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Schlenk’s Best-Laid Plan Results In 2010 DIRTcar UMP Late Model National Championship

Rusty Schlenk

Rusty Schlenk - Jimmy Dearing Photo

CONCORD, NC – Nov. 19, 2010 – Isn’t it great when the best-laid plan comes together?

So it was in 2010 for Rusty Schlenk, who during the off-season carefully crafted a strategy to pursue the DIRTcar UMP Late Model national title, executed it to perfection and won the prestigious $20,000 crown for the first time in his budding young career.

Schlenk, 24, of Jackson, Mich., expertly mastered the circuit’s points system, which uses drivers’ best 35 event ‘points nights’ – feature finish and car-count bonus points added together – to determine a champion. He jumped out to a big early lead in the standings and held on to the finish line, withstanding a late rally by defending national champ Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., to come out on top by a 31-point margin (2,798-2,767).

“My biggest goal at the beginning of the season was the national championship,” said Schlenk, who finished third in the 2009 DIRTcar UMP national points race. “I knew that in order to win it I’d have to stay halfway local. Instead of trying to run some big shows, we had to totally focus on running ALMS (the DIRTcar-sanctioned Sunoco American Late Model Series), Oakshade (Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio) and shows around home at tracks where we knew there would be good car counts and we knew we could run good.”

An owner-operator who carves out a living as a dirt Late Model driver despite racing on a limited budget, Schlenk smartly recognized that chasing the pot of gold at the end of the DIRTcar UMP rainbow would provide the maximum possible return on his motorsports investment. He just had to maintain a single-minded discipline throughout the season, refusing to deviate from a plan that eschewed most of the big-money events in his region in favor of gathering points at lower-profile races that better fit his program and would help push him toward a lucrative end-of-season payoff.

“UMP is the best thing for me,” asserted Schlenk, who accented his 2010 national title with a circuit-best 20 feature wins, a track championship at Oakshade and a third-place finish in the ALMS points race. “I know that as long as I stick to my gameplan and don’t stray too far from UMP (events), then at the end of the year I can probably be in the top-three (in the points standings) and I’ll have enough (points-fund) money to get me through the winter.

“I don’t know how many times this year I had to drive past a show that was paying five or six or 10-thousand to win to go somewhere else where I knew I could win and pick up points. Usually when I did do that I ended up winning so it made it O.K., but man, when you’re driving past the big show you’re saying, ‘I know I have a shot at winning that race. If I show up and everything goes my way, I could pocket 10-grand tonight.’

“I had to talk myself out of (entering big shows) quite a few times. I just kept thinking, ‘Stick to your plan, win a race, get those UMP points. That five- or 10-grand show might be good now, but it’s not gonna pay the bills at the end of the year.’ Our focus was on that big point-fund check (for winning the title) because the hard part about doing this for a living is getting through the winter when no money is coming in.”

Schlenk’s strategy drew a fair share of criticism from observers who felt he was talented enough to battle the sport’s heavyweights in major events held in his backyard, but he didn’t let the talk seduce him into taking his eye off the prize. He knew he ran the very real risk of overextending his program if he attempted to run more national-level shows.

“I know a lot of people kind of frowned on what we were doing, thought we were cherry-picking and this and that,” analyzed Schlenk. “But if you really sat down and looked at the equipment that I have and the budget that I have to race on, I really don’t consider how we raced cherry-picking.

“I had a lot of people say, ‘You have the best equipment and you need to be out there running these $10,000-to-win shows because you’re that caliber of driver.’ Well, I may be that caliber of driver, but I don’t have the funds behind me to gamble at a $10,000-to-win show. I’m doing it for a living on a limited budget, so I can’t gamble. If I go to those shows and don’t qualify I’m not making any money and I’m missing out on a chance for UMP points, so I gotta stick to what we can do.”

Schlenk gathered those DIRTcar UMP points at a furious clip during the season’s first half, building a lead of nearly 600 points in the national standings by mid-June. He needed virtually every bit of that cushion to stave off Feger, who roared from behind down the stretch after capturing the 2010 DIRTcar Summer Nationals points championship.

Feger closed within 31 points of Schlenk entering the final weekend of weekly points racing (Oct. 1-3), ramping up the pressure on Schlenk. But Feger needed an almost perfect weekend at Kankakee (Ill.) County Speedway to keep his hopes alive and couldn’t come through, allowing Schlenk to clinch the crown without the following weekend’s points-season-ending DIRTcar UMP Nationals at Eldora Speedway even factoring into the outcome.

“We knew with about six races to go that Feger had to about win everything up to the Nationals to beat us, but you know Feger – when he gets on a roll, he’s hard to stop,” said Schlenk, whose cars carried engines built by Dick Kercher of Roan, Ind. “He started getting on a roll (in late September) and I started getting a little nervous because we were struggling. We pulled off a few wins there at the end of the year with our new car, but I couldn’t put anything consistent together from night-to-night.

“The first half of the year saved me because the second half wasn’t too good,” he continued. “Luckily we had all our ducks in a row early in the season and clicked off quite a few wins. We were in the driver’s seat the first three-quarters of the year, but then we wrecked a (Rayburn) car we had been racing the whole year at I-96 (Speedway in Lake Odessa, Mich.) in mid-August and had to put a new car together to run the rest of the year.”

Schlenk never quite got his new machine running as consistently fast as his destroyed mount, but his body of work over the entire season was too superb for him to be denied. He earned the national title in a fashion that would have made late UMP founder Bob Memmer proud, not only winning weekly and ALMS events but also proving his ample skills with a pair of Summer Nationals victories over high-profile competition on July 14 at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway and July 17 at Oakshade (a $10,000 score in the annual ‘Birthday Race’).

