WAUSEON, Ohio (July 16) — Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio, was absolutely, positively the class of Saturday night’s 18th annual Birthday Race at Oakshade Raceway.
At long last grabbing the signature victory he’s craved, the 30-year-old driver completely dominated the 60-lap UMP DIRTcar Summernationals finale. He surged off the outside pole to assume command at the initial green and led the entire distance without facing a single serious challenge.
The $10,000 triumph was by far the richest of Henry’s Dirt Late Model career, which slowed in recent years as he struggled to find a car that could get his self-owned racing program purring. His biggest previous win was his only other Summernationals score, a 2012 checkered flag worth $5,000 at Spoon River Speedway in Banner, Ill.
“It’s unreal,” said Henry, who celebrated his first-ever five-figure win by doing donuts with his car in turn three before reaching victory lane and climbing out of his cockpit to the cheers of Oakshade’s packed grandstand. “It’s something I always dreamed to do … it’s very emotional, to be honest with you. It doesn’t really sink in (yet), but it’s gonna sink in probably here soon — tomorrow and the next week and the next m month — that we were able to accomplish something that we’ve always wanted to do and in front of a great crowd.”
Henry easily steered his Club 29 Race Car away from his rivals following each of the race’s three restarts. He built a full straightaway edge within a few circuits of green-flag racing before reaching lapped traffic in the final circuits cut his ultimate winning margin to a more modest 1.760 seconds over Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., who entered the event having already clinched his second straight Summernationals championship on the strength of a personal-best 10-win campaign.
Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, a longtime Oakshade regular and 2010 Birthday Race winner, finished third in the Lawrence Motorsports mount. Three-time Birthday Race victor Matt Miller of Whitehouse, Ohio, shot from the ninth starting spot to fifth place by lap 18 and appeared primed to climb higher but could only manage a fourth-place finish in Rick DeLong’s machine and Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., placed fifth in his first career Birthday Race start.
Polesitter Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., who won his first-ever feature at Oakshade on Friday night, was outgunned for the lead at the start of the feature by Henry but ran in second place until tangling with the lapped Mason Zeigler of Chalkhill, Pa., in turn four on lap 47. Nose damage to Feger’s car left him needing wrecker service to return to the pit area.
Throughout Feger’s long stint in second place, however, he never drew close enough to Henry to make a bid for back-to-back wins. Henry was just too fast.
One month after leading nearly half of Oakshade’s Barney Oldfield Memorial race but settling for second because a scrape with a lapped car bent his car’s front end, Henry flashed even more speed at the 3/8-mile oval.
“The first night we were good too and we were coming on late,” said Henry, who finished fourth in Friday’s 40-lapper with a hard-compound tire on his car. “Tonight, I knew starting position was gonna be huge, so just getting out front and pacing myself was important. I wasn’t trying to to drive hard because this track will usually work a right-front since you’re always going in a circle and always turning, so I tried to bend the car a little bit more to keep the right-front tire from sliding and save it some.
“But I don’t even think it mattered,” he added. “This car was just so good.”
Henry had no trouble on the race’s three restarts, which followed caution flags on laps eight (for Zeigler slowing) and 47 (for the Feger/Zeigler tangle and, on the restart, a homestretch jingle involving top-10 runners Steve Kester of Holland, Ohio, Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, and Taylor Scheffler of Waukesha, Wis.). He powered off to a convincing triumph in a car he obtained just before last month’s Dream XXII at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
“It’s been awhile,” Henry said. “We’ve had some rough last several years. We haven’t raced as much as we’ve wanted to … just everything’s been down.
“And then an opportunity arose and we got this race car that kind of fit my style and everything kind of clicked together.”
Henry was extremely gracious and emotional in his post-race comments.
“I got so many people to thank … so many people,” said Henry, who victorious on the eve of his girlfriend Toni Shreffler’s birthday. “I’m just so excited. This is just a surreal moment.
“There’s so many fans around here who have been supporting me for so many years … it’s unbelievable to win in front of this kind of a more home crowd. It’s an awesome feeling.”
The 19-year-old Pierce had an opportunity to take a shot at Henry after inheriting second place with Feger’s lap-47 trouble, but, try as he might, he had a second-place vehicle.
