Best of 2012: Midwest's state-by-state capsules
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
Dirt Late Model racing’s 2012 superlatives of the United states (individually for states with at least five weekly Late Model tracks; other states combined), primarily focusing on local and regional events:
Top performer: Chatham’s Brian Shirley shook off a slow start, hitting his groove with the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals to win five series races and his first title. He finished 10th in DirtonDirt.com’s Top 25 and won UMP’s weekly title, too. | Best of 2012 coverage index
Best national driver: Carpentersville’s Dennis Erb Jr. impressed at Speedweeks with week-long points titles at East Bay and Volusia, winning once at each track, then added a Summernationals victory at Clarksville, Tenn., and WoO victory at Pevely, Mo., en route to seven victories in a mind-boggling 93 appearances.
Best regional drivers: Bloomington’s Jason Feger (nine special event victories including Fairbury’s Prairie Dirt Classic and Eldora’s UMP Nationals); Milan’s Ray Guss Jr. (four Deery Brothers victories and third straight IMCA weekly crown); Moweaqua’s Shannon Babb (six victories and Summernationals runner-up); New Berlin’s Brandon Sheppard (Summernationals victory at Clayhill and WoO at Belle-Clair); El Paso’s Ryan Unzicker (two Summernationals victories, including $10,000 Oakshade finale); Alhambra’s Bobby Dauderman (17 victories en route to UMP Crate, Pro Crate Racers of America titles).
Best weekly drivers: Gibson City’s Kevin Weaver (UMP DIRTcar-leading 18 victories, Kankakee title); Michael Kloos (12 victories and Belle-Clair title); Chad Zobrist (eight victories and Highland title); Highland’s Randy Korte (11 victories and I-55 title); New Berlin’s Nick Bauman (13 Crate victories); Glasford’s Evan Fink (12 Crate victories); Mount Vernon’s Aaron Heck (11 Crate victories).
Best homegrown performances: Series champ Brian Shirley’s two victories and nine top-five finishes in final nine races of the Summernationals. ... Ryan Unzicker’s last-lap pass of Wendell Wallace at Wilmot (Wis.) Raceway.
Most improved drivers: Cisco’s Kyle Logue (five victories and runner-up finishes in Summernationals at Fayette County and Prairie Dirt Classic; WoO top five at Belle-Clair); Tonica’s Scott Schmitt (four victories and La Salle title).
Best newcomers: Camp Point’s Dustin Griffin (graduates from Crates to Supers, grabs 10 victories as UMP’s top rookie); Fairbury’s McKay Wenger (two victories in 17 starts; eighth in Fairbury points); Port Byron’s Chuck Hanna (IMCA Rookie of the Year; first career victory at 34 Raceway).
Most memorable moment: Standing ovation from Jacksonville Raceway crowd after stirring, back-and-forth, three-wide battle in UMP DIRTcar Summernationals race won by Jason Feger.
Biggest news: Brandon Sheppard substitutes for Josh Richards in Rocket Chassis house car. ... Ray Guss Jr. enters National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame. ... Long-time St. Louis-area announcer Mike Meurer of Edwardsville, Ill., dies of a heart attack in May. “The Talker Guy” was 63. ... Farmer City Raceway stripped of UMP DIRTcar sanctioning by the World Racing Group after a financial dispute regarding the track’s World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series event; fair board to promote track in 2013. ... Northern Allstars suspend operations. ... Quincy switches to UMP from IMCA rules for 2012. ... Three-time Kankakee champ Mike Provenzano, 33, of Marseilles suffers neck and back injuries in a rollover accident. ... Bob Sargent of Track Enterprises honored as the 36th Auto Racing Promoter of the Year.
Top performer: Martinsville’s Don O’Neal racked up 15 victories, including 11 on the Lucas Oil Series en route to a runner-up finish on the national tour. O’Neal’s victories included the $50,000 Sunoco North-South 100 at Florence, the $20,000 Clash at the Mag at Mississippi’s Magnolia Motor Speedway, and the $15,000 Fall Classic at Whynot (Miss.) Motorsports Park. He finished the year ranked third in the DirtonDirt.com Top 25.
