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DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

Dispatches: Feger gets back on winning track

June 23, 2024, 2:43 pm
From staff, track, series and special reports
Jason Feger in heat action at Lincoln. (brendonbauman.com)
Jason Feger in heat action at Lincoln. (brendonbauman.com)

Among latest notes and quotes from around Dirt Late Model racing during the third weekend in June that includes DIRTcar Summer Nationals, World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series and other action (Firecracker 100 coverage appears elsewhere). Our coverage includes a primer on the weekend's streaming selections around the country:

Awaiting payback

Jason Feger knows he likely has a little payback coming from red-hot Tyler Erb. And the 46-year-old Bloomington, Ill., driver couldn't help but wonder on Sunday night, with four laps remaining in the DIRTcar Summer Nationals feature at Lincoln (Ill.) Speedway, if it wasn't coming shortly with Erb lined up behind Feger on a lap-26 restart.

"I was sitting there waiting for the slider and — you know, we had a good one the other night — and I'm sure I'll have one coming back at me," Feger said.

As it turned out, Erb delivered no such slide job, and Feger was able to close out the $7,500 victory, his first of the Summer Nationals season and 27th of his career on the circuit.

Erb's potential payback from Thursday's scrape at Spoon River Speedway in Banner, Ill. — Feger's slide job ended with Erb spinning out of the lead in turn four with four laps remaining — will wait for another day, but Feger was happy to get back in the winning groove with his first victory since Memorial Day weekend.

"The first thing is that it feels good to get the monkey off our back," said Feger, who has watched Erb capture six of the first nine Summer Nationals events. "We've been OK, but we were really good to start this season. And, man, I don't know, we went to Eldora (Speedway in early June for Dream XXX) and we haven't been really worth a crap since. I don't know what changed as all three cars have felt the same.

"I don't know. We've been searching, so we definitely got off our baseline setup. (Friday) at Brownstown (Bullring in Illinois), we tried some stuff there that night and we've been really fast, but getting off my baseline setups and stuff, I just haven't been making the best decisions on setup in the feature. But we've been learning. I feel like the car is good again.

"That's what's been the most frustrating for us. I mean, obviously Terbo has been on a roll, but I at least want to bring our A-game and give us a shot. We've been inching closer. So it feels good to finally have the car feeling like I feel like it should."

Feger's winning move came on a lap-eight restart when he swept around Erb and early leader Kye Blight to take command. The last restart provided a little drama, too.

"I mean, Terbo's aggressive and he's a helluva driver and his car is working really good. I knew he kept showing me his nose and I couldn't figure out if he was just showing me a nose trying to get me to mess up (and then) losing his run, or if he actually was that good," Feger said. "I just kind of thought I had to protect the slider down there on the restart. (Turns) three and four was really tricky and it started dipping out a little bit in the middle, you know, digging down so the car'd get off balance and there really was (no traction) coming off of the top down there. So it was really tricky. Nothing really felt way faster than something else."

What Feger found was fast enough as he collected his first series victory of 2024 and added the $10,000 weekly points check.

The series takes Monday off before beginning its third week of action Tuesday with a $5,000-to-win event at Springfield (Mo.) Raceway — Series reports

Emotional victory

It's not unusual for Austin Horton of Whitesburg, Ga., to pick up a checkered flag at Senoia (Ga.) Raceway. Among other victories, he's won three of the last four Topless Outlaw Dirt Racing Series events at the 3/8-mile oval, including Saturday's race when he rallied from his 10th starting spot and collected a $3,000 payday.

Saturday's victory lane, however, was a bit more emotional for the 28-year-old Horton. Not only was his special graphics scheme paying tribute to an ailing racing friend, Andy Knowles, Horton also dedicated the victory in memory of his great uncle Ernest Horton, who along with five other family members perished in a tragic house fire in Coweta County, Ga. Five of 11 occupants of the home escaped the June 17 fire that started in the garage, but Ernest Horton, his wife Fannie, another adult woman and three children died.

Horton's car, usually No. 16, carried the No. 66 of Andy Knowles, a former racer and brother to National Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer Wade Knowles who is facing a health crisis. Andy Knowles "gave me my first opportunity to turn wrenches and get paid to do it. I use a lot of the things he taught me" every day in the race shop, Horton wrote on Facebook.