“Those Summer Nationals wins were highlights of the year for me, no doubt – especially Kokomo,” said Schlenk, who had never before captured a Summer Nationals A-Main. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved winning the ‘Birthday Race’ at Oakshade, but I’m good at Oakshade. I grew up racing there (since he was a teenager) and I kind of expect when those guys come in to be able to run top five, top three, and maybe have a chance to win. I don’t think I was quite surprised to win that one, but when we won Kokomo – man, there were a lot of good cars there and we were kind of on neutral ground. Winning that kind of proved to me – and hopefully proved to some of the fans and competitors – that I can run with them on any given night. As long as my funds are there for tires and stuff, I can compete with them.”

After starting the 2010 season with “$4,500 in the bank to race on for the year,” Schlenk will be depositing over $20,000 into his account (he also captured the DIRTcar UMP Ohio/Pennsylvania/Canada State points title) when he accepts his accolades during the DIRTcar UMP Awards Banquet on Jan. 8, 2011, in Springfield, Ill. That’s proof positive that his plan “worked out pretty good.”

And considering two other milestones that happened to Schlenk off the track, 2010 will certainly be a year he never forgets.

“I got married (on Jan. 1), had a kid (son Carter in August) and won the national championship all in the same year,” smiled Schlenk. “I’d say it’ll be pretty hard to top that.”

Ticket order forms for the annual DIRTcar UMP ‘Night of Champions’ Awards Banquet on Jan. 8, 2011, at the Crown Plaza in Springfield, Ill., are available on-line at or by calling the UMP office at 618-450-2072.

For more information on DIRTcar Racing visit

Official Final 2010 DIRTcar UMP Late Model National Points Standings (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):

1. Rusty Schlenk 2798 35
2. Jason Feger 2767 35
3. Ryan Unzicker 2647 35
4. Jeep VanWormer 2542 35
5. Dennis Erb Jr. 2513 35
6. Brian Ruhlman 2496 35
7. Brian Shirley 2432 35
8. Michael Kloos 2429 35
9. Alan Vochaska 2413 35
10. Shannon Babb 2407 35
11. Jack Sullivan 2222 35
12. Jeff Walston 2220 35
13. Dillan White 2219 35
14. Rich Neiser 2183 35
15. Eric Spangler 2134 35
16. Kevin Nelson Jr. 2112 35
17. Chad Zobrist 2109 35
18. Curtis Roberts 2107 35
19. Brandon Sheppard 2103 35
20. Dona Marcoullier 2097 35

Official Final 2010 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Indiana/Kentucky/Tennessee/Florida State Points (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):

1. Jeff Walston 2190 35
2. Terry English 1823 30
3. Chris Shelton 1582 35
4. Jason McBride 1411 27
5. Dustin Butler 1277 26
6. Tanner English 1264 23
7. Dillan White 1245 22
8. Caleb Ashby 1098 20
9. Kevin Cole 1095 20
10. Randy Sellars 1074 19

Official Final 2010 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Southwest State Points (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):

1. Justin Wells 1279 21
2. Darrell Mooneyham 1195 24
3. Dustin Mooneyham 961 21
4. Ken Essary 933 15
5. Mark Voigt 930 17
6. Terry Phillips 873 12
7. Bryan Collins 824 17
8. Jeff Johns 816 17
9. Larry Jones 812 16
10. Shane Essary 805 14

Official Final 2010 DIRTcar UMP Late Model West State Points (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):

1. Mark Carrell 925 15
2. Mike Miller 753 12
3. Paul Culp 637 13
4. Craig Hanson 613 13
5. Kevin Ropchan 613 13
6. Justin Simpson 596 12
7. Chuck Christian 572 12
8. Kreg Britton 548 13
9. Trent Elliott 503 10
10. Rick Wyatt 392 8

Official Final 2010 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Michigan/Wisconsin State Points (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):

1. Alan Vochaska 2413 35
2. Rich Neiser 2164 35
3. Eric Spangler 2125 35
4. Kevin Nelson Jr. 2112 35
5. Adam Thrush 1821 35
6. Dave Hartman 1726 31
7. Sammy Epling 1646 28
8. Zack Olger 1627 28
9. Bill Bray 1588 31
10. Tom Sprague Jr. 1585 31

Official Final 2010 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Ohio/Pennsylvania/Canada State Points (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):

1. Rusty Schlenk 2252 31
2. Jared Miley 1845 32
3. Brian Ruhlman 1789 27
4. Lynn Geisler 1781 35
5. Mike Johnson 1745 34
6. Jeff Babcock 1737 34
7. Devin Shiels 1597 30
8. Rick Delong 1548 29
9. Dusty Moore 1476 30
10. Dave Hess Jr. 1374 23

Official Final 2010 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Illinois State Points (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):

1. Jason Feger 2713 35
2. Ryan Unzicker 2587 35
3. Michael Kloos 2378 35
4. Dennis Erb Jr. 2263 35
5. Brian Shirley 2156 35
6. Eric Smith 2084 33
7. Chad Zobrist 2063 34
8. Frankie Martin 2061 35
9. Brandon Sheppard 2045 35
10. Mike Hammerle 1933 35

Official Final 2010 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Northwest State Points (Rank/Driver/Points/Races Counted):

1. Scott Lewis 919 17
2. Jason Schierkolk 873 17
3. Eddie Kirchoff 854 12
4. Dave Garmann 840 16
5. Eric Mass 532 9
6. Steve Lewis 513 13
7. John Bey 483 8
8. Gary Gorby 423 9
9. J.T. Botts 422 11
10. David Brack 416 8

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