Best national drivers: Don O’Neal; Bloomington’s Kent Robinson (11th on World of Outlaws Late Model Series; adds unsanctioned victories at Brownstown, $5,000 at Florence).
Best regional drivers: Lawrenceburg’s Scott James (Corn Belt Clash victory at Cedar Lake; three Florence victories and three top-fives on Summernationals); Richmond’s Steve Casebolt ($5,000 victories at Moler, Portsmouth on single weekend; third place in North-South 100); Bedford’s Greg Johnson (victories at Brownstown, Lawrenceburg and Florence; 18th at World 100).
Best weekly drivers: Chad Stapleton (10 victories overall, eight at Moler; $3,000 victory at Lake Cumberland); Richmond’s Duane Chamberlain (victories at Moler, Eldora); North Vernon’s Mark Barber (victories at Brownstown, Scottsburg); Jeremy Hines (Brownstown and USDCS titles); Bloomington’s Shannon Reed (Indiana Crate Late Model Series champ).
Best homegrown performance: After starting on the tail of a heat race in a backup car, Don O’Neal starts sixth in Brownstown's Indiana Icebreaker feature and outduels Jimmy Owens for Lucas Oil victory.
Most improved drivers: Chad Stapleton; Carmel’s Joe Janowski (first career victories at Brownstown, Florence).
Best newcomers: Bloomington’s Shelby Miles, a modified ace, turns heads at Florida Speedweeks.
Most memorable moment: Late-race charge by unheralded Scott Weber of Festus, Mo., for UMP DIRTcar Summernationals victory at Haubstadt’s Tri-State Speedway over Scott James.
Biggest news: Hoosier Racing Tire founder Bob Newton of Lakeville dies at 85. ... Bloomington’s Don Hobbs inducted into National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame with Mitchell’s John Gill to join him in 2013. ... Terre Haute hosts first Summernationals race since 2003 (won by Don O’Neal). ... Richmond’s Steve Casebolt sits out first several months of 2012 before returning with a flourish. ... Plymouth Speedway converting to dirt from asphalt, plans 2013 season opener on April 13-14 feature UMP DIRTcar Late Models.
Top performer: Muscatine’s Brian Birkhofer captured second career World 100 at Eldora, one of six victories in 41 appearances. Also grabs Lucas Oil-sanctioned Diamond Nationals at I-80 Speedway and $10,000 at home track West Liberty.
Best national driver: Brian Birkhofer.
Best regional drivers: Mount Vernon’s Chad Simpson (four Corn Belt Clash victories boost him to third straight title; leads 29 laps at World 100 but breakage robs him of top-five); Waterloo’s Jeff Aikey (three Deery Brothers victories and record-setting seventh championship); Oxford’s Chris Simpson (three Corn Belt Clash victories and series runner-up); Colona’s Mike Murphy Jr. (four Deery Brothers victories and Davenport title); Iowa City’s Andy Eckrich (two Deery Brothers victories and series runner-up; West Liberty champ).
Best weekly drivers: Des Moines’s Todd Cooney (IMCA-best 15 victories, runner-up for weekly crown, three track titles); Decorah’s Tyler Bruening (Independence and Farley titles; second straight Yankee Dirt Track Classic victory); Atlantic’s Jason O’Brien (track-leading five victories at Adams County and two SLMRS wins).
Best homegrown performances: Chad Simpson sweeps July 26-28 Corn Belt Clash weekend at C.J., Fayette County and Lafayette County. ... Ray Guss Jr. wins back-to-back Deery Brothers races July 10-11 at West Liberty and I-35. ... Jason O’Brien’s double-feature sweep Aug. 4 at Adams County.
Most improved driver: Mike Murphy Jr.