“His car was hooked up and I think once he got the lead he could kind of pace himself a little bit and get some clear air, but I had nothing for him,” Pierce said of Henry. “He was diving down into the corners and his car would stick, so he found something out after all the times he’s raced here. Congrats to him on the win.
“For me, (Oakshade is) not really a track that I’m good at. I guess I got a third and a second (in the weekend doubleheader), which is pretty good, but I just never feel like I’m great here. There’s always a couple guys who are faster.”
Pierce certainly excelled at most other tracks on the 2016 Summernationals, however. He became just the fifth driver in Hell Tour history to reach double figures in wins in a single season — joining luminaries Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., and Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind. — and was the first repeat Summernationals champion since Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., won three in a row from 2007-09.
“I wanted to get that last (win) so I could be 50/50 (11 wins in 22 features), but it’s been a great Hell Tour,” Pierce said. “It’s really cool to do it again. There’s a lot of competition with this series, and venturing out to other places … not only did we win the championship, but we ran really good at a lot of tracks that I’m not really used to running at. I’m pretty proud of the team and everyone who helped us out.”
Preliminary results and notes:
The 22-car starting field was called to the fronstretch to line up facing the outside wall and driver introductions began at 10:15 p.m., putting the start of the 60-lap Birthday Race moments away.
Finish (top 2 transfer): Curtis Roberts, Jeep Van Wormer, Casey Noonan, Mike Bores, Mike Benedum, Nick Kurtz, Mathew Chapman, Matt Lindsey, Brad Wade, Curtis Deisenroth, Hillard Miller, Larry Kingseed, Rody Schroyer, Daniel Wallace, Greg Walters, Devin Shiels.
(12 laps; top 2 transfer)
Row 1: Mike Benedum, Curtis Roberts
Row 2: Jeep Van Wormer, Matt Lindsey
Row 3: Devin Shiels, Casey Noonan
Row 4: Rody Schroyer, Mike Bores
Row 5: Curtis Deisenroth, Nick Kurtz
Row 6: Hillard Miller, Brad Wade
Row 7: Larry Kingseed, Mathew Chapman
Row 8: Greg Walters, Daniel Wallace
First C-Main finish: Larry Kingseed, Greg Walers, Brad Eitniear, Bob Mayer, Ron Miller, Paul Stubber, Bryant Dickinson, Steve Miller, Scott Moyer, Max Ake, Bob Gardner.
Second C-Main finish: Mathew Chapman, Daniel Wallace, Ken Hahn, Dusty Moore, Graeme Short, Drew Smith, Doug Baird, Jarrett Rendel, Samuel Tolley.
(10 laps; top 2 transfer to B-Main)
Row 1: Bob Gardner, Larry Kingseed
Row 2: Brad Eitniear, Greg Walters
Row 3: Bob Mayer, Herb Reich
Row 4: Paul Stubber, Ron Miller
Row 5: Bryant Dickinson, Scott Moyer
Row 6: Steve Miller, Max Ake
Row 1: Mathew Chapman, Ken Hahn
Row 2: Daniel Wallace, Dusty Moore
Row 3: Graeme Short, Drew Smith
Row 4: Jarrett Rendel, Samuel Tolley
Row 5: Doug Baird, Daniel Gehring
Row 6: Brian O’Brien
Bobby Pierce scored a flag-to-flag win, but Taylor Scheffler kept him in sight after grabbing second from Gordy Gundaker on lap four and crossed the finish line 1.264 seconds behind the victor. Gundaker settled for third and Rob Anderzack nipped Matt Lindsey at the finish line to take the final transfer spot. A caution flag flew on lap one when Samuel Tolley spun in turn four.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Bobby Pierce, Taylor Scheffler, Gordy Gundaker, Rob Anderzack, Matt Lindsey, Mike Bores, Brad Wade, Ken Hahn, Dusty Moore, Drew Smith, Samuel Tolley (DNS) Daniel Gehring.
