GRANITE CITY, Ill. — Surviving high-speed, rugged conditions after a wet week in Illinois, Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., regained the lead from Brian Shirley on the 20th lap and led the rest of the way Friday at Tri-City Speedway. Unzicker earned $10,000 for his 10th career DIRTcar Summer Nationals victory.
Unzicker started outside the front row and led the first seven laps before Shirley took command, but Unzicker handled the whoop-de-do surface well enough to get back past Shirley by the halfway point.
“We could get through the ruts about 80 percent of the time, and I think that was the main key,” said Unzicker, who notched his first series victory in two years and his first five-figure payday since 2015. “We just kept the car real free and rotating and it was able to run the middle-bottom there at the end and kind of protect my line, because the top was getting really, really rough.
“That’s how Shirley got ahead of me at the beginning. I was just trying to be smooth and patient and keep my car underneath me. All in all, it feels damn good.”
Unzicker took the checkers eight-tenths of a second ahead of 20th-starting Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., while 12th-starting Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., finished third. Series points leader Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., driving a backup car after a heat race crash, was fourth with Rusty Schlenk of McClure Ohio rounding out the top five.
Eight drivers were running at the finish as several drivers elected to park early.
Shirley, of Chatham, Ill., led laps 8-19 and was running third when he slowed on the backstretch with significant right-front damage on the 30th lap. Front-row starters Tony Jackson Jr. and Kyle Bronson both struggled on the first lap and retired together on lap three.
Unzicker, still searching for his first Summer Nationals title after nearly a dozen years chasing the tour, got a recharge from his victory after struggling the first week of the tour.
“It feels fantastic. Our team definitely needed this. We went home on those raindates and we just regrouped and put a new body on it and wanted to give it a couple of more tries before we made a big decision on whether or not we were staying or going (on the series),” he said. “The car was good. It’s been good. We’ve just done some stupid adjustments here and there. I kind of went back to my basics of what I’ve been doing. It feels dang good to be back. It’s been a long time since I won 10-grand and I was kind of doubting myself over whether I needed to get a different car or what I needed to do.”
Unzicker was a little worried when he realized Pierce had gained 18 positions to reach the second spot, but he hung on.
“I seen the red nose there on one of the caution, then saw the (No.) 32 up there (on the scoreboard) and I was like, ‘Gosh, damn it, he’s going to be beat me again.’ You know? But our car was strong,” Unzicker said.
He added: “To be able to finish this one off with the 32 behind me — he’s been in the King of the Summer Nationals for a long time — I’ll just really enjoy it, because my crew has really put in a lot of work. You know what, we just said we were going to run the first two weeks and see where we were at, and we was thinking about pulling off (the series) after Fairbury (on Saturday). I don’t know. It’s going to make a it a tough decision.”
While many drivers pulled to the infield to watch, fearful of tearing up their equipment, Pierce was among the few drivers to enjoy running on the rugged surface.
“That was a lot of fun. (Track co-owner) Kevin Gundaker apologized to me about the track condition, but I was like, ‘Hey, if anything that was really a fun track.’ And honestly in the feature. I don’t know how some of the other guys were driving, but I just started floating around, and really I don’t think there was much wear and tear on the car. Because I was just floating a lot through those holes and then gassing it coming off (the corners),” Pierce said. “I didn’t think we were going to be able to (charge from the rear), not on that track condition, but it actually had a bottom (groove) or top (groove) to choose from, and then some of those guys would go through there and bounce through the ruts and you could really pick ‘em off pretty easy.”
Heckenast edged ahead of Pierce to grab second at the white flag before settling for third, but he was pleased with his run from the sixth row — and the chance to race after three straight series rainouts, even if it was on an unforgiving track.
“They got a lot of rain and they tried to get it in. We haven’t raced in a couple of days, so I appreciate ‘em trying to get it in and let guys make some money,” he said.”We’ve been paying for pit passes and running for half a night and getting cancelled. Yeah, it was pretty rough — actually really rough, the roughest thing I’ve been on since Rockford a couple of years ago.
“It was a good run for us. We started 12th and got to third there. Me and Bobby were racing each other pretty hard, which was letting Unzicker get out on us. Unzicker did a really good job — he never messed up once, so good for him.”
The feature was slowed by a five cautions, none for serious incidents. Tim Manville slowed for a lap-11 for the first yellow and Timothy Culp slowed running seventh on the 25th lap. Shirley drew a lap-30 caution, Tanner English spun in turn one on lap 33 and Nick Hoffman’s top-five run ended with a flat tire on lap 38.
