Billy Moyer Get Career Win 100 at Thunderbird Speedway
MUSKEGON, MI (July 11) — Billy Moyer assumed command of Wednesday’s 40-lap DIRTcar Summer Nationals feature at Thunderbird Raceway thanks to Brian Shirley’s late-race misfortune. The Hall of Famer then called on his vast experience and savvy to stay there.
The result was a milestone victory for the 60-year-old superstar from Batesville, AR, who turned back challenges from Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, IL, over the final circuits to become the first driver in the history of the venerable Hell Tour to reach the 100-win plateau.
“I’m not really a big goal guy or statistics (oriented),” Moyer said after pocketing a $5,000 top prize for his fourth triumph of the 2018 Summer Nationals. “I just let it fall the way it falls, and to be able to (win 100 races) is … like I keep saying, just something I never thought would happen. A hundred races is a lot of races to win on this deal.”
Moyer, whose first career Summer Nationals victory came over 32 years ago on July 2, 1986, at Spoon River Speedway in Banner, IL, hit the century mark on the grueling series on an evening when he needed both good luck and speed to come out on top. The race’s polesitter lost the lead to Chatham, IL’s Shirley on lap two and couldn’t regain it while negotiating lapped traffic through the race’s middle stages, but, when Shirley’s Bob Cullen-owned car began to trail smoke on lap 26, the feature swung back in Moyer’s favor.
After Shirley’s hopes ended on lap 32 as a thick cloud of smoke belched from his terminally-ill engine, Moyer inherited the lead and never relinquished it. Heckenast, 30, kept the pressure on Moyer in pursuit of a second consecutive Summer Nationals victory but lost ground with two laps to go and settled for runner-up money in his family-owned Black Diamond machine, 0.839 of a second behind the winner’s Moyer Victory Chassis.
Nick Kurtz, a 24-year-old from Gowen, MI, who is in his fourth full season of Dirt Late Model racing, advanced from the 11th starting spot to register a career-best Summer Nationals finish of third in his father’s Barry Wright Icon car. Kurtz reached third on the lap-32 restart by overtaking ninth-starter Rich Neiser of Fruitport, MI, who finished fourth. Rusty Schlenk of McClure, OH, completed the top five, rising from the 19th starting spot after using a provisional to gain entry to the feature field because he dropped out of his heat race due to bent right-rear wheel sustained in a scrape with Australian racer Cameron Pearson.
Moyer saw elements from many of his past Summer Nationals successes combine to bring him a historic one.
“It kind of all worked into one there,” Moyer said. “At the start we had a good race going, Brian and I, and it was fun and my ‘ol car was doing everything I wanted it to do and I thought, Ah, I’m gonna be good here. I’ll just wait for the lapped cars and try to keep the tires under me. Then we kind of got to them lapped cars and he got through ‘em better than I did and got a little bit of room on us.”
Then, once Shirley’s retirement thrust Moyer into the lead, he called on everything he’s learned during his spectacular career to keep Heckenast behind him.
“The last probably 15 laps the … I’ve gotta look at it,” Moyer said, shaking his head at his car’s late-race performance. “Something wasn’t quite how it needed to be. We was just able to hang on.”
Moyer’s most important move likely came just before the increasingly heavy smoke emanating from Shirley’s car prompted officials to throw a caution flag on lap 32. He regained second from Heckenast, who has slid past Moyer on a lap-25 restart.
Heckenast understood the significance of that moment when he ceded second back to Moyer while battling visibility problems behind Shirley.
“It started locking up pretty hard there,” Heckenast said of the circular-shaped track’s surface condition as Shirley’s car threw smoke. “And I was on the top and Moyer was on the bottom and we were side-by-side, and I couldn’t see anything (due to the smoke). I couldn’t see the wall or nothing, so Moyer got by me on the bottom.”
Seeking to duplicate his victory in the previous night’s Summer Nationals event at Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind., Heckenast pushed hard to pass Moyer over the final eight circuits but couldn’t get it done.