Best newcomer: Swisher’s Kyle Hinrichs (fourth in points at West Liberty).
Most memorable moment: The Darrell Lanigan-Clint Smith contact on lap 43 at Independence Motor Speedway that stymied Smith’s moment and helped Lanigan to a narrow WoO victory.
Biggest news: Stuart (Iowa) Speedway adds Late Model division for first time in more than 20 years. ... West Burlington’s 34 Raceway switches to UMP from IMCA sanctioning for Late Models. ... Colon cancer diagnosis forces three-time Independence champ Darren Ackerman to miss season. ... Late Iowan Darrell Dake to join National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2013. ... Toby Kruse resigns from Knoxville Raceway after less than one year as promoter. ... Dubuque Speedway upgrades lighting and sound system.
Top performer: Marquette, Neb.’s Kyle Berck won half his 32 appearances and finishes outside the top three just six times. The 43-year-old Berck won a series-leading eight SLMRS events along with three MLRA or NCRA sanctioned specials at Junction Motor Speedway (twice) and Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. Also captured I-80 Speedway title.
Best national driver: None
Best regional drivers: Kyle Berck; Omaha, Neb.’s John Anderson (six sanctioned victories at six tracks, including five MLRA wins en route to third series title); Norfolk, Neb.’s Tad Pospisil (13 victories, 33 top-fives, fourth in SLMRS points, Boone County title); Madison, Neb.’s Travis Dickes (three victories including two series wins en route to repeating SLMRS championship).
Best weekly drivers: Lincoln, Neb.’s Jase Kaser (11 victories, Junction title and Nebraska’s leading driver in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series points); Gibbon, Neb.’s Josh Leonard (nine victories and 15 top-fives en route second straight Mid-Nebraska title); Muskogee, Okla.’s Kyle Slader (four victories en route to Thunderbird Speedway title); Plainview, Neb.’s Jim Johnson (four victories en route to Riveria championship); Norfolk, Neb.’s Don Smith Jr. (seven victories at South Dakota’s Wagner Speedway).
Best homegrown performance: On the final day of I-80’s Cornhusker Classic, Kyle Berck won a rained out SLMRS feature, then captured the regularly scheduled SLMRS main event. He capped a three-victory night in the modified division with a victory in a Neil Zank-owned car, rallying from 17th to earn $3,000.
Most improved drivers: Bartlesville, Okla.’s Joe Gorby (five victories among Caney Valley, Salina and South Coffeyville); La Vista, Neb.’s Justin Zeitner (first SLMRS victory since ’09 and second in series points; two I-80 victories).
Best newcomers: Manhattan, Kan.’s Chase Junghans (NCRA victory at 81; fourth in NCRA points); Caney, Kan.’s Jacob Magee (Caney Valley champion); Doniphan, Neb.’s Justin Gregg (stepping up to Supers from Limiteds, ran as high as second at I-80 in H&H Racing car formerly piloted by Mike Wiarda).
Most memorable moment: Brian Birkhofer pulls away from an early duel with Billy Moyer at Greenwood’s I-80 Speedway en route to a $26,000 victory in the Silver Dollar Nationals.
Biggest news: Venerable engine builder Russell Baker of Miami, Okla., dies in April after battle with leukemia. He was 66. ... I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb., shifts racing to Friday nights. ... The Oklahoma-based Show-Me Racin’ Series goes dormant. ... Zoning issues prevent opening of newly constructed Black Gold Speedway near Bartlesville, Okla. ... Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series sanctions I-80’s Silver Dollar Nationals for just the second-ever series event in Nebraska. ... Wichita’s 81 Speedway adds regular Late Model division for first time since 2008. ... Thomas County Speedway in Colby, Kan., hosts CLMA for first Late Model race since 2005.
Top performer: Traverse City’s Brandon Thirlby posted a career-high 15 victories overall along with the first-year Michigan Dirt Cup title. The former power boat racer won track titles at Cherry and I-96 and captured the UMP DIRTcar regional title.
