BANNER, Ill. (June 23) — Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., seemingly had his Black Diamond Chassis set on cruise control Thursday night at Spoon River Speedway.
Controlling the action from start-to-finish without facing a single serious challenge, Erb rolled to a convincing $10,000 victory in the 50-lap UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feature.
“I didn’t know if it was easy or not,” the low-key Erb said after his first-ever Hell Tour triumph at the 3/8-mile, high-banked oval. “The car was good and I didn’t see anybody challenging me there. We were able just to get out front and I didn’t feel no challenge, so I just kept driving my line.”
Erb, 43, started from the pole position and drove away to a full straightaway lead over Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., during the race’s first half. The A-Main’s lone caution flag, on lap 28, brought the field back to Erb, but the three-time Summernationals champion didn’t let Moyer get close enough to make a bid on the restart and ultimately negotiated lapped traffic with aplomb to beat the Hell Tour’s all-time winningest driver to the finish line by 1.355 seconds.
Defending Summernationals champion Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., padded his points lead with a hard-charging third-place finish, giving the 19-year-old sensation his sixth top-five run in as many series events this season. Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., finished fourth after losing the third position to Pierce on lap 42 and outside polesitter Kevin Weaver of Gibson City, Ill., placed fifth to back up his fourth-place run in Tuesday night’s Summernationals feature at Jacksonville (Ill.) Speedway.
The triumph in the richest event in Spoon River’s history was Erb’s first since capturing the $100,000 Dream XXII prize at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, less than two weeks ago. It was also his 20th career Summernationals checkered flag and first since July 10, 2015, at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway.
“We’ve been running this series for a long time, won a bunch of races with it, won the championship three years in a row, then went off and started touring (with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series),” said Erb, who threepeated as Summernationals champion from 2007-2009. “Being able to come back and battle with these guys and pick up a win, it feels good.”
Erb did it in a fashion that lived up to his One Man Band nickname. He raced without his long-time chief mechanic Heather Lyne, who was unable to accompany Erb to Tuesday’s event at Jacksonville and Thursday at Spoon River due to work commitments.
At Spoon River, Erb arrived with only his dog joining him in his hauler and handled the vast majority of his pit work himself.
“I got Don Hammer (a Dirt Late Model-driving friend who is attempting to chase the Hell Tour for the first time) and his guys parked next to me, so they’re helping out,” Erb said. “(Lyne is) flying back in from (a work trip in) Baltimore. She’ll be here tomorrow (for the Summernationals stop at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill.), so I’ll get a rest.”
Having Lyne back at his side will also give him an extra pair of eyes helping him from the infield during the feature. With Lyne missing, he had no one to give him signals as he led the feature.
“I didn’t know how close anybody was, if I was pulling away or if I was running the right line,” Erb said. “I just kept driving … I didn’t see nobody, so I just kept going.
“I didn’t know, so I was out there just trying to do the best I could. I didn’t hear nobody or see nobody, so I was just trying to keep hitting my marks and get around the track.”
Erb, of course, was fine on his own. His car was set up perfectly for the conditions and he had no trouble running away from the pack.
“I made a few adjustments there before the feature because I seen that (the track crew) went out and worked (the surface) a little bit,” Erb said. “It was good. We were able to run all over it. It cleaned up there at the end, but it was good … a lot better than it has been in the past.
“I was happy real with the car. I could move around all over and do what I needed to do to get around lapped cars and get back to where I wanted to be.”
Moyer, 58, moved up from the third starting spot to pass Weaver for second on lap two and chased Erb for the remainder of the distance, but he couldn’t summon enough speed in his Moyer Victory Race Car to make Erb sweat.
“He was just a little bit better,” said Moyer, who was seeking his fifth career Summernationals win at Spoon River but first since 1999. “We was real close to the same speed I’d say, but he could definitely negotiate the lapped cars better than I could … more maneuverable. We missed a little bit and just had it way too tight. We were a couple adjustments away from being right.”
Even the lap-28 caution flag for Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., who spun between turns one and two after a scrape with Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., while battling for fifth place, turned out to be a moot point for Moyer.
“When you’re not leading a restart a lot of times is good … you kind of get another shot at him,” Moyer said. “He was just a little bit better than we was —bottom line. We tried to move around a couple times on the track, but the darn car was just really so tight I couldn’t really do what I wanted to do. I was just kind of along for the ride and trying to stay in the little bit of grip and get to the end.”
