By Kevin Kovac, DirtonDirt.com senior writer
HARTFORD, Mich. (July 11) — The old big Hartford Speedway suited Billy Moyer Jr. very well. So does the new, small(er) version of the Wolverine State oval.
Just over one year after winning an American Ethanol Tour event on Hartford’s former half-mile monster oval, Moyer returned Tuesday night to test himself on the shortened, 3/8-mile layout and enjoyed more success, scoring a flag-to-flag victory off the pole position in the 40-lap UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feature.
Moyer, 29, of Batesville, Ark., faced an early challenge from Dona Marcoullier of Houghton Lake, Mich., and a late threat from Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., but he handled both to pocket a $5,000 first-place prize for his third Hell Tour triumph of 2017 and the eighth of his career.
“I won on the big one (last year),” said Moyer, whose $4,000 victory last June came in his first-ever visit to Hartford. “We ran a 535 gear — that’s, like, crazy big. I tend to run better on bigger tracks, so I liked that half-mile.
“They shortened this place up this year, but this place is still big. You think about it, and this place is bigger than Wheatland (Missouri’s Lucas Oil Speedway), bigger than Batesville (Ark.). This is one of the first places (on the ’17 Hell Tour) where there’s big corners and you really gotta drive off the right-front tire. I’m a little better at that than backing it in off a big cushion — that’s fun, but I’m way better whenever I can steer in and keep the car underneath me and kind of drive like asphalt at times.”
In a race that was slowed by just two caution flags for cars hitting the wall between turns three and four — first outside polesitter Adam Bowman of Seymour, Ind., on the opening lap, then fourth-place Marcoullier on lap 38 — Moyer mastered the green-white-checkered sprint that closed the A-main to defeat the eighth-starting Feger by 1.178 seconds.
Brandon Thirlby of Traverse City, Mich., who won a Super Late Model feature at Hartford on May 12, ran solidly in the top five throughout the distance and finished third. Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., advanced from the ninth starting to place fourth, nipping runaway Summernationals points leader Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., who charged forward from the 19th starting after relying on a provisional to gain entry to the A-Main thanks to a flat right-rear tire that knocked him out of the lead in his heat race.
Moyer didn’t have much time to relax in the frenetic event. He had Marcoullier nose underneath him off turn four on lap 15, and, after managing to build a race-high advantage of nearly 3 seconds as the 5-to-go signal neared, he had the surging Feger suddenly catch him and sneak to his inside off the fourth corner on lap 38.
“Them guys were right on me,” Moyer admitted.
But Feger, who, like Moyer, ran a Billy Moyer Victory Race Car, was effectively done in when the caution flag flew on lap 38. The former Summernationals champion wasn’t able to make a serious bid for the lead over the final two circuits.
“He leaned on that top down there and he got on me,” Moyer said of Feger’s late charge. “I was just too comfortable I think. I couldn’t see really good because of the dust when I got into (lapped) traffic, so I couldn’t judge how high I could wing it in (turns) one and two and Feger caught me. After I had clean air in one and two (on the restart), I went up (higher) and I said, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of good track up here.’
“And when you see 25 (Feger) in second — well, he didn’t get that nickname (Highside Hustler) for nothing. I figured he was up top, so I just went up there to make him pass me on the bottom. Then if he did, he did, but we got the money.
“I’m just glad to get a win,” he added. “Man, we’ve been up-and-down. We’ve got a pretty good piece here, but we just haven’t been consistent. We run like 13th seven times — that’s just too damn inconsistent to get close to the championship. Bobby (Pierce) has a bad night and runs seventh, so that’s why he’s gonna be the champion.”
Feger, 38, settled for the bridesmaid cash two days after winning his first Summernationals feature of ’17 at Kickapoo Speedway in Danville, Ill.
“I was pretty close to (Moyer) the one time and then me and (the lapped Paul) Stubber almost wrecked on the front straightaway,” said Feger, who passed Marcoullier for second on lap 28. “He got crossed up and I about came to a stop it felt like on the frontstretch, and then then (Moyer) got back out on me. I was doing all I could to catch back up because I knew we were about out of time.
“I didn’t want to see that (lap-38) yellow. I felt like I was in a good place and a good rhythm, and then after that yellow I didn’t fire off quite as good and he had clean air so that was it.”
The 29-year-old Thirlby enjoyed a career-best Summernationals performance seven years after chasing the full Hell Tour schedule for the only time in his career. He spent the race’s late stages battling for third with the third-starting Marcoullier, whose hopes for a top-five finish evaporated when he tangled with a slower car on lap 38 and slammed the outside wall between turns three and four with such force that it broke left-side frame rails on his XR1 Rocket and left him sore enough to consider visiting a hospital for a checkup.
“I saw Feger jump it up high (to make a late run) and I just tucked it down low,” Thirlby said. “But there was a hellacious mogul coming out of (turn) two and I kind of hit it wrong and I was just hoping that Bobby and Ryan stayed behind me.”
Notes: Moyer’s victory put him on top of the Hell Tour’s FK Rod Ends-sponsored final-week points standings. … Bowman was able to continue after slapping the wall on the opening lap, so by Summernationals he was permitted to reclaim his outside pole starting slot for the restart. He ran in the top 10 throughout the race’s first half before retiring on lap 26 and finishing 20th. … Bob Gardner of East Peoria, Ill., had to pull out his backup car after his primary machine was sidelined because he hopped the cushion during time trials and had mud push the radiator into the fan. … Cody Mahoney of Hanover, Ind., was knocked out of his heat race with significant nosepiece damage and didn’t start the consolation, but he gained a berth into the feature from a provisional and rallied from the 22nd starting spot to finish seventh.
FEATURE RESULTS: 1. Billy Moyer Jr.; 2. Jason Feger; 3. Brandon Thirlby; 4. Ryan Unzicker; 5. Bobby Pierce; 6. Travis Stemler; 7. Cody Mahoney; 8. Brent Larson; 9. Michael Kloos; 10. Gordy Gundaker; 11. Dustin Nobbe; 12. Rusty Schlenk; 13. Curt Spalding; 14. Bob Gardner; 15. Eric Spangler; 16. Brett Miller; 17. Paul Stubber; 18. Dona Marcoullier; 19. Jake Rendel; 20. Adam Bowman; 21. Phil Ausra; 22. Curtis Roberts