By Kevin Kovac
LAKE CITY, Mich. (July 13) — Suddenly, Billy Moyer Jr. doesn’t want to see the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals end.
After completing a sweep of the Hell Tour’s swing through Michigan with a flag-to-flag victory in Thursday night’s 40-lap feature at Merritt Speedway, Moyer was riding high with the grueling month-long series nearing its conclusion.
“Man,” a beaming Moyer said following his second consecutive $5,000 triumph, “I feel like we’re just getting rolling.”
Moyer, 29, of Batesville, Ark., duplicated his score in Tuesday night’s Summernationals stop at Hartford (Mich.) Speedway, racing off the pole position again to lead the entire distance. He also faced a stiff late-race challenge for the second consecutive start — this time from Brandon Thirlby of Traverse City, Mich., who caught Moyer with five laps remaining but fell 0.374 of a second short of denying Moyer back-to-back Hell Tour checkered flags.
“Consistency is what we were lacking and I think we’re finding it,” Moyer said of his strong Summernationals finish. “We’ve just got some good help, some good little juju going. The car’s really good, we’re adjusting on it right and I’m just trying to do my job in the seat.”
Thirlby, who lives about an hour north of the quarter-mile oval, recorded a runner-up finish two days after placing third in Hartford’s Summernationals A-main. Another local standout, Dona Marcoullier of Houghton Lake, Mich., finished third, less than 1 second behind Thirlby.
Outside polesitter Rich Neiser of Fruitport, Mich., finished fourth after outdueling Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., who settled for a fifth-place run after entering the evening’s action having already clinched his third consecutive Summernationals championship.
Moyer, whose made his first appearance at Merritt last August with finishes of sixth and seventh in a World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series doubleheader, credited his dramatic victory in the third heat for propelling him to his ultimate glory in the night’s headliner. He worked the outside lane to perfection in pulling off a last-lap charge off turn four to nip Pierce by inches at the finish line.
“That probably won us the (feature) race,” said Moyer, whose triumph earned him the right to redraw for one of the top-four starting spots in the A-main. “Starting seventh (like Pierce did), it would’ve been hard to win.”
Moyer threw caution to the wind to capture the heat.
“When you’re leading, you’re a sitting duck, so I knew (Pierce) running around that bottom, he was creeping,” Moyer commented. “I knew I had some room on third so I started feeling myself out in the middle, and I kept going and going and finally I was like, ‘Man, I’m gonna give it a shot. If it don’t work, who cares?’ I just blasted it in there, we got the win there and it got us on the pole.”
Later, as the feature wound down, Moyer found himself in the position Pierce had been in the heat. With the 30-year-old Thirlby, who grabbed second place from Cody Mahoney of Hanover, Ind., on lap 25, tucking up behind Moyer on the 35th circuit and lapped cars ahead, Moyer certainly was vulnerable.
But Moyer kept his cool and piloted his Billy Moyer Victory Race Car smoothly to the finish.
“I knew somebody was on my butt, but I just protected the bottom,” said Moyer, who extended his points lead in the Hell Tour’s Champions Week points standings sponsored by FK Rod Ends. “I was entering wide like I was supposed, but I didn’t think they could roll me through the middle. I just made sure nobody messed with me.
“I had a feeling (Thirlby) probably couldn’t go around me on the outside, so I just slowed myself up to kind of inch around and just not miss that bottom.”
Moyer’s fourth Summernationals victory of 2017 — tying him with Pierce for the second-most on the tour — prompted him to heap praise on the primary supporters who allow him to race for a living.
“My racing career, without (sponsor) Crop Production Services, I’m nowhere near where I’m at,” said Moyer, who tallied his ninth career Hell Tour win. “And without Keith Berner of Accu-Force (Dynos & Testers), I’m probably not very far along either. That guy just takes me under his wing. I mean, he’ll cuss me out, he’ll tell me I’m a dumb ass, but at the end of the day, he’s right there telling me what I need to hear. I just can’t say enough about that guy and what he’s done for my career.
“You’ve got to surround yourself with the right help, and surrounding myself with a good sponsor, a good engine guy that’s for you (Pro Power’s Bill Schlieper) and a guy like Berner … that’s why I can be where I’m at.”
Thirlby, who started fourth, was able to pull his family-owned XR1 Rocket to Moyer’s inside off turn four on lap 36, but he couldn’t surge ahead. He wasn’t able to mount another similar bid but wasn’t disappointed with his career-best Summernationals finish.
“Billy got in lapped traffic and I kind of saw the 77 (Adam Bowman of Seymour, Ind.) running him off the track and inside the track and I made a move,” said Thirlby, who was a Summernationals regular in 2010. “I run up on the inside of (Moyer) with four to go, but I think if I would’ve stayed in the fuel I would’ve taken us both out. I kind of backed up, lost some momentum, and that was it.
“Just running up front the last two nights with these guys has been awesome, though. I’ll take a second against these guys any time.”
Marcoullier, 33, finished third driving his older 2013-vintage Rocket car two days after riding out a hard crash with two laps to go in Hartford’s feature that left his XR1 Rocket a virtual write-off. He was still a bit sore from the impact but looked to be 100 percent as he climbed forward from the eighth starting spot to reach third place on lap 27 and make a late bid for victory at his home track.
“I wish we could’ve had about five more laps,” Marcoullier said. “They (Moyer and Thirlby) were committed to the bottom and I think we could’ve rolled ‘em on the top, but I can’t complain.”
The third-starting Mahoney ran second for more than half the distance, even drawing close to Moyer when the leader was slowed by lapped traffic near the halfway mark. But after the lone caution flag flew on lap 21 — for a spin by Mahoney’s teammate Bowman — he began a steady fade over the remaining circuits and finished seventh.
FEATURE: 1. Billy Moyer Jr.; 2. Brandon Thirlby; 3. Dona Marcoullier; 4. Rich Neiser; 5. Bobby Pierce; 6. Jason Feger; 7. Cody Mahoney; 8. Gordy Gundaker; 9. Chad Finley; 10. Curtis Roberts; 11. Michael Kloos; 12. Ryan Unzicker; 13. Travis Stemler; 14. Ryan VanderVeen; 15. Dustin Nobbe; 16. Eric Spangler; 17. Bob Gardner; 18. Andrew Terrill; 19. Adam Bowman; 20. Brent Larson; 21. Paul Stubber; 22. Brad Harden.