SPRINGFIELD, IL – Jan. 8, 2010 – Midwestern standouts Rusty Schlenk and Mike Harrison stood in the spotlight during Saturday night’s 27th annual DIRTcar Racing UMP ‘Night of Champions’ Awards Banquet inside the Springfield Crowne Plaza Hotel’s ballroom.
Schlenk, 24, of Jackson, Mich., was honored for winning his first-ever DIRTcar UMP Late Model national championship in 2010. A hard-nosed owner-operator who despite his young age has been steering full-fender cars for a decade, Schlenk registered a circuit-leading 20 feature wins en route to unseating Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., for the coveted title.
Highland, Ill.’s Harrison, meanwhile, celebrated his second UMP Modified national crown. The 36-year-old veteran came out on top of a dramatic four-driver points battle to capture the open-wheel division’s championship for the first time since 2004.
Almost 750 attendees from more than a dozen states and Canada looked on from tables in the hotel’s ballroom as DIRT Racing officials distributed nearly $400,000 to the champions and top performers of a memorable 2010 season.
Schlenk earned $22,000 in points-funds checks for his work in 2010, including $20,000 for the national crown and a $2,000 prize for capturing the Ohio/Pennsylvania/Canada State points title. Collecting the big money put a big smile on the face of the rising star, who lists racing as his fulltime occupation.
“I don’t even know how to explain how I feel right now,” said Schlenk, whose laser-focus on chasing the national title in 2010 led him to a narrow 31-point championship margin over Feger. “This is a dream come true. It means so much to us. After the Friday-night race (on Oct. 1) at Kankakee (Ill.) when we clinched (the title), we had 12 grown men bawling their eyes out.
“I’m not here to congratulate myself,” he added. “We’re here to thank all the people and the sponsors who helped us. They’re the ones who brought this all together. I feel like I sat behind the wheel of a car that drove itself around the racetrack.”
Harrison also picked up $22,000 in points-fund checks at the banquet for his 2010 UMP Modified success, including a $20,000 national-title stipend and $2,000 for capturing the Illinois/Indiana State championship. He commented that winning the national crown for a second time might have felt even better than the first.
“When I won it for the first time in 2004 it was a dream come true,” said Harrison, who makes his living hauling grain, driving a tractor and doing other assorted jobs for a large farm near his home. “Winning it twice against the kind of competition we have these days – man, I never would have thought I’d have done that in my racing career.”
No driver left the awards banquet with more points-fund money than Feger, who fell short of a second consecutive Late Model national title but padded his bank account by collecting the night’s single-biggest check for his first career DIRTcar Summer Nationals championship. The $25,000 Summer Nationals booty pushed Feger’s points-fund take to $37,000, including $10,000 for finishing second in the national standings and $2,000 for capturing the Illinois State title.
Feger ended the three-year Summer Nationals championship run of Carpentersville, Ill.’s Dennis Erb Jr. – something he had set out to accomplish at the start of the 2010 season.
“It’s an awesome, unbelievable feeling to win the Summer Nationals championship,” said the 32-year-old Feger. “The Hell Tour is just insanity – a crazy month.”
The night’s third-largest national championship check was presented to Scott Weber of Festus, Mo., who pocketed $10,000 for copping the DIRTcar UMP Pro Late Model title. The 43-year-old driver added $500 to his evening’s take for claiming the Missouri/Kentucky/Tennessee/Illinois State points championship during the third season of the fledgling crate-engine Late Model division.
Weber also received a new crate engine (valued at $5,300) from GM Performance Parts as a reward for his title.
“I’m just glad that Joe Kehrer of Kehrer Brother Rooffing gave me the opportunity to do this,” said Weber, who plans to concentrate on UMP Modified racing in 2011. “Randy Korte (a former DIRTcar UMP Late Model national champion) got me into the deal and it’s worked out great for me.”
