On June 14, El Paso dirt late model star Ryan Unzicker began the grueling DIRTcar UMP Summer Nationals tour in Brownstown, Ind.
One month, seven states and 25 races later, he ended it in a place Unzicker called "Heartbreak City."
A transmission stuck in high gear cost him the opportunity to launch off the starting grid from the pole position in the series finale last Saturday in Wauseon, Ohio. It also likely cost him the third spot in the final point standings and additional year-end bonus money.
Unzicker's fourth-place finish was one of two top-10 performances by area drivers. Bloomington's Jason Feger scored the other, finishing 10th on one of the most exhausting tours in motor sports.
For Unzicker, Heartbreak City was actually Happyburg earlier in the evening. He qualified fourth fastest in time trials and won his heat race, before pulling the pole position for the main event out of a hat in a redraw among the heat winners.
"With the cars lined up (for the feature), we got out for driver introductions and I put the car in high gear so it wouldn't roll down the (track's embankment)," Unzicker said.
"When we refired, the transmission was jammed and a tow truck had to take me back to the pits. We got it unjammed, but I barely made it back out to start at the back of the field."
It also was a frustrating Summer Nationals finale for Feger, who — in a tough-luck season — could probably use a few horseshoes on the wall of his Bloomington shop as much or more than he could use a few more horses under the hood.
"We've had a bad-luck bug," Feger said. "At Oakshade we came from 17th to fifth, then a guy hits me with two laps to go and gives me a flat left rear tire. It just seems like every time we're having a good night, something goes against us that's out of our control."
Feger was able to grab a Summer Nationals win, the 18th of his career, topping the field at Kickapoo Speedway outside of Danville on July 9.
Away from the tour, he edged Unzicker in a photo finish at Farmer City Raceway in a weekly series event June 30. Both will be back at Farmer City on Friday night for the seventh annual Jr. Kimler Memorial.
Despite the wins, Feger said he'd give himself an "F" in grading his team's performance over the first four months of the season.
"It's been terrible, not acceptable," said Feger. "There's a lot of things that have played into it, some self-inflicted, some not."
Among the self-inflicted wounds was a winter away from the shop with time devoted to a project that's still undone.
"Last winter I remodeled a whole house and moved in, in February," he said. "I did a lot of the work myself and it's still not completed. That took up a lot of my time and when I was in the garage, I was working on customer's cars and neglecting my own stuff."
He's hoping to have things turned around heading into a month and a half of lucrative dirt late model events scheduled in the Midwest.
"We're just working hard and hopefully things turn around," he said. "I think we have two good cars, my favorite motor should be done this week and the other motors seem like they're running pretty good right now.
"We're just trying to get geared up and see if we can make some noise here toward the end of the year and be up front where we need to be."
In picking and choosing Summer Nationals events and not competing for the series title, Feger heads into the upcoming stretch run with relatively fresh equipment.
"I've got a car with nine nights on it, another that's sitting here fresh and I didn't wear out a motor like normal," he said.
Meanwhile, Unzicker has some work to do in the shop after staying on the Summer Nationals tour a lot longer than he anticipated.
"I was planning to do less than half of them," he said. "Then we started out pretty good the first week and were 30 points out of second and 40 out of first, so we did another week."
One of the drivers ahead of him in the standings then dropped out at the start of the third week and another at the beginning of the fourth.
"It was hard to stop," Unzicker explained.
Unzicker claimed the fourth-place series finish despite not winning a Summer Nationals race.
He's hoping to get back into victory lane Friday night at Farmer City before embarking on building his points lead in the weekly series title chase at Fairbury's American Legion Speedway.
Unzicker holds a 578-512 points lead over Scott Bull at Fairbury. Gibson City's Kevin Weaver is third at 509.
"I've never won a track championship in a late model," Unzicker said. "We've never went for one either. We usually race where we can make the most money, but I'm so close I might as well try to finish it out. We'll probably end up sticking it out for the rest of the year."