Horton mentioned what was on his heart in victory lane.

"I did this special tribute wrap for Mr. Andy Knowles. The Knowles family is going through some really tough times right now, keep them in your prayers," Horton said. "I would also like to mention my family; six of my family members were lost in a house fire this past Monday morning and keep them in your prayers."

In the 40-lap feature, Anthony White and then Tucker Anderson led early, but Horton raced from his fifth-row starting spot and into the lead on a lap-12 restart (Anderson retired with a flat tire during the caution).

Horton led the rest of the way in his 7-year-old Rocket Chassis with a modest powerplant from Bobby Thomas Racing Engines.

"I've got probably the smallest motor packages you're allowed to run with Topless Outlaws, but I told my guys when it gets slick, I'm like a shark in the water," Horton said. "This Rocket XR1 is a '17 model and it just keeps clicking 'em off. It's a good car." — Series reports

Werewolf comes out

Something in the sky on Saturday night brought out the best in Zack Mitchell of Enoree, S.C.

After the 28-year-old driver secured the richest victory of his career with a $20,000 score in the 50-lap Rock Gault Memorial at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C., he gave some credit to that big gleaming ball lighting up the darkness that apparently turns him into a racing werewolf.

“I’ve won a lot of big races on a full moon,” Mitchell said with a smile.

While the full moon technically came on Friday, it was still close enough on Saturday. Mitchell was a beast as he powered to his first-ever triumph on the second-year Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series.

Coming from the fourth starting spot, Mitchell muscled past race-long pacesetter Michael Brown of Pageland, S.C., on lap 27 and controlled the remainder of the distance to defeat Ross Bailes of Clover, S.C., by 1.449 seconds. He worried that his turn-three slider on Brown, who ultimately slowed on lap 39 with a flat right-rear tire and finished eighth, might have been too physical, but otherwise he couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome.

“I hope I cleared Michael pretty good there when I slid him, but man, this thing was on a rail,” Mitchell said. “I knew when we fired off, I was like, ‘Man, we got something for ‘em.’”

Brown also made the right call with his tire selection on the 3/8-mile oval that is notoriously rough on rubber.

“I knew we went really hard (with compound choice),” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t sure what everybody else had on in the field. I rolled up there (to line up) and it looked like (third-starter) Brandon (Overton) had a dirty right-front, so I figured he had a (softer) 2 (command) on. I figured he might not have went with a 4 on the right-rear, but I knew I was probably one of the hardest ones in he field.

“So I knew I could push it really hard, and that’s why I could get around (Brown) as fast as I could.”

Mitchell’s victory was his second at Cherokee this season — he captured a $7,500 Ultimate Southeast Super Late Model Series race there on March 30 — and third overall of 2024, but it was his first in over two months since an April 16 Carolina Clash-sanctioned score at Lavonia (Ga.) Speedway. It came in his second start behind the wheel of a new Longhorn Chassis, a machine his family-owned team assembled to return their stable to two cars after one vehicle was a write-off after a May 3 crash in HTF action at Ultimate Motorsports Park in Elkins, N.C.

After a runner-up finish in the car’s debut run in Friday’s HTF feature at Lancaster (S.C.) Motor Speedway, Mitchell’s nearly-perfect weekend vaulted him back into contention on the Hunt the Front tour. He entered the doubleheader sitting outside the top 10 in the standings but ended it ranked sixth, still 98 points behind leader Brandon Overton, who had a quiet weekend with finishes of 20th and 12th, but just 34 points away from second-place Sam Seawright. — Staff and series reports

Meaningful triumph

Jeff Smith of Dallas, N.C., was only asked a couple questions in his victory lane interview after Friday night’s Buddy Crook Memorial at Lancaster (S.C.) Motor Speedway, but he didn’t have much to say anyway. Emotion sort of took over the 58-year-old veteran and kept his words to a minimum.

What did his first-ever Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series and third career Ultimate Southeast Series (the race was co-sanctioned) mean to him?

“I can’t even say it,” Smith said, his voice cracking slightly and tears seemingly about to well up in his eyes. Then he added: “Today is my mom’s 82nd birthday. This is for her.”

