Dennis Erb, Jr.
SPRINGFIELD, IL – Jan. 10, 2009 – Midwestern short-track veterans Dennis Erb Jr. and Jeff Leka shared the spotlight during Saturday night’s 25th annual UMP DIRTcar Racing ‘Night of Champions’ Awards Banquet inside the Springfield Crowne Plaza Hotel’s ballroom.
For Carpentersville, Ill.’s Erb, the gala evening capped a 2008 season that saw him sweep UMP DIRTcar’s Super Late Model national and Summer Nationals championships for the second consecutive year. The 36-year-old driver collected a total of $51,400 in points-fund checks for his record-setting campaign, which also included the UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned Northern Allstars Late Model Series title.
Buffalo, Ill.’s Leka, meanwhile, captured the 2008 UMP DIRTcar open-wheel Modified national championship, ending his longtime pursuit of the division’s highest honor after several heartbreaking near-misses.
Over 800 attendees from more than a dozen states and Canada filled the ballroom to watch UMP DIRT Racing officials distribute nearly a half-million dollars to the organization’s 2008 champions and top performers.
A no-nonsense racer known for his quiet demeanor, Erb delivered a short acceptance speech that closely mirrored his remarks one year ago. He gave most of the credit to his backers, including his car and engine builders.
“First of all I want to thank C.J. Rayburn (the legendary chassis builder) and everybody in his family for helping me out and getting me to where I am today,” said Erb, who sat alongside Rayburn during the awards dinner. “And I have to thank Rhyne Racing Engines. I made the switch to them over the winter months and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Erb also hailed his head wrench Heather Lyne, who received the 2008 UMP DIRTcar Racing Super Late Model Mechanic of the Year Award by vote of the organization’s membership. It marked the second consecutive year that Lyne earned the honor, but in 2007 she shared the award with Terry Aaron.
“Thanks to Heather for all her hard work all year,” said Erb, an owner-operator known as the ‘One Man Band.’ “It’s hard to be out there by yourself, so her help means a lot.”
Erb earned $25,000 for winning the grueling, month-long UMP DIRTcar Racing Summernationals, which he secured after battling with Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., to the final race. He picked up another $20,000 for capturing the national title, plus $5,000 for the NALMS crown; $700 for finishing fourth in the North Region; $300 for ninth in the South Region; $300 for third in the Illinois State standings; and $100 for 10th in the Indiana State points. He also received two sets of Dyer’s Top Rods for his twin series titles.
“I said last year I didn’t know if I’d be able to do this two years in a row,” said Erb, whose 13 feature wins in 2008 included the points-season-ending UMP DIRTcar Nationals at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway. “But we had a great year and pulled it off again, so here we are.”
No driver in the ballroom was happier on Saturday night than Leka, an accomplished 43-year-old standout who has been trying for years to secure the UMP DIRTcar Modified crown.
“It’s been a long time coming,” a relieved Leka said when he stood at the podium in front of the crowd. “I’ve always got up here and congratulated champions and now I’m the champion, so it feels great.”
Leka read a long list of supporters who propelled his family-operated team to the title, including car builder Bob Pierce and Hovis Racing Engines. He also spoke highly of two close rivals: 2007 national champ Denny Schwartz of Ashmore, Ill., and Gary Cook Jr. of Deer Creek, Ill., who finished third in the ’08 points standings.
“Gary and Denny both race with me every week and they both let me run their car this year when I had trouble,” said Leka. “That means a lot to me, to race with guys like that.”
Leka added some levity to his remarks when he brought up his 16-year-old son Justin, who threw a playful verbal dart at his dad early in the night when he was recognized as the fourth-place finisher in the new Kid Modz class.
“My boy kinda put me on the spot here,” smiled Leka. “I wasn’t gonna have much to say until he told me he was gonna ‘knock me off’ (when he moves up to the full-blown Modifieds in ’09), so I’ve buddied up with Denny (Schwartz) and we’re gonna tag-team on him next year and take him out.”
Leka’s points-fund earnings totaled $24,000, including $3,000 for winning the North Region and $1,000 for capturing the Illinois State standings.
