WAUSEON, Ohio (July 15) — It was Jason Feger’s turn Friday night at Oakshade Raceway.
Twenty-four hours after falling short in a battle with Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., at Merritt Speedway in Lake City, Mich., Bloomington, Ill.’s Feger flipped the script and outdueled Unzicker to capture the 40-lap UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feature that kicked off Oakshade’s Birthday Race weekend.
“I told him he got his (victory) last night,” Feger said of Unzicker, “so he had to share.”
Feger, 38, started from the outside pole and led all but three laps of the A-Main, but, after Unzicker nosed ahead to pace lap 15, Feger had to step up his game. The former Summernationals champion responded by tossing his Billy Moyer Victory Race Car to the outside of turns one and two to sweep past Unzicker and regain command on the 16th circuit and then turned back Unzicker's challenges over the remaining distance to triumph by a mere 0.199 of a second over his home-state rival.
The $5,000 score was Feger's third Summernationals win of 2016 — all in the last eight races. He also recorded his first-ever victory at the 3/8-mile Oakshade oval, which on Saturday night hosts the Hell Tour’s $10,000-to-win points finale for the 16th time in the last 17 years.
Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., advanced from the eighth starting spot to finish third, nipping Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio, for the podium position by barely a tenth of a second after the two driers battled hard during the final five laps. The 19-year-old Pierce’s run put the finishing touch on his second consecutive Summernationals championship, which he clinched by taking an insurmountable points lead over Feger into Saturday evening’s 60-lap Birthday Race.
Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, who started from the pole and led laps 1-2 before being overtaken by Feger, slipped to fifth in the final rundown.
Feger, who challenged Unzicker for the lead midway through Thursday night’s 40-lap Summernationals feature at Merritt before his softer-compound tire choice caused him to fade and finish third, had the right combination at Oakshade to stay strong from start-to-finish. But he had to find the correct line to keep Unzicker at bay.
The top of the track proved suitable for Feger after Unzicker slipped ahead at the start-finish line on lap 15, but he couldn’t pound that outside all the way to the finish.
“I knew the top was good, but it’s just a lot easier to make a mistake up there,” Feger said. “One little bobble and you can lose what you make up, and it’s a long way around up there. There wasn’t much up there and it was getting drier and skinnier, so it was getting harder and harder to run there.
“I really didn’t know where to go. I had nobody to really judge what line was the better one, or what line was faster, so I just kept trying a little bit of everything. Everything kind of feels the same, so I didn’t know what to do.
“I started trying to make it work down on the bottom, crowding the bottom,” he added. “I felt like I was better up the track, but I figured, If somebody’s gonna pass me, I’m gonna make ‘em go around me on the outside.”
Unzicker, 35, opted to continue attempting to use the low groove.
“I was hunting the bottom as hard as can be,” said Unzicker, who started fourth in his Pierce Race Car. “I didn’t feel too bad in the middle or the top … my car just rotated really nice (on the inside) and hiked up through the center there and drove off. Once I went down there I was like, ‘Wow, this feels pretty good down here,’ and I just kept digging down there.”
In a race that ran uninterrupted after its only caution flag flew on lap two when Steve Kester of Holland, Ohio, was squeezed into the homestretch wall, Unzicker mounted a last-ditch bid to overtake Feger on the final lap. As Feger churned off turn four, Unzicker got as low as possible and found enough traction to pull alongside Feger as the leaders neared the finish line.
Unzicker fell just short, losing to Feger by roughly the length of a nosepiece.
“It felt like you’re pulling a parachute,” Feger said of the slow-motion nature of the race’s final 100-or-so yards. “I back-pedaled pretty hard off of four.”
“He was hoping to see the checkered flag,” Unzicker added, joking that Feger wanted the race to be over. “I was hoping to see no flags. I wanted more laps.”
Feger and Unzicker stood alongside each other in the pit area after the race and replayed their tight battle.
“One time going into (turn) three I was like, ‘Oh Jason, oh Jason, oh Jason!’ I slid in there on the bottom and I about spun him out,” Unzicker said. “But we never touched. Not once. It was a fun race.”
Feger agreed with Unzicker’s assessment.
“It’s nice knowing that a guy’s gonna run you clean,” said Feger, who registered his 17th career Summernationals victory. “You know that even if he’s gonna come in there and slide me or something like that, you know it’s not gonna be bad or dirty. You can give each other more respect and drive a little different.”
The second straight night with Feger and Unzicker at the front of the pack continued their positive runs during the second half of the Summernationals.
“We’ve both had a really strong two weeks here,” Feger said. “We both know we got good hot rods and got some big races coming up.
