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Brake-less Smith hangs on for $10,000 at Kamp

June 13, 2009, 6:29 pm
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.com chief writer
Eric Smith celebrates in victory lane. (Jim DenHamer)
Eric Smith celebrates in victory lane. (Jim DenHamer)

BOSWELL, Ind. (June 13) — During a lap-25 caution at Kamp Motor Speedway, polesitter Eric Smith of Bloomington, Ill., felt the one thing he didn't want to feel while battling a racetrack with an unforgiving cushion on a long, rain-delayed night: A spongy brake pedal. | Complete Summernationals coverage

With his brakes virtually gone the final 15 laps, Smith's path to his first career UMP DIRTcar Summernationals victory became increasingly difficult. The 42-year-old Smith, an ARCA-driver-turned Dirt Late Model racer, suddenly began struggling for the first time since overtaking early leader Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., on the sixth lap.

"Those last 15 laps, I just had to kind of go into the corner and use the gas to get the car to turn. I was getting tired and I just kept overdriving the corner," Smith said. "I kept hitting that cushion. I screwed up quite a bit there at the end. I was just trying to hang on."

Smith's miscues allowed Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill. — another ARCA refugee — to close a straightaway gap to nothing with less than two laps remaining, but Smith edged away on the white-flag lap to grab a 40-lap victory worth $10,000, the richest of his career on dirt or asphalt.

Girlfriend Heidi, 9-year-old daughter Chassidy, crew chief Ryan Courtney and others greeted an excited Smith in victory lane at the third Summernationals event in the wee hours of the morning at the 3/8-mile oval, which was soaked by afternoon rain that required extensive surface preparation and caused some high-profile drivers to load their equipment rather than race.

For Courtney and Smith, the victory was redemption from a near-miss on the Summernationals circuit last year at Lincoln (Ill.) Speedway, when a broken axle knocked Smith out of the lead.

"Ever since then we felt like we had one owed to us," said the 30-year-old Courtney. "Last year we sat on the pole for three (Summernationals races) and kind of struggled. We started on the pole here and struggled, ended up seventh. We kind of had a little goal to come back and get one of these. I think we kind of felt like we put ourselves in a good position a lot to win one, and just had bad luck or bad cars or bad circumstances, but I felt like we had one coming to us."

Smith's win came in a big way, but not without the excitement of running the race's late stages without brakes on an already-tricky track.

"You just had to be real careful not to overdrive the corner. I was actually getting a little tight there, so I kept having to slide in, and that was causing me to bang off that cushion, kind of spinning my front end back around. I was just trying to hold on for all it was worth," said Smith, who didn't realize Unzicker was right on him in the closing laps. "Here, it's really hard to tell if somebody's right there. You're lapping cars ... I just assumed there was somebody there the whole time. I tried to run as hard as I could every lap."

Unzicker, who started seventh and took second from Terry Casey of New London, Wis., on the 10th lap, saw Smith was vulnerable in the race's waning moments.

On the final lap, "we were expecting Eric to go to the top side, so we were kind of set up to go to the bottom to try to do a slide job," Unzicker said. "But he surprised me and went to the bottom. I tried to go to the top and just had too much momentum and jumped the cushion there a little bit. He kind of pulled away and that's all she wrote. I'm happy for second. Congratulations to Eric, that's an awesome win."

Casey was further back in third while third-starting Frank Heckenast of Orland Park, Ill., rallied after an early pit stop to finish fourth. Steve Sheppard Jr. of New Berlin, Ill., rallied from 13th to finish fifth in a race where two top-five runners fell from contention.

Sheppard's teen-aged son, Brandon, led the early laps before dropping to third and climbing the wall between turns one and two on the eighth laps. Ninth-starting Jason McBride of Carbondale, Ill., ran as high as third before fading to 10th.

Skipping the race altogether was two-time and reigning Summernationals champion Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., current points leader Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., two-time Dirt Track World Champion Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., and first-leg Summernationals winner Jeep Van Wormer of Pinconning, Mich. About a dozen drivers bowed out of competition, saying the surface conditions — the inner and outer walls were ringed with mud that never dried from the rainstorm — were unsafe and would be too hard on equipment.

"I don't blame them guys. They race for a living every night," Smith said. "If I was in their situation where I was running every night, I'd probably do the same thing. But I really had nothing to lose to stay."

