CONCORD, N.C. – June 13, 2011 – Jason Feger will admit it: he’s not ready for the start of the DIRTcar Summer Nationals.
But don’t take that to mean the Bloomington, Ill., star is anything less than confident about beginning his pursuit of a second consecutive title on the aptly-named dirt Late Model ‘Hell Tour,’ which kicks off on Wednesday night (June 15) at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway. He’s just stating a fact.
“You can never be ready for the Summer Nationals,” Feger bottom-lined with a smile. “It’s the toughest deal in dirt Late Model racing. You just go with the flow and try to be as prepared as you can.”
A grueling month of competition is on tap for Feger, 33, and his fellow DIRTcar Summer Nationals travelers, who face events at 25 tracks in nine Midwestern states during the 32-day period from June 15 through the series finale on July 16 at Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio. The drivers will battle for a share of $167,000 in first-place cash and the $25,000 champion’s portion of the tour points fund.
All eyes will certainly be focused on Feger, the hip hard-charger who last year ended the three-year Summer Nationals championship reign of Carpentersville, Ill.’s Dennis Erb Jr. The ‘Highside Hustler’ heads out on the road for the ’11 tour as the driver to beat.
“It’s definitely gonna feel different,” Feger said of his new-found status. “I guess everybody will be gunning for me now. Instead of being the hunter, I’ll be the hunted.”
It’s a challenge that Feger accepts, however. He doesn’t anticipate any letdown from his team, any complacency after finally reaching the mountaintop of the biggest test of man and machine in the dirt Late Model division.
“We usually do pretty good at staying motivated,” said Feger, who has two Bob Pierce-built cars and four Rhyne engines at his disposal for the Summer Nationals grind. “Everything’s been going pretty good for us lately, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Feger enters the Summer Nationals with a healthy dose of momentum, notwithstanding his disappointing trip to Ohio’s Eldora Speedway for last weekend’s DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned Dream XVII. He failed to qualify for the $100,000-to-win A-Main following a heat-race incident – his only truly disappointing outing over the past month.
After finishing second in a World of Outlaws Late Model Series A-Main on April 29 at Hartford (Mich.) Motor Speedway, Feger clicked off three wins and just one finish outside the top five (a seventh) in his next 10 DIRTcar UMP starts. Eight of those races came in the two weeks between May 20 and June 4, a busy stretch that gave him a taste of the virtually non-stop Summer Nationals schedule.
“We’ve been racing a lot here lately and it’s been hot too,” said Feger. “We’ve been getting a good warmup for the Summer Nationals. It’s gotten us back to reality about what we’re gonna be facing here for the next month.”
Not that Feger needs much reminding about how difficult the Summer Nationals can be. He has been through the whirlwind enough in recent years to understand what it takes to be successful.
“If you’re running good, it makes it a lot easier on you mentally,” said Feger, who owns five career Summer Nationals feature wins. “Winning can fix a lot of problems. If you’re running bad and tearing stuff up, that’s when you start getting frustrated and the guys get frustrated. If you can consistently get good runs, it helps keep you mentally fresh.
“The physical aspect is the hardest part – how the series can be so tiring. When you have to drive so far between races, you don’t even have a chance to stop, eat a good meal or relax for just a little bit. It’s hurry up, load up, drive down the road, grab some fast-food somewhere, and get to the track so you can fix the car in 100-degree heat – you get no time to recharge your batteries.
“They definitely don’t call it the ‘Hell Tour’ for nothing,” he concluded.
Feger won just two A-Mains en route to his ’10 Summer Nationals crown, but he recorded seven runner-up finishes. He’s hoping to turn those seconds into victories this time around.
“If you can win some races, that’s when you’re making your money,” said Feger. “We’d definitely like to improve and win a few more races this year and work toward the championship that way.
“It would be real nice to win 10 or more races like Shannon (Babb) and other guys did when they won championships, but the competition is really tough. I think it would be hard for anybody to win that many races again. Not only does everything have to go your way to win a race, but you have to deal with guys like (Billy) Moyer (the alltime winningest driver in Summer Nationals competition) and (Don) O’Neal popping in fresh and running awfully good against us and everywhere we go you have some locals who know their tracks real well.”
Feger’s prime rivals for the Summer Nationals title figure to once again be former series champs Erb and Moweaqua, Ill.’s Babb, but there’s a host of other drivers jockeying for position in the spotlight. DIRTcar UMP national points Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., is among the core group of racers planning to follow the entire ‘Hell Tour,’ along with up-and-coming teenager Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., Jack Sullivan of Greenbrier, Ark., Scott James of Greendale, Ind., Randy Korte of Highland, Ill., Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville, Ark., Donny Walden of Towanda, Ill., and Jim Moon of Zionsville, Ind.