Jeff Herzog, 32, of Herculaneum, Mo., was feted for his first career DIRTcar UMP Sportsman national championship. He earned $3,200, including $200 for winning the Illinois/Missouri State points crown.
An employee of Fixture Contracting in St. Louis – a company that also sponsors his racing effort – Herzog has only been racing a Sportsman for four years but has won the track title every season of his career.
Christy Georges, 51, of El Paso, Texas, made history in 2010 with her Limited Modified national championship, becoming the first female driver in the history of DIRTcar’s UMP circuit to emerge as a national titlist in any division. A 15-time feature winner in Limited Modified action and champion of the Louisiana/Mississippi/Texas/New Mexico State points race, she earned a total of $1,775 in points-fund checks
Georges was one of the UMP’s busiest drivers in 2010, competing in three divisions. She won 11 Sportsman features en route to winning the division’s Louisiana/Mississippi/New Mexico/Florida State title and finishing 13th in the national standings and placed seventh in the UMP Modified New Mexico/West Texas State standings.
“I feel very honored to be here as a champion,” said Georges, whose husband, Sherman Barnett, competes alongside her and is a well-known sponsor of events in the Southwest through his Barnett’s Harley Davidson business. “There’s a lot of competition and to come out on top is a great accomplishment.”
Joel Funk, a 27-year-old from Dwight, Ill., who teaches seventh-grade math and eighth-grade history, accepted the DIRTcar UMP Stock Car national championship. His points-fund earnings totaled $3,350, including $200 for winning the Stock Car Illinois State title and $150 for placing second in the Sportsman division’s Ohio/Michigan/Illinois State standings.
Brad Venhaus, 21, of Aviston, Ill. (Factory Stocks) and Rob Shaw of Highland, Ill. (Sport Compacts) were honored as the national champions of UMP DIRTcar’s entry-level classes, which debuted in 2007. Both drivers earned $1,000 for their national titles; Shaw added a $200 check for winning the Sport Compact Missouri/Illinois State standings and Venhaus collected an extra $150 as champion of the Factory Stock Illinois State points.
State champions were named in all eight divisions:
* Late Model State titlists earning $2,000 each were Schlenk (Ohio/Pennsylvania/Canada), Feger (Illinois), Mark Carrell of Redmond, Ore. (West), Scott Lewis of Henderson, Colo. (Northwest), Alan Vochaska of South Haven, Mich. (Michigan/Wisconsin), Jeff Walston of Paducah, Ky. (Indiana/Kentucky/Tennessee/Florida) and Justin Wells of Aurora, Mo. (Southwest).
* Capturing UMP Modified regional crowns worth $2,000 apiece were Harrison (Illinois/Indiana), Dave Crawley Jr. of Decatur, Ill. (Northern Illinois), Clint DeMoss of Bloomington, Ind. (Indiana), Jim Farris of of Odell, Ill. (Southern Illinois), Rusty Griffaw of Festus, Mo. (Missouri), Braedon Hand of Cottage Grove, Ore. (California/Oregon), Jeff Matthews of Dover, Fla. (Louisiana/Mississipp/Florida/East Texas), David McWilliams of Union, Ky. (Ohio/New York/Pennsylvania), Rich Robinson Jr. of Mt. Pleasant, Mich. (Michigan), Stormy Scott of Las Cruces, N.M. (New Mexico/West Texas) and Randle Sweeney of Clifty, Ky. (Kentucky/Tennessee).
* Weber (Tennessee/Kentucky/Illinois/Missouri), 14-year-old Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill. (Illinois) and Lee Gill of Lafargeville, N.Y. (New York/Canada/Pennsylvania) pocketed $500 each as Pro Late Model State champions.
* Sportsman State titles (worth $200) were won by Georges (Louisiana/Mississipp/New Mexico/Florida), Herzog (Illinois/Michigan), Dave Crawley Jr. (Ohio/Michigan/Illinois), Jeremy Hines of Seymour, Ind. (Indiana/Kentucky/Tennessee) and Joey Ladouceur of Alexandria, Ont. (New York/Canada/Pennsylvania).