Unzicker acknowledged that plenty of cars were punished by the rugged cushion during the 40-lapper, but he was happy to stay and race. "We don't want to tear (equipment) up, either," he said, "but a local guy, when he gets his shot at $10,000, he wants to race."

UMP @ Kamp: (1) Eric Smith, (2) Ryan Unzicker, (3) Terry Casey, (4) Frank Heckenast Jr., (5) Steve Sheppard Jr., (6) Duane Chamberlain, (7) Guy Volk, (8) Joe Janowski, (9) Steve Dimmick, (10) Jason McBride, (11) Jason Feger, (12) Dan Walden, (13) J.R. Hotovy, (14) Brandon Sheppard, (15) Justin Rattliff, (16) Wes Steidinger, (17) Jim Moon, (18) Brent Kreke, (19) Ted Loomis, (20) Dick Potts, (21) Kevin Weaver. Fast qualifier (among 44 cars): B. Sheppard, 14.233 seconds. Heat race winners: Smith, Heckenast, B. Sheppard, Casey. B-Main winner: Janowski. Provisional starters: Steidinger, Loomis, Walden.

B-Main

Joe Janowski won the B-Main to transfer to the main event along with J.R. Hotovy. Provisional starting spots go to Wes Steidinger (series), Ted Loomis ('08 UMP points) and Dan Walden (track).

Fourth heat

Polesitter Frank Heckenast Jr. led all the way for the victory, but his straightaway lead over Steve Dimmick was erased in the final two laps when he had trouble lapping Russ Adams. Dimmick cut the margin down to just a few lengths at the finish while Kevin Weaver was further back in third. Jason Feger was a distant fourth for the final transfer spot.

Finish: Frank Heckenast Jr., Steve Dimmick, Kevin Weaver, Jason Feger, Ted Loomis, Rich Neiser, Dan Walden, Russ Adams, Wes Steidinger. Scratched: Jeep Van Wormer.

Third heat

Fast qualifier Brandon Sheppard, taking the lead when Guy Volk slipped up midway through the race, won the third heat over Ryan Unzicker. Volk ended up third while Justin Rattliff got the fourth and final transfer spot. Only five of 11 cars in the group ran.

Finish: Brandon Sheppard, Ryan Unzicker, Guy Volk, Justin Rattliff, J.R. Hotovy. Scratched: Scott James, Brian Shirley, Mike Petersak, Randy Korte, Will Vaught, Mark Voigt.

Second heat

Outside front-row starter Eric Smith led all the way in the caution-free prelim, surviving a late scramble with lapped traffic to pull away from Donny Walden and Duane Chamberlain. Dick Potts, the 70-year-old Hall of Famer, held off Joe Janowski for the fourth and final transfer spot.

Finish: Eric Smith, Donny Walden, Duane Chamberlain, Dick Potts, Joe Janowski, Christian Rayburn, Cory Rolfe, Brad Heady. Scratched: Billy Moyer, Pete Parker.

First heat

Polesitter Terry Casey led all the way in the first eight-lap heat to outdistance five competitors. Brent Kreke finished a half-straightaway behind in second while Jason McBride was third. Steve Sheppard was more than a half-lap behind but got the fourth and final transfer spot.

Finish: Terry Casey, Brent Kreke, Jason McBride, Steve Sheppard Jr., Bryant Dickinson, Jim Moon. Scratched: Dennis Erb Jr., Shannon Babb, Derek Chandler, Rodney Melvin, Scott Schmitt.

Qualifying

Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., was the fastest of about 30 qualifiers at Saturday's third leg of the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals at Kamp Motor Speedway on night when many high-profile drivers protested the decision to race on a wet racing surface soaked by afternoon rains.

The teen-aged Sheppard posted a lap of 14.233 seconds on the 3/8-mile oval and will start on the pole of the third heat. While about 30 drivers qualified, more than a dozen more passed on their qualifying laps, arguing track conditions wouldn't be safe and would damage racing equipment Among drivers loading up were former series champion Billy Moyer, Will Vaught, Brian Shirley and Randy Korte with others skipping time trials even though they hadn't loaded up, including two-time and defending Summernationals champion Dennis Erb Jr.

Moyer and others said they didn't want to risk damaging their cars on a hooked-up track with heavy mud inside and out. "We all came out here to race," Moyer said. "I just want to be sensible about it."

