FAIRBURY, Ill. — Four drivers are one step closer to etching their name into history at Fairbury Speedway.
Garrett Smith, Brandon Sheppard, Mike Marlar and Kyle Larson each scored a World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Prairie Dirt Showdown win, which locked them into the first two rows of Saturday’s Prairie Dirt Classic.
Twelve other drivers punched their tickets into the 100-lap, $50,000-to-win Feature, as the top four in each Showdown transferred to Saturday’s finale. The remaining drivers – more than 60 total – will battle in Last Chance Showdowns and the Prairie Dirt Shootout on Saturday to round out the rest of the field of the crown jewel.
Garrett Smith saw an opportunity Friday night he couldn’t pass up. The Eatonton, GA driver was running second to Ashton Winger when he made his move on the final lap of his 25-lap CASE Construction Equipment Showdown.
Smith swung his Rocket Chassis to the bottom of Turns 1 and 2, sliding in front of Winger and pulling away on the backstretch. He went unchallenged in the final two corners en route to a $3,000 payday and a starting spot in the first two rows of the Prairie Dirt Classic.
Minutes after the race was over, the winning moment for Smith hadn’t set in just yet.
“[Fairbury] has always been a track on my bucket list,” Smith said. “I’ve played it a lot on iRacing. That’s the best I got on this place, but it’s even better than I thought it was.
“I still really don’t know what happened; it happened so quick. I saw a gap, and I knew I had to fill it if I wanted to win.”
Garrett Alberson crossed the line second, 2021 Series Rookie of the Year Tyler Bruening finished third, and Jimmy Owens grabbed the final transfer spot.
Ashton Winger, who led the first 24 laps, finished seventh after losing power steering with five laps left.
Reigning World of Outlaws CASE Late Model Series champion Brandon Sheppard showed patience in his CASE Construction Equipment Showdown victory.
The New Berlin, Ill.,driver bided his time in the first 10 laps before sliding under Mckay Wenger in turns three and four to take the lead — one he wouldn’t relinquish.
Sheppard stated the race played out exactly how he hoped.
“Once I got my rhythm going, and I got my line figured out where I needed to be, and where I was making speed and where I wasn’t, then I could pressure him a little bit,” Sheppard said.
“I started seeing him messing up a bit, so I showed him the nose in the middle there. Then, he really started messing up and let me get a good enough run to slide him, and that’s what we needed.”
Jason Feger from Bloomington, IL, finished second, Kyle Bronson was third, and Wenger held on for fourth.
A former Series champion and current Series rookie waged war in an epic battle in the third CASE Construction Equipment showdown.
Tanner English and 2018 Series champion Mike Marlar battled wheel to wheel for several laps before English took control of the race.
However, a late race caution changed the Kentucky driver’s fortunes, as Marlar powered past him on the outside to score the $3,000 triumph.
Marlar stated he felt English may have had the better car but was still good enough to win after 25 laps.
“Tanner’s car was a little bit faster, and I couldn’t really hold him off,” Marlar said. “I was moving around quite a bit. He was about to get me low, and I moved low, and then he rolled me in the middle.
“Luckily, that caution came out, and I kind of got out there and packed up the crumbs in the middle of the racetrack. It got me just enough grip to get around him, and it worked out in our favor and set us up good for the big show [Saturday].”
English settled for second, followed by Ricky Thornton Jr and Series points leader Dennis Erb Jr.
Kyle Larson picked up where he left off a year ago at Fairbury, dominating the final CASE Construction Equipment Late Model showdown Friday night.
Despite leading all 25 laps, Larson stated he wasn’t perfect throughout the race.
“You never really know how you are out in the lead until you see somebody,” Larson said. “But I never saw anyone, so I felt like I had to be decent. I feel like I was getting around the cushion better than I thought I would. I started making some mistakes around traffic, and about that time, it started taking rubber, so I just inched my way down the track.”
While the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion was out front, all eyes were on Oakwood, IL driver Bobby Pierce who grabbed the final transfer spot after starting deep in the field.
The “Smooth Operator” had problems with his car in qualifying, forcing him to start toward the back of his Showdown.
“I was on the move,” Pierce said. “We went with all the right decisions, and the car was really good. If that rubber didn’t come, I think we could’ve gotten to second, and you know, hopefully, we’re that good [Saturday].
“We did exactly what we needed to do after our issue, so it’s all good.”
Tyler Erb crossed the line behind Larson, Josh Rice was third, and Pierce finished fourth.