FAIRBURY, Ill. (July 26) — Tim McCreadie had high praise for Fairbury American Legion Speedway after emerging victorious in Saturday night’s epic 25th annual Prairie Dirt Classic.
“They said they do it right here and they’re right — they did it right tonight,” raved McCreadie, who earned $25,650 for capturing a thrilling 100-lap World of Outlaws Late Model Series event that featured eight lead changes among four drivers and countless twists and turns. “This is an awesome racetrack, and that race was a lot of fun.”
Charging forward from the 17th starting spot, McCreadie, 40, of Watertown, N.Y., overtook last year's PDC winner Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., for the lead on lap 76 but was far from home free. He swapped the top spot four times with the 40-year-old Babb before gaining command for good on lap 95.
Of course, on an unforgettable night at a quarter-mile oval dubbed America’s Dirt Track, the final lead change didn’t mean the race was over. McCreadie gave himself an undeniably anxious moment on lap 98 when brushed the outside wall in turn two, allowing Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., who had just passed Babb for second on a lap-96 restart, to mount a last-ditch bid for victory.
Owens, 42, surged to the outside of McCreadie entering turn three, nearly nosed ahead to lead lap 99 with a crossover move off turn four and appeared primed to slide by McCreadie through turns one and two, but the former WoO champion wasn’t going to be denied. McCreadie absolutely rocketed off the outside off turn two — squeezing the scant space between Owens and the wall — vaulted ahead down the backstretch and beat Owens back to the finish line by 0.691 of a second.
Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., finished third after overtaking both WoO points leader Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., and Babb following the lap-96 caution flag. The 21-year-old driver started from the pole position and led laps 1-29 but had to rally after losing his rhythm and falling as far back as eighth place midway through the 100-lapper.
Babb, who started second and led four times for a race-high 44 laps, slipped to fourth at the finish. Lanigan, who started third and led lap laps 41-54, completed the top five.
McCreadie’s second WoO triumph of 2014 and the 27th of his career gave his up-and-down season a major boost.
“We had to go to work because we haven’t been where we wanted to be,” said McCreadie, who passed ninth-place finisher Rick Eckert of York, Pa., for second in the WoO points standings. “We’re starting to hit on all cylinders now, so I’m excited for this Sweeteners Plus team.
“It’s a team effort, man,” he continued, noting that he started his current swing of WoO action two weeks ago with only his truck driver, Dave ‘Frog’ Griepsma, as a crewman. “I’m out here with just me and Frog, so I’ve had guys from Brady Smith’s come and help, Mark Richards’s (Rocket Chassis) crew — everybody’s been banding together to help us. It’s a beautiful sight.”
Everything fell in place Saturday night for McCreadie, who made a steady march to the front of the talent-laden pack from his starting spot deep in the field.
“I couldn’t get where I wanted to be on the (early) restarts,” McCreadie said. “(Billy) Moyer (who started 22nd) was getting all the good spots. He’d split guys early, and I was like, ‘This Moyer is gonna go right up through here.’ Then I got three or four (restarts) in a row where I wanted to be. … and I don’t know, it was like we didn’t really fade, but those guys just kind of died and we stayed strong.”
McCreadie grabbed the lead for the first time on lap 77 with an inside move past Babb, who had replaced Lanigan in the catbird’s seat on lap 55 with a powerful outside thrust. Babb returned the favor to pop back ahead of McCreadie on lap 78, McCreadie regained command on lap 80 as the pacesetters dealt with lapped traffic and Babb stole the lead again as lap 85 was scored.
When Babb shot in front on lap 85, even McCreadie was surprised. A daring slider entering turn one put Babb into the top spot.
“He scared the hell out of me when he did the one down there,” McCreadie said of Babb’s move. “I didn’t even know he was coming. I was like, ‘Holy cow!’
“I figured he knew one was coming back if I get close.”
That moment came on lap 95 when McCreadie pulled a slider underneath Babb rounding turns three and four. He immediately put several car lengths on Babb, but the race’s ninth and final caution flag, which came on lap 96 after Gregg Satterlee of Indiana, Pa., slapped the homestretch wall and stopped with front-end damage, set up a final sprint.
McCreadie appeared to be in great shape when he pulled away on the restart because Babb’s attempt to run the inside groove through turns one and two caused him to cede second place to Owens, who bumped-and-ran away from Babb off turn four heading to lap 97. But disaster nearly struck McCreadie when he got too high in the second turn and bounced through the cushion of dirt built up against the outside wall.
“That’s the story of my life — a bunch of brain fades in between some good laps,” McCreadie said. “I had a big one off of two. I didn’t think I was gonna get off the wall.”
Owens certainly saw an opportunity to swipe the big money from McCreadie’s grasp.
