everything fell my way.”
Mars, who started sixth, hustled forward to second place by the ninth lap. But before he could mount a serious challenge to the high-riding Feger he lost the bridesmaid position to Heckenast on lap 24 and didn’t regain it until lap 35 after Feger and Heckenast bumped together in turn four, breaking their rhythm sufficiently to let Mars surge by Heckenast and, ultimately, get the best of Feger with the two-to-go signal out.
“Jason was out there and he was good,” Mars said of the race’s early stages. “He was up on the top getting it. Then come Frankie (making a pass for second), and I kind of lost my momentum there, my groove on the bottom there for awhile.
“I just had to keep going lower and lower then because of the crumbles (blowing across the racing surface), but we got (Heckenast) back and and Jason there (on lap 38).”
Driving his familiar MB Customs No. 28, Mars remained patient running the inside of the track and used it to steal the race from Feger’s grasp.
“The track kind of moved around a little bit,” said Mars, who recorded his 47th career Dirt Late Model win at Cedar Lake. “The bottom wasn’t real good at the beginning and the top was a little faster. We started getting a pretty good run off of four so I figured I’d stick with it instead of burning my left-rear tire off running up on the top, and everything worked out good.”
Mars’s dramatic score was his first of the 2015 season and returned him to victory lane on the Hell Tour for the first time since July 5, 2008, at Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway. It also primed him to chase a $10,000 top prize in Cedar Lake’s Masters finale on Saturday night.
“Anytime you can get a win it’s good to go into the next race,” said Mars, whose first-ever Summernationals win came on July 20, 1996, also at Cedar Lake when he was an up-and-coming 24-year-old racer. “I’ve been real happy with everything since we were out in Tucson (at USA Raceway in January). Things just got to kind of click and get our way. It seems it’s never come easy for me, so I just gotta keep plugging away.”
Feger, 36, had his pursuit of a first career win at Cedar Lake evaporate with the finish line nearly in sight. He dominated the majority of the distance but experienced trouble finding the best groove as the race wound down.
“I thought tonight we were gonna be able to break through and finally get our first win (at Cedar Lake),” said Feger, who took the initial green flag from the fourth spot but was elevated to the outside pole when original second-starter Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., stopped in turn two with battery-cable problems on the opening lap. “I just didn’t really know where to go. I think I spun my tires a couple times there on that restart (on lap 21) just trying to get going and I think it kind of hurt towards the end. I just didn’t know what line to run down there in (turns) three and four mainly … and that guy (Mars) is pretty good here.”
Feger considered letting it all hang out in a banzai bid for victory rounding turns three and four on the outside of Mars on the final lap, but he played the tightly-bunched moment in a relatively conservative manner.
“The car was pretty good, but it wasn’t good enough to do that,” Feger said of his Hustler Race Car when asked why he didn’t throw his car to the outside of Mars and lapped machines on the last circuit. “We got another night tomorrow and we made a little money and it’s in one piece, but it sure would’ve been nice to get that win.”
Heckenast, 26, also could second-guess himself after failing to overtake Feger to bag his second consecutive Summernationals triumph. He won for the first time on the tour the previous night at Kankakee (Ill.) County Speedway.
“When we got to Feger, he was kind of — I don’t want to say in my line, because he was leading — but I kind of needed to be in that (outside) line,” Heckenast said. “I had a couple of chances at Jason where I could’ve maybe went in a little harder, but we’re buddies, so … anybody else, maybe I would’ve went for it, but I’m glad with it I guess. I don’t know … I’m kind of upset, but I’m happy.”
Three caution flags slowed the event. Two came on the opening circuit for Pierce — first when his car suddenly lost power and he slid to a stop in turn two, and then when he rolled to a stop on the backstretch when he attempted to rejoin the race on the ensuing restart — and Jim Moon of New Florence, Mo., triggered yellow-flag conditions on lap 21 when he stopped on the inside of turn three.