Other drivers expected to enter numerous Summer Nationals events – and perhaps follow the entire trail, depending on performance – include Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., Will Vaught of Crane, Mo., Kevin Weaver of Gibson City, Ill., Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., Mike Spatola of Manhattan, Ill., Rodney Melvin of Benton, Ill., Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., Jeep VanWormer of Pinconning, Mich., Ronny Lee Hollingsworth of Gulport, Ala., Brandon Thirlby of Traverse City, Mich., and Gary Christian of Broken Bow, Okla.
“I think the 2011 DIRTcar Summer Nationals is going to be as competitive as ever,” said DIRTcar UMP director Sam Driggers. “We have a great group of drivers ready to go out on the road and bring fans across the Midwest a real action-packed month of racing.”
Teams that make it through the entire month will travel over 4,500 miles between the tracks on the series, which boasts 17 races paying $5,000 to win, seven events offering a $10,000 top prize and a tour-best $12,000-to-win event on July 1 at Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway.
Driggers said the ‘Hell Tour’ will include a handful of new wrinkles this season, including two-lap group qualifying at each stop; electronic transponder scoring every night for the first time; and four provisional starting spots at each race (two Summer Nationals points provisionals, one 2010 DIRTcar UMP national points provisional and one track/local provisional).
2011 DIRTcar Summer Nationals Schedule (Date-Day-Track-Location-Win $)
June 15-Wed.-Brownstown Speedway/Brownstown, Ind.-$5,000
June 16-Thurs.-Kankakee County Speedway/Kankakee, Ill.-$5,000
June 17-Fri.-Cedar Lake Speedway/New Richmond, Wis.-$5,000
June 18-Sat.-Cedar Lake Speedway/New Richmond, Wis.-$10,000
June 19- Sun.-DAY OFF
June 20-Mon.-LaSalle Speedway/LaSalle, Ill.-$5,000
June 21-Tues.-Spoon River Speedway/Canton, Ill.-$5,000
June 22-Wed.-Highland Speedway/Highland, Ill.-$5,000
June 23-Thurs.-Fayette County Speedway/Brownstown, Ill.-$5,000
June 24-Fri.-Tri-City Speedway/Pontoon Beach, Ill.-$10,000
June 25-Sat.-Fairbury American Legion Speedway/Fairbury, Ill.-$10,000
June 26-Sun.-I-96 Speedway/Lake Odessa, Mich.-$5,000
June 27-Mon.-DAY OFF
June 28-Tues.-Lincoln Park Speedway/Putnamville, Ind.-$5,000
June 29-Wed.-Belle Clair Speedway/Belleville, Ill.-$5,000
June 30-Thurs.-Clay Hill Motorsports Park/Atwood, Tenn.-$5,000
July 1-Fri.-Paducah International Raceway/Paducah, Ky.-$12,000
July 2-Sat.-I-55 Raceway/Pevely, Mo.-$10,000
July 3-Sun.-Lincoln Speedway/Lincoln, Ill.-$5,000
July 4-Mon.-34 Raceway/Burlington, Iowa-$5,000
July 5-Tues.-DAY OFF
July 6-Wed.-Peoria Speedway/Peoria, Ill.-$5,000
July 7-Thurs.-Macon Speedway/Macon, Ill.-$5,000
July 8-Fri.-Farmer City Raceway/Farmer City, Ill.-$10,000
July 9-Sat.-Clarksville Speedway/Clarksville, Tenn.-$10,000
July 10-Sun.-Tri-State Speedway/Haubstadt, Ind.-$5,000
July 11-Mon.-OPEN DATE
July 12-Tues.-OPEN DATE
July 13-Wed.-OPEN DATE
July 14-Thurs.-OPEN DATE
July 15-Fri.-Attica Raceway Park/Attica, Ohio-$5,000
July 16-Sat.-Oakshade Raceway/Wauseon, Ohio-$10,000
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals is brought to fans by many important sponsors and partners, including Hoosier Racing Tires, ASI Racewear, Comp Cams, Intercomp Racing, JE Pistons, QuarterMaster, Superflow, Wix_Filters, Wrisco Aluminum, the University of Northwestern Ohio, R2C Performance, VP Racing Fuels, Racing Electronics, ButlerBuilt, MSD Ignition, Chizmark Larson Insurance, Vicci Apparel and Ohlins Shocks.