WAUSEON, Ohio (July 19, 2014) — Winning the annual Birthday Race at Oakshade Raceway never gets old for Matt Miller of Whitehouse, Ohio.
“This one is fun,” Miller said after capturing Saturday night’s 60-lap UMP DIRTcar Summernationals finale at his home track for the second consecutive year and third time in his career. “There’s always going to be a race in September (the World 100 at nearby Eldora Speedway) that’s at the top of my list, but this is definitely a good one. We’re close to home and we’ve got tons of fans and people I know up there in the stands, so there’s no doubt I get pumped up for this race.”
Miller, 42, hasn’t raced very often in 2014, but he doesn’t need much track time to find the fast way around the 3/8-mile oval in his backyard. He was anything but rusty as he steered Rick Delong’s Rocket car forward from the third starting spot to grab the lead from polesitter Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., on lap 17 and then controlled the remainder of the distance.
The feature’s lone caution flag — on lap 38 for Zeigler, whose bid for a third straight Summernationals triumph evaporated when he spun between turns one and two following a scrape with Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., as they contested second place — didn’t hamper Miller, who maintained a short edge over Unzicker to claim the $10,000 top prize.
Unzicker, 33, settled for his series-leading seventh runner-up finish of 2014 after taking the checkered flag 0.759 of a second behind Miller. The steady run from the fifth starting spot left Unzicker winless in 28 Hell Tour starts this season but gave him a second-place finish in the points standings behind Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., who clinched his fourth career Summernationals championship by finishing hot on Unzicker’s tail in third place.
Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., saw his one-year reign as Summernationals champion come to an end with a fourth-place finish while outside polesitter Jeep Van Wormer of Pinconning, Mich., hung on to place fifth after losing his car’s brakes early in the A-Main
The final feature of the five-and-a-half-week-long Hell Tour odyssey had the makings of another command performance by the 21-year-old Zeigler, who jumped into the lead at the initial green just as he had in flag-to-flag victories on Thursday night at Brushcreek Motorsports Complex in Peebles, Ohio, and Friday evening at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park. Even Miller had some concerns about Zeigler running away and hiding from the field.
“A guy like that’s full of confidence and obviously he’s got a good car,” Miller said of Zeigler. “He’s improved a bunch over the last couple of years, so you don’t ever take anything for granted.
“But I always feel like if we just go out there and run our laps, run our race, we’ll be OK here. When we have a good car, we’re gonna be in the hunt — and tonight we had a good car.”
Miller’s Oakshade experience did indeed prove to be too much for Zeigler and Co. to handle. The track’s 1991 champion passed VanWormer for second on lap five and measured Zeigler until bursting around the outside of the race-long pacesetter off turn two on lap 17 to assume command.
“The feature was a matter of just settling in,” Miller said. “The track’s a little different, and I guess that’s where I kind of have an advantage. I have a lot of laps here and knew it was gonna go slick, so you gotta kind of move around until it does.”
Miller was more than two seconds ahead of Zeigler and Unzicker when the two drivers tangled on lap 38, and over the remaining 22 circuits Miller tip-toed through some lapped traffic but never saw his grip on the lead in jeopardy.
“Obviously I didn’t want to see that last caution come out because even though we were in (slower) traffic I felt comfortable,” Miller said. “After the restart, it was just a matter of getting back to it and running my line, getting a little bit of distance and then being careful in traffic at the end so I wouldn’t get myself in trouble.
“I just didn’t want to put myself in a bad situation (racing lapped cars),” he added. “You can lose races pretty easily that way. Obviously if I would’ve felt some pressure I would’ve had to force my way through there a little bit, but luckily we didn’t have to do that.”
Miller was victorious at Oakshade for the second consecutive week, backing up his win in a regular show on July 12. He would have liked to enter Friday night’s Summernationals event at Attica as well, but he related that his team is equipped to run too many shows so he sat out the nearby race to be 100 percent at Oakshade.
“To be honest, we’re just a budget operation,” said Miller, who recorded his fourth career Summernationals win. “We have one motor, and we’re going to Eldora on Tuesday and Wednesday (for invitation Late Model events) so we just had to play it safe. I like racing Attica, but we’re just not in a situation where we could afford to tear something up —especially when we knew we had a good shot tonight.”
Miller’s speed left Unzicker mourning another close-but-no-cigar run. The former UMP Late Model national champion nosed under Miller once rounding turns one and two on lap 40 before falling over two seconds behind, but he did slice Miller’s advantage by over half in the closing laps.