The month-long tour moves to Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway on Saturday night for another $10,000-to-win event.
Notes: Unzicker’s previous series victory came July 14, 2016, at Merritt Speedway in Lake City, Mich. … His previous five-figure payday came April 18, 2015, at 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa. …. Five drivers among the first four rows of the feature lineup weren’t series winners. … Rickey Frankel of Quincy, Ill., the previous Friday’s regular-season winner at Tri-City, was among drivers failing to make the feature. … Jacksonville (Ill.) Speedway’s Wednesday rainout has been moved to Aug. 12 as a non-points event. … The series expects to make up Tuesday’s rainout at Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill., as a points race, but the date hasn’t been confirmed.
Preliminary results and notes:
Row 1: Tony Jackson Jr., Kyle Bronson
Row 2: Nick Hoffman, Ryan Unzicker
Row 3: Brian Shirley, Tim Manville
Row 4: Dennis Erb Jr., Bob Gardner
Row 5: Gordy Gundaker, Timothy Culp
Row 6: Rusty Schlenk, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 7: Jason Feger, Paul Stubber
Row 8: Tanner English, Chris Simpson
Row 9: Mark Burgtorf, Billy Moyer
Row 10: Shannon Babb, Bobby Pierce
Row 11: Mike Hammerle, Brian Diveley
Finish (top two transfer): Mark Burgtorf, Billy Moyer, Jeff Herzog, Billy Laycock, Rusty Griffaw, Scott Henseler, Chuck Hummer, Mike Hammerle, Brian Diveley, Rickey Frankel, Bobby Pierce, Jeff Roth. Scratched: Kolby Vandenbergh, Joe Godsey, Blaze Burwell, Matt Santel, Shannon Babb.
Tony Jackson Jr. got the pole position in the redraw of heat winners; Kyle Bronson starts alongside with Nick Hoffman and Ryan Unzicker in the second row. … Track owner Kevin Gundaker plans to go to work on a racing surface that’s moisture-heavy and caused several drivers problems in heat races, including Shannon Babb’s meeting with the concrete wall; track prep is supposed to last about 20 minutes following B-mod heats. … Series director Sam Driggers didn’t hear complaints from drivers after the heat, but he said everyone knew it’d be a fast track after rain earlier in the day, overcast skies and moisture spitting off and on during the evening. “If he wasn’t going to fix it, they’d be raising hell,” Driggers said. … Shannon Babb’s wrecked car was completely covered by a gray tarp and the team went to work on preparing his backup car. … Because of scratches, including Brent McKinnon and Allen Weisser, the C-main was scrapped. … Bobby Pierce expects to just take a single lap in the B-main and take a provisional for the 40-lapper after his car’s lift arm broke in his heat race, triggering other problems including a broken driveshaft and flat left-rear tire. “I think we got it all back together,” Pierce said, looking under to see crewman Danny Myers still at work. Between his heat race demise, the rainouts and his DIRTcar tire penalty, “it hasn’t been the best week,” Pierce said with a wry smile.
Row 1: Jeff Herzog, Mark Burgtorf
Row 2: Chuck Hummer, Kolby Vandenbergh
Row 3: Billy Moyer, Billy Laycock
Row 4: Joe Godsey, Jeff Roth
Row 5: Rusty Griffaw, Rickey Frankel
Row 6: Blaze Burwell, Scott Henseler
Row 7: Matt Santel, Mike Hammerle
Row 8: Brian Diveley, Bobby Pierce
Row 9: Shannon Babb
Nick Hoffman cruised to a 10-lap victory in the final heat, finishing far ahead of sixth-starting Bob Gardner. Gardner quickly moved into the third spot, then took the second spot from Frank Heckenast Jr. after a mid-race restart. Chris Simpson was the final heat transferree. The first two starts were called back and a mid-race caution appeared for Brian Diveley, who slowed in turn two.
Finish (top four transfer): Nick Hoffman, Bob Gardner, Frank Heckenast Jr., Chris Simpson, Kolby Vandenbergh, Jeff Roth, Brian Diveley, Scott Henseler.