Best national driver: None.
Best regional drivers: Brandon Thirlby; Houghton Lake’s Dona Marcoullier (nine victories at six tracks, including Berlin and Winston’s MDC event); Clarklake’s Brian Ruhlman (fourth ALMS title); Pinconning’s Jeep Van Wormer (winless, but Eldora track champ).
Best weekly drivers: Middleton’s Roger Wing (57-year-old scores 11 victories between Tri-City and Crystal; Tri-City title); Fruitport’s Rich Neiser (10 UMP DIRTcar victories; second in MDC and UMP regional points); Lake City’s Eric Spangler (Merritt title along with MDC, Wood Tic victories at home track); Hartford's J.R. Hotovy (six Hartford victories, including MDC win, and track title); St. Johns’s Zack Olger (six victories among Tri-City, I-96 and Crystal).
Best homegrown performance: J.R. Hotovy makes first World 100 start at Eldora Speedway, finishes 12th.
Most improved drivers: Brandon Thirlby; J.R. Hotovy; Britton’s Devin Shiels (two Attica, one Oakshade victory).
Best newcomers: Buckley’s Alex Beeman finished second in points at Cherry.
Most memorable moment: Darrell Lanigan wrestles lead from Billy Moyer in waning laps of World of Outlaws Late Model Series at dirt-covered Berlin Raceway for a $20,000 victory in Down & Dirty 100.
Biggest news: After running modifieds in 2011, Michigan Dirt Cup adds Late Models for 2012. ... Berlin hauls in 300 truckloads of clay to cover 7/16-mile oval for World of Outlaws. ... Roger Wing, 41-year veteran and Michigan Hall of Famer, announces retirement. ... Curtis Roberts crosses finish line first at Merritt’s 24th annual Wood Tic 100, but Eric Spangler award victory when officials charge Roberts with rough driving on a last-lap.
Top performer: Kensington’s Zach Johnson scored eight victories including a pair of special events at Viking, Sept. 1’s NLRA event and Oct. 13’s $4,000-to-win Fall Classic. Finished ninth in overall WISSOTA points.
Best national driver: None.
Best regional drivers: Zach Johnson; Hibbing’s Kyle Peterlin (six victories, 30 top-fives, Proctor title and top four in points at four tracks); Hibbing’s Jeff Provinzino (WISSOTA Challenge and Thunder in the Pines victories at Grand Rapids).
Best weekly drivers: East Grand Forks’s Joey Pederson (six victories, one NLRA-sanctioned, en route to title at North Dakota’s River Cities Speedway); Pengilly’s Tom Waseleski Jr. (five victories between Grand Rapids and Hibbing, where he won title); Canby’s Corey Nelson (four victories en route to Fiesta City title); Eveleth’s Harry Hanson (Grand Rapids champ; runner-up at Proctor and Amsoil and fifth at Hibbing in 39th season).
Best homegrown performances: Jeff Provinzino's runner-up finish in fifth round of Tucson’s Wild West Shootout. ... Ham Lake’s Don Shaw scores victories at Las Vegas in March, Tucson in November.
Most improved drivers: Duluth’s Joey Ogston (double-figure top-five finishes, second in I-94 points); Rochester’s Jerry Bloom (second in Deer Creek points).
Best newcomers: Kelly Lake’s Zach Wohlers (victories at Grand Rapids, Superior and third in Proctor’s Silver 1000); Hibbing’s Jay Kintner (super stock graduate grabs five Late Model victories between Grand Rapids and Hibbing, captures Hibbing title).
Most memorable moments: Four-way battle for lead during Proctor’s Silver 1000 among winner Brady Smith, John Kaanta, Jake Redetzke and Zach Wohlers. ... Tight finish at Deer Creek’s Gopher 50 with Shane Clanton edging Tim McCreadie and Darrell Lanigan in the WoO-sanctioned event.
