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Feger edges Sheppard, wins Jacksonville thriller

July 3, 2012, 6:46 pm
By Joshua Joiner
DirtonDirt.com staff writer
Jason Feger battles three wide with Shannon Babb (18) and Brian Shirley (3). (Jim DenHamer)
Jason Feger battles three wide with Shannon Babb (18) and Brian Shirley (3). (Jim DenHamer)

JACKSONVILLE, Ill. (July 3) — Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., held off Brandon Sheppard’s furious late charge Tuesday night at Jacksonville Speedway, earning $5,000 for a thrilling victory in round 18 of the month-long UMP DIRTcar Summernationals. | Complete Summernationals coverage

The fifth-starting Feger topped a three-wide battle with polesitter Shannon Babb and series points leader Brian Shirley midway through the 40-lapper and held off Sheppard in traffic late in the race to win in a side-by-side finish at the quarter-mile oval.

As exciting as the race was, Feger was more than happy to see it come to an end with him still out front.

“The checkered flag couldn’t have come quick enough,” a relieved Feger said after earning his third victory on this year’s Summernationals tour. “It definitely was a crazy race from my seat. I’m sure it had to be a good one from the stands.”

Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., settled for the runner-up finish after his strong charge in the final corner came up just short. Shirley of Chatham, Ill., was third while Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., slid back to fourth after leading the race’s first 17 laps. Mike Spatola of Manhattan, Ill., rounded out the top five finishers in a race slowed by just one caution.

Feger, the 2010 Summernationals champion, remained fifth early in the race, working the top side of the track while most of the other front-runners settled in around the bottom groove.

Feger’s commitment to the top began to pay off around lap 15 as he moved to third and started reeling in the two leaders.

With Feger fast approaching, Shirley moved his line to the top groove just in time to block Feger’s momentum on lap 17, and one lap later he was alongside Babb for the lead.

Shirley edged ahead of Babb at the flag stand on lap 18 but he never pulled ahead by much as Babb stayed strong on the bottom and Feger began sticking the nose of his car between the two leaders.

The lead battle raged the next few laps as the leaders went three wide multiple times with Babb glued to the bottom and Shirley and Feger switching between the middle and top grooves.

The leaders reached side-by-side lap cars on lap 27, and when the slower of the two cars blocked the lower groove, Feger roared by Shirley and Babb and into the lead exiting turn four on lap 29.

“I just kept waiting for that top to come in and waiting for it to come in,” Feger said of his early commitment to the high side. “We were running three wide for I don’t know how long — way longer than you probably should be three wide at this place. With lapped traffic and stuff, it was just crazy.”

The eighth-starting Sheppard reeled in the leaders during their three-wide battle, and he followed Feger by Shirley and Babb to move from fourth to second. Sheppard began running the middle groove of the racetrack to apply heavy pressure to the still high-running Feger, pulling alongside a number of times as the two leaders raced through lapped traffic in the closing laps.

Sheppard saved his best challenge for the final lap, diving hard into turn three and pulling alongside Feger in turn four. But the move didn’t stick as Feger’s run off the top gave him the momentum to edge ahead at the finish line.

“I finally got in a good rhythm and I passed some of the lapped cars and I looked over and I’m like ‘holy cow that’s Sheppard. He must be coming,’” Feger said of his late challenger. “Luckily I was able to hold on.”

Even though he fell short of earning his second series victory, the 19-year-old Sheppard enjoyed the back-and-forth battles of the main event, especially after struggling during the night’s preliminary action.

“The feature was definitely fun tonight. I don’t know about qualifying and stuff, but it’s all fun in the end and it’s all worth it,” said Sheppard, who was the only driver to consistently make the track’s middle groove work best. “I could actually roll the middle better than those guys could. That was the biggest advantage I had. I couldn’t get anywhere on the top and everybody was on the bottom. So the middle was my best option and it was where I was fastest at.”

Shirley, who was looking for his second victory in as many nights after winning Monday’s series race at Peoria Speedway, felt lapped traffic worked against him while he was out front.

“It’s so frustrating because you’re trying to find which lapped car is going to go faster, and you had two out there that were just trying to race each other for last,” Shirley said. “I guess next time I need to get up there and bump somebody out of the way.”