The night’s third-largest championship booty was claimed by Tait Davenport of Paducah, Ky., who pocketed $10,000 for becoming the first-ever UMP DIRTcar Pro Late Model national titlist. He earned an additional $500 for winning the Kentucky State points standings.
“I think this is a great deal,” the 30-year-old Davenport said of UMP DIRTcar’s affordable new crate-engine Late Model division. “It’s an honor to be the first Pro Late Model champion.”
Jeremy Hines, 31, of Seymour, Ind., roared to his first career UMP DIRTcar Sportsman national title on the strength of 20 featuare wins. He pocketed $3,500, including $500 for capturing the Indiana State points.
Jonathan Clayton, 28, of Denham Springs, La., repeated as the UMP DIRTcar Limited Modified national champion. He made a 12-hour drive north with 10 family and crew members to accept a check for $3,500, which included $500 for winning the Louisiana/Mississippi State points standings.
A third consecutive UMP DIRTcar Street Stock national title fell to Jerrad Krick of Earl Park, Ind., who regained full control of the crown after finishing in a tie with Jim Ransom of Williamsport, Ind., one year ago. The 32-year-old earned $2,200, including $200 for placing second in the Indiana State points.
Joe Reed, 43, of Decatur, Ill. (Four-Cylinders) and Bill Delonge, 36, of Hesperia, Mich. (Factory Stocks) were honored as the national champions of UMP DIRTcar’s entry-level classes, which debuted in 2007. Both drivers earned $1,400, including $400 checks for State titles.
With the addition of the Pro Late Models to the UMP DIRTcar Racing sanctioning lineup in 2008, drivers from eight divisions received recognition during Saturday’s festivities. Nearly 10,000 drivers earned points in the eight classes during the 2008 season.
Region and State champions were named in the Late Model and Modified classes.
* Late Model Region champions Steve Sheppard Jr. (North), Michael Kloos (South) and Brian Ruhlman (East) each received a check worth $3,000.
* Late Model State champs eligible for $1,000 payoffs (if UMP DIRTcar members) were Bobby Hogge IV (Arizona/California), Dale Glassford (Canada), Richard Ferry (Florida), Wes Steidinger (Illinois), Dan Walden (Indiana), Jeff Walston (Kentucky), Alan Vochaska (Michigan), Brad Looney (Missouri), Dusty Moore (Ohio), Alex Ferree (Pennsylvania) and Tony Albright (Tennessee).
* Capturing Modified Region crowns worth $3,000 apiece were Doug Adkins (East), Leka (North), Randle Sweeney (South), Kent Wood (Deep South/Northwest) and Anthony Madrid (Wild West).
* Earning $1,000 each (if UMP DIRTcar members) as Modified State champions were Travis Peery (California), Curtis Coulter (Canada), Jamie Carter (Florida), Leka (Illinois), Matt Bex (Indiana), Sweeney (Kentucky), Charles Sibley (Louisiana), John McCaul (Michigan), Wood (Mississippi), Michael Vanderiet Jr. (Missouri), Adkins (Ohio), Mark Wauge (Oregon), Clayton Miller (Tennessee), Mike Girardo (Texas), Madrid (Arizona/New Mexico/West Texas), Tyler Ivey (Speedweeks) and Kenny Schrader (Alltel DIRTcar Nationals).
The Sportsman, Street Stock and Limited Modified State champions were each presented $500 provided they maintained UMP DIRTcar memberships. The Sportsman titlists were Shaun Daugherty (FL), Joel Funk (IL), Hines (IN), Bob Boyd (LA), Chad Weinrick (MI), Jeff Herzog (MO), Pete Stefanski (NY), Mike Jessen (OH), Mike Hodges (TN) and Don Newcomb (NM/TX); Street Stock champs were Bob Egley (PA), Grady Christian (FL), Jason Bahrs (IL), David Hurst (IN), Poncho Elder (KY), Travis Myers (LA), Eddie Lowery (MO), Dave Mannise (NY), Chris Peltier (TN), Collin Hodges (TX), Wayne Clauss (MI) and Stephen Chatman (MS); and Limited Modified winners were Eric Adkins (MO/KY), Clayton (LA/MS), Dustin Shoemaker (TX) and Rob Madrid (AZ/NM/West TX).
