AUBURN, Mich. (Aug. 21) — Dona Marcoullier's impressive 2020 season got even better Friday night at Tri-City Motor Speedway.
Marcoullier, 34, of Houghton Lake, Mich., led the final seven laps of Friday's DIRTcar Summer Nationals feature at Tri-City's 3/8-mile oval to claim the first series victory of his career while also becoming the first Michigan driver to win on the popular Midwest series in more than a decade.
The $10,000 triumph isn't Marcoullier's first five-figure victory, but to him it's the biggest.
"This is the highlight of my career," said Marcoullier, who scored the eighth win of the season for his Bubber Patrick-backed team. "We've got 200 feature wins in 20 years of racing and we've won $10,000 before, but this is the best thing that's ever happened to me. This shows how hard we work."
He certainly had to work hard for it Friday night.
Starting from the eighth position, Marcoullier steadily moved forward through the first half of the 50-lap race and took second from Ryan Gustin just after the midway point. He closed in on race-long leader Frank Heckenast Jr. amid heavy traffic just before lap 40 and used the bottom groove to get a run on Heckenast when he slipped up exiting turn four on lap 43.
Marcoullier completed the winning pass the following lap and pulled away for the victory. He crossed the finish line 1.015 seconds ahead of fifth-starting Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio. Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa, finished third, while Heckenast of Frankfort, Ill., faded to fourth at the finish. Series points leader Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., finished fifth and clinched his third straight series championship with one race remaining.
Racing at a track where he had won four of six events on the season and coming off a third-place finish with the Summer Nationals at Thunderbird Speedway in Muskegon, Mich., on Thursday, Marcoullier had high hopes for Friday's race. His runner-up heat race finish gave him the eighth starting spot for the feature. But even starting in the fourth row with a slew of good cars ahead of him, Marcoullier was still optimistic about his chances.
"With the way we've run here and as good as our equipment is, I knew we had a shot even starting back there," Marcoullier said. "This place doesn't get a cushion or nothing. It just gets slick. You can't spin a tire. It's all momentum and you don't have nothing to lean on. We've been really good when the track's like that here, so I knew we had a shot."
After starting fifth, Schlenk slipped back to sixth on the start of the race and was just getting going when the race's only caution waved on lap 16. From there, he followed Marcoullier to the front, but he didn't have the speed to challenge for the win in the closing laps.
"We went hard on the right-rear and I knew I just had to maintain at the beginning. That caution fell at the right time because the tire had just lit," said Schlenk, who has finished in the top five in three of the past four Summer Nationals races. "We got rolling there on the bottom after the restart and picked off a few. This place is just all about momentum. You just got to keep you nose clean and keep pace."
Gustin was one of the few drivers to run the track's high groove for the entire race. Even as the track began to lock down in the bottom during the closing laps, he stuck with the top. But he couldn't find enough traction to keep pace with the leaders.
"I knew the bottom of the racetrack was getting faster the longer it went, but I wasn't very good down there early. I figured my best bet because I had a hard tire on was to ride around the top and try not to get passed," said Gustin, who finished in the top three for the second night in a row. "You get in the line on the bottom and you're gonna run third either way. I figured we'd give it hell up top and we did, but we came up short."
The series moves to Merritt Speedway in Lake City, Mich. on Saturday for the final race of its 2020 campaign. Merritt replaces Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio, the traditional site of the season-ender, as the tour's final stop due to coronavirus restrictions.
Notes: Marcoullier scored his eighth victory of the season. He's now won five races at Tri-City and has wins at Winston Speedway and Merritt Speedway. ... Shirley's third straight series title is his fourth career championship; his first championship came in 2012. ... Jeep VanWormer was the tour's most recent winner from Michigan. He last series victory came on July 11, 2010 at Quincy (Ill.) Raceway. He won three other times that season and has 15 total career victories. ... The only other time a Michigan driver has won a series race in Michigan was win VanWormer scored his first series victory in 2002 at Hartford Speedway Park. ... The race's lone caution on lap 16 was caused when contact back in the pack sent Tim Lance Jr. for a spin in turn four with heavy front-end damage.
Row 1: Heckenast, Stemler
Row 2: Gustin, Burdette
Row 3: Schlenk, Nickerson
Row 4: Thirlby, Marcoullier
Row 5: Lance, Shirley
Row 6: Feger, Spangler
Row 7: Roberts, Lanphierd
Row 8: Gardner, Wiles
Row 9: Da. Hilliker, Bauer
Row 10: Lance Jr., Mielke
Row 11: Finley, Troutman
(12 laps; top two transfer)
David Hilliker, Cody Bauer, Derrick Hilliker, Chad Finley, David Mielke, Andrew Terrill, Kyle Roberts, Dave Bowen, J.C. Witherspoon, Bryant Dickinson, Mike Staszak, Tim Lance Jr., Carter Murday, Brad Harden, Preston DeShano, Steven Hilliker, Drake Troutman, Carl Ries.
