Standing atop the roof of his DIRTcar UMP Modified, Mike Harrison’s cheers were drowned by the emphatic celebration resonating from a sea of fans encompassing Fairbury Speedway.
Helping bring the DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals 2023 season to an epic conclusion, Harrison fended off a series of onslaught attacks to score his third Prairie Dirt Classic victory (2017, 2018, 2023) in Fairbury, IL Saturday night.
“It’s pretty important,” said Harrison, of Highland, IL, about winning his third Prairie Dirt Classic in his home state. “Every win here at Fairbury is special, just because of the atmosphere. Especially the PDC here, to do it in front of this many fans. Ultimately, that’s who we do it for.”
Harrison started off the weekend as the fastest driver, setting Quick Time Friday night. Then, he went on to win one of the four Showdown Features to lock himself into Saturday’s 40-lap, $5,000-to-win, Feature and the redraw.
Drivers in the first four rows drew for their starting position, leading to Nick Allen on the pole, Charlie Mefford second, Mason Duncan third, Ethan Dotson fourth, Michael Ledford fifth, Harrison sixth, Drake Troutman seventh and Trent Young eighth.
When the Feature commenced, Allen held the lead on the start while Medford had to battle with Dotson for second. The #00 of Dotson was a force in the early laps, taking second on Lap 3 and then the lead on Lap 5.
However, the next lap, Dotson jumped the cushion and slammed his right rear into the Turn 4 wall. Fortunately, for him, the first caution of the race came out at the same time, allowing him to regroup.
Able to continue, Dotson led the field back to green but soon found himself in a fierce battle with Harrison, who was making a steady climb from his sixth starting position. The veteran slid his car ahead of Dotson and rocketed ahead once he found grip in the top lane.
After Dotson lost the lead, he continued to fall, losing second to Allen.
Another caution fell on Lap 12, helping put Allen on the back of Harrison’s bumper. However, Allen’s hopes of dethroning Harrison ended on the restart after he jumped the cushion and slowed. His downfall led to Mefford getting his shot at Harrison.
Mefford gave Harrison his first scare, running side by side with the veteran for multiple laps, nosing ahead at times. But another caution killed his battle. Then, when the race resumed, Ledford bested Mefford on the restart and took his turn at trying to run down Harrison.
The 18-year-old – looking for his first PDC crown – gave Harrison another fight, running side by side with Harrison’s #24H, lap after lap. However, another caution plagued Ledford’s chances.
When the race resumed, Harrison made consistent laps around the top, leaving Ledford to duel with Kyle Steffens for second. The two went back and forth for multiple laps with Steffens eventually securing the spot.
After a caution on Lap 25, Michael Long made his presence known – on a charge from his 19th starting position. Ripping the top, he went from fifth to third on the restart and then ran down Steffens to take second on Lap 31.
Three more cautions hindered Long’s chances of trying to build enough of a run to challenge Harrison before the checkered flag, forcing him to settle for second. However, after racing from 19th to second in the Last Chance Showdown to transfer into the Feature, and then go from 19th to second in the main event, he’s still leaving satisfied.
“The beginning of the night, I thought my chances were way slim,” Long said. “In the Feature, I knew we always have a good car here when the Feature time rolls around, to just be patient on that cushion. I was really good on the bottom and was able to work my way up through there and had a few cautions where I gained spots on most of the cautions, and everything worked out and got to second with 10 to go.
“I needed just a long green flag, I think, to have something for [Harrison]. I was just a little bit too tight on the restarts. All in all, I can’t complain about this at all. I need to go buy a lottery ticket.”
Steffens also had a good showing, finishing third after starting 14th.
“We kind of just bought our time and raced our way through,” Steffens said. “Put ourselves in position. We were second for a long time. The top just got so gnarly, and my car was too soft in the right rear. We kind of had to roll the middle to the top and we ended up P3. It’s our best PDC yet. I’m really thankful.”
Tyler Nicely, who was crowned the 2023 DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals on Friday, finished fourth. Dotson rounded out the top five.
In Victory Lane, climbing out of his car to a roar of cheers, Harrison had the checkered flag in one hand and his third Prairie Dirt Classic trophy in the other. And while he scored the win with more than a second lead, Harrison wasn’t sure he was going to make it to the end.
“I got something broke in the back end,” Harrison said. “My god, that was a handful of laps… I seen the 18 (of Long) on the board. Michael Long, he’s a fierce competitor just like I am. He’ll do whatever it takes to get it done on that cushion. I knew that I couldn’t screw up. I knew I had to be spot on and make the right decisions.
“When you have these guys throwing everything at you, you can’t back off and just ride. You have to go to get a little gap to where you can make the laps you think you need to make… It’s always fun coming here and winning, especially at the Prairie Dirt Classic in front of these fans. It’s quite an accomplishment.”
Feature (40 Laps): 1. 24H-Mike Harrison; 2. 18L-Michael Long; 3. 8-Kyle Steffens; 4. 25-Tyler Nicely; 5. 00-Ethan Dotson; 6. 21M-Willy Myers; 7. 10Y-Trent Young; 8. 777-Trevor Neville; 9. C40-Mike Chasteen Jr; 10. 37-Michael Ledford; 11. 14-Caden McWhorter; 12. 32-Mason Duncan; 13. 17N-Dillon Nusbaum; 14. 5T-Drake Troutman; 15. 24Z-Zeke McKenzie; 16. 124-Ryan Unzicker; 17. 22-Josh Harris; 18. 13-Charlie Mefford; 19. 54-Zachary Hawk; 20. 88S-Alan Stipp; 21. 0F-Matt Fabrizius; 22. K9-Will Krup; 23. 82-Dalton Lane; 24. 21A-Nick Allen