PLYMOUTH, Ind. (July 14) — Tyler Erb’s affinity for Plymouth Speedway grew a bit deeper on Tuesday night.
Racing for the third in his career at a quarter-mile oval he called “one of my top-five favorite tracks” because “it’s real little and you can get it on early,” Erb broke through for his first victory by leading the 40-lap DIRTcar Summer Nationals feature from flag-to-flag.
Erb, 23, of New Waverly, Texas, earned $5,000 for his second Hell Tour triumph in as many starts this season. He also captured July 8’s opener at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway that he was able to enter in between his Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series commitments with Eric Brock’s Best Performance Motorsports team.
“This is the third time I’ve been here, and we’ve been good every time,” said Erb, who previous appearances in Plymouth’s Summer Nationals events resulted in finishes of fourth (2017) and third (’18). “The last time Big Bill (Moyer) won and we finished behind (Timothy) Culp, and the first year was when Shepp (Brandon Sheppard) and Scott (Bloomquist) had a helluva race (with Sheppard winning by a slight margin. I run second to Shepp for like most of the race and then I messed up and Scott got ahead of me and almost beat Shepp.
“I’m glad we got a chance to come back (after competing in Monday’s Lucas Oil Series stop at 300 Raceway in Farley, Iowa).”
But while Erb paced every circuit of the A-main, his third career Summer Nationals triumph didn’t come without a couple of close calls. He survived an original-start scrape with Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., and a late challenge from Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., to secure the checkered flag.
Erb steered his XR1 Rocket car across the finish line 1.387 seconds in front of Shirley’s Bob Cullen-owned XR1 Rocket. Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, made a late charge to net a third-place finish — right on Shirley’s rear bumper — with his Tye Twarog-owned Longhorn machine while Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., advanced from the 16th starting spot to finish fourth in his MB Customs mount and Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., rounded out the top five in his XR1 Rocket.
Pierce finished sixth after starting from the pole position — right alongside Erb, whose eventful road to victory began on the opening lap when he made contact with Pierce that sent the three-time Summer Nationals champion spinning around between turns one and two.
The 23-year-old Pierce’s car twirled backward and was struck nose-to-nose by Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, who started fifth. Pierce’s nosepiece was damaged but he was able to move back to the pole for the complete restart while Schlenk pitted to straighten his bodywork and returned at the rear of the field before being the race’s first retiree.
Erb conceded that he provided the nudge that spun Pierce, but he stressed that the contact occurred because Pierce surprised him with his original-start strategy. Pre-race track prep had given the outside lane more traction and Erb thought Pierce would make a beeline for it.
“I honestly thought Bobby was gonna go in there and blow up to the top because that was definitely the line I think,” Erb said. “I don’t know if he just wasn’t sure about it or what happened, but he had me beat (into turn one) so I was just gonna follow him in there. I’d have bet a million bucks that he was gonna slide up to the cushion on the first lap so I was just trying to follow him and not lose another spot.
“Well, when he lifted, I barely hooked his quarter and I tried to whoa-up the best I could. I didn’t gas and spin him all the way around, but I definitely got him messed up.
“It was just anticipation, man,” he continued. “If you can get the lead like that, that’s what you’re trying to do, so I was expecting him to slide me and I was gonna try to slide him, just kind of criss-cross.”
With Pierce struggling to get a handle on how to drive his car with a bent nose, Erb outgunned him for the lead on the ensuing restart. The Texan built as much as a straightaway edge before his negotiation of lapped traffic allowed Pierce to draw close enough to briefly challenge Erb on lap 20.
Pierce’s hopes effectively evaporated after a stumbling motor caused him to slide into the turn-two wall and lose second to Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., on lap 23. Then, following a lap-27 caution period for Matt Lux of Franklin, Ill., Pierce attempted a slider through turns one and two to regain second, but it ended with the caution lights blinking back on because Heckenast was squeezed into the turn-two wall and needed wrecker service.
After Heckenast expressed his displeasure with Pierce by throwing a mud clod at Pierce’s passing car during the caution period, Pierce fell to fourth on the restart and never recovered.
Erb, meanwhile, found Shirley, 39, hot on his tail. Shirley grabbed second on the lap-27 restart, caught Erb four circuits later and came within inches of nipping Erb at the start-finish line on lap 32.
