LINCOLN, Ill. — When a loaded field of 117 race cars fill the pits of one of Illinois’ most challenging dirt tracks, only the strongest will emerge victorious.
Four of DIRTcar’s toughest weekly racers conquered the challenge at Lincoln Speedway Friday night, hoisting the tallest of trophies in the kickoff to the 27th annual DIRTcar Fall Nationals.
Joe Parga Tops PRO LATE MODELS
Chevrolet Performance 604 Crate engine late model racing on a quarter-mile racetrack is one of the toughest challenges a driver will meet all year long. With its similar competitor speeds and limited space for clean air, passes are earned, not given.
Last year’s DIRTcar national champion Jose Parga demonstrated that the best Friday night and bagged his first career Fall Nationals feature win.
The 25-year-old started sixth on the grid and was running fifth when the yellow was displayed with nine laps complete. On the ensuing restart, leader Colby Sheppard and second-place Timmy Dick made contact getting into turn one and spun, collecting others and bringing out the yellow again.
Both drivers were sent to the rear for causing the caution, which moved Parga up into third and on the outside of row two for the restart. He hammered the throttle at the drop of the green and used the clean air on the top to his advantage, zooming by Kyle McMahon and Chase Osterhoff to take the lead that same lap.
“The main thing for me was clean air; I needed to be in clean air real bad,” Parga said. “When I was in dirty air, the car just wasn’t getting over and didn’t feel the greatest.”
“Once that incident happened with Colby and them, I was able to get the outside on Delaware double-file [restart] and I got clean air. I really think that was the main thing to my advantage.”
Parga then turned on the jets, running out to a 4.5-second lead before collecting the checkers. It was a big win in the event, avenging his back-to-back defeats at the marquee Lincoln event from last year.
Feature Results (20 Laps)
1. 6P-Jose Parga; 2. 01-Billy Knippenberg; 3. 19-Chase Osterhoff; 4. 14-Braden Johnson; 5. 45-Kyle McMahon; 6. 33-Devin McLean; 7. 32M-Cody Maguire; 8. 17B-Braden Bilger; 9. $12-Troy Marciniak; 10. 61-Jammie Wilson; 11. 25F-Tucker Finch; 12. 27-Colby Sheppard; 13. 25-Rockett Bennett; 14. 5B-Brandon Sweitzer; 15. T22-Curtis Eller; 16. 59X-Damon Heck; 17. 1G-Graham Fate; 18. 248-Brandon Lance; 19. 77-Blaise Baker; 20. 122-Timmy Dick; 21. 10C-Colby Eller; 22. 33H-Roben Huffman; 23. 22-Chris Dick; 24. 14S-Derek Smith
Guy Taylor Takes PRO MODIFIEDS
Locked into the thick of the closest national points battle of all eight DIRTcar divisions, it was only fitting that Guy Taylor and Deece Schwartz finished 1-2 Friday night.
While the points standings may not have changed much, the score on the track did. Taylor quickly climbed up from his seventh-place spot on the starting grid to the lead in six laps, taking it away permanently two laps later. In his drive through the lead pack, Taylor passed Schwartz, who started third and was off to a slow start. But after a few caution flags to reset, Schwartz turned it on, passing for second on lap 10 and making a beeline for Taylor.
“After I could get a good roll coming off of turn two, I thought I had a good shot at [Taylor],” Schwartz said. “But the laps wound-down too fast, and I ran out of time.”
Indeed, Schwartz ran out of time, coming up just one spot short of the victory. Taylor held on after a green-white-checkered finish for his first career DIRTcar Fall Nationals feature win, and kept the points battle close.
“The very bottom was the best place for me to run; it had good traction down there,” Taylor said. “I saw Deece working that middle. He definitely had me on my toes.”
Though it was a great win on Friday, Taylor came to Lincoln this weekend to win a national title. With Schwartz’s finish directly behind him, it’s going to be even tougher to make up the gap on Saturday, but that won’t stop him from trying.
“Nothing against Deece; I was hoping he would’ve finished third or worse, so we could gain some points,” Taylor said. “He was second, so we didn’t gain any points tonight. We’re 11 behind, so it’s going to be tough to win the national championship. We started out the year and were just going to have fun. And before you know it, we’re in a couple points battles. I’m just honored to run for Bob Russell’s family in this car.”
On the flip side, Schwartz is nearly there in his quest for DIRTcar championship gold. He knows the plan going into Saturday and is sticking to it.
