- Sept. 26 - Fairbury American Legion Speedway by Sam Holbrooks


Eric Smith VL Fairbury Prairie Dirt Classic

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

Rocky Ragusa

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 event.

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, Shannon Babb, and Brian 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 suspension problems.

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.

Shannon Babb and Brian Birkhofer at Fairbury

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


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