BROWNSTOWN, Ill. (July 4) — In command with the race winding down on a track that had turned one-lane, Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., knew he just needed to avoid trouble with lapped traffic to emerge victorious in Friday night’s 40-lap UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feature at Fayette County Speedway.
But trouble found him — and as a result, Sheppard very nearly ceded the caution-free event’s $7,500 top prize.
Sheppard, 21, ultimately held on to score his second Hell Tour triumph of 2014 by several car lengths over Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., but not without experiencing one very scary moment on lap 37.
After leading the race’s first lap from the pole position, losing the top spot to Feger on lap two and then regaining it with an inside move on the 12th circuit, Sheppard appeared headed to victory in his family-owned 2007-vintage Rocket Chassis car. The quarter-mile oval’s surface developed a line of rubber after the halfway mark, making passing almost impossible to accomplish.
Sheppard had Feger, Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., and Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., lined up nose-to-tail behind him as the feature neared its conclusion, but the defending Summernationals champion had the proceedings firmly in control provided the two slower cars ahead of him didn’t make any mistakes.
“Honestly, I’m thinking to myself when I’m in the car, Man, I hope these guys do not try to pass each other when the track’s rubbered up because it just ain’t gonna happen,” Sheppard said of the slower machines driven by Michael Kloos of Trenton, Ill., and Jim Moon of New Florence, Mo. “I learned a lot from (Rocket Chassis house car owner) Mark Richards and those guys when I drove for them. One thing I was always told was if that thing’s rubbered up, you do not get out of it, so once I got to (Kloos and Moon) I was just hoping they wouldn’t try to pass each other and mess me up.
“I was just wanting to run a smooth line until the end because once the track (takes rubber) there’s literally nothing you can do,” he continued. “I just ran as smooth as I could and tried to keep my tires under me as long as I could — and then they got together and I had to make some really aggressive moves I didn’t want to have to make.”
Rounding turns one and two on lap 37, Sheppard watched Kloos attempt to pass Moon, causing both to stumble. Sheppard had to react, which allowed Feger to dive low in a last-ditch bid for the lead.
“I knew Feger was right there behind me because my crew guy (in the infield) was telling me he was there the whole time,” Sheppard said, “but I really didn’t think those lapped cars were gonna mess around that much like they did. They got together, one of them stopped, the other one bobbled, and I had to slow down and Feger came in there and showed me a nose.
“I was like, ‘Man, I gotta do something.’ So I just drove it off in there (into turn three) and hoped for the best. I went in the corner and kind of slid across both of (the lapped cars), and luckily the one, Moonman, Jim Moon, he’s got enough respect for the leaders that he saw me there and got up out of the way.
“All I was thinking was, I hope this guy is gonna give me some room. Luckily Moonman did, and we were able to clear them, get in the rubber and hold on for a couple more laps.”
Sheppard was thankful he caught the breaks necessary to register his ninth career Summernationals win.
“We had an awesome car all night long but we were fortunate to get back to victory lane,” said Sheppard, whose previous Hell Tour triumph this season came on June 23 at Peoria (Ill.) Speedway. “I went to the top (groove) right off the bat, which was dumb, and Feger got by us for the lead. But we were lucky we had a decent tire package on that allowed us to really get in there and roll that bottom pretty good after my crew guy told me to go back down there, and we were lucky to pass Feger (for the lead) before the rubber came in.”
Feger, 35, nearly became the first three-time winner on this year’s Hell Tour by pulling off a dramatic late-race pass in difficult conditions, but he couldn’t complete the move.
“You’re rubber-racing out there, so you just kind of have to get in line and be in a spot where if somebody makes a mistake you can jump on it and try and get the position,” said Feger, who started from the outside pole. “I was just trying to be there and didn’t know what was gonna happen, but Brandon’s a very smart racer and he wasn’t gonna push the issue. He knew it would be very hard for me to get by him.
“Then Kloos went in there and tried throwing a Hail Mary on Moonman. I saw that and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I’m sure Brandon was thinking the same thing.
“I was able to go low (through turns one and two) because I was far enough back and Brandon was already committed. He kind of got boxed out there and I was able to pull up alongside of him down the backstretch, and then I don’t know exactly what happened — I guess somebody got a little too sideways and checked us all up, and I let Brandon get a little bit of a launch back in front of me (into turn three).
“I wasn’t gonna push the issue at that point. Honestly, I’ll take second, keep the car in one piece and make some money. I might have been able to banzai in there and clear everybody to go for the win, but I just as easily could’ve taken everybody out.”
Feger was satisfied with claiming a runner-up finish in a race that became memorable for its unexpected ending.
“I’d like to see the video,” Feger said with a laugh. “Well, I don’t need to comment on the smartness going on there (with the lapped cars battling), but I was thinking the same thing Brandon was.
“At least it made an interesting race there at the end for the fans. It was a packed house on the Fourth of July, so that had to make it pretty exciting for them.”
Behind Sheppard and Feger, Moyer was able to take advantage of the lap-37 scramble to sneak by Babb for third place. The six-time Summernationals champion finished in the show position, grabbing a podium finish after starting 11th.
