(Lincoln, IL) DIRTcar’s brightest weekly racing stars came out for opening night of the 28th annual DIRTcar Fall Nationals and put on four great shows Friday night, featuring two past winners in Victory Lane again and two new faces to the Fall Nationals winner’s circle at Lincoln Speedway.
A total of 110 cars in four of DIRTcar’s weekly racing divisions filled the pit area surrounding the 1/4-mile bullring, racing for national and regional points in the final weekend of the 2023 regular season. In the end, Jason Feger, Mike McKinney, Deece Schwartz and Jeff Leka all emerged victorious in the year-end special event.
Late Models – Jason Feger
Crafting one of the most memorable drives to the lead seen all season from the tail of the field, Jason Feger completed an epic comeback for the win after blowing a tire on Lap 2 and restarting nearly dead-last.
Feger, the newly crowned 2023 DIRTcar Late Model national champion from Bloomington, IL, took the green from outside of the front row and looked strong, but cut a tire down the second time by, bringing out the race’s first caution flag. After a stop in the work area for a tire change, Feger brought it to the end of the line for the restart.
“It was just… a lot of patience with the field of cars we had tonight,” he said. “My main focus was just to not tear my car up; take doors when they’d open.”
From that point forward, Feger was all business. He became a passing machine, advancing all the way back into the top five by Lap 15. By the time the five-to-go signal was given, he had taken second but was still over a second-and-a-half behind leader Ryan Unzicker.
“I looked over at the scoreboard and saw it said 22, so I was just giving it everything I had,” Feger said. “I think we would have caught him. I don’t know if we would’ve passed him; it would’ve been really close. But then the yellow came out, and I was able to drive by him.”
With three laps left, the yellow was thrown again for debris in Turn 4, giving Feger the opportunity he needed. On the ensuing restart, he got a great run on the top side of Turn 2 and rocketed by Unzicker into the lead down the backstretch, sealing the pass out of Turn 4 and leading the field the rest of the way home to collect his 15th DIRTcar Feature win of the season.
“It’s the second year in a Longhorn car, and it just fits me really well,” Feger said. “We’ve had really good balance; we’ve got a good notebook. Pretty much everywhere we go, we unload pretty fast. We’re just making good decisions, we know what to do, and it just comes from working hard.”
Feature (25 Laps): 1. 25-Jason Feger; 2. 24-Ryan Unzicker; 3. 5S-Steve Sheppard; 4. 99-Mckay Wenger; 5. 6P-Jose Parga; 6. 27-Colby Sheppard; 7. 6-Dakota Ewing; 8. B12-Kevin Weaver; 9. 98-Cole Swibold; 10. 33H-Roben Huffman; 11. 3-Joey Smith; 12. 1-Tom Thoennes; 13. 11M-Ryan Miller; 14. 19-Chad Osterhoff; 15. 32T-Tony Thoennes; 16. 10J-Jordan Bauer; 17. 32M-Cody Maguire; 18. 28-Justin Durbin; 19. 1ST-Justin Reed; 20. 4D-Doug Tye; 21. 9-Lyle Zanker; 22. 130-Chase Osterhoff; 23. 10-Blake Damery; 24. 5B-Brandon Sweitzer
UMP Modifieds – Mike McKinney
The DIRTcar UMP Modified Feature was an epic bout between two of the division’s most competitive racers – Lucas Lee and Mike McKinney.
Lee, of Paris, TN, jumped out to the early lead and was the first to dive into lapped traffic with McKinney right behind him. Inside-and-outside Lee weaved through packs of slower cars while McKinney fought to keep the gap close.
For 16 of the 20 scheduled laps, Lee held strong out front. However, McKinney found the top side to his liking late and muscled his way around the outside of Lee to take the lead on Lap 17.
“I felt like I was able to pace Lucas there on the bottom; he was kinda rolling out in the middle and I felt like whether his guys moved him down or whatever, he came down to run the bottom,” McKinney said. “Once we got to that lapped traffic, I had to do something to try and win. I moved up to the top in Turns 1-2, and it was really good up there.”
From there, McKinney ran away with the lead, pacing the field back around to the checkers to grace DIRTcar Fall Nationals Victory Lane for the second time in his career at Lincoln.
His 19th Feature win of the year was both a special and prestigious one.
“We’ve had a really good racecar; it’s been a hell of a year,” McKinney said. “That’ll lock-up second in national points, which is what we were trying to do.”