* Limited Modified State crowns (worth $150) were claimed by Georges (Louisiana/Mississippi/Texas/New Mexico) and Jonathan Smith (Missouri/Kentucky).
* Stock Car State titles (worth $200) fell to Funk, Frank Burnell (New York), Dan Dykman (Michigan), Aaron Fields (Indiana/Illinois) and J.R. Mason (Louisiana/Mississippi/Florida/Kentucky).
* Entry-level division State championships (worth $150) were Venhaus (Michigan/Indiana/Florida/Ohio) and Jim Scout (Indiana/Ohio) in the Sport Compacts and Shaw (Missouri/Illinois), Kenny Butterfield (Illinois), Lucas Jackson (Ohio/Indiana/Michigan) and Michael Rittenberry (Louisiana/Mississippi/Kentucky/Tennessee/Florida) in the Factory Stocks.
Other DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned series titlists recognized during Saturday’s festivities were Feger (Northern All-Stars), Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill. (Monster Midwest Tour) and John DeMoss of Bloomington, Ind. (American Modified Series).
Dillon White of Crofton, Ky., meanwhile, was recognized as the 2010 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Rookie of the Year. He received a check for $1,000.
A number of special awards determined by a vote of the DIRTcar Racing UMP membership were handed out:
* Feger (Late Models) and Harrison (Modifieds) received Sportsman of the Year trophies.
* Terry Aaron, who turns the wrenches on Ryan Unzicker’s Late Models, and Terry Frazier, who serves as Harrison’s UMP Modified crew chief, were presented the Mechanic of the year awards.
* Highland (Ill.) Speedway was announced as the DIRTcar UMP Track of the Year.
* Bob Sargent of Track Enterprises was presented the DIRTcar UMP Promoter of the Year award. He operates the Macon (Ill.) Speedway and Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway.
Roger Friedman of Dyer’s Top Rods received the sixth annual Bob Memmer Achievement Award, which honors the memory of UMP DIRTcar Racing’s late founder.
The 2010 UMP DIRTcar Racing Chassis Builder of the Year awards went to Rocket Chassis of Shinnston, W.Va., in the Late Models and Bob Pierce Race Cars of Oakwood, Ill., in the Modifieds. Rocket cars won 104 UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned features and Pierce machines reached Victory Lane 141 times in Modified competition.
Claiming the 2010 Engine Builder of the Year awards were Pro Power Racing Engines (Late Models) and Mullins Racing Engines (Modifieds). Late Models using Pro Power motors scored 32 feature wins and Modifieds equipped with Mullins powerplants registered 110 triumphs.
Rayburn Race Cars (Late Models) and Larry Shaw Race Cars (Modifieds) were recognized as national champion chassis builders.
The affair began for the third consecutive year with an awards ceremony for the top-seven drivers in the new Kid Modz division, a four-cylinder version of a UMP DIRTcar Modified that car builder Bob Pierce launched to bring youngsters into the sport. Teenager Logan Moody of Catlin, Ill., was celebrated as the division’s 2010 champion.
Appreciation plaques were presented during the evening to promoters or representatives from the nearly two-dozen DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned tracks who were in attendance.
The 2011 UMP DIRTcar Racing season begins with a two-day meet for the UMP Modifieds on Jan. 28-29 at North Florida Speedway in Lake City, Fla. The organization will also sanction UMP Modified action on Feb. 3-5 at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla.
The UMP Modifieds and Late Models will then be part of the 40th annual DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., with the Modifieds running nightly from Feb. 8-15 and the Super Late Models contesting sanctioned events on Feb. 14, 15, 16 and 18.
Other season-opening DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned events in the south are scheduled for Ocala (Fla.) Speedway, which hosts a Late Model special on Feb. 13 and UMP Modified racing on Feb. 17-19.
For more information on DIRTcar Racing, visit www.dirtcar.com.