In a heat where series points leader Shannon Babb crashed on the first lap, fast qualifier Tony Jackson Jr. cruised to victory while Tim Manville outdueled Timothy Culp in a tight battlefor second. Paul Stubber got the final transfer spot. On the first start, Babb's car bicycled and got up on two wheels entering turn one on the first lap of the heat and smashed the outside wall between turns one and two; he climbed out apparently uninjured. Another caution flew on the eighth lap when Joe Godsey got into the wall near the same place as Babb while running fifth on a rugged surface doused by rain earlier in the day and receiving occasional sprinkles throughout the evening. Only five cars were running at the finish.
Finish (top four transfer): Tony Jackson Jr., Tim Manville, Timothy Culp, Paul Stubber, Chuck Hummer, Joe Godsey, Blaze Burwell, Brent McKinnon, Shannon Babb.
Polesitter Ryan Unzicker raced to victory in the second heat, keeping Dennis Erb Jr. in check all 10 laps. Rusty Schlenk finished third with Tanner English getting the fourth and final transfer spot in Steve Lampley's No. 33. Last week's regular-season feature winner Rickey Frankel finished seventh.
Finish (top four transfer): Ryan Unzicker, Dennis Erb Jr., Rusty Schlenk, Tanner English, Mark Burgtorf, Billy Laycock, Rickey Frankel, Mike Hammerle. Scratched: Allen Weisser.
Polesitter Kyle Bronson, who finished fourth in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event at Tri-City, cruised to victory in the 10-lapper but showed a little smoke taking the checkers. Outside front-row starter Brian Shirley dropped two positions after first-lap struggles but recovered to finish second, earning a feature transfer spot along with a trailing Gordy Gundaker and Jason Feger. Outside front-row. Bobby Pierce was running second on the fourth when when he lost a driveshaft entering turn three and blew a left-rear tire.
Finish (top four transfer): Kyle Bronson, Brian Shirley, Gordy Gundaker, Jason Feger, Jeff Herzog, Billy Moyer, Rusty Griffaw, Matt Santel, Bobby Pierce.
Heat race lineups
(10 laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Kyle Bronson, Brian Shirley
Row 2: Bobby Pierce, Gordy Gundaker
Row 3: Jason Feger, Billy Moyer
Row 4: Jeff Herzog, Rusty Griffaw
Row 5: Matt Santel
Row 1: Ryan Unzicker, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 2: Rusty Schlenk, Tanner English
Row 3: Mark Burgtorf, Billy Laycock
Row 4: Rickey Frankel, Allen Weisser
Row 5: Mike Hammerle
Row 1: Tony Jackson Jr., Tim Manville
Row 2: Timothy Culp, Shannon Babb
Row 3: Joe Godsey, Paul Stubber
Row 4: Brent McKinnon, Blaze Burwell
Row 5: Chuck Hummer
Row 1: Nick Hoffman, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 2: Chris Simpson, Kolby Vandenbergh
Row 3: Brian Diveley, Bob Gardner
Row 4: Jeff Roth, Scott Henseler
Tony Jackson Jr., the runner-up in last year’s series race at Tri-City Speedway, topped 35 qualifiers in Friday’s time trials at the 3/8-mile oval.
Jackson tripped the clock at 14.314 seconds to earn a heat race pole position along with Nick Hoffman (14.453) of Mooresville, N.C., Kyle Bronson (14.406) of Brandon, Fla., and Ryan Unzicker (14.442) of El Paso, Ill.
The top four in each of four heat races will transfer to the main event with heat winners redrawing for starting spots among the first two rows.
Four-time champ and series points leader Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., leads the DIRTcar Summer Nationals back into action Friday on the rain-plagued tour that hasn’t completed an event since Sunday.
After Monday’s scheduled off-day, Tuesday’s event at Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill., was rained out after qualifying, Wednesday’s race at Jacksonville (Ill.) Speedway was rained out after heat races, and Thursday’s stop at Spoon River Speedway in Banner, Ill., was postponed to June 25.
Besides Babb, series contenders Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., and Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., are among a dozen tour regulars likely to enter at Tri-City. Three-time and reigning series champion Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., now driving for North Carolina-based Dunn Benson Motorsports on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, is expected to compete while he appeals a DIRTcar suspension and monetary penalties after one of his tires used at Eldora Speedway’s Dream XXIV failed to meet manufacturer specs in postrace lab testing.
