Gundaker Takes First Career Summer Nationals Victory at Macon’s Herald & Review 100
MACON, IL — Gordy Gundaker spent much of the first 85 laps of Thursday’s Herald & Review 100 trying to find a way around race leader Brian Shirley. And just when it seemed the Chatham, IL, driver was headed to his second straight DIRTcar Summer Nationals victory, the leader ran into trouble.
Taking the lead for good on lap 94 when Shirley slowed with a broken right-rear axle, Gundaker paced the final seven laps to win the Herald & Review 100 at Macon Speedway. The St. Charles, Mo., driver earned $5,000 in winning his first career DIRTcar Summer Nationals feature, while beating Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, IL, to the checkers by 1.398 seconds.
Unzicker, who was among a trio of drivers who challenged Shirley for the top spot but never managed to have a firm grasp on it, finished second ahead of Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., and Kevin Weaver of Gibson City, IL Tyler Erb of New Waverly, TX, finished fifth while driving a backup car owned by Georgia racer Steven Roberts. Heckenast and Erb rallied from the rear after being involved in separate accidents early in the 100-lapper on the tight fifth-mile oval.
“We were good all night. Once we unloaded we were good and we were good in hot laps … (we) qualified good,” Gundaker said. “I knew the bottom was really good. We were all kinda talking about it in that little dash we had, how good the bottom was.”
From the onset, Gundaker was married to the low groove. When Shirley blasted into the lead from the pole, Gundaker made sure he was motoring right around the infield tire barriers. When Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, IL, moved forward from fourth to challenge for the lead, Gundaker stayed patient and circled the bottom. When Unzicker, who started third, moved up against the cushion and made a run at the leader, Gundaker stayed true to the bottom.
“It was a long 100 laps,” Gundaker said. “I knew if I just kinda took my time and made sure I made the right moves and did not get stupid in lapped traffic … you know lapped traffic can kill you here. The long greens you get in lapped traffic and you try to make the right moves. It seems like you’ve run 150 laps and you look up and you’ve run 40. That’s the tough thing about this place. You’ve got to be locked in from the time the green flag drops.
“I got in a groove there. I saw Brian about a straightaway out and I looked up and it said lap 76 and I knew I had time. I just had to keep hitting my marks. I could see (my brother) Trev telling me I had some room I guess between Unzicker and me and I started pushing the button a little bit more. And once I got to (Shirley), it was on.”
Gundaker actually led laps early, but never could pull away. He nosed ahead on lap 15, but Shirley answered. Gundaker grabbed the led briefly on lap 28, but again, Shirley had an answer. By the halfway mark, Unzicker was in the thick of it as well. Unzicker pulled even with Shirley on lap 56, only to have Shirley go back out front on lap 57.
“We had a couple good runs. We was just a little too free,” Unzicker said. “I’m always scared to tighten up (my car) at this place … a hundred laps is a long time … I can get real tight. I kept her pretty free tonight and it just wasn’t the ticket. I needed to snug her up a little bit and maybe we could’ve challenged Gordy.”
Shirley finally managed to pull away from both Gundaker and Unzicker with 30 laps remaining and by lap 73 enjoyed a 3.203-second lead, his largest advantage of the race. But traffic, which had thinned thanks to attrition that produced eight cautions, still became a factor. With 15 laps remaining, Shirley was stuck behind a trio of cars battling for position. On lap seven, Gundaker had cut the led to less than a second and a lap later the lead was all but gone.
“I got to Brian there at the end and was trying to be patient,” Gundaker said. “It’s so hard when you’ve got them guys stopping in front of you. I know (Shirley) was pushing the issue. Man we just raced so hard, so clean, it felt like four or five wide there for a little bit. We were trying so hard right there at the end.
“I think both of us were. We were pushing our stuff to the limits. I was doing everything not to hit those lapped cars. Me and Brian raced clean together forever. We ran door to door and I couldn’t ever tell if I was in front of him or if he was in front of me. You’re trying to see how many laps (there is) to go. You’re just pushing the issue as hard as you can without over driving.”
Gundaker slipped by Shirley with eight laps remaining, but just as Shirley regained the lead, the broken axle ended his night.
“We’ll fix it and go back … what do we got, 10 more days? We’ve got plenty of time,” said Shirley of the tour’s month-long grind. “Sometimes, racing’s not always gonna be on your side. We had a good enough car to win the race. I think we showed that as far as leading up to five (laps) to go. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
With Shirley off the track, Gundaker raced unchallenged the rest of the way.
“I didn’t think I could get him,” said Unzicker, who opted to protect his runner-up finish rather than make a bid for the lead. “I was pretty much protecting the bottom and taking my second-place finish and roll on to the next one. We was struggling there at the end, so being able to come home second is pretty good for us.”
Heckenast felt equally as fortunate about his podium finish, especially considering he was involved in a five-car melee on lap three that left his car sitting on its side in turn two.
“I almost had my first rollover there,” Heckenast related. “We came in and the toe (in the steering) was all messed up so Axle just straightened it out and sent me back out to see if it was worth anything. I planned on pulling in and then all the sudden it was like, there’s one car, there’s another on and there’s another one and before I knew, the cautions were coming out in my favor.”
Feature Finish: Gordy Gundaker, Ryan Unzicker, Frank Heckenast Jr, Kevin Weaver, Tyler Erb, Jason Feger, Dean Carpenter, Paul Stubber, Taylor Scheffler, Brian Diveley, Joseph Hughes, Brian Shirley, Freddie Carpenter, Shannon Babb, Dave Armstrong, Greg Armstrong, Greg Kimmons, Chuck Hummer, Steven Roberts, David Jaeger, Justin Reed, Rusty Schlenk, Daryn Klein
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals rolls on to Farmer City(IL) on July 6 for night 4 of Independence Week presented by FK Rod Ends. See the complete schedule at the helltour.com/schedule. Follow @SummerNationals on Twitter or Facebook for updates during and between race seasons. The DIRTcar Late Models will be joined by the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds as the Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals runs parallel to the DIRTcar Summer Nationals. Information on the Modifieds can be found at modifiednationals.com.