Ashton Winger’s been on one mission this summer – win more races. His relentless drive and determination to do that was tested Saturday night at Highland Speedway as he battled to keep the lead against some of Illinois’ best racers.
He took the lead in the opening laps, lost it, got it back, then lost it and regained it once more before holding off Mike Harrison and Jason Feger on a green-white-checkered finish to score the $10,000 grand prize and his fifth DIRTcar Summer Nationals Feature win of the season.
From the outside pole, Winger jumped out to the lead and looked strong through the first half of the 40-lap main event. He first denied five-time Hell Tour champion Shannon Babb on Lap 14 with a slide job pass for the lead, taking back the top spot after Babb got it from him on the previous restart.
Further back in the field, hometown hero and multi-time UMP Modified track champion Mike Harrison was mounting his charge to the front, advancing all the way to third from 12th on the starting grid by Lap 11. He picked up the battle for second with Babb on Lap 16 and swiped the spot from him at the line, blasting the high side around the 1/4-mile.
“I just slowly started venturing up toward the top, and I just figured out how to make that top work,” Harrison said. “There wasn’t really much up there; just more or less momentum.”
Harrison quickly closed in on the back of Winger, and with a big run off the top side of Turn 2, Harrison drove it hard down to the bottom in Turn 3 in a bid for the lead on Lap 24.
“I finally got to where I felt I had position and I drove in underneath [Winger],” Harrison said. “I don’t know if he just turned and went to the bottom or what happened there. We made a little contact there, but I fully intended on driving right past him into the corner.”
Harrison’s right-rear smacked Winger’s left-front, bending several front-end components on Winger’s car and opening the door for Babb to go by underneath him to take second.
“I’m not making excuses, but I was swatting flies down the straightaway, not knowing where my front tires were gonna land,” Winger said.
Winger had fallen back a bit with his handling now hindered but wasn’t ready to give up. When a flat left-rear tire forced Babb to pit under yellow with six laps left, Winger’s hopes were renewed.
“When Shannon had that flat, I knew Harrison was gonna try the top,” Winger said. “Then on that restart, it looked like he didn’t know where he wanted to go. So at the last second, he tried to run the bottom, and he left just enough open to where I could get my nose in there.”
Winger grabbed hold of the bottom lane for the restart while Harrison stuck to the top. With bent suspension parts and all, Winger still found the speed on the bottom to scoot past Harrison at the line coming to two-to-go to retake the lead.
“I knew when I got out front and could use the whole racetrack, I’d be alright,” Winger said.
The caution was thrown as the leaders were headed for the white flag, setting up a green-white-checkered dash to the finish. Try as they may, Harrison and a hard-charging Jason Feger – who had driven all the way back up to third from 17th on the starting grid – were unable to catch Winger as he held his damaged ride together and crossed the finish line to score his 11th career Summer Nationals win.
Though he crossed in second after leading 10 laps, Harrison stood proud with his second Late Model podium of the summer aboard the Steve Lampley Motorsports #33.
“In the end, I’m almost glad it came back down to me and [Winger], because that’s the way it was,” Harrison said. “I would rather lose the race to him for the way it all happened than win it and take it from him because we crashed together.”
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals Late Models will wrap-up Week 4 of competition Sunday, July 9, with a visit to Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, IN. Tickets will be on sale at the gate; streaming is available at DIRTVision.com.
Feature (40 Laps): 1. 12-Ashton Winger; 2. 25-Jason Feger; 3. 33-Mike Harrison; 4. 7-Chad Zobrist; 5. 4G-Bob Gardner; 6. 91-Rusty Schlenk; 7. 96V-Tanner English; 8. 16-Rusty Griffaw; 9. 14-Paul Kuper; 10. 26H-Kyle Hammer; 11. 31AUS-Kye Blight; 12. 17-Todd Rehg; 13. 44-Blaze Burwell; 14. 18-Shannon Babb; 15. 51-Dean Carpenter; 16. 15-Clayton Stuckey; 17. 1-BJ Robinson; 18. 27M-Rodney Melvin; 19. 10-Daryn Klein; 20. 38-Thomas Hunziker; 21. 6K-Michael Kloos; 22. 22-Dan Jacober; 23. 23NZ-Mick Quin