Feature (20 Laps): 1. 96M-Mike McKinney; 2. 12LL-Lucas Lee; 3. 17N-Dillon Nusbaum; 4. J24-Jeremy Nichols; 5. 777-Trevor Neville; 6. 37L-Michael Ledford; 7. 10K-Kelly Kovski; 8. 3-Mike Brooks; 9. 43-Jared Thomas; 10. 35-Brandon Roberts; 11. 99-Tim Luttrell; 12. 14-Brian Lynn; 13. 99T-Tyler Loughmiller; 14. 72A-Austin Lynn; 15. 58R-Ryan Hamilton; 16. 121-Deece Schwartz; 17. 24T-Trevor Ringle; 18. 3F-Rob Fuqua; 19. 21D-Danny Schwartz; 20. 11B-Kyle Byerline; 21. 8R-Bryce Rives; 22. 14M-Caden McWhorter; 23. 12L-Bryan Leach; 24. 87C-Alan Crowder
Pro Modifieds – Deece Schwartz
Two national championships under his belt, and now, a DIRTcar Fall Nationals trophy to go with it.
Deece Schwartz sealed his second consecutive DIRTcar Pro Modified national championship prior to the weekend and made the trip to Lincoln to celebrate and cap his 20-plus-win season. From inside the second row on the starting grid, the third-generation racer made quick work of his opponents, advancing to second and then into the lead with a pass on the outside of 2022 Fall Nationals winner, Guy Taylor.
As the field was coming around to collect the white flag, the caution flag was displayed for Brandon Bollinger stopped in Turn 2. This put Schwartz up front for not one but two green-white-checkered restarts, which he handled with ease and crossed the finish line for his first Fall Nationals trophy.
“You’ve gotta make sure you keep your head on and you’re not overdriving,” Schwartz said. “A lot of these guys, when they see it’s green-white-checkered, they over-drive and screw themselves up. I was just trying my hardest to keep a consistent race all race long.”
Now a two-time national champion, the 20-year-old from Ashmore, IL, has continued carrying on his family’s Modified racing legacy in Illinois, following in the footsteps of grandfather, Denny, and father, Danny.
“It’s great because I’ve always wanted to do something my dad and grandpa have never done,” Schwartz said. “My grandpa’s won a [UMP] Modified national championship, so it’s kinda hard to beat. But, it’s something that he hasn’t done, something that dad hasn’t been able to do. It’s something I could only dream of doing my whole career.”
Feature (20 Laps): 1. 121-Deece Schwartz; 2. 4T-Guy Taylor; 3. 3W-BJ Deal; 4. 44-Gabe Menser; 5. 2-Brayden Doyle; 6. 25X-Kyle Helmick; 7. 33B-Tommy Sheppard Jr; 8. Z24-Zach Taylor; 9. 52-Billy Knebel Jr; 10. 71-Joel Ortberg; 11. 62-Troy Medley; 12. 29H-Cale Hartnagel; 13. 87-Collin Shain; 14. 73-Mark Rhoades; 15. 52JR-Cole Knebel; 16. 215-Jake Montgomery; 17. 78-Maxx Emerson; 18. 15C-Kevin Crowder; 19. 10-Adam Rhoades; 20. 21JR-Drew Schwartz; 21. A59-Karson Evans; 22. 12B-Brandon Bollinger; 23. 9-Andrew Depper; 24. 324-Brady Reed
Stock Cars – Jeff Leka
For the second-straight year, Jeff Leka is king of the Stock Cars at Fall Nationals. The 2008 DIRTcar UMP Modified national champion once again piloted the Zaragoza Racing #67 and brought home a second Fall Nationals trophy in as many tries.
“I’ve gotta thank Rudy [Zaragoza] and Jeremy Nichols,” Leka said. “It’s Rudy’s car and they just let me drive it. It’s something I can come and do once or twice a year – that’s all I want to do, and just have a little fun.”
Leka, of Buffalo, IL, grabbed the lead at the drop of the green and held the field off for all 15 circuits – a group that included national championship contenders Jerrad Krick, who finished sixth, and Bobby Beiler, who finished second.
“They ain’t no slouches in that class; they’ve got some good cars,” Leka said. “I knew they were right there with me, that’s why I had to get to the top side and get going.”
Feature (15 Laps): 1. 67R-Jeff Leka; 2. 17-Bobby Beiler; 3. K67JR-Braiden Keller; 4. 42-Jesse Simmons; 5. 55-Zane Reitz; 6. 99K-Jerrad Krick; 7. 78B-Brad Peters; 8. 21-Jaret Duff; 9. 24-Justin Crowell; 10. G51-Tyler Gilmour; 11. 16JR-Carson Reed; 12. 44J-Jeremy Madsen; 13. 45M-Morgan McMahon; 14. 96X-Kole Jackson; 15. 187-Korey Bailey; 16. 8-Sam Flowers; 17. E21-Eric Boomer
The 28th DIRTcar Fall Nationals concludes Saturday, Sept. 30 at Lincoln Speedway with more Super Late Model, UMP Modified and Pro Modified action, plus the addition of the Pro Late Models to the program.
Tickets will be on sale at the gate. If you can’t be there, follow along on DIRTcar’s social media channels for updates throughout the event – Facebook @DIRTcar, X (formerly known as Twitter) @DIRTcarRacing, and Instagram @dirtcar_official.