Babb settled for a fourth-place finish after starting third, challenging for second place early and falling back as far as sixth place before rallying. Summernationals points leader Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., finished fifth, about 10 car lengths behind the four-car lead pack at the checkered flag.
Tanner English of Benton, Ky., finished sixth after climbing as high as third early in the race. Starting eighth, the young driver ran the inside groove up to the verge of second place by lap 15 before falling back to sixth place when the track began to take rubber.
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals continues on Sat., July 5, with a $10,000-to-win 50-lapper at Highland (Ill.) Speedway.
Michael Kloos cruised to victory in the 12-lapper over Jim Moon, who claimed the other transfer spot to the feature. Steve Lach passed Curtis Roberts late in the distance for third but fell short of gaining a qualifying spot.
Lach did, however, receive a track provisional, putting him into the A-Main. Alan and Trace Westling were given the Summernationals provisional and Dewayne Kiefer picked up the UMP nationals points provisional.
At 11:10 p.m., the last of the evening’s qualifying races was finishing up, setting the stage for the 40-lap Late Model feature.
B-Main finish (top two transfer): Michael Kloos, Jim Moon, Steve Lach, Curtis Roberts, Jordan Bauer, Pete Parker, Richard Frost, Mark Voigt, Matt Santel, Dewayne Kiefer, Mike Hammerle, Jason Zobrist, Paul Bailey, Adam Tischhauser, Scott Weber.
C-Main Finish (top three transfer to B-Main): Adam Tischhauser, Matt Santel, Dewayne Kiefer, Frankie Martin, Trace Westling, Alan Westling.
As of 10:15 p.m. CT, qualifying heats for the Fayette County weekly divisions supporting the Late Models and UMP Modifieds (there are three other classes in action) are nearing completion. There has already been a break for fireworks and track packing (the surface was watered during the fireworks display).
Last-chance races for all divisions are expected to start soon, and the first feature on the schedule is the Late Model 40-lapper.
(12 laps; top two transfer)
Row 1: Jim Moon, Michael Kloos
Row 2: Curtis Roberts, Steve Lach
Row 3: Richard Frost, Jordan Bauer
Row 4: Pete Parker, Mike Hammerle
Row 5: Paul Bailey, Jason Zobrist
Row 6: Mark Voigt, Scott Weber
Row 7: C-Main transfers
Row 8: C-Main transfer
(top three transfer to B-Main)
Row 1: Matt Santel, Alan Westling
Row 2: Adam Tischhauser, Dewayne Kiefer
Row 3: Frankie Martin, Trace Westling
Heat race notes
Brandon Sheppard registered the most dominant heat victory, blowing away the field in the first prelim. He beat Randy Korte to the finish line by 4.871 seconds. … Ryan Unzicker, who won last year’s Summernationals feature at Fayette County, outdueled Billy Moyer Jr. to capture the second heat by a mere 0.197 of a second. … Tyler Reddick finished fourth in the second heat to transfer to the feature in his first Dirt Late Model start of the season. … Jason Feger won the third heat by 1.404 seconds over Bobby Pierce, who grabbed second from polesitter Billy Moyer with a last-lap slider off turn four. … Shannon Babb kept Tanner English at bay in the fourth heat, crossing the finish line 0.615 of a second in front of the young driver. .... Jason Riggs fell from the pole starting spot in heat 4 to a fourth-place finish.
First heat finish (top four transfer): Brandon Sheppard, Randy Korte, Brian Diveley, Rodney Melvin, Richard Frost, Paul Bailey, Jim Moon, Matt Santel, Frankie Martin.
Second heat finish (top four transfer): Ryan Unzicker, Billy Moyer Jr., Kent Robinson, Tyler Reddick, Michael Kloos, Jason Zobrist, Alan Westling, Jordan Bauer.
Third heat finish (top four transfer): Jason Feger, Bobby Pierce, Billy Moyer, Brian Shirley, Curtis Roberts, Mark Voigt, Adam Tischhauser, Pete Parker, Trace Westling.
Fourth heat finish (top four transfer): Shannon Babb, Tanner English, Tim Manville, Jason Riggs, Steve Lach, Scott Weber, Dewayne Kiefer, Mike Hammerle.
Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., turned the overall fastest lap in the split qualifying session, navigating the track in 12.555 seconds during Group 1. He earned the pole position for the first of four 10-lap heat races.
Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., was the quickest in Group 2 with a lap of 12.937 seconds, earning him the pole in the third heat.
Other heat polesitters are Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville, Ark., and Jason Riggs of Harrisburg, Ill.
