HIGHLAND, Ill. — Chad Zobrist has run enough laps at Highland Speedway to know the place like the back of his hand. A 10-time track champion at his home oval with 20 years of experience in a Late Model, Zobrist, 40, is a master navigator at the quarter-mile bullring. But Zobrist hasn’t always had Shannon Babb nipping at his heels. Nor does he typically have a five-figure payday waiting at the checkered flag.
That was case — both instances — Saturday night. Still, Zobrist didn’t flinch — too much. Running a steady 40 laps on a slippery race track, Zobrist led flag-to-flag to pick up his first career DIRTcar Summer Nationals victory. He stayed smooth despite a dogged pursuit by Babb, the four-time series champion from Moweaqua, Ill. And when he really needed to, Zobrist was able to fend off Babb’s challenge on his way to netting a career-high $10,000 victory.
“I just wanted to win one of these things and it finally happened,” said Zobrist. “Tonight’s track, starting on the bottom … I didn’t know if it was gonna rubber up or not and that first corner it felt like … man just play it calm. As long as I played it calm, this was my race to lose. I almost did (lose it). I slipped up with lapped traffic. The yellow sometimes saves you.”
While Zobrist led wire-to-wire from the pole, fourth-starting Babb chased him from second for 38 laps before setting for the runner-up spot. Gordy Gundaker of St. Charles, Mo., used a borrowed powerplant to finish third, while Jason Zobist of Highland, Ill., finished fourth. Highland’s Jason Suhre worked his way from 10th to finish fifth as local drivers took three of the top five spots against the traveling stars.
The win gave Zobrist a measure of redemption. He led last year’s Summer Nationals race at Highland before slipping back to third at the finish. No such worry this year, though he did give Babb more chances than he probably should’ve. On the fifth circuit, Zobrist drifted up the tack in turn two, opening the door for a hungry Babb who was eager to put five days worth of frustrating finishes behind him.
But after Babb briefly took the lead, he gave it right back in the very next corner.
“He slipped up down there in (turn) two and I was able to pull up beside him going down the back straightaway and for 10 grand it was kinda one lane and it was good tight bullring racing,” said Babb. “He was turning in trying to stay in the rubber and just made it awful tight for me. I think I got into the yuke tire (in the infield) and got into him a little bit. I was able to cut through the infield and keep going. It been a right front tie rod and I was toed in the rest of the race, but no complaints. It still drove pretty good.”
Zobrist was so focused on the task at hand that he had no idea Babb got sideways in turn four.
“I got in a little too hard (in turn one) and slipped up the track. I felt (Babb) below me,” said Zobrist. “I didn’t know he spun. I just thought I got a better run (off of turn four) than him. I thought I had a decent run. I didn’t even realize he had to go under the tires.”
Back in front, Zobrist pulled away over the next five laps. Then the lead duo, which had separated themselves from third-running Gundaker, caught the back of the field. On lap 13, Zobrist again opened the door as he searched for a way around Mike Hammerle. With Zobrist looking to Hammerle’s outside, Babb dove inside. The both caught him at the flagstand, with Babb giving Hammerle the bumper sending the slower car spinning. It was the yellow flag Zobrist needed.
With the scorers going back to the last completed lap, Zobrist was restored to the lead. He didn’t make another mistake.
“With Hammerle, he’s a tough man to move off the bottom. He can protect that bottom, so I didn’t know what to do there,” said Zobrist. “Finally I just tried it on the outside and thank God for that yellow. It was one of those deals … don’t get off the bottom after that.
“I’ve watched so many races where people get up (out of the grove) and lose races … make mental mistakes. I should’ve just rooted him (Mike Hammerle) out of the way, but I try not to spin people out.”
Babb, just happy to finally complete a solid run after five straight finishes that averaged 13.1, hardly remember the near-miss just before the halfway mark.
“I did forget about that,” Babb said. “I had Hammer man on the hood for a couple moments. Lapped traffic you never know which direction they’re gonna go. Obviously it was our night to run second tonight. Congrats to Zobrist. He’s always tough when you come down here to Highland. (They’re) good bunch of guys who are always on top of their game when you come in here.”
Notes: Thirteen cars completed all 40 laps. … Zobrist finished .393 of a second ahead of Babb. … His previous career-high payday was a $3,000 victory. ... Zobrist became the fourth first-time winner on the Summer Nationals series this season, joining Devin Moran, Tanner English and Gordy Gundaker. … Gundaker’s third-place finish came after he borrowed an engine to keep his Summer Nationals effort going. ““(Friday) when we blew that motor up in qualifying, I really thought our Summer Nationals was over,” he said. “A third place finish is like a win tonight, compared to how last night went. It means a lot for our program because when you lose a motor, everybody knows that that’s costly.” … Babb finished 13th last year at Highland. He said took what he learned that night and applied it to this season. “Last year we weren’t too good so we went off those notes and made some adjustments and the car was real good tonight. I was real tickled to death with it. I was real happy to finish,” Babb said.
