LA SALLE , IL – July 12, 2007 – Steve Sheppard Jr. was on top of the world after winning Thursday night’s 40-lap UMP DIRTcar Racing Summernationals A-Main at La Salle Speedway.
“This is one of the greatest days of my life,” pronounced Sheppard, a smile dominating his face as he signed autographs and accepted congratulatory handshakes in the pit area. “I ain’t kidding. This was only a $6,000 (to win) show, but it’s the biggest one I’ve ever won.
It was the first career Summernationals triumph for the New Berlin , Ill. , driver, who ran the complete tour in 2004 and every race but the finale last year.
Sheppard, 32, had come close to a Summernationals victory several times, including a late-race loss to Highland , Ill. ’s Randy Korte in 2006 at Quincy ( Ill. ) Raceway and runner-up finishes on this year’s series at Morgan County Speedway in Jacksonville , Ill. , and Lawrenceburg ( Ind. ) Speedway .
“Hopefully they’re gonna start coming a little easier now,” quipped the relieved Sheppard.
Sheppard certainly made his milestone win look easy. The event’s outside polesitter, he drove his Pro Power-equipped Rayburn No. 5s into the lead at the initial green and was never headed in a caution-free A-Main.
No one was able to offer even token pressure to Sheppard, who beat 2004 Summernationals champion Don O’Neal of Martinsville , Ind. , to the finish line by nearly a full straightaway margin on the quarter-mile oval.
Current tour points leader Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville , Ill. , finished a close third, followed by Korte and Wes Steidinger of Fairbury , Ill.
Shannon Babb of Moweaqua , Ill. , who entered the night riding a four-race Summernationals win streak, settled for a quiet seventh-place finish.
“I’ve always been good on these shorter tracks, but I ain’t never been that good,” said Sheppard, whose biggest previous victory came in an August 2006 MARS DIRTcar Series event at Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach , Ill. , that paid $3,000 to win. “That thing was so good, I could just drive it anywhere I wanted. I was amazed.”
Lapped traffic was barely a problem for Sheppard, who kept his car perched on the outside lip of the high-banked track for most of the distance.
“When I got to lapped traffic, I just knew I had to stay patient,” he said. “I didn’t hear anybody under me, but I didn’t know I was that far ahead. I just figured if I stayed smooth, I’d be alright.”
Could Sheppard have envisioned his first Summernationals win coming at La Salle Speedway?
“Not in a million years,” said Sheppard, whose team is owned by his father. “I’ve run here probably five times in my life.
“I over-think myself sometimes and do too much to the car, but tonight Babb and the other guys said to me, ‘Don’t out-think yourself.’ So I just stepped back a second and said, ‘You know, they’re right,’ and we ended up with a perfect race car.”
O’Neal, who started from the pole position, ran a distant second to Sheppard for the entire distance in his Jerry Jones-owned Rayburn. He spent the last nine circuits holding off the furious challenges of Erb, who made a strong charge from the 12th starting spot.
“The longer the race got, the faster the car was going,” Erb said of his Rayburn mount. “I could roll through the middle real good.
“I was thinking I could get up in there (to challenge Sheppard), but I couldn’t get by O’Neal. He got wide, protecting his position like I figured he would. There was no sense crashing to try getting by him.”
Especially not with the $25,000 UMP DIRTcar Racing Summernationals title waiting for Erb to grab it. Finishing third kept Erb 34 points ahead of O’Neal in the standings with two points events left, on Friday at Farmer City ( Ill. ) Raceway and Saturday at Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon , Ohio .
“It’s there,” Erb said of his first-ever Summernationals championship. “I just gotta run good the next two nights. We’ll be going for a win both nights, but we’re gonna make sure we don’t do anything stupid.”
Forty-two dirt Late Models were signed in for the program, which was promoted by Bob Sargent’s Track Enterprises Inc.
Heat winners were O’Neal, Korte, Russ Scheffler of Waukasha , Wis. , and Sheppard, and the B-Mains were captured by Greg Johnson of Bedford , Ind. , and Jeep VanWormer of Pinconning, Mich.
