By Steve Wilson
Fresh off his record-setting Thirteenth win, Shannon Babb and the Summer national field rolled into Pontoon Beach to tackle the fast half-mile of Tri-city Speedway. Hot, humid weather and a brisk wind blowing directly towards the stands made for a generous coating of dirt and dust on the fans, but no one seemed to mind as excellent track conditions set the table for what was sure to be a fast night of racing.
Qualifying saw many drivers break the 21 second mark with the track record being in the 19.9 range. Jeep Van Wormer, the twenty-nine year old Pinconning, Michigan native took fast time with a blistering 20.591. As per Summernational rules, the top six qualifiers automatically advanced to the dash. The top six were as follows:
1.) #55 Jeep Van Wormer 20.591 2.) #15 Steve Francis 20.610 3.) #18 Shannon Babb 20.719 4.) #32D Darren Miller 20.735 5.) #28 Dennis Erb, jr. 20.736 6.) #3s Brian Shirley 20.786
In the Dash, Babb launched off the high side and sped to an early lead. Van Wormer, after flying by Darren Miller set his sights on Babb and challenged low. On lap two, Babb jumped the cushion in four and hit the wall allowing Van Wormer to take the lead. However, caution came out for the #32D of Miller and Babb would get his spot back. On the restart, Babb began to pull away from VanWormer and Steve Francis decided he would replace Van Wormer in the chase for Babb. As Francis was reeling in Babb, the battle for fourth became a fierce struggle between the #28 Jimmy Mars, the #3s of Brian Shirley, #27 Rodney Melvin and Dennis Erb(#28). The battle turned into four wide coming out of turn four and all the way down the front stretch. Trouble was brewing and it boiled over in turn one as all four cars became entangled with Mars hitting the wall hard. The "Iceman" goeth as Mars, Melvin (right front flat) and #23 Patrick Sheltra who was also involved in the incident all had to excuse themselves from the rest of the race. Francis made a bid to pass Babb on the low side as the two were side-by-slide for a couple of laps before Babb pulled away and captured the dash.
1.) Babb 2.) Francis 3.) Erb 4.) Shirley 5.) Van Wormer 6.) Mars 7.) Melvin 8.) Sheltra 9.)Miller
In the first heat, Brian "silky" Birkhofer in the #15B machine checked out early and left the field to take the win. Randy "King Kong" Korte driving the circle7 car normally driven by Jim Shereck, battled Melvin for second overtaking him on one occasion only to have the pass taken away by a yellow flag. Korte challenged Melvin again but could not get by as the #27 of Melvin took second and Korte third. Johhny Johnson (#99) took the final transfer spot holding off a hard-charging Mark Voigt(#30) .
Heat 1 results (top 4 transfer):
1.) Birkhofer 2.) Melvin 3.) Korte 4.)Johnson 5.) Voigt 6.) #12 Jordan Bland 7.) #99 Dillon Thompson 8.) #5s Steve Sheppard
The first lap of the second heat saw action as #21 Billy Moyer galloped away from the field and Michael Kloos #6K hit the back straight-away wall. The restart found Moyer off and running again as the #19 of Chad Smith made a bid to unseed the second place car of #5m Mike Marler. Marlar found some bad luck when he ripped the center out of his right rear wheel and hit the wall in turn three. Mr. Moyer took leave of the field again and Michaels Kloos powered his white, orange and blue #6K past Smith for second. #23 Sheltra was scratched for the event due to his troubles in the dash.
Heat 2 results:
1.) Moyer 2.) Kloos 3.) Smith 4.) #5 Jay Johnson 5.) #82 Billy Laycock 6.) #10 Dallas Bennett 7.) 5m Marler
Darren Miller took advantage of his pole position and jumped to an early lead in heat three. The #8 of Kyle Steffens reeled in Flyin Brian Collins (#11z) as the #81 black and orange car ,normally driven by Craig Smith, featured Billy Faust at the helm and saw him reel in both Collins and Steffens. In one lap, Faust moved past them both and set his sights on Miller. With two laps to go, Faust made a hard charge into four but was closing so fast that he had to check up losing his momentum on Miller. That was all the "thriller" Miller needed as he cruised the rest of the way to victory. Craig Richards, all the way from North Island, New Zealand and renting a car from Justin Allgaier motor sports, finshed just out of the transfer positions in fifth.
1.) Miller 2.) Faust 3.) Steffens 4.) Collins 5.) #75 Bert Cheatham 6.) #74nz Richards 7.) #1 Christian Rayburn 8.) 16H Mike Hammerlee
Only two cars would be taken from the field of eleven in the consolation event. It also proved to be one of the night's most exciting races as the #5m of Marler started eighth and finished first as he darted through the field effortlessly. Voigt held the lead up until Marler blew past him on a restart and the two pulled away from the field to take the feature spots. The feature was rounded to 22 by three provisionals. #12 Bland , #30 Voigt and #5s Sheppard would fill those spots.
1.) Marler 2.) voigt 3.) Laycock 4.) Sheppard 5.) Cheatham 6.) Richards 7.) Thompson 8.) Bland 9.) Rayburn 10.) Hammerlee 11.) Bennett
The stage was now set for Shannon Babb to try and take his fourteenth win of this year's Summer Nationals. Babb sat on the pole with everyone expecting a battle from the outside of row 1 in the form of Steve Francis. Francis would not dissappoint as the two battled the entire race. While Babb(high) and Francis (low) battled for the lead, Moyer charged hard from eighth place up to 3rd by lap four. A caution for the #12 Bland helped "Mr. Smooth" Moyer as the field was tightened back up and he took advantage on the re-start going low in four and taking second place from Francis.
A second caution came out when Marler went into the turn one wall hard. Moyer jumped the cushion on turn two of the re-start and brushed the wall dropping all the way back to fifth. The #15B of Birkhoffer then went low in four and took third away from Mars. Mars powered back on the next lap and took the high line in three and four and resumed his third place position. However, something broke on the #28m and the "iceman" goeth off the track again.
On the re-start, Babb took off in his special half-mile track car called "Red Dragon" with Francis in tow. Van Wormer who said he battled his car all night found something late and promptly took fourth from Moyer then third from Birkhofer. Moyer took fourth from Birky on lap 31 of the 40-lapper but but caused the caution on lap 38 with a flat tire.
Moyer would get a new tire and tack on to the back of the field as the field was poised to re-start and caught a break when Kyle Steffens decided to do the same pulling out from the quarter-mile onto the half as the leaders charged down the front straight. Caution came out again and both Moyer and Steffens then caught up to the field for a green, white, checker finish. Francis pressed Babb but couldn't find the horses as Shannon Babb collected the checker and his fourteenth Summer National win as well as a check for $10,000.
3) Van Wormer
12) Jay Johnson
14) Mars DNF
15) Voigt DNF
16) Sheppard DNF
17) Johnny Johnson DNF
18) Kloos DNF
19) Bland DNF
20) Faust DNF
21) Marler DNF
22) Smith DNF
A couple of side notes for everyone:
Mike Marler in the #5M is the newest addition to Moyer motorsports. He takes saddle with new teammates Billy Moyer, jr. and Shannon Babb. Not bad company.
Craig Richards, the kiwi from New Zealand had never driven on any track as large as the Tri-city half mile oval. Quite a few times he referred to the 1/2 mile oval as "daunting". Richards was renting a car from Allgaier motorsports. He met Justin Allgaier when Justin raced down in the Southern Pacific series in New Zealand.