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Goal Accomplished: Unzicker On Top Of World After Claiming 2011 DIRTcar UMP Late Model National Championship

Rising Illinois Driver Will Receive $20,000 Points-Fund Prize At DIRTcar UMP Awards Banquet On Jan. 7

CONCORD, NC – Nov. 22, 2011 – Ryan Unzicker wasn’t going to let the 2011 DIRTcar UMP Late Model national championship slip through his fingers.

Not after leading the points standings for more than four months. Not with his dream so close to being realized.

Unzicker, 30, of El Paso, Ill., wanted the national title more than he’s wanted anything in his racing career and, thanks to a dramatic final-month surge, he got it. After losing the points lead with just over one month left in the season, Unzicker roared back to win the $20,000 crown by 49 points (2,551-2,502) over defending champion Rusty Schlenk of Jackson, Mich.

“It’s just so satisfying that we were able to pull it off after setting a goal of winning the championship,” said Unzicker, who will receive his points-fund check and championship trophy during the 28th annual DIRTcar UMP ‘Night of Champions’ Awards Banquet on Jan. 7, 2012, at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield, Ill. “We live right in the middle of UMP country and I’ve been racing with UMP ever since I started, so winning the national championship was my ultimate goal when I first got in the Late Model. Anytime you can achieve your goal, it’s a pretty good accomplishment.”

Securing the crown with style added even more significance to Unzicker’s breakthrough campaign, which put him at the pinnacle of DIRTcar UMP’s weekly racing program in just his seventh season of dirt Late Model competition. He responded to Schlenk’s late-summer rally by flashing true championship mettle, going on a hot streak with his family-owned team that dwarfed any he had previously experienced in his career.

After Unzicker’s once 300-plus-point edge turned into a deficit of nine, and then 37, points to Schlenk over a two-week period in late August and early September, his championship hopes appeared to be on life support. But over the next two weekends he was almost perfect, finishing second on Sept. 9 at Kankakee (Ill.) County Speedway and then ripping off a career-high four consecutive wins, on Sept. 10 at LaSalle (Ill.) Speedway, Sept. 11 at Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, Ill., Sept. 16 at Kankakee and Sept. 17 at LaSalle.

By the end of the win streak, Unzicker found himself back on top of the national standings by 33 points over Schlenk after falling as far back as third. He finished no worse than seventh in his next six starts and clinched the title with his 17th victory of the season on Oct. 1 at Kankakee, allowing him to enter the ensuing weekend’s season-ending DIRTcar UMP Nationals at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, with no points pressure hanging over his head.

“We had a couple or three bad weeks, but we just knew the points were gonna get close toward the end of the year with the throw-out numbers,” Unzicker said of the national standings, which were determined using driver’s best 35 finishes/points nights. “When (Schlenk) came on and passed us, we all knew we had to step up. It was a lot of pressure, but we knew we could still do it.

“We just buckled down and kept digging. We put some new parts on the car and spent extra time in the garage because we didn’t want to take chances with anything. We made sure everything was right, and what we did the last month showed that we put in our homework.”

The tight points race forced Unzicker to bypass several major events, including the World 100 at Eldora, that he would have otherwise entered in favor of chasing points in weekly shows closer to home, but the sacrifice ended up being well worth it.

“We didn’t want to skip races like the World 100, but we had to this year to reach our goal,” said Unzicker, whose ambitious 84-race ’11 season included 37 top-five and 56 top-10 finishes. “It all worked out in our favor in the end.”

The importance of claiming DIRTcar UMP’s marquee national title was not lost on Unzicker. He was, after all, born and raised in El Paso, a small town just a half-hour west of the longtime DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway, and his first racing championship came in the DIRTcar UMP Street Stock division at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway in 2003.

“When I started running the Late Model stuff I knew there were a lot of names around this area that had won the national championship,” said Unzicker, who did some pavement racing on the ARCA and ASA series in 2003-04 before shifting his focus to dirt Late Model. “I wanted to be on that list. I wanted to be there forever. To accomplish it, it’s really neat. Now I can go to all my hometracks and just feel good about myself.

“We put so much heart, effort and work into it, and it’s great to see that stuff like that pays off. There are a lot of racers and people who put a lot of time and money into racing and they don’t get what they plan on getting, so I feel good that we were able to accomplish our goal. Hopefully we can proceed and keep going to even bigger things.”

The future certainly appears bright for Unzicker. A relative newcomer to the motorsports game – he didn’t begin his driving career until 2003 after graduating from Eureka (Ill.) College with a degree in Business Administration – his career arc is still very much on an upward trajectory.

Unzicker has shown steady shown progress in each season since he began running a heavy DIRTcar UMP schedule in 2008. His final national points standing has gone from 11th (’08) to sixth (’09) to third (’10) and finally this year’s title, while his finish in the grueling DIRTcar Summer Nationals ‘Hell Tour’ standings has leaped from 12th in ’08 to seventh in ’09, fifth in ’10 and fourth this season. He nearly doubled his previous single-season high win total in 2011 (his victories came at eight different tracks in Illinois, including Fairbury, where he won three straight Saturday-night events during the summer), and he’s won a Summer Nationals feature in each of the last two years. Unzicker also has finished second in the Northern All-Stars Late Model Series points standings for two consecutive seasons.

A cerebral married man who makes his living as the safety director at his family’s RJR Transportation company, Unzicker and his family have assembled a formidable team that has plenty of room to grow. He sees the potential there to eventually meet any goal he can set.

“We want to keep building our program,” said Unzicker, who campaigns MasterSbilt cars powered by Rhyne Competition Engines. “We keep improving every year, getting our cars and motors a little bit better. It’s a long process, but we’re seeing results and we think we can do a little better next year.”