Babb, the reigning series champion, said afterward that he didn’t realize the top groove had become so much faster, admitting that sticking to the bottom may have cost him the race.

“Evidently it cleaned up on the top, and about the same time the bottom had died. I didn’t know they were coming until I seen Shirley behind me,” Babb said. “It turned into a hell of a race, I just wish I would’ve been the one who won. Sometimes leading the race that’s what happens, and when you start farther in the back you can move around.”

Notes: Feger's Pierce Race Car is powered by a Rhyne Competition Engine and sponsored by Chizmark Larson Insurance, Pro Tire & Automotive, Jaxon Chase Steel Detailing, Box Seat Motorsports, Mulligans and Stearn Ironworks. ... The race’s only caution appeared with 13 laps complete when Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville., Ill., slowed from the fourth position due to a broken drive shaft. ... The Summernationals moves to LaSalle (Ill.) Speedway Wednesday night for another $5,000-to-win event.

UMP @ Jacksonville: (1) Jason Feger, (2) Brandon Sheppard, (3) Brian Shirley, (4) Shannon Babb, (5) Mike Spatola, (6) Steve Lance Jr., (7) Jack Sullivan, (8) Morgan Bagley, (9) Jon Henry, (10) Kevin Weaver, (11) Ryan Unzicker, (12) Nick Bartels, (13) Jason McBride, (14) Matt Taylor, (15) Mark Burgtorf, (16) Rusty Schlenk, (17) Jerry Lierly, (18) Brian Diveley, (19) Roger Brickler, (20) Bobby Pierce, (21) Dennis Erb Jr., (22) Mike Hammerle. Fast qualifier (among 40 cars): Pierce, 12.208 seconds. B-main winner: Burgtorf. Provisional starters: Unzicker, Hammerle, Lierly. C-main winner: Jake Little.

Preliminary results:

Redraw and provisionals

After winning the fourth heat race due to Steve Sheppard Jr.'s disqualification, Shannon Babb drew the pole for the 40-lap feature in a redraw among heat race winners. Mike Spatola will join Babb on the front row while Brian Shirley and Dennis Erb Jr. will share row two. ... Ryan Unzicker, Mike Hammerle and Jerry Lierly wil use provisionals to start the main event. With Jacksonville not hosting Late Models regularly, the track provisional went to the third-place B-main finisher.

B-main

Mark Burgtorf overtook polesitter Rusty Schlenk following a mid-race restart and pulled away to win the 12-lap consolation race. Schlenk battled side by side with Burgtorf for a number of laps but faded in the closing laps. His car slowed considerably on the final lap, blocking the way of third-running Kyle Logue and allowing the Brian Divley to nose ahead for third at the line. The race transferred three drivers to the main event with the third-place finisher taking the place of the track provisional. The race was slowed for a debris caution midway through, and a botched restart led to a four-car pileup before the race went back green.

Finish: Mark Burgtorf, Rusty Schlenk, Brian Divley, Kyle Logue, Mike Hammerle, Adam Medford, John Mayes Jr., John Gardner Jr., Bob Gardner, Jon Rogers, Jason Zobrist.

C-main

Ryan Little led the C-main through a number of early restarts and pulled away late to earn a B-main starting spot. Adam Medford held of Mike Hammerlee to earn the other B-main transfer. Ryan Unzicker started from tail and pulled off early. He'll use a series provisional to start the main event.

Finish: Ryan Little, Adam Medford, Mike Hammerle, Jim Gibson, Kathy Jarvis, Kellen Conover, Ryan Unzicker

Steve Sheppard DQ'd

Steve Sheppard Jr.'s heat race victory was disqualified when Sheppard failed to cross the scales after the fourth heat race. He'll tag the back of the C-main while runner-up Shannon Babb will be elevated to the heat race winner with each of the race's other finishers also moving up a position. Matt Taylor becomes the race's fourth and final feature transfer.