Jon Henry dominated the action, gliding away from the field to triumph by a commanding 2.877 seconds over Kent Robinson. Devin Moran finished third and Ryan Unzicker placed fourth after grabbing the position from Curtis Roberts late in the distance.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Jon Henry, Kent Robinson, Devin Moran, Ryan Unzicker, Curtis Roberts, Casey Noonan, Nick Kurtz, Mathew Chapman, Daniel Wallace, Graeme Short, Jarrett Rendel, Doug Baird (DNS) Brian O’Brien.
Jason Feger cruised to victory, leading the entire distance without a challenge. Steve Kester was a distant runner-up, 2.464 seconds behind Feger, while Steve Casebolt held off Brian Ruhlman to place third.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Jason Feger, Steve Kester, Steve Casebolt, Brian Ruhlman, Jeep Van Wormer, Rody Schroyer, Hillard Miller, Larry Kingseed, Greg Walters, Herb Reich, Ron Miller, Scott Moyer (DNS) Max Ake.
Rusty Schlenk’s race-long bids to overtake Wayne Chinn finally carried him into the lead on the final lap when he slid underneath Chinn through turns three and four and won the race drag race to the checkered flag by a mere 0.045 of a second. Matt Miller and Mason Zeigler finished third and fourth, respectively, after officials penalized them from the first to the second row after two bad initial starts. Caution flags flew on the first and fifth laps, both for Steve Miller spinning between turns three and four.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Rusty Schlenk, Wayne Chinn, Matt Miller, Mason Zeigler, Mike Benedum, Devin Shiels, Curtis Deisenroth, Bob Gardner, Brad Eitniear, Bob Mayer, Paul Stubber, Bryant Dickinson, Steve Miller.
Matt Miller of Whitehouse, Ohio, was the fastest overall qualifier in the split time-trial session, turning a lap of 15.981 seconds in Group 1 to earn the pole position for the evening's first of four 10-lap heat races.
Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., was quickest in Group 2 with a circuit of 15.996 seconds, earning him the pole for the third heat.
Other heat polesitters are Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., and Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill.
Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., spent the day walking around with a smile on his face and no pressure on his shoulders. After all, with a 190-point lead over Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., entering tonight’s Summernationals finale, the 19-year-old sensation has already clinched his second consecutive Hell Tour title. “It’s nice to have no stress,” he said. “Last year I was pacing around here all day because I was only up a few points on (Billy) Moyer (Jr.). I like it this way a lot better.” … Pierce is one of four drivers who will finish the 22-race Summernationals with perfect attendance, joining Feger, Bob Gardner of East Peoria, Ill., and Gordy Gundaker of St. Charles, Mo. Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., missed one race, but it wasn’t be choice — hauler trouble, of course, prevented him from entering the June 19 event at Wilmot (Wis.) Raceway. … A new weekend entrant is Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., who made a long overnight haul from Grand Forks, N.D., after rain washed out Friday night’s World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series event at River Cities Speedway. “We left the track about 8:30 last night (CT),” said Casebolt, whose hauler had to be pulled out of the muddy River Cities pit area after showers struck after WoO qualifying. “We stopped about three hours, but other than that we drove straight through and got here about 4:30 (p.m. ET).” Casebolt did consider heading to Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway for a regular show tonight to get some laps before the track’s July 29-30 WoO Prairie Dirt Classic, but he decided en route to head to Oakshade. … Another new entrant is Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., who raced at Bedford (Pa.) Speedway on Friday night. … Talk about a good deal — general admission for tonight’s Birthday Day is a mere $12. Not surprisingly, a huge crowd is filling up Oakshade’s grandstand on a pleasant, partly sunny day that saw temperatures reach about 80.
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals points race comes to an end Saturday night the annual Birthday Race at Oakshade Raceway, a series stalwart has hosted the Hell Tour every since 2000. Only once, in 2002, was the speedway’s event not the finale of the Summernationals.
After Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., captured Friday night’s 40-lap Prelude to the Birthday Race feature, 12 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 isn’t in this weekend’s field, but Miller is 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.
