Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2022 Illinois Speedweek at Spoon River/Lincoln

The Headline(s)

Brandon Sheppard and Dennis Erb Jr. defend the home turf in scoring feature wins on the opening two nights of the inaugural Illinois Speedweek. 

How it Happened

2022 Illinois Speedweek (Flo Racing Night in America Series)
Where: Lincoln Speedway – Lincoln, Ill. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $22,022

World of Outlaws late model points leader Dennis Erb Jr. scored his biggest win of 2022 on home-state turf, dominating Thursday’s Flo Racing Night in America and then holding on by his fingernails to keep a hard-charging Brandon Sheppard at bay in the final four laps. 

Erb looked untouchable up front, but Sheppard made up over a second in the final five laps to catch the race leader in heavy lapped traffic. Sheppard had two shots to make the winning pass, but clipped either the cushion or the wall in turn 2 on each of the final two laps to slow him down just enough for Erb to prevail.

Erb’s win scored the biggest purse in the history of Lincoln Speedway.

See also
Dirty (Half) Dozen: Shane Clanton vs. Ricky Weiss Makes Logano/Byron Look Tame

2022 Illinois Speedweek (Flo Racing Night in America Series)
Where: Spoon River Speedway – Lewistown, Ill. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $22,022

The opening night of a surprising trip to Illinois for the Rocket house car saw New Berlin, Ill.’s Sheppard score a dominant win to open the inaugural Illinois Speedweek, leading the final 30-odd laps of Wednesday’s feature to score his eighth late model win of 2022.

Sheppard’s strength out front only came under fire once courtesy of Bobby Pierce. Pierce, running the absolute high side of the track, erased a 1.5-second lead in two laps before a lap 37 caution reset the field after Brian Shirley went off track. Pierce was never able to fully regain his momentum, losing the runner-up spot when he went over the lip in turn 2 and spun with five laps to go.

Success Stories

I usually don’t call out the feature winners again in this section, but both Sheppard and Erb deserve shout-outs for their midweek performances. Sheppard, in addition to scoring an average finish of 1.5 across the two opening nights of Illinois Speedweeks, also announced Wednesday night that he and his wife are expecting another child. 

As for Erb, who has become the de facto WoO championship favorite after Sheppard dropped off the tour, scoring a $22,022 feature win will go a long way towards silencing doubters about the strength of the No. 28. Erb has won four races already in 2022, as many as he won in all of  2021.

Alongside the two feature winners, Tanner English, Hudson O’Neal and Tanner English each scored top-10 finishes in both super late model features of Illinois Speedweeks.

Nick Hoffman’s dominant 2021 campaign is widely believed to be the reason for an extensive revamp of the UMP modified rulebook for this season. Despite all the changes, Hoffman proved untouchable, easily winning Wednesday’s feature at Spoon River and Thursday’s at Lincoln. I still say DIRTcar would be better off sponsoring a super late model just to stop Hoffman from turning every UMP modified feature he enters into a foregone conclusion.

Any modified driver that started a B-main at Lincoln Thursday night and was still running at the finish to tell the tale.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Ashton Winger. Keep reading.

Wednesday night’s villain was undoubtedly Pierce. All the good work he did riding the high side of the track to catch Sheppard for the race lead went out the window on a lap 37 restart where Pierce went way too high exiting turn 4, turning Winger on the frontstretch as he tried to correct his mistake. It was perhaps karma that Pierce both spun out on the same high side of the track to cost himself a shot at the win Wednesday, then missed the feature at Lincoln Thursday night.

Thursday night’s villain was English, who absolutely used up Winger (see a pattern here?) in their heat race. The video speaks for itself.

While there were a number of modifieds that landed on their roofs over the start of Illinois Speedweek, Wellsburg, W. Va.’s Corey Conley was the only driver to do the deed in a late model, flipping coming to the start of Wednesday’s second B-main after contact with a uke tire.

NASCAR Regulars

NASCAR Cup Series full-timer Justin Haley had a disastrous return to modified competition this week. Haley did manage to win his heat race Wednesday night at Spoon River, but only after being returned to the front after being taken out by Tyler Weiss. After finishing at the back of Wednesday’s feature, Thursday saw Haley flip his modified during his heat race at Lincoln, an episode for which he took responsibility.

Former NASCAR regular Kenny Wallace won his heat race and finished fifth in the modified feature Wednesday at Spoon River. He finished 13th in Thursday’s feature at Lincoln.

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Thinkin' Dirty: 2022 Dairyland Showdown at Mississippi Thunder

Fanning the Flames

Yes, the entirety of the Illinois racing season to date has been rained out prior to Wednesday at Spoon River. Still, dammmnnnn if that car count wasn’t impressive. Love Flo Racing or hate it, the promotion of its racing series is doing something right.

I was really torn on the exchange that saw Haley get returned to the lead in his modified heat race Wednesday. There’s no ambiguity about the incident, Weiss absolutely took Haley out, and it was arguably justice served to see Haley not lose the lead because of such a blatant miss. Problem is, not all calls are that obvious, and a rulebook that defers to race control charging a caution is ripe for abuse.

And let’s not forget that Haley, hot under the collar from the exchange, threw a slide job under yellow taking the lead back on track that nearly took out the second-place car. Maybe confining victims to the back of the field is a good idea just to have them take it out on the appropriate parties.

Winger had every reason to be hot under the collar after English smacked him during Thursday’s heat race at Lincoln, but Winger’s decision to throw a steering wheel at English’s car only to have it boomerang at him, followed up by his knocking his own hood off his towed No. 89 car after trying to toss said steering wheel back into his machine, turned a capital L into a bold-faced loss.

Anyone that’s driven old Route 66 in Illinois knows that a) the old road often sits to the side of today’s modern surfaces, overgrown and fading into the landscape and b) that Lincoln sits a literal stone’s throw off the old 66 route. If there’s any track where it’s a fitting aesthetic to have a modern racing surface surrounded by the old half-mile track now being used as parking, it’s this one.

Numbers Game

5 – seconds that Hoffman won his Thursday modified heat by (a race that was eight laps long on a quarter-mile)

14 – years ago that Sheppard scored his first career super late model win at Lincoln Speedway.

60 – top Illinois Speedweek super late model car count, at Spoon River on Wednesday night.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give the openers of Illinois Speedweek four Wango Mango IPAs from Lincoln’s Limerick Brewing Company. Both features had some doldrums before getting to eventful finishes, but booming car counts and storylines on both nights made Flo Racing’s latest creation feel like a big event. A welcome midweek distraction.

Up Next: Thinkin’ Dirty pivots away from Illinois Speedweek this weekend to head to the Dirt Track at Charlotte to catch the Colossal 100 race weekend with the XR Super Series. Coverage can be found on RaceXR.

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