Brian Shirley (3s), Jason Feger (25) and Bobby Pierce (32) battling in the 2020 Farmer City 74 (Josh James Photo)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: High Payouts, Deep Field Expected for MARS Weekend at Farmer City, Fairbury

Sheppard, Pierce, Shirley and more of DIRTcar’s biggest names scheduled to compete

With the highest-paying weekend of the 2021 MARS Racing Series season on deck this weekend, the brightest stars are scheduled to come out and compete.

$25,000 in total winner’s shares is on the line as the Midwest’s biggest DIRTcar-sanctioned MARS Late Model names visit two of Illinois’ most popular dirt tracks – Farmer City Raceway and Fairbury Speedway.

The fifth annual Farmer City 74 kicks the weekend off Friday night, May 14, with a $10,000-to-win Feature for the MARS Late Models, joined by DIRTcar UMP Modifieds, Pro Late Models and Stock Cars. Grandstand gates at 1pm; adult general admission tickets are $25, children 12-and-under are free. Pit gates open at noon; pit passes are $40 for adults, $20 for children 12-and-under. Hot Laps are scheduled for 6:30pm.

From there, the Series heads 45 minutes northward on Saturday, May 15, for a $15,000-to-win Spring Showcase spectacular at Fairbury Speedway alongside the UMP Modifieds. Grandstand gates open at 2pm; adult general admission tickets are $25, children 12-and-under are free with paying adult. Pit gates open at noon; pit passes are $40 for adults, $15 for children 12-and-under with paying adult.

Here are the storylines to follow and drivers to watch for this weekend…

BACK TO THE B5 – Brandon Sheppard will make his first MARS starts of the season and blow the dust off his family-owned #B5, marking his first weekend stretch of racing this year not piloting the Mark Richards-owned Rocket Chassis house car.

Fairbury and Farmer City are Sheppard’s old playgrounds. He grew up racing around the banked quarter-mile facilities before joining the national Late Model tour ranks, providing him with more than enough experience to get the job done on the black-dirt bullrings at a moment’s notice.

Sheppard won MARS’ most recent stop at Fairbury last year, besting a loaded field of national, regional and local talent that hosted over 50 cars in the pits.

OPERATION: DEFENSE – Bobby Pierce holds a lot of recent merit at these two facilities.

Pierce, of Oakwood, IL, won the inaugural Farmer City 74 in 2017, as well as the preliminary night last year, scoring $5,000 in a dominant performance that saw him lap the field up to eighth place with a seven-plus-second lead before a yellow halted that progress in traffic.

Two days later, he won the MARS-sanctioned FALS Super Nationals at Fairbury, besting all 33 other cars on the property for a $10,000 paycheck against his biggest DIRTcar Late Model rivals.

Two big wins against the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series in April has propelled him to an eighth-place spot in the current DIRTcar national points standings.

CHAMP OUT FRONT – The defending MARS champion, Brian Shirley, of Chatham, IL, had a solid outing with the Series last weekend at LaSalle with two runner-up finishes in two days. He led most of Saturday’s Thaw Brawl finale before giving up the lead just after the halfway point, showing the Bob Cullen Racing team’s consistency early in the season.

While he fell just short of his second victory in the event, Shirley did retain the points lead and carries it coming into this weekend, just five points ahead of season-opening Feature winner Ryan Unzicker.

Shirley had wins at both Farmer City and Fairbury last year with the DIRTcar Summer Nationals and placed third and ninth, respectively, in the final MARS visits to the two venues.

WINNER WINNER – With one MARS Feature win already under his belt this year, Ryan Unzicker heads into the weekend second in the standings, five points back of Shirley.

The El Paso, IL-native also has a Feature win at Fairbury that came in the season opener two weeks ago for the track’s FALS Cup weekly series against a host of strong DIRTcar Late Model talent expected to be in the field this weekend, including Mike Spatola, Jason Feger and McKay Wenger.

Unzicker placed sixth in both the Farmer City 74 and a special summer edition of the Spring Showcase last year.

HUSTLER ON THE HIGHWAY – Jason Feger made it a night to remember in last year’s running of the Farmer City 74 (named after the highway that runs just north of the track), passing former event winner Shannon Babb for the lead around halfway and holding he and Pierce off for the win.

Feger, of Bloomington, IL, has two third-place finishes in weekly action at both tracks so far this year, and will be a threat to defend his event title this weekend.

He and his MB Customs chassis ran fifth in both MARS events last weekend at LaSalle, placing him fifth in the standings and 17th overall in DIRTcar Late Model national points.