“The car was great all night,” said Unzicker, whose car sported a special wrap memorializing the late Thomas Childress Jr. of Delta, Ohio, a longtime Oakshade spectator and Unzicker fan who died on March 22 due to complications following pancreatic surgery. “I did a couple things here tonight that I haven’t tried with the ol’ Pierce car yet, and it really worked well.
“I just wish we would’ve been able to capitalize on the good car that I had, because I did have a helluva good car. The damn thing was coming up through there nice, maneuvered nice. We were reeling Matt in at the end, but tt’s just one of them deals where we come up a little short.”
The 40-year-old Babb, meanwhile, flashed a huge smile after the race even though his outside bids to grab second from Unzicker in the final laps fell short. He claimed the $25,000 Summernationals title by 38 points over Unzicker.
“It’s really hard to get these,” said Babb, who previously won the title in 2005, ’06 and ’11. “Thirty nights of racing is a lot. You have a lot of ups and downs, but we got it done.”
Babb recorded a series-best 17 top-five finishes — including four feature wins — en route to the crown. He related afterward that he was largely at ease with the championship chase until Saturday at Oakshade — even though he only needed a 19th-place finish to clinch.
“Up till now I hadn’t (been nervous),” said Babb. “We’d been racing along just fine, but into the last day — if you’ve been here to Oakshade, it’s great. There’s a lot of fans, but it’s a long day at the racetrack and I started getting a little butterflies today. I just wanted it to hurry up and get over with, so we’re just happy to get it over with.”
Feature lined up
At 10:40 p.m., the 22-car Late Model feature field was lined up on the homestretch and drivers were buckling in after out-of-car introductions. The 22-car UMP modified field is also waiting in turn three to join the Late Models for a 44-car, two-division four-wide pace lap.
The track lights were shut off during the pace lap and all the drivers held glow sticks out their windows.
Mason Zeigler’s blessed Summernationals swing continued in the feature redraw; he picked the pole position for the 60-lapper. Jeep Van Wormer will start second, Matt Miller goes off third and Brandon Sheppard starts fourth. … Zeigler had never won a feature paying more than $2,000 to win before his back-to-back $5,000 scores over the past two nights. … Dona Marcoullier’s jumping penalty cost him a B-Main transfer spot, but he will start 20th in the feature thanks to a UMP nationals points provisional. Other provisional spots went to Steve Lance Jr. and Curtis Roberts (Summernationals) and Chris Keller (track). … At 9:50 p.m. EST, the UMP modified B-Main was on the track. The Late Model feature is to follow.
Casey Noonan grabbed the lead from Steve Kester midway through the 12-lap race and went on to take the victory. Dona Marcoullier crossed the finish line second, but he was racing under a penalty for jumping a lap-one restart and, with no additional caution flags needed, he was put back one position to third in the final rundown, knocking him out of a transfer spot. Kester was scored second, moving him to the feature.
Finish (top two transfer): Casey Noonan, Steve Kester, Dona Marcoullier, Jeff Babcock, Wayne Chinn, Curtis Roberts, Jon Henry, Chris Keller, Hillard Miller, Dusty Moore, Matt Lindsey, Curtis Deisenroth, Ron Miller, Ryan Missler, Devin Shiels, Ken Hahn.
Curtis Deisenroth and Dusty Moore steered to victory in the pair of C-Mains. They move on to the B-Main along with race runners-up Ryan Missler and Ron Miller.
First C-Main finish (top two transfer to B-Main): Curtis Deisenroth, Ryan Missler, Derek Thebo, Bob Mayer, Doug Baird, Bobby Hutchins, Steve Miller, Chad Zuver, Steve Lance Jr., Herb Reich, Daniel Gehring.
Second C-Main finish (top two transfer to B-Main): Dusty Moore, Ron Miller, Jamie Oldfield, Craig Dippman, Amy Clair, Rob Anderzack, Mark Pifer, Rocky Owens, Steve Sabo.
(12 laps; top two transfer)
Row 1: Dona Marcoullier, Steve Kester
Row 2: Casey Noonan, Wayne Chinn
Row 3: Jon Henry, Matt Lindsey
Row 4: Curtis Roberts, Jeff Babcock
Row 5: Devin Shiels, Chris Keller
Row 6: Ken Hahn, Hillard Miller
(10 laps; top two transfer to B-Main)
Row 1: Ryan Missler, Curtis Deisenroth
Row 2: Steve Lance Jr., Herb Reich
Row 3: Derek Thebo, Bob Mayer
Row 4: Bobby Hutchins, Doug Baird
Row 5: Steve Miller, Chad Zuver
Row 6: Daniel Gehring
(10 laps; top two transfer to B-Main)
Row 1: Ron Miller, Dusty Moore
Row 2: Jamie Oldfield, Steve Sabo
Row 3: Rocky Owens, Rob Anderzack
Row 4: Amy Clair, Craig Dippman
Row 5: Mark Pifer
Jeep Van Wormer dominated the action, leading the entire 10-lap distance without facing a single challenge. Dan Stone finished 1.443 seconds behind VanWormer in second after outdueling Brian Ruhlman for the position, while Ryan VanderVeen slipped into fourth place on the race’s opening lap and stayed there to the finish.