Fourth heat

Outside polesitter Steve Sheppard Jr. enjoyed a much smoother track surface in leading every lap of the fourth and final heat. Sheppard pulled away from polesitter Jon Henry early and was too far ahead for Shannon Babb to run him down when he moved to second midway through the 10-lap race. Babb settled for second while Brandon Sheppard overtook a slowing Henry on the final lap to finish third. Henry held on to finish in the fourth and final transfer spot though his car appeared to suffer mechanical issues. The race’s only caution came on the opening lap when Brandon Sheppard got into the back of Babb in turn three. The contact sent Babb spinning before a lap was complete, necessitating a complete restart.

Finish: Steve Sheppard Jr., Shannon Babb, Brandon Sheppard, Jon Henry, Matt Taylor, Chuck Mitchell, Jon Rogers, John Mayes Jr. Lake Knutti.

Track prep

The fourth and final heat race has been put on hold while officials rework the track. The surface was dangerously rough in spots for the first three heat races, sending a number of drivers bouncing and a few nearly upside-down.

Third heat

Polesitter Brian Shirley survived an early close call with the turn-four wall and pulled away from Kevin Weaver in leading every lap. Weaver looked under Shirley when he jumped the cushion following a lap-two restart, but couldn't complete the pass and watched Shirley drive away through the remaining distance. He settled for second while Nick Bartels finished third and Jason McBride survived a mid-race bouncing fit to finish in the fourth and final transfer spot. The race was slowed with two laps complete when Tony Toste hit a rut in turn three, sending his car bouncing and spinning in front of teammate Jason Papich. Both drivers pulled to the infield with heavy damage. The race's first start was waved off when Bob Gardner and Kathy Jarvis got together before taking the green flag.

Finish: Brian Shirley, Kevin Weaver, Nick Bartels, Jason McBride, Jerry Lierly, Bob Gardner, Brian Divley, Jason Papich, Tony Toste.

Second heat

Dennis Erb Jr. got the jump on polesitter Bobby Pierce and pulled away to a convincing victory. Erb survived a second-lap bout with the cushion that caused his car to bounce violently. He held on to the lead and cruised the remaining distance in winning by a straightaway over Steve Lance Jr. Pierce settled for third after letting Lance slip by midway through the race while Jack Sullivan topped Mark Burgtorf in a photo finish for the fourth and final transfer position. The race was slowed with one lap complete when fourth-starting Ryan Unzicker jumped the cushion exiting turn two and slapped the wall. Unzicker limped his car to the pit area.

Finish: Dennis Erb Jr., Steve Lance Jr., Bobby Pierce, Jack Sullivan, Mark Burgtorf, Kyle Logue, Jason Zobrist, Ryan Unzicker. Scratch: Mike Hammerle.

First heat

Outside polesitter Mike Spatola outdueled Roger Brickler on the race’s opening lap and held off a late challenge from fourth-starting Jason Feger to win the caution-free race. Feger moved by Brickler midway through the 10-lapper and ran down Spatola. With a lapped car holding up the two leaders on the final lap, Feger looked under Spatola in turn three but couldn’t complete the pass. Behind Feger, Brickler topped Morgan Bagley in a race that transferred the top four drivers to the main event.

Finish: Mike Spatola, Jason Feger, Roger Brickler, Morgan Bagley, Rusty Schlenk, John Gardner Jr., Jake Little, Ryan Little, Terry Knutti, Jim Gibson.

Time trials

Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., mastered a rough track surface during Tuesday’s time trials at Jacksonville Speedway, topping 40 qualifiers for the $5,000-to-win UMP DIRTcar Summernationals event.

Pierce’s lap of 12.208 seconds earned him the pole for one of four 10-lap heat races coming up at the quarter-mile oval. Other heat race polesitters after group qualifying: Roger Brickler of Springfield, Ill.; points leader Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill.; and Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio.

Each heat race will transfer the top four finishers into tonight’s 40-lap main event while two consolation race transfers and four provisional starters will fill the remainder of the 22-car field.

Piece’s lap time established a track record for the Morgan County Fairgrounds track, which rarely hosts Late Model events.