Saturday 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: Matt Miller, Mason Zeigler
Row 2: Rusty Schlenk, Wayne Chinn
Row 3: Curtis Deisenroth, Devin Shiels
Row 4: Mike Benedum, Brad Eitniear
Row 5: Bob Mayer, Bob Gardner
Row 6: Steve Miller, Paul Stubber
Row 7: Bryant Dickinson
Row 1: Jason Feger, Steve Casebolt
Row 2: Steve Kester, Jeep Van Wormer
Row 3: Brian Ruhlman, Hillard Miller
Row 4: Larry Kingseed, Rody Schroyer
Row 5: Scott Moyer, Greg Walters
Row 6: Ron Miller, Herb Reich
Row 7: Max Ake
Row 1: Kent Robinson, Jon Henry
Row 2: Devin Moran, Curtis Roberts
Row 3: Ryan Unzicker, Casey Noonan
Row 4: Daniel Wallace, Nick Kurtz
Row 5: Graeme Short, Mathew Chapman
Row 6: Doug Baird, Jarrett Rendel
Row 7: Brian O’Brien
Row 1: Bobby Pierce, Mike Bores
Row 2: Gordy Gundaker, Taylor Scheffler
Row 3: Rob Anderzack, Dusty Moore
Row 4: Drew Smith, Brad Wade
Row 5: Matt Lindsey, Ken Hahn
Row 6: Samuel Tolley, Daniel Gehring
Matt Miller (3), Whitehouse, Ohio, 15.981
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 16.131
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 16.139
Steve Casebolt (c9), Richmond, Ind., 16.152
Rusty Schlenk (11), McClure, Ohio, 16.17
Steve Kester (77K), Holland, Ohio, 16.194
Wayne Chinn (26), Bradford, Ohio, 16.292
Jeep Van Wormer (55), Pinconning, Mich., 16.294
Curtis Deisenroth (2D), Oak Harbor, Ohio, 16.303
Brian Ruhlman (49), Clarklake, Mich., 16.322
Devin Shiels (51s), Britton, Mich., 16.376
Hillard Miller (53H), Defiance, Ohio, 16.495
Mike Benedum (1), Salem, W.Va., 16.506
Larry Kingseed (21K), Attica, Ohio, 16.541
Brad Eitniear (B4U), Wauseon, Ohio, 16.547
Rody Schroyer (66), Ottawa, Mich., 16.578
Bob Mayer (42*), Holland, Ohio, 16.588
Scott Moyer (77), West Unity, Ohio, 16.808
Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., 16.888
Greg Walters (97), Banks, Ore., 16.891
Steve Miller (95M), Toledo, Ohio, 16.93
Ron Miller (35), Lambertville, Mich., 16.977
Paul Stubber (31), Bunbury, W. Australia, 17.04
Herb Reich (34), Ann Arbor, Mich., 17.109
Bryant Dickinson (5*), Ionia, Mich., 17.237
Max Ake (5), Lowell, Mich., 17.625
Kent Robinson (7R), Bloomington, Ind., 15.996
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 16.075
Jon Henry (15H), Ada, Ohio, 16.103
Mike Bores (15B), Bellevue, Mich., 16.194
Devin Moran (99M), Dresden, Ohio, 16.234
Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 16.256
Curtis Roberts (9R), Coleman, Mich., 16.275
Taylor Scheffler (74), Waukesha, Wis., 16.357
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 16.371
Rob Anderzack (8), Metamora, Ohio, 16.451
Casey Noonan (1), Toledo, Ohio, 16.489
Dusty Moore (75), Swanton, Ohio, 16.531
Daniel Wallace (X3), Toledo, Ohio, 16.544
Drew Smith (71DS), Sylvania, Ohio, 16.574
Nick Kurtz (79), Greenville, Mich., 16.604
Brad Wade (23), Dundee, Mich., 16.642
Graeme Short (6*), Archbold, Ohio, 16.703
Matt Lindsey (49L), Adrian, Mich., 16.801
Mathew Chapman (00), Adrian, Mich., 16.855
Ken Hahn (27H), Gibsonburg, Ohio, 16.97
Doug Baird (69R), Aluada, Ohio, 17.385
Samuel Tolley (7J), Butler, Ind., 17.403
Jarrett Rendel (06), Clayton, Mich., 17.432
Daniel Gehring (31G), Pettisville, Ohio, 17.767
Brian O'Brien (0), Morenci, Mich., no time