Notes: The start of the feature was delayed by roughly half an hour after a bank of the track’s lights in turn one shut off at the end of the USMTS modified feature due to an electrical fire that followed a blow-out of one light. Track crews could not repair the lights so the speedway lighting was noticeably duller from the flagstand to turn one, but officials positioned some tow and push trucks on the inside of the corner with their headlights on to provide a bit of additional lighting for the drivers. … With Pierce’s DNF leaving him 19th in the final rundown, Billy Moyer moved into the Summernationals points lead after three events. … Jason Krohn of Slayton, Minn., ran as high as third early in the race before retiring with mechanical trouble on lap 12. … Jason Rauen of Farley, Iowa, who was the evening’s fastest qualifier, started third and ran in the position until being overtaken by Mars on lap eight. One circuit later Rauen slipped high in turn two and fell to ninth, where he ultimately finished. … Adam Hensel of Baldwin, Wis., failed to complete a lap of the feature, pulling to the infield with trouble after the second restart. ... After dropping out of his heat race due to a loose spark plug wire, A.J. Diemel of Elk Mound, Wis., advanced from the 20th starting spot to finish eighth.
Preliminary notes and results:
Problems with the lights
With the USMTS modified feature taking the checkered flag at 9:40 p.m. — Rodney Sanders, who is pulling double-duty, was victorious — the 40-lap Dirt Late Model feature is up next.
The full-fender headliner hasn't been sent onto the track as of 9:45 p.m., however, because a bank of lights on the outside of turn one went dark as the modified feature ended. One of the lights blew out during the modified event and flames were seen coming from the wires; ultimately all the lights went down, leaving the first turn area very poorly lit. Officials have brought a boom truck onto the track in an attempt to make repairs and get the lights back on.
At 10:10 p.m, the feature field began rolling onto the backstretch — though the turn-one lights have not come back on because track crews can't repair the electrical problems now. The lighting is noticeably duller now from the flagstand to turn one, but officials have positioned some tow and push trucks on the inside of the corner with their headlights on to provide some additional lighting.
Looking to recapture the magic that powered him to a sweep of Cedar Lake’s Masters weekend in 2012, Billy Moyer Jr. will start from the pole position in the 40-lap feature after the redraw among heat winners. In his last appearance at Cedar Lake, he finished a solid fifth in last August’s USA Nationals 100. … Bobby Pierce will start from the outside pole as he bids to record his third top-five finish in as many Summernationals events. His last visit to Cedar Lake was also noteworthy: he finished second in last year’s USA Nationals, battling winner Jimmy Owens down to the wire. … Shannon Babb will have to charge forward from the 17th starting spot after a blown tire forced him pitside during the third heat. … Five of the top seven finishers in last year’s USA Nationals are in tonight’s field: Pierce, Jimmy Mars (finished third last year), Moyer Jr., Babb (sixth) and Jason Feger (seventh).
Bobby Pierce rolled off the outside pole to grab the lead at the initial green and never looked back. The 18-year-old fought off a mid-race challenge from Jimmy Mars to beat the home-state start by five car lengths. Drivers failing to finish were John Hahler, who pulled off the track, and Mike Nutzmann, who spun into the infield in turn three on lap eight.
Finish: Bobby PIerce, Jimmy Mars, Adam Hensel, David Fieber, Dan Schlieper, Mike Nutzmann, John Hahler.
Billy Moyer Jr. dominated the action, leading the entire distance and taking the checkered flag several car lengths ahead of Jason Krohn. But the heat was eventful behind Moyer — first A.J. Diemel pulled to the infield on lap five, and three circuits later Shannon Babb's early-Summernationals frustration continued with a blown right-rear tire that caused him to slow and bring out a caution flag while running second.
Finish: Billy Moyer Jr., Jason Krohn, Timothy Culp, Jim Moon, J.R. Hotovy, Shannon Babb, A.J. Diemel.
Jason Rauen ran away with the first prelim, pulling away from the pack to win by a comfortable margin over Jason Feger. The biggest eye-catcher of the event came on lap seven when Frank Heckenast Jr.'s turn-four bid to overtake Feger saw him slide into Feger's side and nearly spin; Feger held on to second while Heckenast gathered his machine (with right-rear damage) and finished third.