Heat race recap
Polesitter Ryan Gustin led every lap of the first heat race, topping Rusty Schlenk in the 10-lapper. Tim Lance survived contact with Curtis Roberts early in the race to finish third, while Roberts finished in the fourth and final transfer spot after ralling from the tail following his lap-three spin. ... Frank Heckenast Jr. ran unchallenged to win heat two, while Brandon Thirlby recovered from early troubles to finish second. Thirlby had faded to fifth before using a lap-seven restart to drive to second in on lap. But he made contact with Chad Finley while taking the second spot, and the resulting scrample left Preston DeShanon spun in turn four. Thirlby continued on to finish second, while Jason Feger and Bob Gardner shuffled Finley back to fifth. ... Travis Stemler ran away with heat three, while fifth-starting Logan Nickerson charged to second. Brian Shirley and Ryan Lanphierd made heavy contact while battling for third late in the race, but both drivers continued on to finish third and fourth respectively. ... Colton Burdette held off Dona Marcoullier to win the fourth and final heat race with Eric Spangler and Garrett Wiles also grabbing transfer spots at the finish.
Heat race results
(10 laps; top four transfer)
First heat: Ryan Gustin, Rusty Schlenk, Tim Lance, Curtis Roberts, Dave Bowen, Carter Murday, Mike Staszak, J.C. Witherspoon, David Mielke.
Second heat: Frank Heckenast Jr., Brandon Thirlby, Jason Feger, Bob Gardner, Chad Finley, Derrick Hilliker, Preston DeShano, Bryant Dickerson.
Third heat: Travis Stemler, Logan Nickerson, Brian Shirley, Ryan Lanphierd, David Hilliker, Andrew Terrill, Steven Hilliker, Drake Troutman, Tim Lance Jr.
Fourth heat: Colton Burdette, Dona Marcoullier, Eric Spangler, Garrett Wiles, Cody Bauer, Kyle Roberts, Brad Harden, Carl Ries.
Ryan Gustin (19), Marshalltown, Iowa, 14.005
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 14.065
Curtis Roberts (9r), Coleman, Mich., 14.178
Brandon Thirlby (M14), Traverse City, Mich., 14.200
Rusty Schlenk (91), McClure, Ohio, 14.236
Chad Finley (42), DeWitt, Mich., 14.306
Tim Lance (48), Brimfield, Ill., 14.348
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 14.433
J.C. Witherspoon (03), Kinde, Mich., 14.482
Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., 14.503
Dave Bowen (87x), Sterling, Mich., 14.581
Derrick Hilliker (19), Midland, Mich., 14.715
David Mielke (87), Gladwin, Mich., 14.739
Preston DeShano (23), Auburn, Mich., 14.865
Carter Murday (19m), Adrian, Mich., 14.968
Bryant Dickinson (5*), Ionia, Mich., 15.117
Mike Staszak (16s), Kawkawlin, Mich., 15.269
Travis Stemler (4), Ionia, Mich., 14.289
Colten Burdette (44), Parkersburg, W.Va., 14.400
Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 14.405
Dona Marcoullier (3M), Houghton Lake, Mich., 14.532
Andrew Terrill (4), Sanford, Mich., 14.664
Eric Spangler (27), Lake City, Mich., 14.713
David Hilliker (21d), Midland, Mich., 14.841
Garrett Wiles (16), Hubbardston, Mich., 14.846
Logan Nickerson (21n), Vestaburg, Mich., 14.854
Carl Ries (6R), Blanchard, Mich., 14.870
Drake Troutman (7), Hyndman, Pa., 14.950
Cody Bauer (19x), Farwell, Mich., 14.975
Ryan Lanphierd (11x), Midland, Mich., 15.022
Brad Harden (52), Ovid, Mich., 15.044
Steven Hilliker (21sh), Midland, Mich., 15.108
Kyle Roberts (3), Beaverton, Mich., 15.285
Tim Lance Jr. (48L), Brimfield, Ill., 15.736
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals heads to Tri-City Motor Speedway for the third leg of the tour's four-race Michigan swing that wraps up the tour's 2020 campaign. Friday's $10,000-to-win event marks the tour's first ever visit to the Mike Blackmer-owned track.
Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., enters the event with two victories in the last three races after winning Tuesday's event at Kankakee (Ill.) County Speedway and Thursday's race at Thunderbird Raceway in Muskegon, Mich. He's second in the series points chase but well behind leader Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., who won Wednesday's race at Butler Speedway in Quincy, Mich.
Dona Marcoullier of Houghton Lake, Mich., leads Tri-City's track points with four victories in six races. He also finished third in Thursday's race at Thunderbird.
Blackmer also operates Merritt Speedway in Lake City, Mich., where the series is scheduled to head for its finale on Saturday after Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio, the traditional site of the season-ender, decided it was unable to host the race because of coronavirus restrictions.
6 p.m. - Drivers' meeting
6:30 p.m. - Hot laps
- Super Late Model hot laps
- Modified hot laps/time trials
- Super Late Model time trials
- Pro Stock heats (8 laps)
- Modified heats (8 laps)
- Super Late Model heats (10 laps)
- Cyber stock heats (10 laps)
- Super Late Model consolation (10 laps)
- Street Stock heats (8 laps)
- 4-6 Cylinder heat races (8 laps)
- Support division consolations as needed
- Super Late Model consolations (12 laps)
- Modified consolation (8 laps)
Intermission/track prep (if necessary
- Pro Stock feature (20 laps)
- Modified feature (25 laps)
- Super Late Model feature (50 laps)
- Street Stock feature (20 laps)
- 4-6 Cylinder feature (15 laps)