Preliminary notes and results
Row 1: Chad Zobrist, Gordy Gundaker
Row 2: Daryn Klein, Shannon Babb
Row 3: Jason Feger, Jason Zobrist
Row 4: Billy Moyer, Rusty Schlenk
Row 5: Mark Voigt, Jason Suhre
Row 6: Brian Shirley, Shannon Kuhn
Row 7: Trent Workman, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 8: Brian Dively, Ryan Unzicker
Row 9: Mark Oller, Jordan Bauer
Row 10: Paul Stubber, Mike Hammerle
Row 11: Chuck Hummer, Dan Jacober
After sticking primarily to the low line in his heat, Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., opted for the top to get the lead in the consolation race. Unzicker pulled away from Mark Oller and once in front began utilizing different lines as he searched for the quickest route. He won ahead of Oller and Jordan Bauer, as those three advance to the feature. Jimmy Miller spun to bring out the first caution, but rallied to finish second. A spin in turn four on the restart warranted a second caution.
Finish (top three transfer): Ryan Unzicker, Mark Oller, Jordan Bauer, Paul Kuper, Matt Santel, Jimmy Miller, Travis Horner, Christopher Winters, Dan Jacober, Chuck Hummer, Mike Hammerle, Cameron Pearson.
(10 laps; top three transfer)
Row 1: Mark Oller, Ryan Unzicker
Row 2: Travis Horner, Jordan Bauer
Row 3: Paul Kuper, Matt Santel
Row 4: Paul Stubber, Mike Hammerle
Row 5: Christopher Winters, Dave Jacober
Row 6: Jimmy Miller, Chuck Hummer
Row 7: Cameron Pearson, Dan Jacober
Winning the war of the Zobrists, Highland’s Chad Zobrist pulled away from Jason Zobrist on the second lap and went on to win the third heat. Chad topped Jason by 1.206 seconds. Mark Voigt finished third in a relatively uneventful heat compared to the evening’s first two. Shannon Kuhn and Brian Diveley completed the top five to gain entry into the main event. The 10-lap prelim ran caution-free.
Finish (top five transfer): Chad Zobrist, Jason Zobrist, Mark Voigt, Shannon Kuhn, Brian Diveley, Travis Horner, Matt Santel, Chris Winters, Chuck Hummer.
Peddling hard around the the inside tire barriers, Ryan Unzicker led the first three laps before giving way to the high-side charge of Gordy Gundaker on lap four. Gundaker puller away slightly, before five drivers battling in positions two through six closed in to challenge. By lap six, the top six cars in the stacked heat race were running door-to-door, often three wide. Unzicker brought out a caution when he spun in turn one on lap seven. On the restart, Jason Feger worked the low grove to take the lead away, but Gundaker, of St. Charles, Mo., rallied on the final lap to win by a scant .137 of a second. Feger finished second, with Rusty Schlenk third and Brian Shirley fourth. Frank Heckenast Jr. held off Unzicker for the final transfer spot.
Finish (top five transfer): Gordy Gundaker, Jason Feger, Rusty Schlenk, Brian Shirley, Frank Heckenast Jr., Ryan Unzicker, Paul Kuper, Mike Hammerle, Jimmy Miller, Dan Jacober.
Polesitter Shannon Babb beat Billy Moyer into turn one on the opening circuit and eased away. While Babb was comfortably leading the first five laps, action was fierce behind him. Mark Oller grabbed the second position from Moyer on lap four but gave way to Daryn Klein on lap five as Klein stepped to the outside to make a three-wide pass, getting by both Moyer and Oller. Klein’s pass for second was negated when a caution waved for Paul Stubber whose yellow No. 31 was in flames on the back straightaway. Stubber pulled to the infield and was OK. With Klein in third on the restart, second-running Oller spun, bringing out a third caution, still with five laps remaining. Klein took second from Moyer on the restart and then used a high-side charge to blow by Babb on lap seven. Klein, of Fairview Heights, Ill., rolled to the win — to the delight of the Highland crowd — by 2.249 seconds over Babb. Moyer finished third, followed by Jason Suhre and Trent Workman. A caution waved on lap two for a turn-one spin by Cameron Pearson, who was running fifth. Pearson had to be towed off the track.
Finish (top five transfer): Daryn Klein, Shannon Babb, Billy Moyer, Jason Suhre, Trent Workman, Mark Oller, Jordan Bauer, Paul Stubber, Dave Jacober, Cameron Pearson.