Finish: Jason Rauen, Jason Feger, Frank Heckenast Jr., Billy Moyer, Rodney Sanders, Ryan Unzicker, Caley Emerson.
Jason Rauen of Farley, Iowa, was the overall fastest qualifier, turning a lap of 13.804 seconds to earn the pole position for the evening's first of three 10-lap heat races.
Other group fast-timers earning pole starts in heats were Billy Moyer Jr. and Jimmy Mars.
All drivers will move on to the feature from the heats. No consolation will be run.
While heavy rain hit Cedar Lake on Thursday, conditions have turned absolutely gorgeous for tonight’s program. Skies are sunny and the temperature is in the mid-70s. … A surprise entrant is J.R. Hotovy of Hartford, Mich., who made the long haul to Cedar Lake to see some new territory. “It was either go to the Dream last week or go someplace different that we’ve never seen before,” said Hotovy, who has made about a half-dozen starts this season primarily in his home state. “I haven’t run very well at Eldora, so we decided to come out here. Everybody who talks about (Cedar Lake) says it’s a great track, so figured we’d come check it out. It looks as great as we’ve heard.” Hotovy said he’ll likely enter Sunday night’s Hell Tour show at Wilmot (Wis.) Raceway as well if he comes out of the Cedar Lake doubleheader unscathed. … Summernationals points leader Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., has pulled out the predominantly-red car that he ran last week at Eldora for Cedar Lake action. He plans to switch back to the black-and-red car that he drove last night at Kankakee (Ill.) County Speedway on Sunday night at Wilmot. … Representation from Wisconsin drivers is light with entrants including Jimmy Mars of Menomoie, A.J. Diemel of Elk Mound, Adam Hensel of Baldwin, Dan Schlieper of Oak Creek and David Fieber of Chippewa Falls. … Other new Summernationals entrants include Rodney Sanders of Happy, Texas, who is also driving a USMTS modified tonight, Jason Krohn of Slayton, Minn., Jason Rauen of Farley, Iowa, and Caley Emerson of Grand Rapids, Minn. ... A late arrival was Mike Nutzmann of New Richmond, Wis., pushing the field to 21 cars.
After a grueling overnight trip of roughly eight hours and 450 miles, the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals rolls into the 3/8-mile Cedar Lake Speedway for Round 3 of the 28-race series. The Hell Tour will stay at Cedar Lake for two consecutive nights of competition as part of the track’s annual Masters weekend.
The Summernationals headline Cedar Lake’s Masters program for the sixth year in a row. Only twice, in 2010 and ’12, were both ends of the doubleheader able to beat the weather — Billy Moyer Jr. swept the doubleheader in ’12, while Brian Birkhofer topped the finale in '10.
Rick Eckert won last year’s Master opening-night event. Other past Summernationals winners at Cedar Lake are Brian Birkhofer (2013), Scott James (’11), Jimmy Mars (1996), Billy Moyer ('94) and Scott Bloomquist ('93).
(Results from time trials set lineups for heats)
Jason Rauen (98), Farley, Iowa, 13.804
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99Jr), Orland Park, Ill., 13.937
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 13.982
Billy Moyer (21), Bateville, Ark., 14.084
Rodney Sanders (20), Happy, Texas, 14.1
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 14.131
Caley Emerson (15E), Grand Rapids, Minn., 15.204
Billy Moyer Jr. (21Jr), Batesville, Ark., 13.87
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.053
A.J. Diemel (58), Elk Mound, Minn., 14.176
Jason Krohn (7K), Slayton, Minn., 14.181
Timothy Culp (8c), Prattsville, Ark., 14.374
J.R. Hotovy (13), Hartford, Mich., 14.624
Jim Moon (1M), New Florence, Mo., 14.718
Jimmy Mars (28), Menomonie, Wis., 13.995
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 14.103
David Fieber (1F), Chippewa Falls, Wis., 14.441
Adam Hensel (33), Baldwin, Wis., 14.48
Dan Schlieper (8), Oak Creek, Wis., 14.866
Mike Nutzmann (2), New Richmond, Wis., 15.558
John Hahler (124), New Florence, Mo., 16.719