Springfield, IL — Dennis Erb Jr. basked in the glory of his history-making 2007 Super Late Model season during Saturday night’s 24th annual UMP DIRTcar Racing ‘Night of Champions’ Awards Banquet inside the Springfield Crowne Plaza Hotel’s ballroom.
As a reward for a campaign that saw him become the first-ever driver to sweep the UMP DIRTcar Racing National and Summernationals championships, the 36-year-old star from Carpentersville, Ill., pocketed a total of $46,240 in points-fund checks.
Sharing the evening’s spotlight with Erb was Denny Schwartz of Ashmore, Ill. , who was saluted for capturing his second open-wheel Modified national championship in the last three years.
The coronation of UMP DIRTcar Racing’s 2007 champions and recognition of its top performers came in front of nearly 1,000 attendees from more than a dozen states and Canada, all of whom watched as nearly a half-million dollars was distributed.
Erb spent much of his championship acceptance speech showering praise on his racing team’s backers, including C.J. Rayburn Race Cars, Thomason Transportation, J&J Steel, Petroff Towing, Peterson Aluminum and Malcuit Race Engines.
“I was fortunate to have a really good bunch of people behind me this year,” said Erb, who won a personal-high 20 features en route to his career season. “That includes Heather (Lyne, his chief mechanic) – I have to thank her for giving up all her time to help me.
“And I want to thank (UMP DIRTcar Racing director) Sam (Driggers), DIRT MotorSports (World Racing Group) and all the promoters and fans for giving us a place to race and letting me be able to live my dream and be out there racing every weekend.”
Erb earned $25,000 for winning the UMP DIRTcar Racing Summernationals, the grueling, month-long series of events throughout the Midwest that was his primary focus from the start of the 2007 season. He picked up another $20,000 for capturing the organization’s Late Model national title, which he began pursuing in earnest shortly after securing the Summernationals crown.
The normally reserved Erb showed a bit of emotion when talking about his late father.
“Most of all, I want to thank one person who’s no longer with me, and that’s my father, who got me started in this,” said Erb. “I know he’s not here, but he’s up there looking down and I know he would be proud.”
Erb pledged that he would take a shot a duplicating his impeccable 2007 season.
“It’s gonna be kind of hard to top this year, but we’ll see what we can do,” he said. “We’ll be out there again and racing as hard as we can.”
Erb’s points fund also included $700 for finishing fourth in the North Region; $225 for placing 11th in the Northern Allstars Late Model Series/Challenge of Champions; $115 for taking sixth in the Illinois State standings; $100 for finishing eighth in the Indiana State points; and $100 for 10th in the Florida DIRTcar Nationals battle.
Schwartz, 47, went home with checks totaling $23,650 for his UMP DIRTcar Racing open-wheel Modified efforts, including a cool 20-grand for winning the national title.
A veteran of three decades racing around Midwest dirt tracks, Schwartz battled for the national crown with longtime rival Jeff Leka of Buffalo , Ill. , right down to the points-season finale at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg , Ohio . Schwartz’s final championship margin was a mere four points over Leka.
“I better thank my wife first of all,” Schwartz told the crowd. “She’s put up with me doing this for 30 years.”
Schwartz, who also earned $3,500 for finishing in a tie with Leka for the North Region title and $150 for placing fourth in the Modified Winternationals standings, was joined on stage by all his family and crew members in attendance. The group included his wife, son and fellow racer Danny, and longtime mechanic/partner Bud Price.
Troy Naeger, 39, of Festus , Mo. , repeated as the UMP DIRTcar Racing Sportsman national champion, rolling up 15 feature wins en route a $5,000 paycheck that left him smiling broadly.
“This is real money for us,” said Naeger, who calls Missouri ’s I-55 Raceway home. “All of us racers in the support classes really, really appreciate UMP giving us a chance to race for money like this.”
Jerrad Krick of Earl Park, Ind. , and Jim Ransom of Williamsport , Ind. , were co-national champions of the UMP DIRTcar Racing Street Stock division. The weekly rivals at Indiana ’s Kamp Motor Speedway finished in a tie atop the points standings and thus split the first- and second-place checks, giving them each $3,500 for their 2007 efforts.
Jonathan Clayton of Denham Springs , La. , made the long trip north from the Gulf Coast to be feted for his first-ever UMP DIRTcar Racing Limited Modified national title. He earned $5,000.
With the addition of the entry-level Factory Stock and Four-Cylinder classes to the UMP DIRTcar Racing sanctioning lineup in 2007, drivers from seven divisions received recognition during Saturday’s festivities.
Making history as the first-ever national champions of the new UMP DIRTcar Racing divisions were Oakshade Raceway regular Tom Ordway of Stryker, Ohio, in the Factory Stocks and D.J. Werkmeister of Braceville, Ill. (East), Mike Rittenberry of Clarksville, Tenn. (Mid-America) and Ryan Eilers of Highland, Ill. (Southern) in the Four-Cylinders. Each driver picked up a $500 check.
Region and State champions were named in the Late Model and Modified classes.
* Late Model Region champions Wes Steidinger (North), Kevin Cole (South) and Brian Ruhlman (East) each received a check worth $5,000.
* Pocketing $1,000 apiece as Late Model State champs were Jeff Decker (California), Andrew Reaume (Canada), Steidinger (Illinois), Jason Feger (Indiana), Cole (Kentucky), Alan Vochaska (Michigan), Dustin Mooneyham (Missouri), Rick DeLong (Ohio) and Rusty Griffaw (Tennessee).