“I think we both kind of hit our stride here. I think it would be a whole different Summernationals if we could start over again. Bobby (Pierce), of course, would still be strong, but we’ve both shown more consistency. We’ve both hit on something that’s got us more in the ballpark every night.”
Pierce wasn’t quite able to match the speed of the race’s top-two finishers. He hustled forward to third by lap 16 and appeared primed to bid for his 11th Hell Tour triumph of 2016, but after making slight contact with Unzicker on lap 22 and losing substantial ground he didn’t seriously threaten the leaders again.
“The middle was really good in (turns) one and two, and then all of a sudden it started changing around,” Pierce said. “The top came in a little bit, and then the bottom against the tires came in a lot but then it kind of went away. I think tire selection, just like last night, came into play a lot tonight.”
Pierce was nonetheless pleased with his third-place finish and expressed relief that, with the Summernationals title in hand, he didn’t face the stress that he did in last year’s Birthday Race when he found himself in tight race for the championship with Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville, Ark.
“This year, at this race, compared to last year, it’s just completely different,” Pierce said of his mental state at Oakshade. “Last year I just remember pacing around, thinking not to make any mistakes. We won by 10 points last year and this year we’ve got a (big) lead so … no pressure.”
Preliminary results and notes:
The UMP modified feature ended just after 10 p.m., setting the stage for the 40-lap Summernationals Late Model event.
Finish (top 2 transfer): Mike Benedum, Steve Kester, Mathew Chapman, Drew Smith, Casey Noonan, Greg Walters, Rob Anderzack, Daniel Wallace, Paul Stubber, Matt Lindsey, Curtis Roberts, Rody Schroyer, Herb Reich, Steve Miller, Bob Gardner, Nick Kurtz.
(12 laps; top 2 transfer)
Row 1: Paul Stubber, Mike Benedum
Row 2: Drew Smith, Steve Kester
Row 3: Bob Gardner, Casey Noonan
Row 4: Nick Kurtz, Rody Schroyer
Row 5: Mathew Chapman, Greg Walters
Row 6: Herb Reich, Curtis Roberts
Row 7: Steve Miller, Rob Anderzack
Row 8: Daniel Wallace, Matt Lindsey
First C-Main finish (top 2 transfer to B-Main): Steve Miller, Daniel Wallace, Doug Baird, Bob Mayer, Daniel Gehring, J.R. Gooden, Max Ake, Bryant Dickinson, Truck Robertson, Samuel Tolley.
Second C-main finish (top 2 transfer to B-Main): Rob Anderzack, Dusty Moore, Brad Wade, Matt Lindsey, Wayne Chinn, Hillard Miller, Ron Miller, Jarrett Rendell, Scott Moyer, Ken Hahn.
(10 laps; top 2 transfer to B-Main)
Row 1: Daniel Wallace, Bob Mayer
Row 2: Steve Miller, Doug Baird
Row 3: Bryant Dickinson, J.R. Gooden
Row 4: Truck Robertson, Samuel Tolley
Row 5: Daniel Gehring, Max Ake
Row 6: Brian O’Brien
Row 1: Hillard Miller, Rob Anderzack
Row 2: Matt Lindsey, Brad Wade
Row 3: Ron Miller, Dusty Moore
Row 4: Jarrett Rendell, Wayne Chinn
Row 5: Curtis Deisenroth, Ken Hahn
Row 6: Scott Moyer
Devin Moran led all the way, beating Bobby Pierce to the finish line by 1.618 seconds. Pierce overtook Matt Miller for second on lap four; Miller settled for third place and Gordy Gundaker placed fourth. The race’s lone caution flag flew on lap three when Dusty Moore spun on the inside of turn four.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Devin Moran, Bobby Pierce, Matt Miller, Gordy Gundaker, Steve Kester, Rody Schroyer, Curtis Roberts, Rob Anderzack, Brad Wade, Dusty Moore, Wayne Chinn, Ken Hahn.
Jason Feger led every lap, driving away to defeat Kent Robinson by a half-straightaway. Jeep Van Wormer battled past Mike Benedum and Rusty Schlenk midway through the race to grab third and finish there and Schlenk placed fourth. A caution flag flew on lap one for a multi-car tangle in turn two that left Curtis Deisenroth and Matt Lindsey spun around and Ron Miller and Hillard Miller with damage.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Jason Feger, Kent Robinson, Jeep Van Wormer, Rusty Schlenk, Mike Benedum, Casey Noonan, Greg Walters, Hillard Miller, Matt Lindsey, Ron Miller, Jarrett Rendell, Curtis Deisenroth, Scott Moyer.