Then the upper hand swung back to Erb, who proceeded to ever-so-slightly pull away from Shirley over the remaining distance.
“The top was good, and I was like, ‘I know I need to move down,’ and I think they (Shirley) closed in on me for a minute,” Erb said. “When I got next to (Allen) Weisser (to lap him) I moved down and I was like, ‘OK, that’s a good line,’ so I moved down in three and four but I didn’t really move down in one and two yet.
“When I saw Squirrel (Shirley) I said, ‘He’s definitely not on the top now,’ so then I started just pinching the (inside) tires, and when I’d pinch the tires I was going the exact same speed as I was going around the top but it was just a shorter distance.
“I had a harder tire, and on that (lap-27) restart for like five laps I didn’t think I had much of a lead,” he added. “Then the last five or six, I felt like I was pulling away. I found a better line and my tires kind of heated up and I took back off. I don’t know if that was the right tire, but I told (his crew), ‘I’ve been here two times and never won, so we’re gonna put a different tire on and see what happens.’”
Shirley certainly thought Erb’s tire choice helped propel him to victory lane.
“Terbo was good, and he had a little harder tire on than us so on that (lap-27) restart I was able to creep up to him,” said Shirley, who has won the last two Summer Nationals championships. “But once the race went on you could see him get away. He moved down to the bottom and that definitely hurt me because I didn’t have the clean air, and that really messed up the way my car worked. When he was up there out of my way my car would stick better.
“It was really hard to pass at the end, so if we would’ve got by him and I think we could’ve held on. But it was hard to get by him because he was pretty good too.”
Shirley was satisfied with his best finish of the 2020 Summer Nationals.
“I feel like we’re doing better, getting the car better to where it’s competitive in the races,” said Shirley, who tallied his third straight top-five finish. “We just gotta keep racing and trying to find what I need in the car. We’ve been working on that and I feel like we’re gaining on that.”
Moran, 25, ran down Shirley in the closing to finish a close third in his first-ever start at Plymouth. He joined Erb, Bronson and eighth-place finisher Stormy Scott of Las Cruces, N.M., as Lucas Oil Series regulars who invaded the Summer Nationals in between the national tour’s Midwest events.
“I wish it would’ve been 50 instead of 40 (laps),” Moran said. “We might’ve got at least second.
“I felt like we were good late, and that’s kind of when we’ve been struggling. I’m happy we could come up through there. We actually passed some cars. They didn’t fall out.”
Polesitter Bobby Pierce is making his second career Summer Nationals start at Plymouth; he finished seventh in the 2017 event but didn’t enter the ’18 edition because he was off running the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. … Outside polesitter Tyler Erb ran well in both of Plymouth’s previous Hell Tour shows, finishing fourth in ’17 and third in ’18. He also tested at Plymouth earlier this season. … Erb is one of four Lucas Oil Series regulars who used a break in the tour’s Midwest schedule to invade the Summer Nationals, joining Kyle Bronson (starts seventh), Stormy Scott (ninth) and Devin Moran (10th). Scott’s twin brother, Johnny, is also in the field; he used a provisional to gain a berth in the 40-lap feature. … Making his first Summer Nationals appearance of 2020, Rusty Schlenk starts fifth after arriving at the track shortly before hot laps commenced. His trip was delayed about two hours because his hauler’s transmission seized up as he was near the Ohio-Indiana border. … Two other well-known Ohio drivers making their first Hell Tour starts of the season: Matt Miller (driving Rick DeLong’s familiar No. 3) and Jon Henry (piloting the Matthew Carmody-owned machine he’s run 10 times this season at Oakshade, Attica and Florence speedways). They start sixth and eighth, respectively. … Tyler Carpenter takes the green flag from the 14th start in his newly-bodied Kryptonite car. He spent Sunday reskinning the machine after three rough nights to kick off the Hell Tour. … Matt Lux solidly put his car in the field through his heat race, but the Pennsylvanian shrugged off suggestions that he should stay on the road and extend his brief Summer Nationals trip. “We’re headed home,” he said.
