Much like its name, the 37th DIRTcar Summer Nationals lived up to its “Hell Tour” nickname when it kickstarted the 32-race schedule in blistering 100-degree weather, which felt as hot as 107 degrees, at Kankakee County Speedway on Tuesday night.
“We’ve had a rough spring with rain, and now we’ve had one Friday night, but having the big races with Summer Nationals, everyone made this happen,” Kankakee Speedway track announcer Bill Yohnka said. “We had power that went out that put us behind schedule tonight, but [track promoter] Billy Knippenberg and his team have done such an awesome job of getting it back and ready to go.
“He’s gotten so many people involved in the community, it’s been special. We haven’t had a field like this in the late models and modifieds in quite some time, and it shows people are ready to get back in it at Kankakee.”
The 34th visit to Kankakee Speedway in tour history featured multiple qualifying and heat races before closing the night out with four feature races — DIRTcar pro late models (20 laps), DIRTcar UMP modifieds (25), DIRTcar stock car (15) and DIRTcar late models (40) — with the late models winner taking the traditional $5,000 check.
This year’s Summer Nationals also returned to its traditional slate of 32 race dates in 40 calendar days, predominately racing an average of six days per week following a two-year stretch of a never-before-seen schedule.
Unzicker dominates late model field
El Paso’s Ryan Unzicker managed to do what no other racer could do on Tuesday night and that was finish what he started.
Unzicker opened the evening with victories in both the qualifying and heat races to help him open the 40-lap race in prime position sitting in the first-place slot.
Beginning the race in first-place, Unzicker dominated the field by leading all 40 laps before the 40-year old claimed the night’s top prize with a $5,000 check when he earned the trip to victory lane.
“Anytime its Summer Nationals it’s hard,” Unzicker said. “Just in general to win a local race is tough...and so winning that $5,000 was the most important thing to be honest with you.”
Mooresville’s Hoffman take a victory in the UMP modifieds
Despite starting the 25-lap UMP modifieds race in third-place behind Jamie Lomax and Trevor Neville, Nick Hoffman of Mooresville, N.C., wound up taking the trip to victory lane by making moves within the first couple of laps.
Hoffman wound up overtaking Lomax through the opening lap to help himself cut his gap to Neville by 0.422 seconds. Not even a full two laps later Hoffman then managed to slip past Neville to overtake first-place before going on to cruise for the final 22 laps of the race despite having multiple caution flags arose between laps 9 and 14.
“We never really got to lap traffic, which was good,” Hoffman said. “Everyone was running the same lane I wanted to run, which is good, and then you get to lap traffic there and it would get pretty hairy.
“Luckily we got a couple cautions there and then widened back up and kept a good distance between second place. We’ve got a few adjustments to make and we’ll be ready to go [Wednesday].”
Pro late models third-lap collision helps lift Hammond to victory lane
Nobody wants to see collisions on the track, but for Bourbonnais native Matt Hammond that’s exactly what helped himself earn a victory on Tuesday evening.
Opening the 20-lap race in the fourth position behind Ben Kirchner, Jammie Wilson, and Jacob Kolwyck respectively, Matt Hammond got a little help when Wilson and Kolwyck collided on the third lap of the race.
The collision by the top-two leaders of the race up to that point effectively knocked the two completely out of the race, leaving a restart on lap 3, which helped Hammond move into first-place position.
From there, the hometown racer executed the rest of the race to perfection despite having to fight the field off with two more restarts on laps 6 and 12 before going on to lead the way for the final 17 laps.
“We’ve struggled early this year, and as good as we were at the end of last year I really had some high expectations,” Hammond said. “To finally get it off our back feels good and hopefully keep the momentum back going.”
Wilmington’s Brown takes stock car win
On the final race of the night it was none other than Wilmington’s Joe Brown who wound up claiming the 15-lap victory.
Brown opened the race in fifth place on the inside lane behind Jesse Simmons (fourth), Braiden Keller (third), Zane Reitz (second) and Don Hillary (first). However, he never let that phase him as he went on to bypass all his counterparts to claim the first-place victory and edge second-place finisher Adam Williams of Wheatfield, Ind., who wound up jumping ahead six spots after originally starting the race in eighth place.