Smith recalled providing his mother, Naomi, a checkered flag as a birthday present once before — in 2007 he captured the lone Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series victory of his career one day after her 65th birthday at Fayetteville (N.C.) Motor Speedway — but this one was perhaps even more special. It was Smith’s first win since his father and Naomi’s husband, legendary Hall of Fame driver Freddy Smith, died last Oct. 14 at the age of 76.

What’s more — and as Smith pointed out later — at his advancing age as a Dirt Late Model driver, wins “are so few and far between anymore.” He won once last year, claiming an Ultimate Southeast feature in August at Lake View Motor Speedway in Nichols, S.C., but he was winless in 2022 as well as the 2018-2020 seasons so he knows how difficult it is to break through.

And when it comes to higher-dollar shows, winning can be even harder. Smith’s Saturday score was his first five-figure triumph in over 15 years, dating back to his $10,000 World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series victory on April 17, 2009, at Fayetteville.

Smith’s 2024 season began with some moments that didn’t signal a win was in the offing, including an April 13 bounce at All-Tech Raceway in Ellisville, Fla., that left him with a painful bruised tailbone and his involvement in a May 3 multi-car crash at Ultimate Motorsports Park in Elkin, N.C., that beat up his Longhorn Chassis. But everything went his way at Lancaster, where he inherited the lead after early pacesetters Ben Watkins and Donald McIntosh fell by the wayside and then controlled the final 15 circuits of the feature that was reduced to 40 laps from its scheduled 50 due to heavy track conditions.

“It was just meant for us to win this tonight,” Smith said. “We had some luck in the heat race, we had some luck in the feature. The cautions came right — we were having overheating problems all night and I could get it cooled down under the cautions and go a few more laps.”

Smith’s victory wasn’t just popular among his family and supporters. His competitors relished the moment as well.

“I’ve watched him cut many a laps around many a racetracks, and man, hats off to him. That’s bad ass,” said runner-up Zack Mitchell of Enoree, S.C., who debuted a new Longhorn machine. “If I couldn’t have won it, I wouldn’t have rather seen nobody else here win other than Jeff. I really, really enjoy seeing him win.”

Ross Bailes of Clover, S.C., offered a similar feeling after finishing third.

“But man, congrats to Jeff. He deserves it,” Bailes said. “That’s awesome. I’m really happy for him.” — Series and staff reports

Uplifting run

So you think Brandon Sheppard shattered some inglorious personal streaks — 19 World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series races without a win, first five-figure victory of 2024 — with his triumph in Thursday night’s 40-lap feature at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Summertown, Tenn.? Brent Larson just might have that beat.

While the 47-year-old WoO touring veteran from Lake Elmo, Minn., remains without a win in 270 career starts on the national circuit, he shined like he hasn’t in a long time in the opener of an eight-race, seven-state WoO swing over the next 10 days. He advanced from the eighth starting spot to finish third behind New Berlin, Ill.’s Sheppard and Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., snapping multiple frustrating streaks in the process.

For starters, Larson registered his first top-10 finish, let alone top-five, in 12 WoO features this season. (His previous best finish was 12th on two occasions, both last month at Mississippi Thunder Speedway in Fountain City, Wis.) Beyond that, the seventh top-five placing of his WoO career was his first in a span of 17 races stretching back to his fifth on Sept. 29, 2023, at Atomic Speedway in Alma, Ohio, and his first podium performance in 64 starts dating back to a runner-up outing on Aug. 4, 2022, at his hometrack of Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis.

Not surprisingly, Larson was as much relieved as happy when he climbed out of his car on the track’s frontstretch for the postrace ceremonies.

“It’s definitely encouraging,” said Larson, who has two career second-place finishes in WoO competition (May 7, 2021, at Mississippi Thunder is his other runner-up). “We kind of swung at it a little bit and hit it right. It would help to start up a little further. It seems like we always go forward in the features but we have to start so far back that no one really knows we’re coming.

“We kind of gambled on left-rear (tire choice) a little bit. I needed the long runs. All those cautions (four between laps 12 and 27) were hurting me. When we would get going for a longer period of time then I could take off and go.”

Larson’s successful night came with him behind the wheel of a brand-new Rocket Chassis machine. He gave the fresh iron plenty of credit for the decided uptick in his performance.