UMP DIRTcar Racing Summernationals A-Main Finish (40 laps):
1. Steve Sheppard Jr.
2. Don O’Neal
3. Dennis Erb Jr.
4. Randy Korte
5. Wes Steidinger
6. Brady Smith
7. Shannon Babb
8. Jason Feger
9. Jeep VanWormer
10. Russ Scheffler
11. Ryan Dauber
12. Scott Bull
13. Ken Schrader
14. Kevin Weaver
15. Eddie Kirchoff
16. George Scheffler
17. Mike Marlar
18. Greg Johnson
19. A.J. Diemel
20. Tim Manville
21. Mike Glynn
22. Ralph Markham
DNQ: Brian Moon, Rich Bell, Mike Provenzano, John Provenzano, Charles Hess, Jim Partipilo, Tim Lance, Keith Piano, Bret Seivert, Jason McBride, Tony Izzo Jr., Jim Mineo, Scott Schmitt, Mike Mataragas, Shawn Toczek, Jim Felker, Jason Jaggers, Jimmy Westaway, Ted Loomis, Seve Oeder
UMP DIRTcar Racing Summernationals Points Standings (after 23 events):
1. Dennis Erb Jr. 1,562
2. Don O’Neal 1,528
3. Wes Steidinger 1,452
4. Mike Marlar 1,430
5. Jeep VanWormer 1,386
6. Steve Sheppard Jr. 1,360
7. Eddie Kirchoff 1,050
8. Kevin Weaver 1,004
9. Jason Feger 984
10. Randy Korte 974
11. A.J. Diemel 874
12. Rodney Melvin 866
13. Billy Moyer 770
14. Shannon Babb 737
15. Terry Casey 686
16. Ryan Dauber 439
17. Greg Johnson 424
18. Brady Smith 388
19. Jordan Bland 342
20. Rusty Schlenk 313
2007 UMP DIRTcar Racing Summernationals Schedule
6/15 – Fri. – Kankakee Motor Speedway/Kankakee, IL (Dennis Erb Jr.)
6/16 – Sat. – Kamp Motor Speedway/Boswell, IN (Dennis Erb Jr.)
6/17 – Sun. – Tri-State Speedway/Haubstadt, IN (Randy Korte)
6/18 – Mon. – Jefferson County Raceway/ Mt. Vernon , IL (Randy Korte)
6/19 – Tues. – Lebanon I-44 Speedway/Lebanon, MO (Mike Marlar)
6/20 – Wed. – Highland Speedway/Highland, IL (Dennis Erb Jr.)
6/21 – Thurs. – Morgan County Speedway / Jacksonville , IL (Kevin Weaver)
6/22 – Fri. – Farmer City Raceway/Farmer City, IL (Rain – Rescheduled to July 13)
6/23 – Sat. – I-55 Raceway/Pevely, MO (Mike Marlar)
6/24 – Sun. – Lincoln Speedway/Lincoln, IL (Don O’Neal)
6/25 – Mon. – Peoria Speedway/Peoria, IL (Dennis Erb Jr.)
6/26 – Tues. – Poplar Bluff Speedway/Poplar Bluff, MO (Billy Moyer)
6/27 – Wed. – Lake Ozark Speedway / Eldon , MO (Rain)
6/28 – Thurs. – Paducah International Raceway/Paducah, KY (Billy Moyer)
6/29 – Fri. – Western Kentucky Speedway/Nebo, KY (Rain)
6/30 – Sat. – Clarksville Speedway/Clarksville, TN (Jeep VanWormer)
7/1 – Sun. – Vermilion County Speedway / Danville , IL (Don O’Neal)
7/2 – Mon. – Midway Speedway/Crooksville, OH (Earl Pearson Jr.)
7/3 – Tues. – Lawrenceburg Speedway/Lawrenceburg, IN (Jeep VanWormer)
7/4 – Wed. – Day Off
7/5 – Thurs. – Macon Speedway/Macon, IL (Rain – Rescheduled to July 21)
7/6 – Fri. – Tri-City Speedway / Pontoon Beach , IL (Don O’Neal)
7/7 – Sat. – Fairbury ( Ill. ) American Legion Speedway (Mike Marlar)
7/8 – Sun. – Quad City Speedway/East Moline , IL (Shannon Babb)
7/9 – Mon. – C.J. Raceway/Columbus Junction, IA (Shannon Babb)
7/10 – Tues. – Quincy Raceway/Quincy, IL (Shannon Babb)
7/11 – Wed. – Spoon River Speedway/Canton, IL (Shannon Babb)
7/12 – Thurs. – LaSalle Speedway/LaSalle, IL ( Steve Sheppard Jr.)
7/13 – Fri. – Farmer City Raceway/Farmer City, IL
7/14 – Sat. – Oakshade Raceway/Wauseon, OH
7/21 – Sat. – Macon Speedway / Macon , IL (non-point)