Pierce, meanwhile, drew the big crowd’s attention during the race’s second half with his attempts to make a late rally using the extreme outside of the track, but after finally wrestling third from Marlar on lap 42 he didn’t have enough time to run down the leaders.
“I started sixth but at the beginning I just started falling like a fly,” Pierce said. “I think I fell back to like 10th place. Then I got on the top … right on the cushion was where my car was best. Erb and Moyer were just a little bit too fast and they started up front. I tried, but there was nothing I could do.”
Pierce wouldn’t have minded seeing a caution flag fly once he gained third place, though.
“Yeah, I was hoping for that,” Piece said. “I think we might have had a shot … yeah, maybe.”
Preliminary results and notes:
After the B-main took the checkered flag shortly before 9:30 p.m., Spoon River’s track crew hit the speedway to rework the surface. A similar pre-feature track reconditioning prior to the 2014 Summernationals event led to a memorable, three-car battle for the win between Jason Feger, Shannon Babb and Ryan Unzicker. … Unzicker drew the fourth starting spot in the redraw among heat winners — “I let him draw,” Unzicker smiled, pointing at his 3-year-old son Brody — but he feels good about his chances in the 50-lap A-Main. “I like this place,” he said. … Polesitter Dennis Erb Jr. is truly a One Man Band tonight; he’s racing without the assistance of his long-time chief mechanic Heather Lyne, who had work commitments keep her from attending Tuesday night’s show at Jacksonville and tonight’s action. … Kevin Weaver will start from the outside pole after running the outside groove past Gordy Gundaker to win the fourth heat. He will be shooting for his first Summernationals triumph since June 16, 2013, at Wilmot (Wis.) Raceway and his first $10,000 victory on the Hell Tour since July 6, 2002, at Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway. … Third-starter Billy Moyer has a record four career Summernationals wins at Spoon River, but he hasn’t reached victory lane here in a Hell Tour event since 1999. He also won series events here in 1996, ’95 and ’86 — the latter, on July 2, being the first official Summernationals race ever held.
Finish (top 2 transfer): Kolby Vandenbergh, Taylor Scheffler, Jason Wagner, Don Hammer, Matt Furman, Dustin Griffin, A.J. May, Clint Kirkham, Nick Bauman, Brian Diveley, Russ Adams, Bob Gardner, Austin Theiss, Brent Larson, Matt Taylor.
(12 laps; top 2 transfer)
Row 1: Kolby Vandenbergh, Taylor Scheffler
Row 2: Matt Furman, Jason Wagner
Row 3: Don Hammer, Russ Adams
Row 4: Dustin Griffin, Bob Gardner
Row 5: A.J. May, Clint Kirkham
Row 6: Nick Bauman, Matt Taylor
Row 7: Brian Diveley, Austin Theiss
Row 8: Brent Larson
Finish (top 3 transfer to B-Main): Brian Diveley, Austin Theiss, Brent Larson, Jeremy Conaway, Cody Conner, Evan Fink, Mark Rose, Chris Cowling, Mark Rose, Daniel Hopper, Cole Swibold, Gary Graham, Melissa Hansmeyer.
(10 laps; top 3 transfer to B-Main)
Row 1: Jeremy Conway, Cody Conner
Row 2: Mark Rose, Jay Sparks
Row 3: Evan Fink, Danny Riekena
Row 4: Cole Swibold, Bill Kettering Jr.
Row 5: Daniel Hopper, Scott Schmitt
Row 6: Gary Graham, Morey Denney
Fow 7: Melissa Hansmeyer
Kevin Weaver ran the outside groove past Gordy Gundaker to take the lead on lap eight and emerge victorious. Chris Simpson finished second after also passing Gundaker using the top lane on the final lap, leaving Gundaker and Billy Drake as the final transfers.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Kevin Weaver, Chris Simpson, Gordy Gundaker, Billy Drake, Jason Wagner, Bob Gardner, Matt Taylor, Chris Cowling, Jay Sparks, Bill Kettering Jr. (DNS) Morey Denney.