“This is the first new car I’ve had in four years,” said Larson, a WoO regular since 2018 who is 13th in points. “My dad bought it for me, which is a huge help otherwise I’d still be running around in my old stuff. We’re a little underfunded so the finishes help, so hopefully this will keep us going forward.” — Series and staff reports

Sparks at Spoon River

Things couldn't have gone much better for Tyler Erb in the first four rounds of the DIRTcar Summer Nationals as the New Waverly, Texas, driver reeled of four consecutive victories in piling up $25,000 in purse money and a $10,000 weekly points fund paycheck.

But Erb has gotten the short end of the stick on slide jobs in the two most recent series races as he tangled with Tyler Clem in a Wednesday heat race at Adams County Speedway in Quincy, Ill., then with Jason Feger in Thursday’s main event at Spoon River Speedway in Banner, Ill.

Erb salvaged a seventh-place feature finish at Quincy, but the Spoon River incident was tougher to swallow as he had led 26 circuits of the 30-lap feature at the 3/8-mile oval before he spun in turn four after Feger slid past.

There was no retaliation and no postrace fireworks in the pits, but the 15th-finishing Erb was clearly frustrated as he loaded up to head to Friday’s event at the Brownstown (Ill.) Bullring.

“It's just two days in a row someone has wiped us the f--- out,” Erb said. “It is what it is. I’m totally OK, fair is fair. I’ve been probably the most mellow I’ve been in my whole career and it just sucks that my car’s fast and I’m getting f----- run over. And it’s OK. I’m not, it’s not on (series officials’) hands, it’s not on anyone’s hands. Everything will be reciprocated.”

Feger chalked up the incident to “hard racing” as he sped past second-running Ryan Unzicker on the backstretch and dove under Erb in turn three on the 27th lap.

“I just had a really good run down the backstretch,” Feger said. “I passed Ryan and had a hell of a pull on Terbo, and I threw a slide job on him. I mean, I haven’t seen the replay yet, but it felt like he drove into the back of me, so I’m pretty sure I had him cleared and he just stayed in it.”

Feger, who ended up second behind Unzicker at the checkers, added that he and Erb “are good buddies and he’s a heck of a hard racer. I know if he was in my shoes, he’d have taken that slide job 10 out of 10 times. I don’t throw a lot of them, but, like I said, I had a really good run on him that time and I knew I had him cleared.”

Feger wondered if Erb thought he might still have room on the outside of the tricky section of the track exiting turn four.

“It’s tricky enough to run that end on the top, let alone when somebody’s sliding you,” Feger said. “So, I don’t know, I’ll talk to him tomorrow or whatever ... It’s Terbo and he’s super fast and he’s gonna keep contending for wins. But ultimately we came here to win and we didn’t get it done. Hat’s off to Ryan, he’s had a tough (season), but his car was really good all night long.”

Leading the overall Summer Nationals points, Erb concluded his brief interview and was already focused on getting things back on track on the day-after-day series.

“We’ll race again tomorrow,” he said. — Patrick Davis and staff reports

Back in form

The factoid that Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., dropped in his comments after capturing Thursday night’s 40-lap World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series feature at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Summertown, Tenn., caught everyone’s attention.

“This is the first $10,000-to-win race we’ve won this year,” the 31-year-old superstar said.

What? Was that true? Sheppard was without a five-figure victory until … June 20?

Yes, Sheppard was on the mark. Until he claimed Thursday’s $10,000 check for his first WoO triumph of 2024, his only other 2024 checkered flags were modest $5,000 scores over four months ago during Georgia-Florida Speedweeks: Feb. 8’s Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series-sanctioned A-main at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla., and Feb. 14’s DIRTcar-sanctioned split-field feature at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla.

Talk about an aberration — the last time Sheppard went past Memorial Day weekend without a five-figure victory on his ledger was in 2013, when, as a fresh-faced 19-year-old, his first $10,000 success of the season came on Sept. 13 in a WoO event at Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill. From 2014-23, he had a five-figure win under his belt in January or February in six seasons and reached May without one just three times.

Sheppard’s long wait for a $10,000-or-more triumph — and his 19-race WoO winless streak dating back to his last victory on Sept. 1, 2023, Mississippi Thunder Speedway in Fountain City, Wis. — didn’t signal a driver who was seriously struggling. He’s actually been extremely consistent this season with his Longhorn Factory Team entry, rarely finishing outside the top 10 whenever he hits the track.

