Dennis Erb Jr. Crowned Champion Of UMP DIRTcar Racing Summernationals For First Time
WAUSEON, OH – July 16, 2007 – The title Dennis Erb Jr. has dearly wanted is now on his resume.
Erb, 34, of Carpentersville, Ill., completed a relentless march to his first career UMP DIRTcar Racing Summernationals championship, clinching the $25,000 crown on Saturday night in the prestigious Midwest dirt Late Model tour’s 2007 points finale at Oakshade Raceway.
“Early in the year I set my mind to go and win this Summernationals deal,” said Erb, whose initial championship came in his fourth consecutive season chasing the grueling month-long series. “I felt like after running it all these years, I knew what it would take to win it.”
The driver known as the ‘One Man Band’ closed out his title drive in decidedly low-key, anticlimactic fashion, however. There was no post-race celebration in front of the crowd on Oakshade’s homestretch, because Erb was already on the highway headed home for the first time in a month when the 60-lap ‘Birthday Race’ ended.
With a burst of rain that hit the speedway shortly after time trials were completed causing a nearly five-hour track-drying delay, Erb opted to forego racing into the wee hours on a heavy surface. Joining him in making an early exit from Oakshade were fellow Summernationals regulars Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., who entered Saturday’s action as the only driver with an opportunity to overtake Erb for the championship, and Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn.
Erb and O’Neal discussed the situation and both chose to load up their cars, mutually agreeing that they did not want to decide the points battle under difficult circumstances.
“We talked about it, and we said, ‘It’s midnight, the track is still wet, so let’s go ahead and put our cars away – and if they (the rest of the field) wanna still race, they can race,’” Erb said of his conversation with O’Neal. “We’ve run 24 races and haven’t torn anything up, and we don’t want to do it tonight with the championship on the line.
“We don’t want to do something like this, but it’s not the way we want to decide the championship. We pretty much came to terms on that.”
O’Neal, who finished the tour 32 points behind Erb to earn a $10,000 runner-up points-fund check, was totally in agreement with Erb. Both drivers would have preferred for the race to be postponed to Sunday.
“I have something to gain by racing tonight more than anybody,” said O’Neal, the 2004 Summernationals champ. “With these (heavy track) conditions, what a shot I’d have tonight. I need Dennis to have bad luck, and tonight would be the most likely night for him to have it.
“But that ain’t fair. You do this (tour) all month, and then have odds stacked up on you the last night because of the tough conditions – it ain’t right. We’re here and I wanna race, but I don’t want to beat him (for the title) in these conditions, and I wouldn’t want him to do it to me, so I’m pulling out with him.”
Saturday night’s ‘Did Not Start’ was the only major blemish on Erb’s ’07 Summernationals ledger, which featured the kind of numbers that win championships. He registered four wins, 14 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes in 25 events, with a 14th-place finish on June 18 at Jefferson County Raceway in Mt. Vernon, Ill., being his worst outing of the tour.
“I was fortunate to be able to have good runs for the whole month,” said the soft-spoken Erb, who campaigns self-owned Rayburn cars that are powered by Malcuit engines and carry sponsorship from Thomason Transportation, Petroff Towing and J&J Steel. “I won the most races I ever have in a (single) year on the Summernationals, and we finished every night.”
Erb attributed his remarkable consistency to his laser-like focus on this year’s series.
“We prepared ourselves a little bit more this year to make sure the cars held together,” said Erb, whose primary mechanical assistant at every event was his longtime friend Heather Lyne. “We had a good maintenance program, and it paid off. Our equipment held together – we didn’t have a mechanical problem.”
Erb entered the Summernationals as one of the favorites to take over the championship trophy from Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., who did not follow the entire tour to defend his 2005-06 titles. He enjoyed a red-hot spring that included a pair of victories on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series, and he carried that mojo into the Summernationals.
“It was a real good spring for us,” said Erb. “Our car was working real well, and the couple Outlaw wins we got built up a lot of confidence for us coming into this deal.
“Then we won the first two (Summernationals) races (on June 15 at Illinois’s Kankakee Motor Speedway and June 16 at Kamp Motor Speedway in Boswell, Ind.) right out of the box. That was a really good feeling for me and gave us plenty of momentum.”
