Las Vegas, NV — Jeremy Shank has already declared the 2009 season to be his best ever.
But make no mistake – the reigning Northwest I-5 DIRTcar Late Model Tour champion would love to cap his career year with a high-profile victory during the inaugural Silver State DIRTcar Championships this weekend (Nov. 20-21) at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Shank, 30, is making the nearly 1,000-mile haul from his home in Salem, Ore., to the half-mile oval outside Sin City in search of a signature triumph he can display alongside his pair of ’09 titles: the Northwest I-5 Tour and at Willamette Speedway in Lebanon, Ore. He will battle for a $5,000 top prize in the 50-lap A-Main on Sat., Nov. 21, against a field that includes standouts from DIRTcar Racing’s Northwest I-5, Western Allstars, Southwest Dirt Racing Association (SWDRA) series as well as national star Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis.
UMP DIRTcar Modifieds will also contest a 30-lap, $2,000-to-win feature on Saturday night as part of the Silver State DIRTcar Championships, which begin on Fri., Nov. 20, with full preliminary programs for both DIRTcar-sanctioned divisions.
“A win at Vegas would be a great way to end the season,” said Shank, whose only previous appearance at the track resulted in a pair of DNFs during a February 2008 Western Allstars doubleheader. “I think we have a good shot there. We’re not used to running a big, big track like Vegas, but I like running smooth, slick (surfaces) and that’s what you usually see there.”
Whatever Shank’s outcome at LVMS, he’ll head into the winter with a satisfied grin on his face. A dirt Late Model racer for exactly half his life – he made his debut behind the wheel as a 15-year-old – Shank pulled off a championship double this season that’s worthy of special attention.
“Winning both championships was just crazy,” said Shank, who grew up attending races at the one-third-mile Willamette oval that boasts arguably the strongest weekly dirt Late Model program in the region. “The competition at Willamette is really tough, and it’s a thrill to win the I-5 series in the first year under DIRTcar.”
Shank actually clinched the two crowns in the span of one memorable September week. After Willamette’s finale on Sept. 19 saw him close out a remarkably steady season in which he won three features and finished outside the top 10 just once in 21 starts, he traveled to the two-day, season-ending Northwest I-5 weekend at Southern Oregon Speedway in Medford on Sept. 25-26 and came out on top by just a single point over John Duty of Portland, Ore.
No dirt Late Model series in the country could claim a closer, more dramatic finish in 2009 than the Northwest I-5 Dirt Late Model Tour, which wasn’t decided until the final lap. Shank entered the deciding weekend trailing Duty by two points but fell five points back after an 11th-place finish in the first feature, so he needed to beat Duty by at least two spots in the 40-lap finale to steal the title – and that’s just what he did.
Shank ran second from start-to-finish in the last race while Duty made a gallant charge forward from the 16th starting spot to place fourth, leaving Shank with his razor-thin one-point advantage at the checkered flag. It marked the first time Shank had been atop the points standings since he lost the lead to Duty following a 16th-place finish on July 3 at Southern Oregon, the fourth of 10 events that comprised the ’09 schedule.
“The (close) points made the last weekend a little more stressful, but it helped that I didn’t go in there leading,” said Shank, who scored one win (on May 23 at Willamette) and seven top-five finishes en route to the Northwest I-5 crown. “Then (in the finale), I was ahead of him the whole race. I started on the pole and he started pretty far back, and when the race went green for a long time I could see him ahead of me (on the same straightaway) so I didn’t even think about (the points) much.
“I didn’t have a clue where (Duty) was running. After the race I didn’t know if I’d won (the title) or not until they told me he finished fourth.”
Shank immediately put the Northwest I-5 title high on his career resume. He hopes the series continues to grow so he can chase more championships.
“This is definitely something we need out here,” said Shank, whose only previous tour championship was the 2004 Pacific Xtreme DirtCar Series. “DIRTcar came in this year and helped build the series by getting some new tracks involved. I think if the tour can get bigger next year with a little more points fund, there’s a lot of cars around here to support it.”
Adding more significance to Shank’s accomplishments in ’09 was the fact that he did it with one self-owned car (a 2008 Schwartz chassis), one 421 cubic-inch engine and a bunch of family members surrounding him.
For Shank, racing is a family affair. He competes each week in Willamette’s dirt Late Model division alongside his father-in-law, Russ Sell (third-place in the ’09 Willamette points and champion of the track’s SuperSport/Limited Late Model class), and brothers-in-law Brady and Cody Sell – and by day Shank works with his in-laws at Left Coast Motorsports, a parts business they launched in 2008. Shank even used an engine borrowed from Cody in the Northwest I-5 Tour season finale.
Shank will have Cody’s powerplant bolted inside his No. 50 once again this weekend at Vegas, but he’ll make the trip without his in-laws. Brady’s wife is due to deliver a baby this weekend, so the Selles will stay home.
Nevertheless, Shank will see many familiar faces in the LVMS pit area. A strong contingent of Oregon drivers is expected to enter the Silver State DIRTcar Championships, including Duty, three-time Northwest I-5 Tour champ Trevor Glaser of Tangent, 2008 series titlist Rob Mayea of Bend, Mark Carrell of Redmond, Randy Neal of Lincoln City and Casey Vitale of Lebanon.
Shank will also be joined at Vegas by his Minford, Ohio-based car builder Audie Swartz, who is flying out to provide Shank some technical assistance.
The Silver State DIRTcar Championships, which also include support-division events for the INEX Legends cars and LVMS Bombers, carries a two-day ‘Super Saver’ general-admission ticket for the price of $29. Two-day passes are $24 for Seniors/Military and $9 for Juniors (ages 6-12), with kids 5-and-under admitted free.
Single-day general admission tickets are available for $19 (adults), $15 (Seniors/Military) and $5 (Juniors).
Tickets can be purchased on-line at www.lvms.com or by calling 1-800-644-4444.
Racing is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Fri., Nov. 20, and 6 p.m. on Sat., Nov. 21.
Additional info on all of the series, sanctioning and member tracks of DIRTcar Racing is available at www.DIRTcar.com.
Final 2009 Northwest I-5 DIRTcar Late Model Tour Points Standings:
1. Jeremy Shank 1458
2. John Duty 1457
3. Mike Miller 1323
4. Rob Mayea 1319
5. Billy Workman 1170
6. Mark Carrell 1027
7. Jim Whisler 1015
8. Steve Moore 961
9. Joey Tannern 914
10. Jimmy Schram 881
11. Rob Campos 863
12. Matt Micheli 799
13. Ryan Gerig 762
14. Rick Wyatt 751
15. Nick Bartels 712