Biggest news: Lakefield’s Willy Kraft, the most recent Minnesota driver to make the World 100 (1991), to be inducted into National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2013. ... Former Deer Creek activities director Jeff Olson hired as WISSOTA’s public relations director. ... Brainerd’s North Central Speedway hosts WoO for first time since 2006.
Top performer: Galena’s Jesse Stovall racked up 16 victories and 33 top-five finishes at 12 tracks from California to Louisiana, including the $10,000-to-win Pelican 100 at ArkLaTex Speedway, and grabbed his first MARS DIRTcar championship. He finished second in Lucas Oil MLRA points and was ranked among DirtonDirt.com’s Top 25 for much of the season.
Best national driver: None.
Best regional drivers: Jesse Stovall; Springfield’s Terry Phillips (seven special event victories after switching to Bloomquist car); Crane’s Will Vaught (two MLRA victories, including Lakeside season finale).
Best weekly drivers: Aurora’s Justin Wells (11 UMP DIRTcar weekly victories and Monett championship); St. Genevieve's Dewayne Kiefer (six UMP DIRTcar weekly victories); Henley’s Jason Russell (11 victories en route to ULMA title).
Best homegrown performances: Festus’s Scott Weber wins first Summernationals feature start with late rally at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind.. ... Terry Phillips clicks off eight-race streak in June and July with six victories and two runner-up finishes. ... Justin Wells reels off five straight victories at Caney Valley (Kan.) Speedway. ... Jesse Stovall wins $5,000 in David Turner’s car at Adams County (Iowa) Speedway, one of four cars he drove to victory in 2012.
Most improved driver: Lebanon’s Tony Jackson Jr. wins his first MARS victories, the opener in Clarksville, Tenn., and at Monett in finishing second in series points.
Best newcomers: ULMA champion Jason Russell; Cameron’s Mark Dotson (stepped up from modifieds to finish third in MLRA points).
Most memorable moment: Dennis Erb Jr. outduels Darrell Lanigan in final laps for World of Outlaws Late Model Series victory at Pevely’s Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55.
Biggest news: Title sponsor Lucas Oil acquires MLRA from Allen and Harriett Chancellor, who operated the tour since the mid-1990s. ... MARS suspends Brad Looney, Will Vaught five races apiece for fighting at Monett’s May 27 Tony Roper Memorial; Monett bans them for season. ... St. Louis-area dirt racing photographer Charles Haffer Jr. of St. Peter’s, known as Photobilly, dies in Iowa highway accident while returning home from a race. He was 44. ... Montgomery Motor Sports Park in New Florence, Mo., reopens and hosts weekly UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned Late Models. ... MARS and Monett promoter Randy Mooneyham honored as the seventh recipient of the Bob Memmer Award. ... Randolph County Raceway in Moberly reopens, plans ULMA racing in 2013. ... Missouri-founded, Oklahoma-based Show-Me Racin’ Series folds.
North Dakota-South Dakota
Top performer: Aberdeen, S.D.’s Chad Becker captured the overall WISSOTA title with 13 victories, dimming memories of two near-misses. Won championships at Casino and Dakota State Fair Speedways.
Best national driver: None.
Best regional drivers: Grand Forks, N.D.’s Dustin Strand (WISSOTA Rookie of the Year with nine victories at five tracks, including three NLRA wins); Grand Forks, N.D.’s Brad Seng (NLRA champ wins three series races in a row at three tracks; four home-track victories at River Cities); Aberdeen, S.D.’s Kent Arment ($6,200 Challenge Cup XII victory in Huron); Bismarck, N.D.’s Jeremy Keller (victories at Gallatin, Gillette, I-94 and Jamestown’s Stock Car Stampede).
Best weekly drivers: Chad Becker; Huron, S.D.’s David McDonald (second in WISSOTA points; first WISSOTA Challenge Series victory at Brown County); Ortley, S.D.’s Bryan Berger (Brown County champion); Rapid City, S.D.’s Eric Mass (victories at Black Hills and Gillette, where he finished second in points).