* Modified Region titlists were Schwartz and Leka (tie-North), Randle Sweeney (South), Shelby Miles (East), Bobby Martintoni (West) and Ben Stephens (Deep South). Sweeney, Miles, Martintoni and Stephens each earned $5,000, while Schwartz and Leka received $3,500 apiece after dividing the first- and second-place cash.
* Earning $1,000 each as Modified State champions were Kenny Neu (California), Robbie Chiles (Colorado), Matt Miley (Florida), Leka (Illinois), Miles (Indiana), Sweeney (Kentucky), Shane Hebert (Louisiana), Andy Sprague (Michigan), Martintoni (Missouri), Mark Herbert (Mississippi), Jon Henry (Ohio), Mark Wauge (Oregon), Clayton Miller (Tennessee), Troy Seidl (Texas), Curtis Coulter (Canada), Joey Kramer (Winternationals) and Steve Arpin (Florida DIRTcar Nationals).
The Sportsman, Street Stock and Limited Modified State champions were each presented $800. The Sportsman titlists were John Anderson (CO), Chris Day (FL), Greg Kimmons (IL), Ryan Huddleston (IN), Jason Jackson (LA), Kyle Borgman (MI), Naeger (MO), Pete Stefanski (NY), Mike Jessen (OH) and Joseph Hamm (TN); Street Stock champs were Ashley Chiles (CO), Erik Nelson (FL), Steve Ewing (IL), David Hurst (IN), Stacy Tretter (KY), Mark Debate (LA), Randy Dickman (MO), Michael Welch (NY), Mike Neighbors (TN) and Jodie Moon (TX); and Limited Modified winners were Bobby Fehring (TX), Clayton (LA) and Randy Dickman (MO).
Other UMP-sanctioned series titlists honored during Saturday’s festivities were Steve Sheppard Jr. of New Berlin , Ill. , who collected a $5,000 check for winning the Northern All-Stars/COC crown, and Craig Conyer of Jamestown , Ind. , who pocketed $2,500 for capturing the Wolfpack Challenge Series championship.
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, Erb’s crew chief Heather Lyne and Steidinger’s head wrench Terry Aaron shared the Late Model award and Rob Coulter received the Modified trophy.
* Scott Bull of Fairbury , Ill. (Late Models) and Jeff Leka (Modifieds) received Sportsman of the Year hardware.
* Fairbury ( Ill. ) American Legion Speedway was announced as the UMP DIRTcar Racing Track of the Year for the second consecutive season.
* Terry and Pam Henricks of Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon , Ohio , were honored as the organization’s Promoters of the Year.
Eldora Speedway’s Larry Boos, meanwhile, received the third annual Bob Memmer Achievement Award, which honors the memory of UMP DIRTcar Racing’s late founder. The prestigious plaque was presented to Boos by legendary former Eldora owner Earl Baltes, the winner of the inaugural Memmer trophy and Boos’s boss for a decade.
Drivers recognized with Rookie of the Year awards during the program were Bull, who earned the nod as the top first-year UMP DIRTcar Racing Late Model racer, and Ryan Unzicker of El Paso , Ill. , who earned $2,000 for the NALMS/COC rookie honor.
The 2007 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. Rayburn led all manufacturers with 151 UMP-sanctioned Late Model feature wins, while Pierce set the pace on the Modified side with 235 victories.
Rayburn, a well-known Late Model racer and car builder, was not on hand to accept his award. Pierce, also an accomplished Late Model driver, came to the stage to receive his award with his family at his side.
Claiming the 2007 Engine Builder of the Year awards were Pro Power Engines (50 Late Model wins) and Mullins Race Engines (99 Modified victories). Pro Power’s Bill Schlieper did not attend the banquet, while Chad Mullins accepted the Modified award.
Darren Friedman, the 2007 Late Model track champion at Fairbury American Legion Speedway, stood in for his father Roger of Dyer’s Top Rods to present special prizes to Erb and Sheppard for their series championships. Both drivers received a set of Dyer’s Top Rods and a leather jacket.
Promoters or representatives of UMP DIRTcar Racing tracks in attendance were recognized throughout the affair. Recipients of appreciation plaques included Eldora’s Boos; Farmer City Raceway; Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway; Oakshade’s Pam Henricks; La Salle Speedway; Bob and Gayle Kamp of Kamp Motor Speedway; Bill and Jean Nelson of Vermilion County Speedway; Mike Null of Montgomery County Speedway; William Scoggins of Clarksville/Crossville speedways; Stan Shanter of Belle Clair Speedway; Tom Sprague of Winston Motor Speedway; Billy West of Morgan County Speedway; Fairbury American Legion Speedway; I-55 Raceway; Track Enterprises (Macon Speedway and Paducah International Speedway); Highland Speedway; and Callaway Speedway.
In addition, Phil Richardson, who will take over the operation of Vermilion County Speedway in Danville , Ill. , in 2008, was introduced to the assemblage.
World Racing Group Chief Operating Office Tom Deery delivered an uplifting speech on the future of UMP DIRTcar Racing to the banquet attendees – and also pointed out that the organization’s 2008 season will kick off in less than two weeks. The ‘Super of Bowl Racing’ runs from Jan. 23-Feb 2 at Golden Isles Speedway in Brunswick , Ga. , and features UMP DIRTcar Racing Late Model programs on seven of its 10 nights, and the marquee 37th annual Florida DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park follows with competition for both UMP Modifieds (Feb. 5-12) and Late Models (Feb. 11, 12, 13, 15).
For more information on UMP DIRTcar Racing, visit www.umpracing.com.