Row 1: Bobby Pierce, Tyler Erb
Row 2: Brian Shirley, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 3: Rusty Schlenk, Jon Henry
Row 4: Kyle Bronson, Matt Miller
Row 5: Stormy Scott, Devin Moran
Row 6: Gordy Gundaker, Matt Lux
Row 7: Allen Weisser, Tyler Carpenter
Row 8: Bob Gardner, Jason Feger
Row 9: Tim Lance, Myles Moos
Row 10: Tim Lance Jr., Devin Shiels
Row 11: Johnny Scott, Trevor Gundaker
Finish (10 laps; top 3 transfer): Jason Feger, Tim Lance, Myles Moos, Johnny Scott, Trevor Gundaker, Hillard Miller, Devin Shiels, Matt Shipley, Britan Godsey, Phil Ausra, Jerry Signor, Tim Lance Jr., Mike Spatola, Dan Richardson, Brayton Laster, Dan DeYoung.
Heat race results
(10 laps; top 4 transfer)
First heat finish: Bobby Pierce, Frank Heckenast Jr., Kyle Bronson, Devin Moran, Allen Weisser, Myles Moos, Tim Lance, Devin Shiels, Brian Godsey, Jerry Signor, Brayton Laster.
Second heat finish: Brian Shirley, Rusty Schlenk, Matt Miller, Gordy Gundaker, Tyler Carpenter, Jason Feger, Trevor Gundaker, Johnny Scott, Matt Shipley, Dan DeYoung.
Third heat finish: Tyler Erb, Jon Henry, Stormy Scott, Matt Lux, Bob Gardner, Mike Spatola, Hillard Miller, Phil Aura, Dan Richardson, Tim Lance Jr.
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals resumes at Plymouth Speedway after a two-day break — one night for a weather-related postponement at East Moline, Ill., and one a scheduled off day — with the circuit’s fourth stop of 2020. The $5,000-to-win event is the last scheduled visit to the Hoosier State for the Hell Tour.
Plymouth did not host a Summer Nationals event in 2019, but the series ran at the quarter-mile oval in 2017 (Brandon Sheppard was victorious) and ’18 (Billy Moyer captured the feature).
Thirty-one Late Models are signed in for Tuesday’s program, which will include qualifying to set the lineups for three heats, a consolation and a 40-lap feature.
Group qualifying results
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 13.653
Devin Moran (9), Dresden, Ohio, 13.662
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 13.693
Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 13.796
Allen Weisser (25w), Peoria, Ill., 13.847
Tim Lance (48), Brimfield, Ill., 13.982
Myles Moos (84), Lincoln, Ill., 14.214
Devin Shiels (51), Britton, Mich., 14.394
Britan Godsey (14B), Bedford, Ind., 14.586
Jerry Signor (03), Jackson, Mich., 15.360
Brayton Laster (13), Greenwood, Ind., 15.760
Brian Shirley (3S), Chatham, Ill., 13.536
Rusty Schlenk (91), McClure, Ohio, 13.604
Matt Miller (3), Whitehouse, Ohio, 13.699
Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 13.731
Tyler Carpenter (28), Parkersburg, W.Va., 13.815
Trevor Gundaker (11T), St. Charles, Mo., 13.959
Johnny Scott (1ST), Las Cruces, N.M., 13.984
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 14.289
Matt Shipley (44s), Weston, Ohio, 14.531
Dan DeYoung (74), Hobart, Ind., 16.509
Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, 13.697
Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., 13.985
Matt Lux (111L), Franklin, Pa., 13.991
Jon Henry (15H), Ada, Ohio, 14.045
Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 14.047
Stormy Scott (2), Las Cruces, N.M., 14.097
Hillard Miller (53), Defiance, Ohio, 14.693
Phil Ausra (15), St. Joseph, Mich., 15.027
Tim Lance Jr. (48L), Brimfield, Ill., 16.015
Dan Richardson (8), Macy, Ind., 16.145
5 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting
6 p.m. - Hot laps
- Super Late Model hot laps
- Modified hot laps/time trials
- Super Late Model time trials (2 laps)
- Super Late Model heats (10 laps)
- Modified heats (8 laps)
- Super Late Model consolation (10 laps)
- Modified consolation (8 laps)
Intermission/track prep (if necessary)
- Super Late Model feature (40 laps)
- Modified feature (25 laps)