Best homegrown performance: Kent Arment’s $6,200 WISSOTA Challenge Series victory at Dakota State Fair Speedway.
Most improved driver: David McDonald
Best newcomer: Dustin Strand, a former WISSOTA modified champion.
Most memorable moment: Rick Eckert regains the lead after late-race challenge from Vic Coffey at Black Hills Speedway in Rapid City, S.D., in the first World of Outlaws Late Model Series event at the track since 1988.
Biggest news: Contentious season at Black Hills (S.D.) Speedway with legal wrangling owner, promoter. ... Future uncertain at Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo, N.D., after Danny Schatz’s promotion group says it won’t renew lease.
Top performer: Solon Springs’s Brady Smith didn’t win until August, but he cranked it up with eight victories, including a stretch of six victories in seven starts. Besides three victories at Cedar Lake (including $5,000 at the Legendary 100), Minnesota success came at Proctor’s Silver 1000 and Hibbing’s Labor Day Shootout while he earned $9,200 in the John Seitz Memorial at North Dakota’s River Cities Speedway.
Best national drivers: Menomonie’s Jimmy Mars ($20,000 Illini 100 victory on World of Outlaws circuit; seven victories overall); New Richmond’s Pat Doar (10th in WoO points; six victories overall).
Best regional drivers: Brady Smith; Eau Claire’s Jake Redetzke (11 victories including ABC’s Red Clay Classic and two on WISSOTA Challenge Series); Marshfield’s Tim Isenberg (seven victories, including Corn Belt Clash at Fountain City and $3,000 at Antigo); Elk Mound’s John Kaanta (captured fourth WISSOTA Challenge crown with win at Eagle Valley and five runner-up finishes; NLRA finale among seven victories overall); Navarino’s A.J. Diemel (three straight WISSOTA Challenge victories).
Best weekly drivers: Waukesha’s Russ Scheffler (WDLMA-best 15 victories en route to title); Navarino’s Nick Anvelink (victories at Shawano and Seymour en route to Shawano title); Menomonie’s Mike Prochnow (five victories between Red Cedar and Minnesota’s Deer Creek, where he won title); Shawano’s Tom Naeyaert (four victories between Manitowoc and Shawano, more than 15 top-five finishes overall); Sheboygan Falls’s Craig Schueffner (WDLMA runner-up with two victories, 17 top-five finishes).
Best homegrown performances: Three A.J. Diemel victories June 27-30 on WISSOTA Challenge Series at Deer Creek and Red Cedar. ... Brady Smith leads 58 laps at Knoxville Nationals, settles for second. ... Mike Prochnow scores double-feature sweep during Red Cedar Speedway’s Dunn County Fair races.
Most improved drivers: Mellen’s Todd Frank (six victories at four tracks in 53 WISSOTA starts); Milwaukee’s Turk Letizia (first-ever feature victory at Plymouth, where he was fourth in points).
Best newcomers: Belmont’s Scott Reichers (third in points at Iowa’s Dubuque Speedway); Neenah’s Dave Fieber (Crate graduate gets first WISSOTA Late Model victory June 2 at Shawano).
Most memorable moment: The day after his best friend and mentor died, Hayward’s T.J. Adams won his first-ever WISSOTA feature at Amsoil Speedway driving Laakson’s old car and wearing his old helmet and firesuit. Laakson died July 26 after an 18-month battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was 46.
Biggest news: Wisconsin Dirt Late Model Association’s Bill Behling dies in October after lengthy battle with diabetes. The founder of Behling Racing Equipment was 76. ... Shawano Speedway picks up WDLMA sanctioning, drops WISSOTA after nearly 20 years. ... Lorraine Cook, matriarch of Cedar Lake Speedway, died at 93. ... Dan Schlieper suspends race team, competes in only a few events.
Capsule contributors: Trenton Berry, Kevin Mudrak, Lee Ackerman and Barry Johnson.