While Unzicker, who also won the DIRTcar UMP Illinois State Championship points race in 2011, would love to test his talents on a national tour like the World of Outlaws Late Model Series in the future if he can obtain sufficient sponsorship, he anticipates that the Midwest’s DIRTcar UMP circuit will remain his focus in ’12.

And wherever Unzicker appears with his familiar No. 24 machine – whether it be in a local weekly show, a Summer Nationals headliner or a regional special – he’ll receive plenty of attention. After becoming the 19th driver to win the DIRTcar UMP Late Model national title since 1984, he’s earned it.

*****

Ticket order forms for the annual DIRTcar UMP ‘Night of Champions’ Awards Banquet on Jan. 7, 2012, at the Crown Plaza in Springfield, Ill., are available on-line at www.dirtcar.com under ‘Downloadable Forms’ or by calling the UMP office at 618-450-2072.

Unzicker will be one of eight DIRTcar UMP national champions honored during the gala, joining Mike Harrison of Highland, Ill. (UMP Modifieds), Dustin Griffin of Quincy, Ill. (Pro Late Models), Jeremy Hines of Seymour, Ind. (Sportsman), Mark Anderson of Canton, Ill. (Limited Modifieds), Nate Zimmer of Mattoon, Ill. (Stock Cars), Dennis Bringedahl of Twin Lakes, Mich. (Factory Stocks) and Jeremy Callahan of Mt. Vernon, Ill. (Sport Compacts).

For more information on DIRTcar Racing and to see the complete final points standings for all UMP-sanctioned divisions, visit www.dirtcar.com.

Official Final 2011 DIRTcar UMP Late Model National Points Standings (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):
1. Ryan Unzicker 35 2551
2. Rusty Schlenk 35 2502
3. Jon Henry 35 2465
4. Shannon Babb 35 2415
5. Jason Feger 35 2397
6. Brandon Thirlby 35 2346
7. Brandon Sheppard 35 2295
8. Randy Korte 35 2277
9. Eric Spangler 35 2243
10. Bobby Pierce 35 2192
10. Mike Provenzano 35 2192
12. Mike Spatola III 35 2187
13. Eric Smith 35 2080
14. Brian Ruhlman 35 2079
15. Dennis Erb Jr. 35 2028
16. Mark Voigt 35 2005
17. Steve Lance Jr. 35 1999
18. Michael Kloos 35 1990
19. Scott Schmitt 35 1976
20. Brian Shirley 35 1961

Official Final 2011 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Michigan State Championship Points Standings (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):
1. Eric Spangler 35 2232
2. Brandon Thirlby 35 2168
3. Richard Neiser 30 1801
4. Adam Thrush 35 1595
5. Bill Bray 31 1518
6. Zach Olger 26 1445
7. Kevin Nelson Jr. 24 1289
8. Rob Taylor 27 1271
9. Kathy Jarvis 35 1252
10. Tom Sprague Jr. 23 1213

Official Final 2011 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Midwest States Championship Points Standings (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):
1. Randy Korte 35 2219
2. Mark Voigt 35 1949
3. Chad Zobrist 34 1789
4. Dewayne Kiefer 35 1729
5. Michael Kloos 33 1700
6. Mike Schulte 35 1659
7. Frankie Martin 32 1594
8. Mike Hammerle 33 1583
9. Rick Salter 30 1324
10. Rickey Frankel 29 1309

Official Final 2011 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Illinois State Championship Points Standings (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):
1. Ryan Unzicker 35 2397
2. Mike Provenzano 35 2192
3. Eric Smith 35 2080
4. Bobby Pierce 35 2066
5. Mike Spatola III 35 1989
6. Scott Schmitt 35 1922
7. Brandon Sheppard 31 1889
8. Steve Lance Jr. 30 1768
9. Kevin Weaver 35 1738
9. Scott Bull 32 1738

Official Final 2011 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Western States Championship Points Standings (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):
1. Garrett Alberson 25 1451
2. Justin Wells 23 1394
3. Dave Deetz 25 1200
4. Brad Looney 19 1192
5. Jeff Whyman 21 1053
6. Ronnie Bell 22 1049
7. Ron Frazier 18 1014
7. Gary Gorby 16 1014
9. Terry Phillips 16 995
10. Sherman Barnett 19 975

Official Final 2011 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Northwestern States Championship Points Standings (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):
1. Trevor Glasier 17 986
2. Rob Mayea 11 705
3. Rick Wyatt 9 528
4. Richard Papenhausen 7 468
5. Brian Cronk 9 455
6. Jeremy Shank 8 441
7. Trent Elliott 10 430
8. Mark Carrell 8 426
9. Russ Sell 8 382
10. Mike Miller 9 374

Official Final 2011 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Eastern States Championship Points Standings (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):
1. Jon Henry 31 1868
2. Rusty Schlenk 24 1571
3. Jared Miley 27 1454
4. Mike Johnson 30 1451
5. Brian Ruhlman 27 1438
6. Casey Noonan 28 1410
7. Dusty Moore 32 1361
8. John Garvin Jr. 32 1341
9. Ryan Missler 28 1285
10. Lynn Geisler 29 1261

Official Final 2011 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Southern States Championship Points Standings (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):
1. Terry English 28 1797
2. Caleb Ashby 28 1724
3. Jeff Walston 35 1586
4. Charles Zimmerman 27 1358
5. Levi Ashby 28 1246
6. Tanner English 23 1150
7. Carnell Parker III 22 1109
8. Dillan White 21 1092
9. Gavin Schmidt 24 1027
10. Tim Brown 18 966