By Robert Holman
DirtonDirt.com weekend editorDirtonDirt.com weekend editor
FARMER CITY, Ill. — Taking advantage of his prime starting spot on a track with limited passing, Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., led flag-to-flag at Farmer City Speedway to collect his fourth career UMP DIRTcar Summernationals victory and first in a decade. With the Farmer City Speedway surface becoming uncharacteristically one-laned early in the main event Marlar showed patience in lapped traffic while hitting his marks as low as he could get around the 1/4-mile oval.
After taking the lead on the opening circuit, he cruised over the final 25 laps, winning by .188 of a second ahead of Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., as the leaders stayed content to simply ride behind the backmarkers in the waning laps. Marlar led by nearly two seconds early in the race and maintained a margin closer to one second until he closed in on the back of the field.
With no more room on the bottom and no traction on the outside, Moyer settled for second, while Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., finished third for the second night in a row. Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., finished fourth, with Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., rounding out the top five.
Each of the top four finishers were heat race winners on night when results during preliminary action keyed their success.
“The track was real dry. They tried to get it to where they could race a little better, but they just couldn’t,” said Marlar. “Too many cars tonight I think … a lot of classes. A lot of cars in the other classes. We got the lead and the car was awesome. We qualified good and won the heat. It was just one of those nights.”
The win for Marlar — which came exactly 10 years after his last Hell Tour victory on July 7, 2007 at Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway — was worth $10,000. Marlar’s other two series wins came in Missouri — at I-44 in Lebanon and I-55 in Pevely — and all three of his previous victories were in ’07 when he was a regular on the tour.
It’s unlikely that any of those wins a decade ago were as easy as Friday’s victory. Though it wasn’t handed to him on a platter, the southerner who’s used to racing on sunbaked tracks and the occasional less-than-favorable track surface, did what was necessary by qualifying in the top two of his group and then by winning his heat race. He then drew the pole in the redraw to get the inside track to victory — literally.
In the 50-lap feature, it was just a matter of maintaining the proper pace without abusing his tires.
“When I got to where I couldn’t hardly catch up to the lapped cars, I knew I was gonna win if I did’t give it away,” said Marlar. “So that actually was a good indicator for me where to be on the race track. But early in the race, I was really scanning a lot because, you know, we was really racing all over it. I was expecting the one groove to come in and luckily I seen it when it did and I got in it.”
Moyer tried in vain to find a way around the leader, but struggled to find enough grip at the top of the track to make an early pass.
“At the very start I tried to run around up there at that top, where I figured Mikey wanted to be, but there wasn’t much up there just loose crumbs,” said Moyer, who rejoined the series after a three-race break. “We kept searching around and he was a little bit better at times and then I kinda was a little bit better when I moved around there a little bit.”
Sheppard followed Gundaker for most of the race, but finally managed to get around him in the waning laps. As he headed toward the checkered flag, Sheppard threw a haymaker at Moyer, hoping his last-lap attempt could possible net a runner-up finish. Instead, he almost slipped back to fourth.
“I pushed there and I knew I was probably gonna knock the body off of it, but I thought what the heck I knew I won’t be racing this car for awhile so I was just gonna go for it,” Sheppard said of his effort to get by Moyer. “I wasn’t quite as close to him as I needed to be and I probably should’ve just stuck around the bottom. But whatever. I guess maybe I sold a T-shirt or two doing it, I don’t know. We came home with a third-place finish and had a pretty good car. I think if it hadn’t rubbered up we could’ve raced all over it a little bit better and been a lot better, but it is what it is. It’s just another race. We’re gonna go try’er again tomorrow.”
FEATURE RESULTS: 1. Mike Marler; 2. Billy Moyer; 3. Brandon Sheppard; 4. Frank Heckenast Jr. ; 5. Shannon Babb; 6. Ryan Unzicker; 7. Billy Drake; 8. Bobby Pierce; 9. Kent Robinson; 10. Kevin Weaver; 11. Steve Casebolt; 12. Jason Feger; 13. Brent Larson; 14. Bob Gundaker; 15. Gordy Gundaker; 16. Mike Spatola; 17. Tim Manville; 18. Billy Moyer Jr.; 19. Kyle Bronson; 20. McKay Wenger; 21. Michael Kloos; 22. Tyler Erb.