Dennis Erb, Jr. of Carpentersville, IL is a quiet man of few words who prefers to let the powerplant of his #28 UMP Super Late Model do the talking.
And that it did Thursday night at Spoon River Speedway as Erb powered his way to a dominating “Hell Tour” Victory, making history and picking up a $10,000 first place check in the process in front of a huge and enthusiastic crowd filling the grandstands at the legendary high-banked oval.
“We don’t get to come here and run much,” Erb said in Victory Lane, “but it’s always fun to race here. The track was great and racey all over, and that helped once we got into lapped traffic, I could put the car anywhere I needed to and that helped keep the lead. Great to see a big crowd tonight, it was a good night.”
It was the first time Spoon River Speedway put a $10,000-to-win show on during the Summer Nationals, and the racing did not disappoint.
After an initial false start, the Late Models blazed 28 of their scheduled 50 laps before the first caution of the event came out, for a spin by former Spoon River winner Ryan Unzicker. Erb, from the pole, jumped out front and never relinquished the lead in those first 28 laps, but the caution allowed Batesville, Arkansas legend Billy Moyer to draw back up on the rear bumper of Erb’s car for the restart.
It was of no matter to Erb, who picked right up where he left off before the caution and once again built a comfortable lead to take the win. Moyer, a two-time winner already this year on the Tour to become the all-time victory leader in Summer Nationals history with 92 (ahead of Moweaqua’s Shannon Babb, with 90) finished second on the night. Both Moyer and Erb had earlier won heat races, along with Unzicker and Gibson City’s Kevin Weaver.
Weaver was part of a terrific three-car battle for third over the last 30 laps of the feature, as he dueled with impressive Tennessee driver Mike Marlar and Oakwood, Illinois phenom Bobby Pierce. The three swapped positions, used every groove the track, threw crossover moves at each other, and put on a thrilling show as they tried to stay with the leaders. Pierce was quite possibly the fastest car on the track over the last 10-15 laps of the event, eventually getting clear of Marlar and Weaver to finish 3rd, as he was gaining on Moyer when the laps ran out.
Pierce, a three-time winner on the tour this year and the defending Summer Nationals Champion, added to his points lead with the victory. Marlar held off Weaver for fourth, with Weaver earning 5th on the night.
New Berlin’s Brandon Sheppard made up ground from his 10th starting spot to finish 6th, followed by Jason Feger of Bloomington, the 2014 Spoon River SN winner (2015 was rained out), Arkansas driver Timothy Culp, Babb, and Iowa hotshoe Chris Simpson to round out the top 10. Waukesha, Wisconsin’s Taylor Scheffler, making the Main event through the B-main qualifier, was the winner of the Hard Charger award as he drove from near the back of the field to a 12th place finish in the Main.
Ashland, Illinois youngster Kolby Vandenbergh won the Super Late Model B-main. Vandenbergh started his Late Model career at Spoon River Speedway in a Pro Late Model, as did several competitors in the event Thursday night, including Bobby Pierce. The C-main was won by Springfield’s Brian Diveley.
The UMP Summit Modified Nationals were the other half of the show Thursday, and Mooresville, North Carolina’s Nick Hoffman spanked the field to pick up the winner’s share of the purse, $1,000.
“We want to win this tour this year, and thought we had a good chance here tonight after last year,” Hoffman said. Hoffman was at Spoon River for the 2015 Modified Fall Nationals, and ran well.
“We were good here last fall, and then I had an altercation on the track with my teammate, of all people,” he laughed, “but the track was to our liking tonight…smooth, dry slick with a good surface top to bottom…I could drive it wherever I needed to.”
Hoffman picked up his third Summit Modified feature win out of four events on the tour thus far, padding his points lead in the process. Litchfield, Illinois veteran Brent Mullins came home second, holding off Peoria’s Allen Weisser in a classic Spoon River inside-outside duel, with Mullins down low and Weisser working the top most of the 25-lap event.
In keeping with what Spoon River fans have been seeing on almost a weekly basis this year, Weisser was followed across the line by Kelly Kovski and Ray Bollinger. Those three drivers have battled at the front of the regular Saturday night features the entire 2016 season, and had a great race again Thursday.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Mod feature were: Tyler Nicely of Owensboro, Kentucky, Creve Coeur’s Mike Chasteen, Jr., Chris Osborne, Jr. of East Peoria, Sheffield, IL driver Nathan Balensiefen, and Phil Dixon of Crosby, TX.
Heat race wins in the Mod division went to Weisser, Michael Long of Quincy, and Hoffman. Balensiefen won the Hard Charger award in the feature.
Spoon River Speedway will take this Saturday night off to prepare for the next show, coming up Saturday, July 2nd, which will include a famous post-race fireworks show from promoter Brad Denney.
The UMP Summer Nationals continue at tracks throughout the Midwest through the middle of July, go to www.dirtcar.com for complete schedule, updated points, photos and more.