Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2022 Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury

The Headline(s)

Brandon Sheppard isn’t a World of Outlaws regular anymore, but his return to the tour saw him score a dominant Prairie Dirt Classic triumph.

How it Happened

2022 Prairie Dirt Classic (World of Outlaws Late Models)
Where: Fairbury American Legion Speedway – Fairbury, Ill. (streamed on DirtVision)
Winner’s Purse: $50,000

Mike Marlar pushed him early. Bobby Pierce pushed him mid-race. But timely yellows and a dominant racecar saw defending series champion Brandon Sheppard wire the Prairie Dirt Classic feature, leading all 100 laps at Fairbury to score a $50,000 win, his biggest of the 2022 season to date and his third time scoring Fairbury’s crown jewel event.

What’s more, this year’s PDC feature also had a $500 per lap led bonus, essentially doubling Sheppard’s race winnings on the night.

There were two cars that mounted serious challenges for Saturday’s race win (July 30). From laps 25-35, Marlar used the bottom of the track to run down Sheppard and was within a car length of passing him before lapped traffic would break his momentum. Following a lap 52 restart, Pierce, who had charged from outside the top 10 to second in the first half of the feature, stalked Sheppard but was never able to get alongside the eventual race winner.

2022 PRAIRIE DIRT CLASSIC RACE RESULTS

Current WoO late model series points leader Dennis Erb Jr. finished a disappointing 16th and saw his edge reduced after series rookie Max Blair surged from 24th to an eighth-place finish. Blair, however, fell to third in points behind Tanner English, who finished a strong third in Saturday’s feature.

Success Stories

With his wire-to-wire victory on Saturday, Sheppard became only the third super late model racer in 2022 to score a six-figure payday, joining Eldora Million winner Jonathan Davenport and Bristol Dirt Nationals points champion Chris Madden. 

Marlar and English not only completed the Prairie Dirt Classic podium Saturday night, they also put on a whale of a race in the third “showdown” qualifier feature Friday night. It was a striking contrast to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race going on almost simultaneously at IRP, a lesson in what hard racing can look like when drivers aren’t treating their machines like battering rams.

Chris Simpson deserves major accolades for his performance Saturday night. Winning the last chance shootout feature, Simpson turned down a $2,500 check to start the Prairie Dirt Classic feature from 27th. From there, he secured hard charger honors, going from 27th to seventh in 100 laps. That was worth $1,250 more in prize money for a driver so sore from Friday night he had to visit a chiropractor Saturday morning. Respect.

There was no shortage of additional hard chargers in Saturday’s feature. Blair, Shane Clanton, Ryan Gustin, Brent Larson and Josh Richards all gained double-digit positions by race’s end.

Marlar, Sheppard and defending PDC champion Kyle Larson were expected preliminary feature winners Friday, but Garrett Smith was not. While the youngster had tire troubles and faded in the second half of the feature, he gave a strong accounting of himself all weekend long.

Bakersfield, Calif.’s Ethan Dotson made the most of his big-time shot in a UMP modified. The IMCA standout was the show in the second modified last-chance race Saturday, working his way into the feature in dramatic fashion…

Vexed, Villains & Victims

But then, Dotson ended up on his roof on lap 7 of the modified feature. 

Still, good to see a guy that has been a force out west get a shot on such a national stage.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Ashton Winger ran over Tyler Bruening in the first preliminary feature on Friday night. It’s a move that handed Garrett Smith the race win and cost Winger a transfer spot, though it has been reported that Winger’s car suffered a steering failure that led to the incident.

It’s ironic given how upset Winger was (correctly so) for getting flipped off track at I-75 Raceway not too long ago.

Add Bruening to this list in a different capacity though, as he tagged Garrett Alberson to bring out the first yellow two laps into the Prairie Dirt Classic feature, an incident that collected Jimmy Owens and ruined his day.

Former WoO regular Cade Dillard was flying on the high side towards a transfer spot before slamming himself into the turn 3 opening wall in the third preliminary feature Friday night. Though the car would be rebuilt, Dillard would miss the Prairie Dirt Classic field.

Newly crowned DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion Bobby Pierce was the show in charging through the PDC field Saturday night, but his car came up roughly 20 laps short of the checkers with a brakes issue.

NASCAR Regulars

Defending Cup Series champion Larson did win his preliminary WoO feature Friday night and ran in the top five for most of Saturday’s feature before being forced to the work area under a lap 94 yellow for a tire change. Larson finished 18th. 

Fanning the Flames

Anyone remember how back in 2012, NASCAR tried to spice up the Daytona 500 with a $200,000 halfway leader bonus? When Martin Truex Jr. took the prize, it was a footnote in a race and broadcast that just kept on chugging. That’s about as significant an impact as the $500 per lap led bonus that the Prairie Dirt Classic implemented this year.

That the move fell short of expectations isn’t a dig at the promoters. In fact, the folks at Fairbury deserve loads of credit for putting that type of money into their race. But if there’s a lesson to be learned from Brandon Sheppard’s 100-for-100 performance on Saturday night, it’s that money needs to be tied to finishing position, especially in long-distance dirt races. 

Long-distance events rely on comers and goers to be good, and a second-place driver that spends 25 laps setting up his prey to score a late win should absolutely get paid more than a driver that leads and can’t hold it when the flags go white and checkered. Putting $50,000 more into the purse would be a much better incentive for the competitors.

Of course, seeing as how the payday as is saw the Prairie Dirt Classic draw a whopping 81 super late models, who the hell am I to tell Fairbury how to promote? And yes, the event will be back in 2023.

As far as the telecast, I appreciate what DirtVision was trying to do with a turn 1 camera that was looking down the frontstretch. But with sponsor banners making it impossible for the camera to actually see all of turns 1 and 2 as the cars entered, the angle was of limited utility. Fairbury’s only a quarter-mile, so using the traditional backstretch camera is plenty sufficient.

I seldom had anything against Jimmie Johnson during his reign of terror that rendered the NASCAR Cup Series a snooze-fest for much of the late 2000s. Similarly, I’ve got nothing against Nick Hoffman, but I was out of my chair hooting and hollering to see Mike McKinney best him for the modified win at Fairbury Saturday night just because it was good to see someone else win a DIRTcar Summer Nationals race.

It sounds like the crowd agreed with me.

There were a LOT of cautions in both the modified and late model last chance races on Saturday, which isn’t surprising… for example, the late model LCS events were 20 laps long and started 20-plus cars. Maybe cutting the race distance and car count in half and running shorter, less congested races where winner takes all for a transfer spot would be cleaner? Especially given that after all the prelim action, there was still a 25-lap, 20-plus car last chance Shootout race on the docket as well.

Numbers Game

21

Consecutive top-five finishes for Mike Marlar in super late model features.

81

Super late models entered for the Prairie Dirt Classic, an all-time event record.

$50,000

Laps-led bonus money won by Sheppard in the Prairie Dirt Classic feature.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans, with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): The Prairie Dirt Classic gets four Bud Lights. The racing surface was there and there were some good moments on track (the finish of the modified feature was stellar). But between cautions that stopped every challenger Sheppard had for the win, plus yellow-filled prelims, it wasn’t Fairbury’s strongest outing.

Up Next: Thinkin’ Dirty stays on tour with the World of Outlaws Late Models, as they head to Cedar Lake Speedway for the $50,000-to-win USA Nationals. Coverage will (finally) be available on DirtVision without a pay-per-view charge for those with an annual subscription.

About the author

Senior Commentator at Frontstretch

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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