Finish (top four transfer): Jeep Van Wormer, Dan Stone, Brian Ruhlman, Ryan VanderVeen, Wayne Chinn, Jeff Babcock, Hillard Miller, Dusty Moore, Steve Sabo, Rob Anderzack, Craig Dippman.
Brandon Sheppard led from wire-to-wire, but his win was in doubt until he survived a last-race inside challenge from Shannon Babb. Sheppard’s winning margin was 0.322 of a second. Jason Riggs finished third after surging from seventh to third on the first lap, falling back to fifth and then rallying to grab third place after a lap-seven caution flag for Rocky Owens’s turn-four spin. Doug Drown settled for fourth place after climbing as high as third.
Finish (top four transfer): Brandon Sheppard, Shannon Babb, Jason Riggs, Doug Drown, Casey Noonan, Curtis Roberts, Ken Hahn, Ron Miller, Jamie Oldfield, Rocky Owens, Amy Clair, Mark Pifer.
Matt Miller was outgunned for the lead at the start of the prelim by Brian Shirley, but Miller fought back to surge in front on lap four and held off Shirley’s final-lap bid to take the win. Duane Chamberlain finished third after slipping by Devin Moran on the white-flag lap.
Finish (top four transfer): Matt Miller, Brian Shirley, Duane Chamberlain, Devin Moran, Steve Kester, Matt Lindsey, Chris Keller, Curtis Deisenroth, Herb Reich, Bob Mayer, Doug Baird, Chad Zuver.
The Mason Zeigler freight train rolled on as the Pennsylvania driver led the first 10-lapper from flag-to-flag. He had to fight off a stern challenge from Ryan Unzicker, who pulled completely alongside Zeigler entering turn three on the final lap but couldn’t pull off the inside move. Jason Jaggers and Rusty Schlenk grabbed the other transfer spots.
Finish (top four transfer): Mason Zeigler, Ryan Unzicker, Jason Jaggers, Rusty Schlenk, Dona Marcoullier, Jon Henry, Devin Shiels, Ryan Missler, Steve Lance Jr., Derek Thebo, Bobby Hutchins, Steve Miller, Daniel Gehring.
Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., continued his torrid stretch of action on the Summernationals, leading all drivers in the split qualifying session with the overall fastest lap of 14.654 seconds in Group 1. He will start from the pole position in Heat 1 as he bids to score his third consecutive victory.
Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., was fastest in Group 2 despite going on the track last, turning a lap of 15.209 seconds. He will start from the pole position in Heat 3.
Other heat polesitters will be Matt Miller of Whitehouse, Ohio, and Jeep VanWormer of Pinconning, Mich.
A field of 48 cars — the largest turnout of the 2014 Summernationals — is ready for action. A split qualifying session will be used, with drivers in Group 1 timing for positions in Heats 1-2 and those in Group 2 chasing spots in Heats 3-4. … Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., sits on the brink of his fourth career Summernationals crown, needing a 19th-place finish to clinch the title. He leads Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., by 43 points and Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., by 45 points. … Babb quipped during the afternoon that he'll be doing whatever he can to avoid getting bad vibes around him tonight. "I had a green wristband on last night (at Attica) and I got a flat in my heat," said Babb. "I ripped it off as soon as I got out of the car." ... Unzicker and Shirley remain mathematically alive for the championship but need Babb to encounter major trouble. They are in a very tight battle for second in the final points, however, separated by only two points. … The car Unzicker will run tonight sports a special wrap memorializing Thomas Childress Jr. of Delta, Ohio, a longtime Oakshade spectator who died at the age of 37 on March 22 due to complications following pancreatic surgery. Childress, a member of the Turn Three Gang at Eldora Speedway, was a fan of Unzicker’s. ... As is tradition for Oakshade's Birthday Race, management does not raise the admission prices. That means fans can see tonight's $10,000-to-win for $12 general admission and pit passes are just $20. A standing-room-only crowd has turned out on a night with very comfortable temperatures.
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals comes to an end on Saturday night with the annual stop at Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio, for the Birthday Race. A 60-lap feature paying $10,000 tops the evening’s agenda.