The first DIRTcar Late Model heat hit the track at 8:55 p.m. ... At 7:55 p.m., qualifying for all divisions is wrapped up and track officials are taking some time to do track prep. … While the DIRTcar Summer Nationals said goodbye to a handful of drivers with its visit to Highland, the tour welcomes a fresh crop of local drivers for its 17th race of the season. Gone — for now at least — are Taylor Scheffler of Waukesha, Wis.; Tim Manville of Highland, Ill.; Dean Carpenter of Coldwater, Miss.; and Freddie Carpenter of Parkersburg, W.Va. Manville and Carpenter departed the tour so they could attend Saturday’s MARS Late Model Series race at Brownstown, Ind. They are second and third, respectively, in that tour’s points. … As is always with a visit to Highland, a healthy crop of local drivers answered the call. This year there are nine drivers in attendance who call Highland home, as well as a handful of others, like Mark Voigt of Marine, Ill., who live just a stone’s throw away. The local contingent is led by 10-time track champion Chad Zobrist. … Chuck Hummer of Lyons, Ohio, got a little help from fellow Ohio native Rusty Schlenk Saturday afternoon repairing his car’s front bumper. Hummer broke the bumper clean from his car when he ran into a spinning Billy Hough at Farmer City on Friday. … Australian Cameron Pearson is making just his third career start in the States. Pearson had to make repairs to his car before Saturday’s action after the hit a tire barrier at Farmer City. Pearson said the damage was just cosmetic. “I jumped the cushion and kind of got hung up on the (berm) and couldn’t get back (on the tracK) before I ran out of time,” said Pearson. … Gordy Gundaker is back in his primary car after running Friday’s feature in this brother Trevor’s Crate Late Model. Gundaker had to replace his engine after experiencing trouble before qualifying on Friday. ... The series is enjoying its longest stretch — five straight races — of action without a rainout since opening with five straigth nights of racing June 13-17.
Fittingly, the two drivers chasing 100 DIRTcar Summer Nationals victories are in the same group Saturday at Highland. And they are both at the top of the speed chart. Shannon Babb turned a quick lap of 14.013 seconds to set the overall fast time among 29 drivers and the quickest in the first group, while Billy Moyer was right behind him at 14.081 seconds. They’ll start on the front row of the first heat.
Ryan Unzicker (14.116 seconds) and Gordy Gundaker (14.146) will start in the front row of the second heat, while local standouts Jason Zobrist (14.327) and Chad Zobrist (14.421) will roll from the front row of the third heat after being the fastest in the final group.
The top five finishers from each heat transfer to the feature. The remaining drivers will line up for a consolation race, from which the top three finishers transfer. Four provisionals will finish off the 22-car starting grid.
Highland Speedway hosts Saturday's 17th round of the DIRTcar Summer Nationals with a $10,000-to-win purse on the line at the 1/4-mile oval. Along with Super Late Model hot laps and qualifying, there will be four heat races, a consolation race and a 40-lap main event.
Trekking back toward St. Louis, Mo., from Farmer City, the Hell Tour moves to another bullring as the tiny fairgrounds oval in Highland welcomes the series on a beautiful 84-degree Saturday. Afternoon swimmers at the adjacent city swimming pool will give way to Super Late Models and more than two-dozen modifieds by night’s end.
Points leader Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., padded his lead slightly with a runner-up finish at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway as his closest pursuer, Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., had trouble for the fifth straight night. Babb managed to salvage a sixth-place finish Friday night after suffering a flat tire while leading with six laps remaining.
Shirley also leads the FK Rod Ends weekly points chase with 265 points. Jason Feger (251) and Gordy Gundaker (234) follow Shirley in the weekly standings for week Now 4, which comes to a close Sunday at Quincy (Ill.) Speedway. Each weekly point champion earns $2,000 from a $5,000 point fund.
Time trial results/heat lineups (unofficial)
Heats start straight up from qualifying
Driver (car no.), hometown, time
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.013
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 14.081
Mark Oller (67), Highland, Ill., 14.144
Cameron Pearson (10AUS), Healsville, Australia, 14.172
Daryn Klein (10), Fairview Heights, Ill.,14.207
Paul Stubber (31AUS), West Bunbury, Australia, 14.313
Jordan Bauer (9*), Highland, Ill., 14.414
Jason Suhre (4), Highland, Ill., 14.614
Trent Workman (18W), Highland, Ill., 14.809
David Jacober (7), Highland, Ill, 15.179
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 14.116
Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 14.146
Rusty Schlenk (CJ1), McClure, Ohio, 14.203
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 14.245
Brian Shirley (3S), Chatham, Ill., 14.306
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 14.310
Dan Jacober (22), Highland, Ill., 14.539
Paul Kuper (14), Breese, Ill., 14.775
Jimmy Miller (18M), Highland, Ill., 15.113
Mike Hammerle (16), St. Charles, Mo., 15.271
Jason Zobrist (87), Highland, Ill., 14.327
Chad Zobrist (78), Highland, Ill., 14.421
Brian Diveley (11D), Springfield, Ill., 14.622
Shannon Kuhn (11K), Highland, Ill., 14.708
Mark Voigt (30), Marine, Ill., 14.712
Matt Santel (17x), New Memphis, Ill., 14.906
Travis Horner (9T), Highland, Ill., 15.193
Christopher Winters (X), Duquoin, Ill., 15.416
Chuck Hummer (25H), Lyons, Ohio, 15.673
3 p.m. - Gates open
6 p.m. - Drivers' meeting (draw closes)
6:30 p.m. - Hot laps/time trials
- DIRTcar Late Model hot laps
- Modified hot laps/time trials
- UMP DIRTcar Late Model time trials
- B-mod hot laps
- Modified heats (eight laps)
- DIRTcar Late Model heats (10 laps)
- B-mod heats
— C-mains as needed
— B-mains as needed
- Modifieds (25 laps)
- DIRTcar Late Models (40 laps)