Erb won twice more – on June 20 at Highland (Ill.) Speedway and June 25 at Peoria (Ill.) Speedway – and rolled up a succession of single-digit finishes. But he couldn’t shake O’Neal, who trailed Erb by only two points entering the July 10 event at Quincy (Ill.) Raceway.
That’s when the critical moment of the ’07 Summernationals occurred. Erb recorded a second-place finish at Quincy while O’Neal was 17th after dropping out midway through the race due to a broken air cleaner stud on his car, opening a 36-point edge for Erb.
“I gained a bunch (of points) at Quincy, and then I just had to keep up the lead at Spoon River, La Salle and Farmer City,” said Erb. “I ran right with Don at La Salle (O’Neal was second, Erb third) and Farmer City (O’Neal was sixth, Erb seventh) and didn’t let him get any points on me.
“We just went out and did what we needed to do.”
After Summernationals points finishes of fourth (2004), third (2005) and fifth (2006), Erb proved this year that he had learned his lessons well.
“I’ve run with (six-time Summernationals champ) Billy Moyer a lot of years and watched what he did,” said Erb, whose 2007 Summernationals earnings totaled $77,400 (including points-fund cash). “I followed O’Neal, and the last couple years I followed Shannon Babb. You pick up what those guys do and use it to make yourself better.
“The first year I ran the whole deal, I had one car in the trailer and just went out there and raced. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I learned a lot about what it takes, how you work on your stuff when you’re out on the road.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve done, to be able to accomplish this with what I’ve got to work with,” he added, putting his title in perspective. “As competitive as this year has been, to go out and run with these guys, night after night, and come out on top at the end means a lot.
“It’s a big accomplishment for me.”
For more information on the UMP DIRTcar Racing Summernationals, visit www.umpracing.com.
2007 UMP DIRTcar Racing Summernationals Event Winners
6/15: Kankakee Motor Speedway/Kankakee, IL (Dennis Erb Jr.)
6/16: Kamp Motor Speedway/Boswell, IN (Dennis Erb Jr.)
6/17: Tri-State Speedway/Haubstadt, IN (Randy Korte)
6/18: Jefferson County Raceway/Mt. Vernon, IL (Randy Korte)
6/19: Lebanon I-44 Speedway/Lebanon, MO (Mike Marlar)
6/20: Highland Speedway/Highland, IL (Dennis Erb Jr.)
6/21: Morgan County Speedway/Jacksonville, IL (Kevin Weaver)
6/22: Farmer City Raceway/Farmer City, IL (Rain – Rescheduled to July 13)
6/23: I-55 Raceway/Pevely, MO (Mike Marlar)
6/24: Lincoln Speedway/Lincoln, IL (Don O’Neal)
6/25: Peoria Speedway/Peoria, IL (Dennis Erb Jr.)
6/26: Poplar Bluff Speedway/Poplar Bluff, MO (Billy Moyer)
6/27: Lake Ozark Speedway/Eldon, MO (Rain)
6/28: Paducah International Raceway/Paducah, KY (Billy Moyer)
6/29: Western Kentucky Speedway/Nebo, KY (Rain)
6/30: Clarksville Speedway/Clarksville, TN (Jeep VanWormer)
7/1: Vermilion County Speedway/Danville, IL (Don O’Neal)
7/2: Midway Speedway/Crooksville, OH (Earl Pearson Jr.)
7/3: Lawrenceburg Speedway/Lawrenceburg, IN (Jeep VanWormer)
7/4: Day Off
7/5: Macon Speedway/Macon, IL (Rain – Rescheduled to July 21)
7/6: Tri-City Speedway/Pontoon Beach, IL (Don O’Neal)
7/7: Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway (Mike Marlar)
7/8: Quad City Speedway/East Moline, IL (Shannon Babb)
7/9: C.J. Raceway/Columbus Junction, IA (Shannon Babb)
7/10: Quincy Raceway/Quincy, IL (Shannon Babb)
7/11: Spoon River Speedway/Canton, IL (Shannon Babb)
7/12: LaSalle Speedway/LaSalle, IL (Steve Sheppard Jr.)
7/13: Farmer City Raceway/Farmer City, IL (Brady Smith)
7/14: Oakshade Raceway/Wauseon, OH (Jeep VanWormer)
7/21: Macon Speedway/Macon, IL (non-points)(Wes Steidinger)