The Hell Tour has stopped annually at Oakshade since 2000. Past event winners in tonight’s field include points leader Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill. (2004, ’06, ’11); Matt Miller of Whitehouse, Ohio (’08, ’13); Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill. (’12); Rusty Schlenk of Weston, Ohio (’10); and Jeep VanWormer of Pinconning, Mich. (’07).
Saturday’s program is scheduled to kick off with hot laps at 6 p.m. EST.
Row 1: Mason Zeigler, Ryan Unzicker
Row 2: Jason Jaggers, Devin Shiels
Row 3: Rusty Schlenk, Jon Henry
Row 4: Dona Marcoullier, Ryan Missler
Row 5: Steve Lance Jr., Derek Thebo
Row 6: Bobby Hutchins, Daniel Gehring
Row 7: Steve Miller
Row 1: Matt Miller, Brian Shirley
Row 2: Devin Moran, Duane Chamberlain
Row 3: Steve Kester, Chris Keller
Row 4: Matt Lindsey, Curtis Deisenroth
Row 5: Bob Mayer, Herb Reich
Row 6: Doug Baird, Chad Zuver
Row 1: Brandon Sheppard, Casey Noonan
Row 2: Shannon Babb, Rocky Owens
Row 3: Curtis Roberts, Doug Drown
Row 4: Jason Riggs, Ken Hahn
Row 5: Ron Miller, Jamie Oldfield
Row 6: Amy Clair, Mark Pifer
Row 1: Jeep Van Wormer, Dan Stone
Row 2: Jeff Babcock, Hillard Smith
Row 3: Brian Ruhlman, Dusty Moore
Row 4: Ryan VanderVeen, Steve Sabo
Row 5: Rob Anderzack, Wayne Chinn
Row 6: Craig Dippman
Time trials results
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 14.654
Matt Miller (3), Whitehouse, Ohio, 14.748
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 14.782
Brian Shirley (81), Chatham, Ill., 14.899
Jason Jaggers (32J), Wyanet, Ill., 15.015
Devin Moran (99M), Dresden, Ohio, 15.034
Devin Shiels (51S), Britton, Mich., 15.176
Duane Chamberlain (20c), Richmond, Ind., 15.19
Rusty Schlenk (91), Weston, Ohio, 15.2
Steve Kester (77K), Holland, Ohio, 15.282
Jon Henry (15), Ada, Ohio, 15.303
Chris Keller (00), Adrian, Mich., 15.319
Dona Marcoullier (6M), Houghton Lake, Mich., 15.357
Matt Lindsey (49L), Adrian, Mich., 15.405
Ryan Missler (50Y), Bellevue, Ohio, 15.592
Curtis Deisenroth (102D), Oak Harbor, Ohio, 15.61
Steve Lance Jr. (25L), Cuba, Ill., 15.74
Bob Mayer (42*), Holland, Ohio, 15.862
Derek Thebo (21T), Ionia, Mich., 15.88
Herb Reich (34), Ann Arbor, Mich., 15.991
Bobby Hutchins (66), Wauseon, Ohio, 16.022
Doug Baird (69R), Aluada, Ohio, 16.334
Danial Gehring (31), Pettisville, Ohio, 16.436
Chad Zuver (101), Alvordton, Ohio, 17.921
Steve Miller (95), Toledo, Ohio, 19.202
Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 15.209
Jeep VanWormer (55), Pinconning, Mich., 15.222
Casey Noonan (1N), Toledo, Ohio, 15.226
Dan Stone (21d), Thompson, Pa., 15.331
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 15.362
Jeff Babcock (1B), Wayne, Ohio, 15.371
Rocky Owens (29), Mansfield, Ohio, 15.432
Hillard Miller (53H), Defiance, Ohio, 15.44
Curtis Roberts (9R), Coleman, Mich., 15.466
Brian Ruhlman (49), Clarklake, Mich., 15.56
Doug Drown (20), Wooster, Ohio, 15.59
Dusty Moore (75), Swanton, Ohio, 15.596
Jason Riggs (81Jr), Harrisburg, Ill., 15.596
Ryan Vanderveen (23V), Six Lakes, Mich., 15.639
Ken Hahn (27H), Gibsonburg, Ohio, 15.803
Steve Sabo (98), Fremont, Ohio, 15.831
Ron Miller (35), Lombemville, Mich., 15.925
Rob Anderzack (8), Metamora, Ohio, 15.96
Jamie Oldfield (51), Morley, Western Australia, 16.079
Wayne Chinn (1C), Bradford, Ohio, 16.108
Amy Clair (39), Toledo, Ohio, 16.177
Craig Dippman (74D), Oregon, Ohio, 16.989
Mark Pier (2c), Coldwater, Mich., 17.549