HIGHLAND, IL — Chad Zobrist has run enough laps at Highland Speedway to know the place like the back of his hand. A 10-time track champion at his home oval with 20 years of experience in a Late Model, Zobrist, 40, is a master navigator at the quarter-mile bullring. But Zobrist hasn’t always had Shannon Babb nipping at his heels. Nor does he typically have a five-figure payday waiting at the checkered flag.
That was case — both instances — Saturday night. Still, Zobrist didn’t flinch — too much. Running a steady 40 laps on a slippery race track, Zobrist led flag-to-flag to pick up his first career DIRTcar Summer Nationals victory. He stayed smooth despite a dogged pursuit by Babb, the four-time series champion from Moweaqua, IL And when he really needed to, Zobrist was able to fend off Babb’s challenge on his way to netting a career-high $10,000 victory.
“I just wanted to win one of these things and it finally happened,” said Zobrist. “Tonight’s track, starting on the bottom … I didn’t know if it was gonna rubber up or not and that first corner it felt like … man just play it calm. As long as I played it calm, this was my race to lose. I almost did (lose it). I slipped up with lapped traffic. The yellow sometimes saves you.”
While Zobrist led wire-to-wire from the pole, fourth-starting Babb chased him from second for 38 laps before setting for the runner-up spot. Gordy Gundaker of St. Charles, MO, used a borrowed powerplant to finish third, while Jason Zobist of Highland, IL, finished fourth. Highland’s Jason Suhre worked his way from 10th to finish fifth as local drivers took three of the top five spots against the traveling stars.
The win gave Zobrist a measure of redemption. He led last year’s Summer Nationals race at Highland before slipping back to third at the finish. No such worry this year, though he did give Babb more chances than he probably should’ve. On the fifth circuit, Zobrist drifted up the tack in turn two, opening the door for a hungry Babb who was eager to put five days worth of frustrating finishes behind him.
But after Babb briefly took the lead, he gave it right back in the very next corner.
“He slipped up down there in (turn) two and I was able to pull up beside him going down the back straightaway and for 10 grand it was kinda one lane and it was good tight bullring racing,” said Babb. “He was turning in trying to stay in the rubber and just made it awful tight for me. I think I got into the yuke tire (in the infield) and got into him a little bit. I was able to cut through the infield and keep going. It been a right front tie rod and I was toed in the rest of the race, but no complaints. It still drove pretty good.”
Zobrist was so focused on the task at hand that he had no idea Babb got sideways in turn four.
“I got in a little too hard (in turn one) and slipped up the track. I felt (Babb) below me,” said Zobrist. “I didn’t know he spun. I just thought I got a better run (off of turn four) than him. I thought I had a decent run. I didn’t even realize he had to go under the tires.”
Back in front, Zobrist pulled away over the next five laps. Then the lead duo, which had separated themselves from third-running Gundaker, caught the back of the field. On lap 13, Zobrist again opened the door as he searched for a way around Mike Hammerle. With Zobrist looking to Hammerle’s outside, Babb dove inside. The both caught him at the flagstand, with Babb giving Hammerle the bumper sending the slower car spinning. It was the yellow flag Zobrist needed.
With the scorers going back to the last completed lap, Zobrist was restored to the lead. He didn’t make another mistake.
“With Hammerle, he’s a tough man to move off the bottom. He can protect that bottom, so I didn’t know what to do there,” said Zobrist. “Finally I just tried it on the outside and thank God for that yellow. It was one of those deals … don’t get off the bottom after that.
“I’ve watched so many races where people get up (out of the grove) and lose races … make mental mistakes. I should’ve just rooted him (Mike Hammerle) out of the way, but I try not to spin people out.”
Babb, just happy to finally complete a solid run after five straight finishes that averaged 13.1, hardly remember the near-miss just before the halfway mark.
“I did forget about that,” Babb said. “I had Hammer man on the hood for a couple moments. Lapped traffic you never know which direction they’re gonna go. Obviously it was our night to run second tonight. Congrats to Zobrist. He’s always tough when you come down here to Highland. (They’re) good bunch of guys who are always on top of their game when you come in here.”
Feature Finish: Chad Zobrist, Shannon Babb, Gordy Gundaker, Jason Zobrist, Jason Suhre, Brian Shirley, Daryn Klein, Billy Moyer, Jason Feger, Rusty Schlenk, Frank Heckenast Jr, Mark Oller, Shannon Kuhn, Ryan Unzicker, Chuck Hummer, Paul Stubber, Trent Workman, Mike Hammerie, Dan Jacober, Jordan Bauer, Mark Voigt, Brain Diveley
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals rolls on to Quincy Raceway(IL) on July 8 for night 6 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.