PEEBLES, Ohio (July 17) — Mason Zeigler drove the race of his life Thursday at Brushcreek Motorsports Complex.
Relentlessly on the gas from start to finish, the rising 21-year-old from Chalk Hill, Pa., led the entire distance to capture the 40-lap Hidden Gem UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feature in convincing fashion.
It was a resounding upset triumph for Zeigler, who roared off the outside pole to grab the lead at the initial green flag of the headliner and never looked back. Aside from a slip high in turn two on lap 12 that allowed R.J. Conley of Wheelersburg, Ohio, to briefly draw close, Zeigler was never challenged en route to a $5,000 payday that surprised even the young driver.
“I wouldn’t exactly have said we were gonna come in here and win,” said Zeigler, who made both his first-ever start in a Hell Tour event and career-first appearance at the 3/8-mile Brushcreek oval. “But we’re happy it worked out that way obviously.”
Rod Conley, 52, of Wheelersburg, Ohio, finished a distant 3.298 seconds behind Zeigler in the runner-up spot. He passed his younger brother R.J., 50, for the position on lap 18 and repelled late pressure from Summernationals points leader Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., to secure the second-place money.
Babb, 40, settled for third place after starting seventh, pushed his lead in the series standings to 45 points with two races remaining in the chase for the $25,000 Summernationals title. He entered the event holding a precarious 26-point edge over Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., who started from the pole position but was never a factor as he faded to a disappointing eighth-place finish.
R.J. Conley fell to fourth in the final rundown after running second for much of the race’s first half and Doug Drown of Wooster, Ohio, turned back challenges from Duane Chamberlain of Richmond, Ind., over the final circuits to complete the top five.
Zeigler, who was chasing the National Dirt Racing League schedule this season before the John Kennedy-owned series ceased operations earlier this month, became just the second driver from Pennsylvania to win a Summernationals A-Main. Rick Eckert of York, Pa., made history as the first Keystone State victor last month.
“I had no idea,” Zeigler said when informed that he had joined Eckert on the exclusive list. “That’s pretty wild. (But) I’m just excited because it was our first Hell Tour start and it was our first win in one. Hopefully next year we’ll get some free time and we’ll be able to come out and run some more of them.”
Zeigler dominated the evening’s action, driving his family-owned Longhorn Chassis machine away from the pack with relative ease after each of the race’s two restarts.
“The track was awesome all night,” said Zeigler, whose only previous victory this season came in a weekly show on March 22 at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway. “I was able to diamond (turns) three and four and run right through the rough stuff in one and two where I don’t think a lot of people could do that. I felt like there was a lot of moisture in the rough in one and two and that’s really where I felt that I could motor off.”
While Zeigler wasn’t exactly sure how substantial an edge he was building at any point in the race, he had an inkling that he might have some cushion to work with as he worked through lapped traffic.
“My crew guys were trying to give me signals but you couldn’t really see real well (because of dust),” Zeigler. “I could see that they weren’t holding their hands together (though) so no one was about to pass me.”
After clinching the checkered flag, Zeigler celebrated by turning a few donuts with his car before stopping in victory lane.
“We’ve been trying so hard and working so hard at the shop just to get everything dialed in,” said Zeigler, whose win likely prompted him to continue with the Summernationals to Friday night’s $5,000-to-win event at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park. “We got this new Longhorn earlier this year and we struggled a little bit, but we’ve been really good overall with it. I think we’re finally getting to the point where we can really dial it in and get it how we like it.”
Rod Conley managed to advance from the sixth starting spot to finish second, but he never offered a serious challenge to Zeigler. Even a lap-32 caution period didn’t help Conley, who spent the final circuits battling to beat back Babb’s threat.
“This place here is really, really fast when the track’s like this, and you just can’t let up for anybody,” said Conley, who has never won a Summernationals feature. “You gotta go as hard as you can possibly go the whole daggone race.”
Failing to follow that philosophy nearly cost Conley a second-place finish.
“R.J. hit those holes down in one and two and got up in the air real bad and I got by him (for second),” Conley said. “I looked at the (score) board and there were eight laps to go and he was third and I kind of let off a little bit and I thought, What’s he trying to pass me for? I thought, I better get on the gas, and I’m glad I did because Shannon (was in third and) would’ve got me.”
Babb was satisfied with his third-place finish, which put him on the cusp of his fourth Summernationals championship.
“Our car was really good tonight,” Babb said. “We just needed a good finish and we got that tonight.
“We’re confident (about holding to win the title), but like we always say, anything can happen. A flat tire — anything — can really wipe out the whole month in points. You just gotta be careful and just try to get a really good finish. We like to win the races too so we try to win at the same time, but we’re also thinking about the points.”
Two caution flags slowed the feature. Steve Kester of Holland, Ohio, slipped over the bank in turns one and two on lap 12 and Jason Riggs of Harrisburg, Ill., slowed on the backstretch on lap 32.