The Super Late Model program starts with 6:30 p.m. hot laps followed by group time trials broken down by heat races. If the track draws 32 cars or more, there’ll be four heat races with four drivers transferring apiece followed by C- and B-mains. If there’s 31 cars or fewer, three heats will transfer five drivers apiece with a B-main setting the rest of the 22-car field.
Tri-City is part of the tour’s Legends Week, which lasts through Monday’s makeup race at Spoon River and carries a $5,000 points fund sponsored by DirtonDirt.com with $2,000 going to the top points earner.
Billy Moyer Jr., a four-time series winner last season and second in series points, was a no-show at Tri-City after attending all the previous events. ... While there’s rain aplenty throughout the region, Tri-City appeared to miss the worst of it. ... The night's action was pushed back about a half hour with some drivers running late because of weather and wrecks on area interstates. … Tony Jackson Jr. of Lebanon, Mo., led 39 of 40 laps at last year’s series race, but Dennis Erb Jr. slipped by on the last lap. He’d like to finish it off this time. “I’m going to make it a lot harder,” Jackson said. … Rickey Frankel of Quincy, Ill., is among entrants; he won last week’s regular-season event at Tri-City. … Tanner English of Benton, Ky., is piloting the No. 33 of Benton, Ill.-based Steve Lampley, a car he’s moonlighted in the last few seasons. … Michael Kloos of Trenton, Ill., is Tri-City’s points leader but he’s an apparent no-show after Wednesday’s heat-race accident at Jacksonville (Ill.) Speedway that sent him to the hospital to be checked out … Australian driver Paul Stubber returns to the track where he injured his right wrist in a turn-four accident. He's still wearing a wrap on the wrist and races with a brace on it. "It still hurts," said Stubber, who didn't get it checked out until after competing at Eldora Speedway's Dream XXIV. "I had a couple of days rest so now it's better." ... With rain chances diminishing as the evening wears on, series director Sam Driggers won’t have to tell drivers what he told them at Wednesday’s meeting before the Jacksonville Speedway rainout: “I’ve only got a pack and a half of cigarettes and as soon as I’m out we’re outta here."
Time trial order
Driver (car no.), hometown, time
Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla, 14.406
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 14.442
Brian Shirley (3S), Chatham, Ill., 14.520
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.532
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 14.537
Rusty Schlenk (91), McClure, Ohio, 14.681
Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 14.837
Tanner English (33), Benton, Ky., 14.845
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 14.900
Mark Burgtorf (5), Quincy, Ill., 14.905
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 14.968
Billy Laycock (82), Marine, Ill., 15.176
Jeff Herzog (11), Herculaneum, Mo., 15.189
Rickey Frankel (33), Quincy, Ill., 15.220
Rusty Griffaw (16), Festus, Mo., 15.568
Allen Weisser (61), Peoria, Ill., 15.599
Matt Santel (17x), New Memphis, Ill., 16.177
Mike Hammerle (16), St. Charles, Mo., 17.156
Driver (car no.), hometown, time
Tony Jackson Jr. (56), Lebanon, Mo., 14.314
Nick Hoffman (2), Mooresville, N.C., 14.453
Tim Manville (33), Highland, Ill., 14.465
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 14.552
Timothy Culp (C8), Prattsville, Ark., 14.558
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.636
Kolby Vandenbergh (15), Ashland, Ill., 14.715
Joe Godsey (14G), Bedford, Ill., 14.996
Brian Diveley (11), Springfield, Ill., 15.059
Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., 15.067
Paul Stubber (31aus), Bunbury, Australia, 15.067
Brent McKinnon (26m), Carlyle, Ill., 15.083
Jeff Roth (14R), Bentonville, Ark., 15.098
Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 15.565
Blaze Burwell (44), Mount Vernon, Ill., 15.791
Scott Henesler (3), South Roxana, Ill., 16.216
Chuck Hummer (25), Ottawa Lake, Mich., 16.281
3 p.m.: Gates open
6:45 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
7 p.m.: Hot laps
- Late Model hot laps
- Modified hot laps/qualifying (3 laps)
- B-mod hot laps
- Late Model time trials (2 laps)
- Modified heats (8 laps)
- Late Model heats (10 laps)
- B-mod heats (8 laps)
- Late Model C-main (10 laps; if needed)
- Modified C-main (8 laps; if needed)
- B-mod consolation
- Late Model B-main (12 laps)
- Modified B-main (10 laps)
- B-mod feature (20 laps)
- Modified feature (25 laps)
- Late Model feature (40 laps)