One trip to Butler Motor Speedway, one win for Ryan Unzicker.
The 2011 DIRTcar Late Model national champion from El Paso, IL, grabbed the family and crew and set out on the road to take part in the final week of competition in the 38th annual DIRTcar Summer Nationals Hell Tour, which began Thursday at Butler. Though he’d never raced around the high banked, 3/8-mile oval before, his unfamiliarity did not hold him back as he led the final 16 laps untouched to bank his second Summer Nationals win in two weeks.
Though Unzicker ended up in Victory Lane, the first half of the race was ruled by two other faces that appeared to be the early favorites to taste victory in the early going. Ashton Winger paced the field around in the opening frames from the pole, leading Michigan-Ohio racer Rusty Schlenk through the first half of the race.
The two frontrunners quickly broke away from the pack and began speeding through traffic, setting a torrid pace out front, gapping third-place Unzicker by over five seconds at its peak. Both drivers ripped around the top side of the high banks every lap and were putting on a show in their chase for the lead but were quickly abusing their tires.
Further back, Unzicker battled for third with new track record-holder Kye Blight – the Australian sensation who was fighting for his second podium finish in two races. However, that’s not the situation Unzicker envisioned himself in by the halfway point.
“I really wanted to be on [Winger and Schlenk] in case they messed-up through lapped traffic or what not,” Unzicker said. “But [Blight] and I were racing pretty hard, and we let them slip away. Once I got past [him], I was hoping for a caution.”
Schlenk had just take taken the lead with a slide job on Winger when the yellow was thrown on Lap 26. Winger had blown a right-rear tire, and under yellow, Schlenk discovered he had a left-rear of his own go flat. Both drivers headed into the work area for tire changes, giving up the top two positions.
Directly behind them was Unzicker, waiting with open arms to inherit the lead for the upcoming restart. He pinned the throttle and took off, opening a large advantage and later cruised under the white flag.
Coming to the checkers, the caution was thrown once more after Winger had blown another tire and slowed on the backstretch. Unzicker then faced a green-white-checkered finish for all the marbles.
“I didn’t know exactly how far they were behind me; that’s when I wish I had a mirror,” Unzicker said. “I had a decent car… I just didn’t want something stupid to happen. Not fire-off on the green and them slide me going into Turn 1 or something and lose it that way.”
Though he had his concerns, Unzicker fired off well and led the field back around to the checkers to capture his 12th career Summer Nationals victory.
Schlenk was able to recover from yet another flat after his first on Lap 26, crossing the stripe fourth at the checkered. Winger, however, took it to the pits after bringing out the yellow on the final lap, retiring to a 13th-place finish.
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals Late Models continue Week 5 competition Friday, July 14, with a visit to Hartford Speedway in Hartford, MI. Tickets will be on sale at the gate; streaming available at DIRTVision.com.
Feature (40 Laps): 1. 24-Ryan Unzicker; 2. 19M-Carter Murday; 3. 27-Eric Spangler; 4. 91-Rusty Schlenk; 5. 51S-Devin Shiels; 6. 31AUS-Kye Blight; 7. 4G-Bob Gardner; 8. 75-Dusty Moore; 9. 41-Mike Vandermark Jr; 10. 38-Thomas Hunziker; 11. 1N-Casey Noonan; 12. 71-Rusty Smith; 13. 12-Ashton Winger; 14. 49-Brian Ruhlman; 15. 06-Jake Rendel; 16. 16-Garrett Wiles; 17. 53-Hillard Miller; 18. 11X-Ryan Lanphierd; 19. 13H-Jr Hotovy; 20. 20W-Justin White; 21. P3-Jeff Robertson; 22. 23NZ-Mick Quin