Billy Moyer overtook Mike Marlar for the lead on lap three and paced the remainder of the distance. Marlar finished second despite nearly slipping over the track's outside lip several times, with Timothy Culp and Jim Moon — making his 2016 Summernationals debut — claiming the other transfer spots.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Billy Moyer, Mike Marlar, Timothy Culp, Jim Moon, Taylor Scheffler, Russ Adams, Clint Kirkham, Austin Theiss, Cody Conner, Danny Riekena (DNS) Scott Schmitt.
Dennis Erb Jr. controlled the action from start-to-finish, beating Bobby Pierce to the finish line by several car lengths. Brandon Sheppard finished third after losing the runner-up spot to Pierce midway through the prelim and Justin Reed placed fourth.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Dennis Erb jr., Bobby Pierce, Brandon Sheppard, Justin Reed, Matt Furman, Dustin Griffin, Nick Bauman, Brent Larson, Mark Rose, Cole Swibold, Gary Graham.
Enjoying his first positive results of the Summernationals, Ryan Unzicker used the inside lane to grab the lead on the opening lap and marched on to take the victory by a couple car lengths over Shannon Babb. Jason Feger and Austin Rettig completed the transfers in a race slowed by two caution flags.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Ryan Unzicker, Shannon Babb, Jason Feger, Austin Rettig, Kolby Vandenbergh, Don Hammer, A.J. May, Brian Diveley, Jeremy Conaway, Evan Fink, Daniel Hopper, Melissa Hansmeyer.
(10 laps; top 4 transfer)
Row 1: Shannon Babb, Kolby Vandenbergh
Row 2: Ryan Unzicker, Jason Feger
Row 3: Austin Rettig, Don Hammer
Row 4: A.J. May, Jeremy Conway
Row 5: Brian Diveley, Evan Fink
Row 6: Daniel Hopper, Melissa Hansmeyer
Row 1: Dennis Erb Jr., Justin Reed
Row 2: Brandon Sheppard, Bobby Pierce
Row 3: Matt Furman, Dustin Griffin
Row 4: Brent Larson, Cole Swibold
Row 5: Nick Bauman, Mark Rose
Row 6: Gary Graham
Row 1: Mike Marlar, Billy Moyer
Row 2: Cody Conner, Russ Adams
Row 3: Jim Moon, Timothy Culp
Row 4: Austin Theiss, Taylor Scheffler
Row 5: Clint Kirkham, Danny Riekena
Row 6: Scott Schmitt
Row 1: Gordy Gundaker, Chris Simpson
Row 2: Matt Taylor, Billy Drake
Row 3: Kevin Weaver, Bob Gardner
Row 4: Jason Wagner, Chris Cowling
Row 5: Jay Sparks, Bill Kettering Jr.
Row 6: Morey Denney
Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., was the fastest overall qualifier in the split time-trials session, turning a lap of 13.772 seconds to barely nip Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill. (13.772).
Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., was quickest in Group 2 with a lap of 14.161 seconds.
Scott Schmitt of Tonica, Ill., didn’t log a qualifying lap after dropping a valve during hot laps, sidelining him for the evening.
On a perfectly clear, sunny day with temperatures in the high 80s and a steady breeze blowing, a Hell Tour-high 45 cars is signed in for action. ... Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., was in his trailer in the Spoon River pit area late Thursday afternoon preparing his backup Pro Power engine for a sale — to current Summernationals points leader Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill. Pierce is down to two Pro Power engines after some issues with a pair of Dickens powerplants so his father, Bob, made a deal to purchase Unzicker’s third powerplant. “We needed some cash to keep going,” joked Unzicker, who has gotten off to a slow start on the ’16 Hell Tour (even missing Sunday night’s event at Wilmot Raceway due to hauler trouble). … Spoon River’s first $10,000 first-place payoff helped draw Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, who added Thursday’s program to his planned visits on Friday and Saturday to Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill., and Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway. This will be his first Dirt Late Model start at Spoon River; he said he did race a go-kart at the track “probably 20 years ago.” … Matt Furman, a native of Iowa City, Iowa, who now lives in Portland, Ore., is making his first Summernationals start of 2016. He will chase the series through Saturday night at FALS. … Texan Austin Theiss will make his first-ever start at Spoon River with his MB Customs machine. He had planned to enter Wednesday night’s action at Farley (Iowa) Speedway, but the rainout leaves him with just one outing for his trip because he’s headed to Arkansas for a pair of weekend Comp Cams Super Dirt Series events. The 19-year-old driver is currently fourth in the Comp Cams points standings and leads the tour’s rookie of the year battle. … Bob Gardner’s East Peoria, Ill., home is just 45 minutes from Spoon River, but his hauler had to put in an eight-hour round-trip to Sullivan, Wis., and back on Wednesday to get ready for his home turf event. After suffering terminal engine problems in Tuesday night’s feature at Jacksonville (Ill.) Speedway — Gardner’s motor shut off on lap three as he entered turn three, causing a multi-car, chain-reaction pileup behind him — his engine builder, Bill Schlieper, asked him to come up to his Badger State shop to pull out the motor and install a fresh powerplant that was set to be delivered to Gardner tonight. Gardner’s crew chief, Ryan Barker, had an eventful drive home on Wednesday night as well; while on I-39 he caught the tail end of storms that brought tornadoes near Pontiac, Ill.