It’s another picture-perfect day for Summernationals action as the skies are clear and temperatures are sitting right around 80 degrees. No rain is in the forecast for the second consecutive night. … Back on the Hell Tour tonight is Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., who enters the program sitting one victory behind Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., on the alltime Summernationals win list. … Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., has joined the Summernationals action, making tonight’s program his first start in a stretch of racing that could see him run almost the entire remaining Hell Tour schedule. He plans to run the next four events — Fayette County, Highland, Tri-State and Florence — and might enter four of the ensuing five races (Macon Speedway on July 10 is the only race he has no plans to run) and “is contemplating” the four-race Ohio swing to close the series on July 16-19. “Feels good to be back with all my buddies out here,” said Robinson, who has had to switch his focus following the demise of the National Dirt Racing League. “I haven’t run UMP in a while.” … Another fresh face in the pits is Tyler Reddick, the 18-year-old California Kid who now resides in the Charlotte, N.C., area as he focuses on a limited schedule of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competition driving for Brad Keselowski. Reddick is making his first Dirt Late Model start of the season in one of the two cars his father Clarence, who lives in DuQuoin, Ill., still has in his shop. Reddick’s father doesn’t have a race car hauler anymore, however, so his No. 11 was transported to the track by fellow racer Rodney Melvin of Logan, Ill., and Clarence is using tools he brought along in his motorhome. … Randy Korte’s home in Highland, Ill., is just a half-hour from Fayette County Speedway, but he noted that he’s only raced at the track “maybe six or seven times” in his career because Dirt Late Models aren’t a regular attraction. He won the speedway’s Summernationals event in 2003. … Korte will be offering technical assistance tonight to Jordan Bauer of St. Jacob, Ill., whose car is housed in the same shop as Korte’s equipment. ... Summernationals regular Jason Riggs of Harrisburg, Ill., has pulled out his second car for tonight's action after his primary machine was felled by a busted radiator on Thursday night at La Salle (Ill.) Speedway. ... With 34 cars signed in for action, time trials will be split into two groups. Drivers in Group 1 will compete for starting spots in heats 1-2 and those in Group 2 will run for positions in heats 3-4.
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals spends Independence Day at a classic American fairgrounds dirt track, visiting the quarter-mile Fayette County Speedway in Brownstown, Ill. A 40-lap feature paying $7,500 to win tops the evening’s agenda.
The Hell Tour has visited Fayette County seven times since 2002 without seeing a single repeat winner. Drivers in action tonight with Fayette County Summernationals wins on the ledgers are points leader Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill. (2013), Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill. (’12), Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill. (’11), Randy Korte of Highland, Ill. (’03) and Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill. (’02).
Friday night’s program, which includes UMP Modifieds, B-Mods, Hornets and Pure Stocks, is scheduled to kick off with hot laps at 7 p.m. CT.
Heat lineups (10 laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Brandon Sheppard, Rodney Melvin
Row 2: Randy Korte, Brian Diveley
Row 3: Jim Moon, Frankie Martin
Row 4: Paul Bailey, Matt Santel
Row 5: Richard Frost
Row 1: Billy Moyer Jr., Ryan Unzicker
Row 2: Tyler Reddick, Michael Kloos
Row 3: Kent Robinson, Jason Zobrist
Row 4: Jordan Bauer, Alan Westling
Row 1: Billy Moyer, Jason Feger
Row 2: Bobby Pierce, Brian Shirley
Row 3: Mark Voigt, Curtis Roberts
Row 4: Pete Parker, Adam Tischhauser
Row 5: Trace Westling
Row 1: Jason Riggs, Shannon Babb
Row 2: Tanner English, Tim Manville
Row 3: Scott Weber, Dewayne Kiefer
Row 4: Steve Lach, Mike Hammerle
Time trial results
Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 12.555
Billy Moyer Jr. (21Jr), Batesville, Ark., 12.717
Rodney Melvin (27M), Benton, Ill., 12.904
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 13.128
Randy Korte (00), Highland, Ill., 13.131
Tyler Reddick (11), DuQuoin, Ill., 13.251
Brian Diveley (29W), Springfield, Ill., 13.321
Michael Kloos (6K), Trenton, Ill., 13.368
Jim Moon (1M), New Florence, Mo., 13.412
Kent Robinson (7R), Bloomington, Ind., 13.433
Frankie Martin (25M), DuQuoin, Ill., 13.451
Jason Zobrist (87), Highland, Ill., 13.669
Paul Bailey (81B), Pocahontas, Ill., 13.671
Jordan Bauer (111), St. Jacob, Ill., 13.725
Matt Santel (17x), New Memphis, Ill., 14.421
Alan Westling (20), Fulton, Mo., 14.471
Richard Frost (15), Clarksville, Tenn., 14.683
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 12.937
Jason Riggs (81Jr), Harrisburg, Ill., 13.264
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 13.274
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 13.366
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 13.436
Tanner English (96), Benton, Ky., 13.437
Brian Shirley (81), Chatham, Ill., 13.599
Tim Manville (33x), Troy, Ill., 13.662
Mark Voigt (30), Marine, Ill., 13.76
Scott Weber (92W), Festus, Mo., 13.793
Curtis Roberts (9R), Coleman, Mich., 13.804
Dewayne Kiefer (0), St. Genevieve, Mo., 13.836
Pete Parker (10P), Kakauna, Wis., 13.97
Steve Lach (42L), Brownstown, Ill., 14.009
Adam Tischhauser (T4), Greenville, Ill., 14.105
Mike Hammerle (16H), St. Charles, Mo., 14.169
Trace Westling (71), Fulton, Mo., 14.283