The night's 40-lap feature, which follows four heat race and a B-Main, is scheduled to pay $10,000 to the winner.

The event was all but canceled by officials — though not announced to fans — when modified driver Rusty Griffaw put his car where his mouth is at Kamp Motor Speedway and pulled onto the track surface declared unraceable.

Griffaw's 8:28 p.m. appearance drew cheers from fans waiting for a program delayed more than two and a half hours, and soon more than 50 drivers in all three divisions — including about half the 44 Late Models — joined him to help pack a track soaked by heavy afternoon showers. They weren't called to the track by officials.

UMP DIRTcar series director Sam Driggers and track co-owner Bob Kamp were discussing the possibility of a June 29 rain date when Griffaw, who had complained vociferously that the track was raceable, pulled onto the track on his own accord.

With Griffaw eventually joined by several other drivers and eventually more than 50 cars — Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., was the first Late Model driver out after saying he wanted to show fans the drivers would make their best attempt to race — the track shaped up, although the extreme inside and outside of the track were still sloppy, especially inside turns one and two.

Hot laps were originally scheduled for 6 p.m., but showers lasting about a half-hour a few hours earlier delayed the action.�The track's modified and street stock divisions are also scheduled to be in action.

Correction: Fixes report from track worker that Brian Birkhofer arrived and departed earlier in the afternoon.

Time trials (one lap; unofficial)

First group

Brent Kreke (13), Lebanon, Ill., 15.416
Terry Casey (42), New London, Wis., 15.543
Jason McBride (77), Carbondale, Ill., 15.553
Steve Sheppard Jr. (5s), New Berlin, Ill., 15.821
Jim Moon (M1), Zionsville, Ill., 16.511
Scott Schmitt (10s), Tonica, Ill., 18.664
Bryant Dickinson (5*) Ionia, Mich., 19.366
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., no time
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., no time
Derek Chandler (35), Pontiac, Ill., no time
Rodney Melvin (27), Logan, Ill., no time
Second group
Donny Walden (1w), Towanda, Ill., 14.432
Duane Chamberlain (1c), Richmond, Ind., 14.681
Dick Potts (92), Morocco, Ind., 14.821
Cory Rolfe (22), Sydney, Ill., 15.435
Eric Smith (9), Bloomington, Ill., 15.634
Joe Janowski (6j), Columbus, Ind., 15.669
Justin Sondgeroth (24s), Lafayette, Ind., 16.095
Christian Rayburn (1R), Whiteland, Ind., 16.259
Brad Heady (89H), Kokomo, Ind., 16.495
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., no time
Pete Parker (10), Kaukauna, Wis., no time
Third group
Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 14.233
Guy Volk (v77), Portage, Ind., 14.663
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 15.538
Scott James (83), Lawrenceburg, Ind., 15.567
J.R. Hotovy (13H), Hartford, Mich., 15.595
Justin Rattliff (16c), Campbellsville, Ky., 15.747
Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., no time
Mike Petersak (jp7), Danville, Ill., no time
Randy Korte (00), Highland, Ill., no time
Will Vaught (1v), Crane, Mo., no time
Mark Voigt (30), Marine, Ill., no time
Fourth group
Frank Heckenast (99jr), Orland Park, Ill., 14.317
Steve Dimmick (11), Joliet, Ill., 14.659
Kevin Weaver (B12), Gibson City, Ill., 15.025
Mike Mataragas (1m), Dekalb, Ill., 15.085
Ted Loomis (23), Kingston, Ill., 15.156
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 15.181
Wes Steidinger (J1), Fairbury, Ill., 15.785
Russ Adams (74), Princeville, Ill., 16.242
Rich Neiser (87), Fruitport, Mich., 16.750
Jeep Van Wormer (55), Pinconning, Mich., no time
Dan Walden (25w), Crawfordsville, Ind., no time

Feature lineup

Row 1: E. Smith, B. Sheppard
Row 2: Heckenast, Casey
Row 3: Kreke, Walden
Row 4: Unzicker, Dimmick
Row 5: McBride, Chamberlain
Row 6: Volk, Weaver
Row 7: S. Sheppard, Potts
Row 8: Rattliff, Feger
Row 9: Janowski, Hotovy
Row 10: Steidinger, Loomis
Row 11: Walden
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