“I’ve just got to keep my head straight and don’t let the points mess with me,” Schwartz said. “That was my big problem in 2020 — I let the points get to me too early, and it started screwing me at the end of it.
“As long as I just keep my nose clean and finish the race well, hopefully we’ll bring home the title.”
Feature Results (20 Laps)
1. 4T-Guy Taylor; 2. 121-Deece Schwartz; 3. 3W-BJ Deal; 4. 14G-Tommy Gaither; 5. 8Z-Zach Taylor; 6. 15C-Kevin Crowder; 7. 78-Maxx Emerson; 8. 2-Brayden Doyle; 9. 44-Gabe Menser; 10. 59-JD Evans Carter; 11. 52JR-Cole Knebel; 12. 37-Chad Ziegler; 13. 74-James Hileman; 14. 28-Justin Durbin; 15. 29H-Cale Hartnagel; 16. 88-Zayden Bolyard; 17. 24M-Matt Milner; 18. 66K-Kaleb Stephens; 19. 21JR-Drew Schwartz; 20. 15G-Zach Gaither; 21. 26-Robby Keen; 22. 29-Josh Orman; 23. 8-Ethan Orman; 24. (DNS) 67-Austin Seets
Tyler Nicely Dominates UMP MODIFIEDS
Leading all but the first lap, Tyler Nicely completed the most dominant feature performance of the evening, towering over heavy-hitting opponents Mike McKinney, Kenny Wallace, Kelly Kovski, Allen Weisser and 2022 national champion Mike Harrison for his first DIRTcar Fall Nationals triumph.
It took only one circuit around the quarter-mile for the driver to get to the lead, at one point stretching his lead out to over two seconds in traffic. McKinney was hot on his tail and closed the gap in the final laps as Nicely was hindered by lapped traffic but came up nearly a full second short of the win.
Feature Results (25 Laps)
1. 25-Tyler Nicely; 2. 96M-Mike McKinney; 3. 36-Kenny Wallace; 4. 10K-Kelly Kovski; 5. 25W-Allen Weisser; 6. 24H-Mike Harrison; 7. 05-Dave Wietholder; 8. 3L-Jeremy Nichols; 9. 35-Brandon Roberts; 10. 11D-Brian Diveley; 11. 89-Austin Friedman; 12. 777-Trevor Neville; 13. 34T-Tanner Reed; 14. 99T-Tyler Loughmiller; 15. 1-Todd Sherman; 16. 14-Brian Lynn; 17. 62E-Deece Schwartz; 18. 99-Tim Luttrell; 19. Z-Zack Bunning; 20. 72A-Austin Lynn; 21. 70-Brian Bielong; 22. 14M-Caden McWhorter; 23. 60-Jim Manka; 24. 87C-Alan Crowder
Modified Champion Jeff Leka Scores In A STOCK CAR
Many of the most longstanding DIRTcar Racing fans have had the opportunity to see Jeff Leka win at least one feature in a UMP Modified over his storied career. But how about in a stock car?
Friday night, Leka did just that. Piloting Jeremy Nichols’ No. 67R for the weekend, the 2008 UMP Modified national champion from Buffalo, Ill., put on an incredible show with current stock car national champion Zane Reitz.
Lap-after-lap the two battled, Leka hugging the bottom and Reitz ripping the top side.
The two swapped the lead several times in the second half of the race, but Leka got the upper hand in the end, staying smooth on the bottom while Reitz bobbled here-and-there throughout.
Just over a half-second separated the two at the line, sending Leka to victory lane, now as a Fall Nationals stock car feature winner to match his modified victories earned when the event was held at Eldora Speedway.
Feature Results (20 Laps)
1. 67R-Jeff Leka; 2. 55-Zane Reitz; 3. 14-Megan Erwin; 4. 11-Terry Reed; 5. K67JR-Braiden Keller; 6. 2Z-Andy Zahnd; 7. R1-Jim Ransom; 8. 4-Zach Clark; 9. 21P-Dustin Pruitt; 10. G51-Tyler Gilmour; 11. 22-Frank Wright; 12. 21-Jaret Duff; 13. 78B-Brad Peters; 14. E21-Eric Boomer; 15. (DNS) 16-Nick Macklin; 16. (DNS) 46-Randy Huffman; 17. (DNS) 21R-Dustin Reed; 18. (DNS) 44J-Jeremy Madsen; 19. (DNS) 91B-Kirk Spurgeon