When the grueling DIRTcar UMP Summer Nationals series pulls into Fairbury's American Legion Speedway on Saturday night, it's not necessarily a question of how long El Paso's Ryan Unzicker will be near the top of the points standings, but how long he'll be staying on the tour.
"We were going to do just the first four (races), see how it went, then slow down and pick and choose (events)," Unzicker said. "But after the first four races we were sitting just 20 points out of the lead and talked ourselves into continuing on."
At six races in and events scheduled for Thursday at Spoon River Speedway near Canton and Friday at Tri-City Speedway outside of Granite City, Unzicker was in a fourth-place tie in the points standings while still weighing the value of running the entire series.
Thus far, he's pleased with his car's performance that has put him just seven points out of third place.
"We're consistent, but we need to get a little bit better as far as getting a win," he said. "We've been a top-5 every night or close to it. The car's not too far off. We're close. We just need to find a little something more."
His best finish came at Sycamore Speedway on the third night of the tour when he finished second to veteran Billy Moyer.
"That night everything was clicking just right," Unzicker said. "But, we weren't going to pass Moyer, by no means. He's been the class of the field the whole trip."
Moyer, 59, is the winningest driver in Summer Nationals history with 96 wins. The Arkansas dirt late model hall-of-fame driver has scored three of those wins this year to put him firmly atop the point standings.
Thing is, for Unzicker's do we or don't we consideration, Moyer hasn't run the entire Summer Nationals schedule in a number of years and isn't likely to do so this year. As of Thursday, his website indicated he'll be dropping off the tour following Friday's race at Granite City.
Also soon to depart and directly ahead of Unzicker in the standings is Moweaqua's Shannon Babb. Babb has won a Summer Nationals race this year and, with 91 wins, is second behind Moyer in all-time victories. He's slated to drop off the tour after Sunday's race at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind.
Hence, by holding his own this weekend, Unzicker would suddenly find himself second in the standings with two weeks of the grind under his belt.
However, three weeks would remain and they can be an expensive three weeks with the costs difficult to recoup from the purses alone.
There's the food and fuel costs of getting up and down the road nightly in a series that has a trip to Tennessee in the immediate offing and will end with a swing through Michigan and Ohio in mid-July.
There's also the wear and tear on the racing equipment, which has already taken a toll on many teams this season following a night of horrendous track conditions at Daugherty Speedway in Boswell, Ind., the tour's fifth stop.
The dusty, rough surface had drivers meeting with series director Sam Driggers following the heat races. After an hour-long delay, the A-Main was cut from 40 laps to 30. Unzicker was one of three drivers to pull off the track after the first lap of the feature.
"The track was unsafe," Unzicker said. "The track was rough and had big rocks and boulders in it. The feature wasn't as bad as the heats were, but it tore up a lot of race cars.
"There were only eight cars (of 22 starters) that finished and only five of them were on the lead lap if that tells you anything. A lot of people, come Monday, found a lot of stuff broken on their race cars. We pulled off. It just wasn't worth it."
There also was some controversy surrounding last week's event at Peoria that was won by Billy Moyer Jr., son of the current points leader.
UMP declared it a completed event, even though only 20 of the scheduled 60 laps had been run when the race was halted by a thunderstorm.
"I strongly disagree with the UMP decision," said Unzicker, who had moved up from 11th to eighth when the storm hit. "In my personal opinion, there's nothing remotely close to that being justified, to call it complete after 20 laps of a 60-lap race. And I'd say that if I'd been leading."
Two-time reigning series champion Bobby Pierce of Oakwood is sandwiched between Moyer and Babb in the points standings, just ahead of Unzicker.
Tickets are $25 for Saturday night's race at Fairbury, featuring the 50-lap Summer Nationals main event. A Summit Modified Nationals event is also on the card, along with the Midwest Street Stock Championships.