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Erb celebrates $51,400 haul at UMP banquet

January 11, 2009, 2:46 pm
By Kevin Kovac
UMP DIRTcar Racing
Dennis Erb Jr. shows off some of his awards. (stlracingphotos.com)
Dennis Erb Jr. shows off some of his awards. (stlracingphotos.com)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Jan. 10) — Midwestern short-track veterans Dennis Erb Jr. and Jeff Leka shared the spotlight during Saturday’s 25th annual UMP DIRTcar Racing banquet at Springfield Crowne Plaza Hotel’s ballroom. For Carpentersville, Ill.’s Erb, the gala evening capped a 2008 season that saw him sweep UMP DIRTcar’s Super Late Model weekly and Summernationals championships for the second consecutive year. The 36-year-old driver collected a total of $51,400 in points-fund checks for his record-setting campaign, which also included the UMP-sanctioned Northern Allstars Late Model Series title.

Buffalo, Ill.’s Leka, meanwhile, captured the 2008 UMP DIRTcar open-wheel modified championship, ending his longtime pursuit of the division’s highest honor after several heartbreaking near-misses.

More than 800 attendees from more than a dozen states and Canada filled the ballroom to watch UMP officials distribute nearly a half-million dollars to the organization’s 2008 champions and top performers.

A no-nonsense racer known for his quiet demeanor, Erb delivered a brief acceptance speech that closely mirrored his remarks one year ago. He gave most of the credit to his backers, including his car and engine builders.

“First of all I want to thank (chassis builder) C.J. Rayburn and everybody in his family for helping me out and getting me to where I am today,” said Erb, who sat alongside Rayburn during the awards dinner. “And I have to thank Rhyne Racing Engines. I made the switch to them over the winter months and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Erb also hailed his crew chief Heather Lyne, who received the 2008 UMP DIRTcar Racing Super Late Model Mechanic of the Year Award by vote of the organization’s membership. It marked the second consecutive year that Lyne earned the honor, but in 2007 she shared the award with Terry Aaron.

“Thanks to Heather for all her hard work all year,” said Erb, who owns his own team. “It’s hard to be out there by yourself, so her help means a lot.”

Erb earned $25,000 for winning the grueling, month-long Summernationals, which he secured after battling with Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., to the final race. He picked up another $20,000 for capturing the national title, plus $5,000 for the Northern Allstars crown; $700 for finishing fourth in the North Region; $300 for ninth in the South Region; $300 for third in the Illinois State standings; and $100 for 10th in the Indiana State points. He also received two sets of Dyer’s Top Rods for his twin series titles.

“I said last year I didn’t know if I’d be able to do this two years in a row,” said Erb, whose 13 feature victories in 2008 included the points-season-ending UMP Nationals at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway. “But we had a great year and pulled it off again, so here we are.”

Behind Erb and Leka, the night’s third-largest championship booty was claimed by Tait Davenport of Paducah, Ky., who pocketed $10,000 for becoming the first-ever UMP DIRTcar Pro Late Model titlist for Crate Late Model drivers. He earned an additional $500 for winning the Kentucky State points standings.

“I think this is a great deal,” the 30-year-old Davenport said of UMP DIRTcar’s affordable new Late Model division. “It’s an honor to be the first Pro Late Model champion.”

Overall drivers from eight divisions received recognition during Saturday’s festivities. Nearly 10,000 drivers earned points in the eight classes during the 2008 season. Regional champions were also named in the Late Model division, includling Steve Sheppard Jr. (North), Michael Kloos (South) and Brian Ruhlman (East). Each received a check worth $3,000.

Among other UMP titlists honored during Saturday’s festivities was Rusty Schlenk of Jackson, Mich., the champion of the Sunoco American Late Model Series.

Among other special awards:

• Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., earned recognition as the Most Improved Late Model Driver.

• Daren Friedman of Forrest, Ill., received Late Model Sportsman of the Year hardware.

• Kamp Motor Speedway in Boswell, Ind., was announced as the UMP DIRTcar Racing Track of the Year. The oval’s husband-and-wife ownership team of Bob and Gayle Kamp accepted the honor.

• Ray Marler, who operates I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Mo., with NASCAR veteran Kenny Schrader, was feted as the 2008 UMP DIRTcar Racing Promoter of the Year.

• Hoosier Tire’s Terry Young received the fourth annual Bob Memmer Achievement Award, which honors the memory of UMP's late founder. The prestigious plaque was presented to Young by Eldora Speedway general manager Larry Boos, who won the award last year.

• Drivers recognized with Rookie of the Year awards during the program were Jeff Walston of Paducah, Ky., who earned $1,000 as the top first-year UMP Super Late Model racer, and teenager Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., who pocketed $2,000 for his strong debut season with the Northern Allstars

• The 2008 UMP Chassis Builder of the Year awards went to C.J. Rayburn Race Cars of Whiteland, Ill., in the Late Models and Bob Pierce Race Cars of Oakwood, Ill., in the modifieds.

• Claiming the 2008 Engine Builder of the Year awards were Rhyne Competition Engines (Late Models) and Hovis Racing Engines (modifieds).

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