“I kept getting underneath him, but he’s Mr. Smooth, right?” said Heckenast, whose eventful night included a broken left-front tie-rod during hot laps and the flywheel flying off his motor before his heat race (forcing him to need a push-start the remainder of the night). “He wasn’t pinching me off or anything. He was doing his job and keeping me where I couldn’t get a line under him going in the corner.
“He wasn’t as good as me off the corner, but he was better than getting in the corner. I kept getting a nice run off the bottom but I would never get enough getting in because he kept his car so up on the bars like he needed to. I never could get a good, clean line underneath him. When he slipped up I was never there to take advantage, and then with two to go there, I missed the bottom just a little bit and slipped up so I just decided, ‘Well, I’ll just try the middle and see if I can outrun him,’ but it didn’t work.
“I’m really mad at myself because I think I could’ve tried to drive a little harder the last five laps,” he added. “If I drove straighter I might have got him, but starting seventh, it wasn’t too terrible. We’ll take it.”
Shirley, 37, also would have preferred a runner-up finish to his ultimate fate. His race-ending engine trouble — likely a burnt piston, he said — marked the second straight night that he was knocked from the lead by misfortune, following the tangle with a lapped car at Shadyhill that dive-bombed his hopes for a third consecutive series win.
“I knew it blew up,” said Shirley, whose virtually insurmountable lead in the points battle has him on the verge of clinching his second career Summer Nationals championship. “I heard it grenade, but I knew there could only be so many laps left so I was gonna give ‘er hell till she was done. I didn’t know it was blowing that much smoke. I’ve seen ‘em burn down and get the checkered, so if they wouldn’t have pulled the caution out I would’ve let her eat (to the finish).
“Aw, heck, it’s just the way life is sometimes,” he added of his heartbreaking loss. “It’s bittersweet, because we know we’re fast. We’ll get ‘er fixed and we’ll come back. That’s all we can do.”
It’s what Moyer has done countless times in Summer Nationals action over the past three-plus decades, making it possible for him to reach 100 victories. The achievement led him to wax nostalgic in the pit area afterward.
“I never dreamed we could ever do that,” Moyer said of winning 100 Hell Tour events. “I’d just like to thank a lot of people who have been behind me, helping me get to where I’m at. Crew-wise, my dad and mom stand behind me. My girlfriend (Carla Rayburn) and (Uncle) Carl, and Little Billy (his son) has helped me a lot. My ex even helped me way back when.
“And just great sponsors … (the late) Johnny Johnson just comes to mind, and Ed Petroff back in the day helped me. So many back then that helped me to just be able to do what I love to do, and the good Lord looking over me to give me the ability to get it done.”
Moyer believes he won’t be the only driver to win 100 Summer Nationals races — Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., currently stands at 97 career victories — but he admitted that he’s proud he’s won four times upon turning 60 to nail down the milestone.
“I’m sure Shannon will get there,” Moyer said. “He’s a lot younger than I am (Babb is 44). I don’t know where anybody’s at after that (next on the win list is 54-year-old Don O’Neal at 39 triumphs), but at least at 60 years old … I will bet Shannon that one. We’ll see how many he can win at 60 years old. It gets tougher and tougher the older you get in this deal and the competition gets tougher and tougher.”
Feature Finish: Billy Moyer, Frank Heckenast Jr., Nick Kurtz, Rich Neiser, Rusty Schlenk, Eric Spangler, Rich Bell, Jason Feger, Brandon Thirlby, Cameron Pearson, Shawn Reed Jr., Travis Stemier, Jason Playter Jr, David Mielke, Ryan VanderVeen, Paul Stubber, Bob Mayer, Brian Shirley, Gordy Gundaker, Trevor Gundaker, Kevin Reeve, Tom Sprague
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals will be at I-96 on July 12 for the 3rd round of Champions Week presented by VP Racing Fuels. 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.