“Shannon went in there (on the restart) and jumped to the bottom and slid across and I was able to get around him, but I lost a little ground to McCreadie,” said Owens, who made his first-ever Dirt Late Model appearance at Fairbury. “Then (McCreadie) went in there (on lap 98) and jumped the cushion, and I thought, Aw man, I need to be just a little bit closer.
“I got under him there (through turns one and two on the final lap) and thought about putting a slider on him, but I thought best of it.”
Indeed, Owens didn’t let his car drift directly in front of McCreadie off turn two, and as a result McCreadie was able to step on the gas and beat Owens off the corner.
“Jimmy gave me a lot of room off of two,” McCreadie said. “He could’ve knocked me straight into the catch fence, but he’s a true professional.
Babb, meanwhile, was left to hang on for a fourth-place finish after running the final three circuits with a left-front that was cut when he and Owens made contact after the restart. He could only wonder if there was something he could have done different to score a second straight PDC triumph.
“The way it happened, I knew Timmy was gonna come back at me at some point,” Babb said. “When I had the lead I just kind of laid low for a minute. I didn’t run a hundred percent on the cushion — I guess I should’ve just kept going hard, but I didn’t want to make a mistake, jump the cushion and crash myself. It’s a fine line.
“Then we (McCreadie) did get by me (on lap 95), the biggest mistake I made was on that (lap-96) restart when I went to the bottom in one and killed my momentum. I lost a little momentum, and (Owens) pounded. They rolled me, and I ended up getting a flat left-front when Owens went across my nose there in four.”
Zeigler quietly snuck back to third at the finish, giving him a career-best WoO outing. He knew his performance could have been better, though.
“That’s experience I guess,” Zeigler said. “I just got outwheeled tonight, straight up. The middle (lane) just sort of went away halfway through the race when I was leading and I was just too stubborn to get out of it.
“Once I got back to the bottom we were OK, but it took me the rest of the race to get back up there (in contention).”
Among the contenders to fall by the wayside during the 100 was Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., who moved up from the 10th starting spot to battle Lanigan and Babb for the lead before bowing out with engine trouble on lap 42.
Mason Zeigler drew the pole position for the 100, continuing his run of good fortune. He will share the front row with defending PDC champion Shannon Babb. … Chub Frank and Frank Heckenast will use WoO points provisionals; Daren Friedman and Joe Harlan gained entry to the 100 with track provisional; and Chase Junghans will utilize a WoO emergency provisional. … Bobby Pierce’s PDC hopes ended when he hit the cushion late in the second B-Main while running second, filling his right-rear wheel with so much mud that it caused a terrible vibration. … At 8:30 p.m. CDT, the UMP modified heats were finishing up. Officials plan to do some track reconditioning and then bring the 100-lapper to the track. ... The Prairie Dirt Shootout non-qualifiers' race will be run at the end of the racing program.
Prairie Dirt Shootout lineup
(30 laps; $1,500 to win)
Row 1: Jay Morris, Kevin Weaver
Row 2: Scott Schmitt, Derek Chandler
Row 3: Rich Bell, Eric Smith
Row 4: Steve Thorston, Ryan Unzicker
Row 5: Jay Sparks, Daniel Flessner
Row 6: Glen Thompson, McKay Wenger
Row 7: Snooky Dehm, John Gardner Jr.
Row 8: Billy Hough, Donny Walden
Jimmy Mars controlled the second consolation, leading the entire 20-lap distance to move on to the PDC. The two-time event winner will be joined in the feature field by five-time PDC champion Billy Moyer, who slipped into second place on lap 18 when 17-year-old Bobby Pierce slowed and pulled to the infield.
Finish (top two transfer): Jimmy Mars, Billy Moyer, Kevin Weaver, Derek Chandler, Frank Heckenast Jr., Eric Smith, Ryan Unzicker, Daniel Flessner, Joe Harlan, McKay Wenger, John Gardner Jr., Donny Walden, Steve Lance Jr., Boom Briggs, Bob Gardner, Bobby Pierce, Kent Robinson, Don Hammer, Clint Smith
Wendell Wallace went the distance to capture the caution-plagued first consolation, beating Rick Eckert to the finish line by 0.803 seconds. Eckert grabbed the second and final transfer spot with a lap-16 pass of Chub Frank, who settled for third and will have to use a WoO provisional to start the 100-lapper. Six caution flags slowed the event, including one for an early incident that knocked Brandon Sheppard out of action.
Finish (top two transfer): Wendell Wallace, Rick Eckert, Chub Frank, Jay Morris, Scott Schmitt, Rich Bell, Chase Junghans, Steve Thorston, Jay Sparks, Glen Thompson, Snooky Dehm, Billy Houg, Eric Vaughan, Shane Allen, Kyle Hammer, Mike Spatola, Mike Mullvain, Torin Mettille, Daren Friedman, Brandon Sheppard.