Pre-race notes

After winning for the third time on this year’s tour Monday night at Peoria Speedway, Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., stretched his lead in the points standings to 39 points over reigning series champion Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill. Jason Feger is third, 135 points out of the lead followed by Brandon Sheppard (-207) and Ryan Unzicker (-281). … Frank Heckenast Jr. is not entered in tonight's event. The Frankfort, Ill., driver had perfect attendence through the tour's first 17 events. ... Kevin Weaver is especially looking forward to tonight’s race. The Gibson City, Ill., driver earned his most recent points-paying Summernationals victory at Jacksonville in 2007. When reminded it had been that long Weaver replied “Sounds like I’m due a win.” Weaver, a 16-time winner on the Summernationals, won at Macon Speedway in 2008, but the race was a non-points makeup race. … Roger Brickler of Springfield, Ill., is making his first appearance on this year’s tour tonight at Jacksonville. Depending on how things go, Brickler may enter tomorrow’s race at LaSalle Speedway. The veteran driver hasn’t competed at LaSalle since being involved in a violent flipping accident at the track a few years ago. He returned to the track a number of times since then, but each event was rained out. … Mark Burgtorf of Quincy, Ill., is rejoining the series after entering a few events early in the tour. Tonight he’ll make his first series appearance in Todd Nelson’s No. 7b Pierce Race Car. He won two out of four starts in the car in weekly UMP action early in the year before Nelson relocated to New York for work in May. Burgtorf drove Nelson’s car to his best-career Summernationals finish, a runner-up result in last year’s race at Highland Speedway.

Qualifying (unofficial)

First group

  1. Roger Brickler (82), Springfield, Ill. 12.599
  2. Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill. 12.61
  3. John Gardner Jr. (38c), Peoria, Ill. 12.612
  4. Jason Feger (25) Bloomington, Ill. 12.642
  5. Terry Knutti (07x), Lanark, Ill. 12.682
  6. Morgan Bagley (14m), Longview, Texas 12.763
  7. Rusty Schlenk (91), Weston, Ohio 12.779
  8. Ryan Little (38), Springfield, Ill. 12.806
  9. Jake Little (38), Springfield, Ill. 12.81
  10. Jim Gibson (66), O'Fallon, Ill. 14.914

Second group

  1. Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill. 12.208
  2. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill. 12.599
  3. Steve Lance Jr. (25), Cuba, Ill. 12.638
  4. Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill. 12.688
  5. Mark Burgtorf (7b), Quincy, Ill. 12.719
  6. Jack Sullivan (1s), Greenbrier, Ark. 12.841
  7. Kyle Louge (21k), Oreana, Ill. 12.965
  8. Adam Medford (7), Jacksonville, Ill. 13.042
  9. Jason Zobrist (87), Highland, Ill. 13.184
  10. Mike Hammerle (16), St. Charles, Mo. no time

Third group

  1. Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill. 12.286
  2. Kevin Weaver (B12), Gibson City, Ill. 12.544
  3. Jason McBride (77), Carbondale, Ill. 12.795
  4. Jerry Lierly (7L), Camp Point, Ill. 12.942
  5. Nick Bartels (27), El Segundo, Calif. 12.943
  6. Tony Toste (91), Arroyo Grande, Calif. 12.966
  7. Bob Gardner (4g), Metamora, Ill. 13.23
  8. Jason Papich (91), Nipomo, Calif. 13.31
  9. Kathy Jarvis (30), Park City, Utah 13.867
  10. Brian Diveley (11), Springfield, Ill. no time

Fourth group

  1. Jon Henry (15) Ada, Ohio 12.574
  2. Steve Sheppard (5s), New Berlin, Ill. 12.769
  3. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill. 12.858
  4. Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill. 12.858
  5. Chuck Mitchell (117), Jacksonville, Ill. 13.353
  6. Matt Taylor (24), Springfield, Ill. 13.465
  7. John Mayes Jr. (69), Clyde, Ohio 13.473
  8. Jon Rogers (61), German Valley, Ill. 13.532
  9. Lake Knutti (07), Lanark, Ill. 13.665
  10. Kellen Conover (76), Sumner, Ill. 13.985

Feature lineup

Row 1: Babb, Spatola
Row 2: Shirley, Erb
Row 3: Feger, Lance Jr.
Row 4: Weaver, B. Sheppard
Row 5: Brickler, Pierce
Row 6: Bartels, Henry
Row 7: Bagley, Sullivan
Row 8: McBride, Taylor
Row 9: Burgtorf, Schlenk
Row 10: Unzicker, Hamerle
Row 11: Divley, Lierly

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