Jon Henry cruised away from the pack, leading from flag-to-flag and beating Brian Ruhlman by 2.257 seconds. Devin Shiels held off Brad Eitniear to finish third.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Jon Henry, Brian Ruhlman, Devin Shiels, Brad Eitniear, Drew Smith, Nick Kurtz, Herb Reich, Bob Mayer, Doug Baird, J.R. Gooden, Samuel Tolley, Max Ake.
Ryan Unzicker surged into the lead at the initial green flag and never looked back en route to winning by 3.345 seconds over Mike Bores. Polesitter Taylor Scheffler and Larry Kingseed also transferred. A caution flag flew on lap two for Brian O'Brien's spin between turns three and four.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Ryan Unzicker, Mike Bores, Taylor Scheffler, Larry Kingseed, Paul Stubber, Bob Gardner, Mathew Chapman, Daniel Wallace, Steve Miller, Bryant Dickinson, Truck Robertson, Daniel Gehring, Brian O’Brien.
Making his first-ever appearance at Oakshade, Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., ripped off the overall fastest lap of the 50-car qualifing session. His circuit of 15.577 seconds topped the second group and put him on the pole position of the evening's fourth heat.
Taylor Scheffler of Waukesha, Wis. — another driver making his first career visit to Oakshade — was fastest in the first group with a lap of 15.682 seconds. He was a mere 3/10,000ths of a second faster than Brian Ruhlman of Clarklake, Mich., who joins Scheffler as a heat-race polesitter.
Matt Miller of Whitehouse, Ohio, who won Oakshade’s Birthday Race in both 2013 and ’14, will make his first start with car owner Rick DeLong since his Dream weekend at Eldora Speedway last month ended early with a hard, chassis-bending crash in a preliminary night heat race. DeLong has prepared a one-year-old Rocket machine for Miller to chase Oakshade glory. “I had to take his favorite seat out of the other (wrecked) car and put it in this one,” DeLong said with a smile. “I hope it’s in there right or I might get yelled at.” … Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio, has high hopes for Oakshade’s doubleheader. “I’m really excited for this weekend,” said Henry, who has made four starts since debuting a former Frank Heckenast Jr.-driven Club 29 Race Car with a successful outing in last month’s Dream. “We were really good here last month (when he finished second in the June 18 Barney Oldfield Memorial). We were leading until I got into a lapped car and bent the front end.” … Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., is anxious to make his first-ever laps at Oakshade. “I’ve always wanted to race here,” said Robinson, who will make his second start in his new Billy Moyer Victory Race Car. “It’s always looked like a neat place to me.” … Coming off a victory in Thursday night’s Summernationals event at Merritt Speedway in Lake City, Mich., Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., has new doors on his car sporting an Ohio State University-themed wrap honoring the memory of the late Thomas Childress, a fan of Unzicker’s who was part of Oakshade’s Turn 3 Gang. … Taylor Scheffler of Waukesha, Wis., is in Oakshade’s field after registering a career-best Summernationals finish of fourth Thursday night at Merritt. The 22-year-old sophomore Dirt Late Model driver is set to make just his seventh career Super Late Model start; his uncle, veteran Wisconsin racer Russ Scheffler, has allowed him to use his hauler and Wild Inc. Race Car to make his full-blown Dirt Late Model debut in Summernationals events over the past month. … Late arrivals to Oakshade’s pit area were 2007 Birthday Race winner Jeep VanWormer of Pinioning, Mich., and Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio. Both drivers pulled into the pit area at 5:20 p.m. ... Gordy Gundaker's parents, Kevin and Tammy, traveled with their son to the rained-out Indiana races and Thursday night's show in Michigan, but they rented a car and drove home today to oversee this evening's Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event at their Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill.
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals plunges into its last weekend of points racing with a two-day program at Oakshade Raceway, a series stalwart that will host a pair of complete Hell Tour events for the first time. Friday night’s $5,000-to-win show leads into Saturday evening’s traditional 60-lap Birthday Race that boasts a $10,000 top prize.
The Summernationals has visited Oakshade every year since 2000. Only once, in 2002, was the event not the finale of the Hell Tour.
Eleven drivers have won Summernationals features at Oakshade. Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., and Matt Miller of Whitehouse, Ohio, lead the way with three victories apiece; Babb won’t be in this weekend’s field, but Miller will be behind the wheel of Rick DeLong’s No. 3. Other former Hell Tour victors include Billy Moyer (two), Kevin Weaver, Don O’Neal, Brian Shirley, Jeep VanWormer, Tim McCreadie, Rusty Schlenk, Ryan Unzicker and Billy Moyer Jr.