But that something extra to get him over the hump and back to his big-winning ways has been missing.

“We’ve been working hard all year,” Sheppard said. “We’ve been so close, but yet so far away with our finishes. We haven’t been able to put full nights together.”

While Sheppard acknowledged that he “still didn’t qualify quite as good as we wanted to” at Thunderhill, he won a heat race and drew the fifth starting spot for the first-ever WoO feature at the 3/8-mile oval. He then outdueled Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., in an entertaining battle that lasted more than half the distance, finally gaining command on lap 38 when Dillard left the inside lane open through turns one and two.

Sheppard and Dillard, who settled for second place 0.851 of a second behind after leading laps 13-37, hailed each other for their close, contact-free racing that went on for so long.

“Me and Cade, we race side-by-side a lot of times all over the country and we never even hardly rub,” Sheppard said, “so I’ve got to thank him for always racing me clean.”

“We had a good car, but I knew Brandon was a good bit better than us there so for a while we just tried to race a little defensively,” Dillard remarked. “But I knew he’s always raced me so clean — he’s probably the cleanest driver in the sport — so I was gonna do the same to him.”

Sheppard’s 84th career WoO victory pushed him into the WoO points lead — evidence of his steady performance this season that includes eight top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in 12 events. The four-time WoO champ is hopeful that he’s now ready to rack up wins.

“My confidence has been there for sure,” Sheppard said. “Higher-ups in the (Longhorn Factory) program, you know, sometimes they get worried (with a lack of wins) because you have to go through phases of trying, and trying to get better, and doing things to try and better your program for the long run and for the weeks to come.

“We had a talk with them guys this week, and they got confidence in me and what I’m doing. And my guys have stuck behind me through thick and thin, and no matter what kind of crazy thoughts I have to put on this race car, they go right along with them.” — Series and staff reports

Weekend watch

Where to watch upcoming live-streamed special events:

Thursday, June 20

• Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa. (FloRacing)

• RUSH Crates at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa. (FloRacing)

• DIRTcar Summer Nationals at Spoon River Speedway in Banner, Ill. (DIRTVision)

• World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Summertown, Tenn. (DIRTVision)

• Malvern Bank East Series at Dubuque (Iowa) Speedway (IMCA TV)

Friday, June 21

• Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa. (FloRacing)

• RUSH Crates at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa. (FloRacing)

• World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series at Ponderosa Speedway in Junction City, Ky. (DIRTVision)

• Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series/Ultimate Southeast at Lancaster (S.C.) Motor Speedway (Hunt the Front TV)

• DIRTcar Summer Nationals at Brownstown (Ind.) Bullring (DIRTVision)

• Crate Racin’ USA at Tazewell (Tenn.) Speedway (Crate Racin’ USA TV)

• Northern LateModel Racing Association at I-94 EMR Speedway in Fergus Falls, Minn. (Dirt Race Central TV)

Saturday, June 22

• Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa. (FloRacing)

• RUSH Crates at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa. (FloRacing)

• Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C. (Hunt the Front TV)

• World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway (DIRTVision)

• Crate Racin’ USA at 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, Tenn. (Crate Racin’ USA TV)

• DIRTcar Summer Nationals at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Mo. (DIRTVision)

• Coltman Farms Southern All Stars at Tennessee National Raceway in Hohenwald, Tenn. (SASdirt TV)

• Wabam Dirt Kings Tour at 141 Speedway in Francis Creek, Wis. (FloRacing)

• Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway weekly event (FloRacing)

Sunday, June 23

• DIRTcar Summer Nationals at Lincoln (Ill.) Speedway (DIRTVision)

Monday, June 24

• World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series at Independence (Iowa) Motor Speedway (DIRTVision)

Tuesday, June 25

• World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series at Hamilton County Speedway in Webster City, Iowa (DIRTVision)

• DIRTcar Summer Nationals at Springfield (Mo.) Raceway (DIRTVision)

DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

In continuing to streamline our race coverage, we’ve added DirtonDirt.com Dispatches to our list of regular features on the site. The idea of the new feature is to spotlight key storylines of the weekend (and sometimes during the week), putting notes, quotes and accomplishments in context to provide subscribers a quick-hitting read on all the latest from tracks around the country. Our intention is to have a single file that’s regularly topped by the latest news, so check back throughout the weekend.

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