As of 7 p.m. CDT, the weather conditions have greatly improved. The chance of rain has dropped significantly as precipitation has largely pushed south of the track. Hot laps started just over a half-hour behind schedule because the track surface needed to be run in; at 7 p.m. UMP modified qualifying was on the track, with the two WoO B-Mains to follow. … Four past winners of the Prairie Dirt Classic are already locked into the feature field: Shannon Babb (2002, ’06, ’13), Jason Feger (’12), Brian Birkhofer (’07) and Dennis Erb Jr. (’04). Five other former PDC champions — Billy Moyer (1992, ’93, ’98, ’08, ’10), Jimmy Mars (’05, ’09), Eric Smith (’11), Kevin Weaver (’91) and Snooky Dehm (’90) — are scheduled to run a B-Main tonight. … One week after his breakout back-to-back UMP DIRTcar Summernationals victories in Ohio, Mason Zeigler turned plenty of heads at Fairbury with his run to victory from the sixth starting spot in Friday’s fifth heat — a march he completed by passing superstar Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., for the lead. But can he do it over the 100-lap distance? “We tried a bunch of different stuff testing out there (during Friday’s open practice after the held-over Summernationals feature ended) and I don’t know how good we were. We need to get better — actually, I need to get better ¬— in the slick when the track blows off. We’ll see what happens (in the PDC feature).” … Brady Smith loaded up and headed home to northern Wisconsin after finishing fifth in Friday night’s postponed Summernationals feature because he determined that his chances for transferring to the PDC from the back of a B-Main were slim. Smith dropped out of his heat race on Friday because of a malfunctioning fuel log that carries gas to his car’s carburetor. “Fuel was spraying all over the place and eventually I lost fuel pressure so I had to pull off,” Smith said. … Billy Moyer Jr. and Mike Provenzano also opted to make an early exit after subpar outings on Friday night. … The apparent broken piston that sidelined Jonathan Davenport’s primary car during Friday’s hot laps was a rare occurrence indeed for his K&L Rumley team. “This was the first motor we’ve lost since 2007,” said Kevin Rumley, whose father, Lee Roy, builds the team’s powerplants. The younger Rumley theorized that the problem might have been fallout from Davenport’s run in last month’s Firecracker 100 at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa., where a broken rearend caused the engine to over-rev. “You’ll have this,” said Rumley, who was pleasantly surprised that Davenport was able to still finish second in a heat race driving the team’s hastily prepped backup car that had been virtually untouched since Davenport steered it to a Southern Nationals victory on Monday at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va. “Oh well. … we’ll give dad something to do now.” … WoO regular Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., will start at the rear of a B-Main after dropping out of a Friday heat race due to a broken rocker arm in his car’s engine. Smith and team owner Todd Wood swapped motors after the problem, but things have gotten worse as Smith was pushed in from Saturday night's hot-lap session because the powerplant lost oil pressure.
The conclusion of the biggest weekend in the history of Fairbury American Legion Speedway — the biggest weekend ever for Dirt Late Model racing in Illinois, actually — includes B-Mains, a non-qualifiers’ race and the 100-lap Prairie Dirt Classic paying a whopping $25,000 to win. It’s the richest winner’s purse ever offered for a Dirt Late Model event in the Land of Lincoln.
Two 20-lap B-Mains transferring two drivers from each will lead off the program. The PDC field will be filled by two WoO points provisionals and any WoO drivers who are eligible for emergency provisionals.
Friday night’s six heat winners — Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., Gregg Satterlee of Indiana, Pa., Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., and Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky. — will redraw for starting spots in the first three rows of Saturday night’s PDC headliner.
Saturday’s program, which also includes UMP modifieds, is scheduled to begin with hot laps at 5:45 p.m. CDT.
(20 laps; top two transfer)
Row 1: Chub Frank, Wendell Wallace
Row 2: Torin Mettille, Chase Junghans
Row 3: Rich Bell, Rick Eckert
Row 4: Daren Friedman, Scott Schmitt
Row 5: Brandon Sheppard, Jay Morris
Row 6: Jay Sparks, Mike Spatola
Row 7: Glen Thompson, Kyle Hammer
Row 8: Steve Thorston, Billy Hough
Row 9: Snooky Dehm, Eric Vaughan
Row 10: Mike Mullvain, Shane Allen
Row 1: Kevin Weaver, Bobby Pierce
Row 2: Billy Moyer, Jimmy Mars
Row 3: Derek Chandler, Kent Robinson
Row 4: Eric Smith, Ryan Unzicker
Row 5: Joe Harlan, John Gardner Jr.
Row 6: Donny Walden, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 7: Daniel Flessner, Steve Lance Jr.
Row 8: Bob Gardner, Boom Briggs
Row 9: Don Hammer, McKay Wenger
Row 10: Clint Smith