Friday night’s program will feature two split time trials with drivers in the first group vying for positions in heats 1-2 and those in the second group qualifying for spots in heats 3-4. Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and racing is set to get the green flag at 7:30 p.m.
Heat race lineups
(10 laps; top 4 transfer)
Row 1: Taylor Scheffler, Mike Bores
Row 2: Ryan Unzicker, Paul Stubber
Row 3: Daniel Wallace, Bob Gardner
Row 4: Larry Kingseed, Steve Miller
Row 5: Mathew Chapman, Bryant Dickinson
Row 6: Truck Robertson, Brian O’Brien
Row 7: Daniel Gehring
Row 1: Brian Ruhlman, Jon Henry
Row 2: Brad Eitniear, Nick Kurtz
Row 3: Devin Shiels, Drew Smith
Row 4: Bob Mayer, Doug Baird
Row 5: Herb Reich, Samuel Tolley
Row 6: Max Ake, J.R. Gooden
Row 1: Kent Robinson, Jason Feger
Row 2: Mike Benedum, Casey Noonan
Row 3: Rusty Schlenk, Matt Lindsey
Row 4: Jeep Van Wormer, Curtis Deisenroth
Row 5: Hillard Miller, Greg Walters
Row 6: Ron Miller, Scott Moyer
Row 7: Jarrett Rendell
Row 1: Devin Moran, Matt Miller
Row 2: Bobby Pierce, Steve Kester
Row 3: Gordy Gundaker, Rob Anderzack
Row 4: Rody Schroyer, Curtis Roberts
Row 5: Dusty Moore, Brad Wade
Row 6: Wayne Chinn, Ken Hahn
Time trials results
Taylor Scheffler (74), Waukesha, Wis., 15.682
Brian Ruhlman (49), Clarklake, Mich., 15.6823
Mike Bores (15B), Bellevue, Mich., 15.769
Jon Henry (15H), Ada, Ohio, 15.77
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 15.775
Brad Eitniear (B4U), Wauseon, Ohio, 15.821
Paul Stubber (31), Bunbury, W. Australia, 16.15
Nick Kurtz (79), Greenville, Mich., 16.151
Daniel Wallace (X3), Toledo, Ohio, 16.165
Devin Shiels (51s), Britton, Mich., 16.186
Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., 16.264
Drew Smith (71DS), Sylvania, Ohio, 16.282
Larry Kingseed (21K), Attica, Ohio, 16.287
Bob Mayer (42*), Holland, Ohio, 16.326
Steve Miller (95M), Toledo, Ohio, 16.376
Doug Baird (69R), Aluada, Ohio, 16.433
Mathew Chapman (00), Adrian, Mich., 16.462
Herb Reich (34), Ann Arbor, Mich., 16.579
Bryant Dickinson (5*), Ionia, Mich., 16.898
Samuel Tolley (7J), Butler, Ind., 16.969
Truck Robertson (P3), Defiance, Ohio, 17.294
Max Ake (5), Lowell, Mich., 17.445
Brian O'Brien (0), Morenci, Mich., 18.905
Daniel Gehring (31G), Pettisville, Ohio, no time
J.R. Gooden (52), Toledo, Ohio, 17.158 (DQ - tires)
Kent Robinson (7R), Bloomington, Ind., 15.577
Devin Moran (99M), Dresden, Ohio, 15.578
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 15.684
Matt Miller (3), Whitehouse, Ohio, 15.834
Mike Benedum (1), Salem, W.Va., 15.876
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.879
Casey Noonan (1), Toledo, Ohio, 15.89
Steve Kester (77K), Holland, Ohio, 15.918
Rusty Schlenk (11), McClure, Ohio, 16.055
Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 16.069
Matt Lindsey (49L), Adrian, Mich., 16.118
Rob Anderzack (8), Metamora, Ohio, 16.174
Jeep Van Wormer (55), Pinconning, Mich., 16.18
Rody Schroyer (66), Ottawa, Mich., 16.198
Curtis Deisenroth (2D), Oak Harbor, Ohio, 16.269
Curtis Roberts (9R), Coleman, Mich., 16.303
Dusty Moore (75), Swanton, Ohio, 16.324
Hillard Miller(53H), Defiance, Ohio, 16.324
Greg Walters (97), Banks, Ore., 16.414
Brad Wade (23), Dundee, Mich., 16.441
Ron Miller (35), Lambertville, Mich., 16.569
Wayne Chinn (26), Bradford, Ohio, 16.614
Scott Moyer (77), West Unity, Ohio, 16.718
Ken Hahn (27H), Gibsonburg, Ohio, 17.011
Jarrett Rendell (06), Clayton, Mich., 17.297