Eric Smith ended the season on a hight note at Fairbury American Legion Speedway. The
2010-2011 track champion took the lead with seven laps to go and won the 22nd annual "Prairie Dirt Classic".
Joining Smith in victory lane is John Dinardi of Lynn Chevrolet, a longtime sponsor of the
race. (Rocky Ragusa)
UMP: Smith Outduels Unzicker For
"Prairie Dirt Classic" Victory
FAIRBURY, Ill. - Sept. 25. The third time proved to be a charm for Fairbury’s American Legion Speedway as the historic track got
the "Prairie Dirt Classic" run after rain had twice postponed the season ending event. Track officials moved
the date to a rare Sunday evening show, and local champion Eric Smith prevailed in a fiercely competitive
After a lap 51 caution in the 60-lap, $10,000-to-win show, Smith
changed his line and went to the top of the track, overtook Ryan Unzicker with seven laps to go, and pulled
away to take the win.
At the start, Shannon Babb got the jump on fellow front row starter Brian
Birkhofer to pace the field. While Babb would run the high side, Birkhofer could close back up to Babb in the
turns. Following the duel close behind was Curtis Roberts, Brian Shirley, and Unzicker, who wasted little time in
moving through the field as he got by Shirley on lap six. After a
lap seven caution, Unzicker went by Roberts for third, but leader Babb had begun to put some distance between
himself and Birkhofer.
Ryan Unzicker (24) works on early leader Shannon Babb
with Brian Birkhofer also in the hunt. Unzicker was successful in his attempt, but gave up the top spot
to Eric Smith late in the race. Babb exited with suspension problems and Birkhofer popped the wall and also dropped
out. (Drew England)
Caution fell on lap 11 for debris on the track and Shirley made a pit stop and
returned to the 20th position, but he didn’t stay there long. With the track clear, Babb and Birkhofer ran
side by side for several laps while Shirley was charging through the field.
Caution came out on lap 21 as sixth runner Jason Feger dropped a driveshaft,
scattering debris on the track. When the green flag returned, Shirley had fans on their feet with his hard charging
style that had him up to fifth before his night ended on lap 28 with a broken oil line. Unzicker had moved into
second by that point and on the next lap got by Babb to take the lead. Babb fell out of the race on lap 31 with
Unzicker, running the bottom groove, held a five-length lead over Birkhofer,
before Birkhofer went to the middle of track and soon was running side by side with the new leader. Birkhofer took
the lead on lap 36 before Unzicker came roaring back to take over on lap 39. After a lap 41 caution, Unzicker led,
Birkhofer, Smith, Bull, and Sheppard. Four laps later, Birkhofer tagged the front stretch wall, causing suspension
damage. He was done for the night.
Brian Birkhofer and #18 Shannon Babb were in winning
contention early on, but neither was able to complete the 60-lap main event at Fairbury. (Drew England)
When the green flag waved again, Unzicker led Smith, while Bull and Chandler had a
spirited duel for third until the race's final caution came out on lap 51, giving Smith the chance to take the lead
and race win.
A jubilant Smith said following the win," I saw the debris on the track. The top
groove was fast, but you were on a fine line. I ran on the bottom. It would take five laps to get going and I could
run Ryan down. After the last caution, my crew chief, Ryan Courtney, said to go to the top. I knew I had to go for
broke. We were either going to win it or crash it." The two time track champion added, "This is our home track. It
was nice to see the local drivers do well. I think we gave the fans a good show."
A disappointed Unzicker finished second, but for him the big picture is the
national title. "I’m disappointed to lose the race, but we did gain points tonight. I ran the bottom all night.
That is how I got the lead, so I thought we would be alright," Unzicker said.
Two other area drivers turned in good runs, as Scott Bull held off Derek
Chandler for third. Fifth place Wes Steidinger was the race’s hard charger.
With 37 Late Model drivers attempted
qualifying, Unzicker clocked in at a 12.532. Jay Morris had the fast time until
he was found light going across the scales, and his time was thrown out.
Sept. 25 - Fairbury "Prairie Dirt Classic"
1) Eric Smith, 2) Ryan Unzicker, 3) Scott Bull, 4) Derek Chandler, 5)
Brandon Sheppard, 6) Wes Steidinger, 7) Jimmy Dehm, 8) Bobby Pierce, 9) Mike Spatola, 10) Billy Moyer,
Jr., 11) Joe Harlan, 12) Jay Morris, 13) Eric Vaughan, 14) Curtis Roberts, 15) Brian Birkhofer, 16)
Shannon Babb, 17) Dennis Erb, Jr., 18) Brian Shirley, 19) Daren Friedman, 20) Jason Feger, 21) Kevin
Weaver, 22) Mike Provenzano.
Fast Time (37 entries): Unzicker (12.532); Heat winners: Babb,
Roberts, Birkhofer, Shirley; Semi-feature winners: Steidinger, Moyer, Jr.
Drew England photo