Other UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned series titlists honored during Saturday’s festivities were Rusty Schlenk of Jackson, Mich. (Sunoco American Late Model Series) and Nick Allen of Wheatfield, Ind. (Wolfpack Challenge Series for Modifieds).
A number of special awards determined by a vote of the UMP DIRTcar Racing membership were handed out:
* In the Mechanic of the Year category, Lyne was joined by Modified division winner Chris Pfeiler.
* Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., earned recognition as the Most Improved Late Model Driver.
* Daren Friedman (Late Models) and Mike Spatola (Modifieds) received Sportsman of the Year hardware.
* Kamp Motor Speedway in Boswell, Ind., was announced as the UMP DIRTcar Racing Track of the Year. The oval’s husband-and-wife ownership team of Bob and Gail Kamp accepted the honor.
* Ray Marler, who operates I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Mo., with NASCAR veteran Kenny Schrader, was feted as the 2008 UMP DIRTcar Racing Promoter of the Year.
Hoosier Tire’s Terry Young, meanwhile, received the fourth annual Bob Memmer Achievement Award, which honors the memory of UMP DIRTcar Racing’s late founder. The prestigious plaque was presented to Young by Eldora Speedway general manager Larry Boos, who won the award last year.
Drivers recognized with Rookie of the Year awards during the program were Jeff Walston of Paducah, Ky., who earned $1,000 as the top first-year UMP DIRTcar Super Late Model racer, and teenager Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., who pocketed $2,000 for his strong debut season on the NALMS.
The 2008 UMP DIRTcar Racing Chassis Builder of the Year awards went to C.J. Rayburn Race Cars of Whiteland, Ill., in the Late Models and Bob Pierce Race Cars of Oakwood, Ill., in the Modifieds. Both veteran drivers/car builders were on hand.
Claiming the 2008 Engine Builder of the Year awards were Rhyne Competition Engines (Late Models) and Hovis Racing Engines (Modifieds).
The affair began with an awards ceremony for the top-seven drivers in the new Kid Modz division, a brainchild of former UMP DIRTcar Super Late Model national champion Bob Pierce to bring youngsters into the sport. Pierce’s 12-year-old son, Bobby, emerged as the 2008 champion of the division, which ran races at 15 tracks in the Midwest.
Appreciation plaques were presented during the evening to promoters or representatives from Eldora Speedway, Fairbury American Legion Speedway, Belle-Claire Speedway, Clarksville Speedway, Farmer City Raceway/Lincoln Speedway, Highland Speedway, I-55 Raceway, I-57/I-64 Speedway, Kamp Motor Speedway, Kankakee County Speedway, Morgan County Speedway, Mt. Pleasant Speedway, Oakshade Raceway, Shep’s Speedway, Spoon River Speedway, Thunder Valley Speedway/Twin Cities Raceway Park, Track Enterprises (Macon Speedway and Paducah International Raceway), Tri-City Speedway/Lake Ozark Speedway and Winston Motor Speedway.
World Racing Group Chief Operating Office Tom Deery spoke during the banquet. He focused on UMP DIRTcar Racing’s emergence as a national sanctioning force.
“If (late UMP DIRTcar Racing founder) Bob Memmer were here tonight, he would be very proud of what UMP has become,” said Deery. “And not only is UMP something that was forged in the Midwest, but it’s something that is recognized across the country.”
Earlier in the day, Deery and UMP DIRTcar Racing director Sam Driggers hosted a meeting with promoters to discuss several topics, including the new DIRTcarMembers.com membership website, sanctioning agreements and public relations initiatives.
The 2009 UMP DIRTcar Racing season begins with a three-day meet for the open-wheel Modifieds on Jan. 29-31 at Ocala (Fla.) Speedway. Both the Modifieds and Super Late Models will then be part of the 38th annual Alltel DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., which runs from Feb. 3-14.
For more information on UMP DIRTcar Racing, visit www.dirtcar.com.