Still searching for his first Summernationals win of 2014 as well as points to catch Shannon Babb, Ryan Unzicker will start from the pole position in the 40-lap feature. Mason Zeigler drew the outside pole for the headliner, with R.J. Conley and Brian Shirley starting third and fourth, respectively. … Provisional starting spots for the A-Main were granted to Jason Jaggers and Steve Lance Jr. (Summernationals), Steve Kester (UMP nationals points) and Jamie Oldfield (track). … At 10:30 p.m. EST, the UMP Modified feature was taking the green flag. The Late Model headliner will follow.
Ryan Markham led from flag-to-flag to score the win, but he had to turn back several inside bids from Jeff Babcock in the race’s late stages to reach the checkered flag first. Aussie Jamie Oldfield finished third to miss transferring by one spot. Two caution flags flew, the first on the opening lap because the track was still a bit wet from some watering during a break in the action and another on lap one after Steve Kester and Joe Brewer tangled in turn one.
Finish (top two transfer): Ryan Markham, Jeff Babcock, Jamie Oldfield, Kevin Wagner, Chad Smith, Ethan Burgess, J.T. Conley, Joe Brewer, Bob Mayer, Steve Lance Jr., Jason Jaggers, Chris Shannon, Steve Kester.
(12 laps; top two transfer)
Row 1: Ryan Markham, Jason Jaggers
Row 2: Jamie Oldfield, Jeff Babcock
Row 3: Kevin Wagner, J.T. Conley
Row 4: Ethan Burgess, Steve Kester
Row 5: Chad Smith, Dan Stone
Row 6: Garrett Krummert, Joe Brewer
Row 7: Chris Shannon, Bob Mayer
Row 8: Tim Dohm, Mike Taylor
Row 9: Steve Lance Jr.
Mason Zeigler wrestled the lead from Duane Chamberlain on the second lap and pulled away to emerge victorious. Chamberlain held on to finish second by a short margin over Devin Moran, with Tanner English placing fourth.
Finish (top four transfer): Mason Zeigler, Duane Chamberlain, Devin Moran, Tanner English, Jeff Babcock, Steve Kester, Joe Brewer (DNS) Mike Taylor.
R.J. Conley stamped himself as a serious threat to win Brushcreek’s Hell Tour event for the second straight year with a convincing wire-to-wire win. Shannon Babb secured second place from Conley’s father, Delmas, midway through the race and finished there, with Delmas settling for second and Jason Riggs placing fourth. Garrett Krummert and Tim Dohm scratched after their qualifying crashes.
Finish (top four transfer): R.J. Conley, Shannon Babb, Delmas Conley, Jason Riggs, Jamie Oldfield, Ethan Burgess (DNS) Garrett Krummert, Tim Dohm.
Ryan Unzicker lamented his poor performance in Wednesday night’s heat race at Atomic Speedway after finishing fourth. He said he needed to be better in qualifying if he had any hope of rallying in the Summernationals points standings and he was tonight, winning the second prelim with a flag-to-flag run alone in front. Rod Conley grabbed second place on the first lap when Jeep Van Wormer bounced between turns one and two and finished in the runner-up spot, 2.818 seconds behind Unzicker. Van Wormer held on to finish third and Jason Montgomery secured the fourth and final transfer spot.
Finish (top four transfer): Ryan Unzicker, Rod Conley, Jeep Van Wormer, Jason Montgomery, Jason Jaggers, J.T. Conley, Dan Stone, Bob Mayer.
Brian Shirley continued flexing his muscle in the Buckeye State, leading all the way to win the 10-lapper. He ran comfortably ahead of Doug Drown for the entire distance. Brandon Sheppard finished third after slipping by Nick Latham on the eighth lap — two circuits after Latham nearly spun in front of Sheppard in turn three.
Finish (top four transfer): Brian Shirley, Doug Drown, Brandon Sheppard, Nick Latham, Ryan Markham, Kevin Wagner, Chad Smith, Chris Shannon, Steve Lance Jr.
Coming off a victory Wednesday night at Atomic Speedway, Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., continued his bid to make a late comeback in the Summernationals points race by earning overall fast-time honors in the split qualifying session. He turned a lap of 14.006 seconds during Group 1, earning the pole position for the first heat.
R.J. Conley of Wheelersburg, Ohio, who won last year’s Summernationals event at Brushcreek, was fastest in Group 2 with a lap of 14.120 seconds. He will start from the pole in Heat 3.
Other heat polesitters will be Jeep Van Wormer of Pinconning, Mich., and Duane Chamberlain of Richmond, Ind.
The first turn was calamity corner for Tim Dohm of Crosslanes, W.Va., and Garrett Krummert of New Castle, Pa., during time trials. Both drivers slammed the outside wall hard but escaped injury.
Dohm was able to limp his damaged car away from the scene, while Krummert’s machine was towed back to the pit area. Dohm didn’t log a qualifying lap while Krummert was ninth-fastest in his group with the circuit he completed.