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals stops in the heart of central Illinois for a Thursday-night show at Spoon River Speedway in Banner. A 40-lap feature paying $10,000 to win — the richest race in the track’s history — is on tap for the sixth event of the scheduled 27-race series.
A high-banked, 3/8-mile oval, Spoon River is a longtime staple on the Hell Tour. A total of 19 Summernationals races have been contested at the track since 1986 with 14 different drivers emerging victorious. The track’s series event was rained out last year.
Billy Moyer (four wins), Shannon Babb (three) and Billy Drake (two) are the only drivers with more than one Summernationals victory at Spoon River. Single victors include Jason Feger (2014), Brandon Sheppard, Ryan Unzicker, Darren Miller, Randy Korte, Don O’Neal, Scott Bloomquist, Bob Pierce, Jim Curry, Rick Aukland and John Gill.
With 45 cars on hand, the field has been split into two groups for qualifying. Drivers in the first group will be aligned in heats 1-2 and those in the second group will race in heats 3-4.
Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6:20 p.m. CT with competition set to follow. Racing for UMP Modifieds is also on the agenda.
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 13.772
Dennis Erb Jr. (28e), Carpentersville, Ill., 13.777
Kolby Vandenbergh (15), Ashland, Ill., 13.873
Justin Reed (1ST), Camp Point, Ill., 13.881
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 13.916
Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 13.963
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 13.988
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 14.035
Austin Rettig (94), Sikeston, Mo., 14.062
Matt Furman (51), Portland, Ore., 14.264
Don Hammer (45), Clinton, Ill., 14.324
Dustin Griffin (20), Camp Point, Ill., 14.33
A.J. May (A9), Creve Coure, Ill., 14.351
Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 14.37
Jeremy Conaway (15F), Springfield, Ill., 14.477
Cole Swibold (98), Fairview, Ill., 14.65
Brian Diveley (11D), Springfield, Ill., 14.657
Nick Bauman (B1x), New Berlin, Ill., 14.7
Evan Fink (1F), Glasford, Ill., 15.027
Mark Rose (28R), Dorchester, Wis., 15.146
Daniel Hopper (1x), Peru, Ill., 15.36
Gary Graham (05G), San Jose, Ill., 16.07
Melissa Hansmeyer (9M), Canton, Ill., 16.209
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 14.161
Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 14.298
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 14.339
Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 14.36
Cody Conner (3c), DeSoto, Mo., 14.491
Matt Taylor (44), Springfield, Ill., 14.514
Russ Adams (74A), Princeville, Ill., 14.568
Billy Drake (75D), Lincoln, Ill., 14.611
Jim Moon (1M), New Florence, Mo., 14.648
Kevin Weaver (b12), Gibson City, Ill., 14.708
Timothy Culp (c8), Prattsville, Ark., 14.745
Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., 14.893
Austin Theiss (7D), Hockley, Texas, 14.925
Jason Wagner (12J), Deer Creek, Ill.,15.035
Taylor Scheffler (74), Waukesha, Wis., 15.146
Chris Cowling (27c), Tauranga, New Zealand, 15.355
Clint Kirkham (28K), Camden, Ill., 15.373
Jay Sparks (7S), Metamera, Ill., 15.399
Danny Riekena (21R), Mapleton, Ill., 15.903
Bill Kettering Jr. (25K), Pekin, Ill., 16.235
Morey Denney (15D), Canton, Ill., no time
Scott Schmitt (10S), Tonica, Ill., no time