With 33 Late Models signed in for action, the program will feature two groups of time trials. Drivers in Group 1 will compete for starting spots in heats 1-2, while those in Group 2 will time to align heats 3-4. The top four finishers from each of the four 10-lap heats will transfer to the feature. … Notable drivers who have joined the field tonight after not competing Wednesday at Atomic are Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., Jason Jaggers of Wyanet, Ill., and Nick Latham of Winchester, Ohio. … Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., will run the car he drove in Atomic’s feature after finding a broken engine valve in the machine in which he started Wednesday night’s action. Sheppard slowed during an Atomic heat race, forcing him to pull out his second car. … Three-time World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., who has been sidelined all season with undisclosed medical issues, is on hand again as he continues his busiest stretch of racing this year. He plans to attend Friday night’s show at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park as well to help Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill, and other Rocket Chassis customers before heading home for some off-track fun on Saturday: his bachelor party hosted by fellow West Virginia racer Jared Hawkins, who will serve as the best man of Richards’s wedding next month to Andrea Cleveland.
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals continues its deciding four-race stretch of races through the Buckeye State with a Thursday-night stop at Brushcreek Motorsports Complex in Peebles, Ohio, which hosts the Hell Tour for the third consecutive year.
The evening’s 40-lap, $5,000-to-win headliner — dubbed the ‘Hidden Gem’ — is a unique event. Promoted by 17-year-old Steven Partin, the race is the only motorsports program in the country in which the night’s profits are given away in the form of college scholarships. Students 16 years of age and older with at least a 2.75 GPA were eligible to put in applications that could earn them scholarships toward their schooling.
The only previous Summernationals shows held at Brushcreek — an egg-shaped 3/8-mile track that was shortened several years ago from its original half-mile tri-oval shape — were won by non-series regulars. Eddie Carrier Jr. of Salt Rock, W.Va., captured the inaugural feature in 2012 and R.J. Conley of Wheelersburg, Ohio, was victorious last year.
Thursday’s program, which includes UMP Modifieds and mini-sprints, is scheduled to kick off with hot laps at 7 p.m. EST.
(10 laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Brian Shirley, Doug Drown
Row 2: Nick Latham, Brandon Sheppard
Row 3: Ryan Markham, Kevin Wagner
Row 4: Chad Smith, Steve Lance Jr.
Row 5: Chris Shannon
Row 1: Jeep Van Wormer, Ryan Unzicker
Row 2: Rod Conley, Jason Jaggers
Row 3: Jason Montgomery, Dan Stone
Row 4: J.T. Conley, Bob Mayer
Row 1: R.J. Conley, Shannon Babb
Row 2: Ethan Burgess, Delmas Conley
Row 3: Garrett Krummert, Jamie Oldfield
Row 4: Jason Riggs, Tim Dohm
Row 1: Duane Chamberlain, Mason Zeigler
Row 2: Devin Moran, Jeff Babcock
Row 3: Steve Kester, Tanner English
Row 4: Joe Brewer, Mike Taylor
Time trial results
Brian Shirley (81), Chatham, Ill., 14.006
Jeep Van Wormer (55), Pinconning, Mich., 14.023
Doug Drown (20), Wooster, Ohio, 14.064
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 14.192
Nick Latham (31), Winchester, Ohio, 14.251
Rod Conley (71R), Wheelersburg, Ohio, 14.259
Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 14.267
Jason Jaggers (32J), Wyanet, Ill., 14.278
Ryan Markham (5M), Ashland, Ohio, 14.307
Jason Montgomery (21M), Jackson, Ohio, 14.415
Kevin Wagner (33), Wheelersburg, Ohio, 14.589
Dan Stone (2d), Thompson, Pa., 14.64
Chad Smith (19), Miamisburg, Ohio, 14.675
J.T. Conley (71J), Wheelersburg, Ohio, 14.79
Steve Lance Jr. (25L), Cuba, Ill., 15.125
Bob Mayer (42*), Holland, Ohio, 15.568
Chris Shannon (9), Bethel, Ohio, 15.891
R.J. Conley (71c), Wheelersburg, Ohio, 14.12
Duane Chamberlain (20c), Richmond, Ind., 14.221
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.298
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 14.309
Ethan Burgess (18E), Sharonville, Ohio, 14.441
Devin Moran (99M), Dresden, Ohio, 14.447
Delmas Conley (71), Portsmouth, Ohio, 14.455
Jeff Babcock (1B), Wayne, Ohio, 14.539
Garrett Krummert (29K), New Castle, Pa., 14.581
Steve Kester (77K), Holland, Ohio, 14.602
Jamie Oldfield (51), Morley, Western Australia, 14.612
Tanner English (96), Benton, Ky., 14.88
Jason Riggs (81Jr), Harrisburg, Ill., 14.92
Joe Brewer (316), Batavia, Ohio, 15.637
Tim Dohm (6T), Crosslanes, W.Va., N/T
Mike Taylor (40), Ravenswood, W.Va., N/T