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Ryan Unzicker car No. 24

Ryan Unzicker of El Paso has driven his No. 24 car to 15 victories over the past eight weeks of the racing season.

The question of whether there can be too much of a good thing was seriously put to the test by El Paso's Ryan Unzicker over the closing two months of the dirt late model racing season.

During that stretch, the El Paso veteran learned that winning, indeed, never gets old.

After capturing just a handful of featured events (4) over the first four months of the year, Unzicker grabbed a truckload (15) over the final eight weeks.

"It was kind of crazy, actually," he said. "We're just tickled to death with the way the season ended."

Included in the surge were two streaks of five wins in a row. 

The first came from Aug. 11-19 and propelled him to the weekly series late model track title at both Farmer City Raceway and Fairbury's American Legion Speedway.

The second, between Sept. 9-23, nearly pushed him over the top in the chase for the UMP weekly series national title. He fell short in that quest by single digits.

All of that was accomplished by a driver who makes his living in the family trucking business and basically races for the challenge and enjoyment of it, pretty much vowing to curtail his racing endeavors on an annual basis.

"It's not as easy to do as it used to be," said Unzicker, 36, looking ahead to 2018. "We still get a lot done, but the late nights at the shop really put the hurt on me the next day."

Of course, he also felt that way heading into 2017 before it turned into the best season of his career.

"We were planning on cutting way back, but I hired a guy in the offseason to come in and help out and I figured, if I have to pay him we might as well go race," he said.

After competing primarily in regional dirt late model events in earlier years, Unzicker planned to limit himself to the occasional weekly series events at Fairbury and Farmer City and maybe a dozen or so Summer Nationals races.

Finding himself near the top of the heap in the points standings on both a weekly and Summer Nationals basis, it became hard to stop. He's now at 70-plus events for the year.

While finishing with a flourish, Unzicker found himself struggling in the midst of the Summer Nationals grind, a series that encompassed 27 events throughout the Midwest in a span of 30 days.

"We had a week, week-and-half there where we weren't very good," he said.

Digging into the problem of the car's underperformance, he was able to find a little more speed toward the end of the tour.

"We knew we had a good piece leaving Oakshade (Ohio) after the last Summer Nationals race (on July 15)," he said. "Then, coming into the final stretch, we kind of hit on a few things that the car really liked."

In addition to winning 15 races following the Summer Nationals, Unzicker strung together a whopping 27 straight top-5 finishes, including a runner-up showing against the World of Outlaws national touring drivers at the July 28 Prairie Dirt Classic (PDC) at Fairbury.

"It was like a light switch went on at the PDC and everything just came together," Unzicker said. "The PDC was a momentum builder, the key to the puzzle and everything started rolling after that."

During his Summer Nationals struggles, Unzicker had dropped out of the points lead in the UMP weekly series national standings. The post-PDC roll got him back to within nine points of Ohio driver Rusty Schlenk heading into the final points race last weekend at Eldora Speedway in Ohio.

Unzicker finished eighth, a spot ahead of Schlenk, but the difference was insufficient for Unzicker to overtake him for the national crown.

There are a couple of dirt late model events remaining this month that are relatively close to home.

Unzicker still hasn't made up his mind whether or not to compete in those.

For sure, he'll race in the 2nd Annual Gateway Nationals late model race indoors at The Dome at America's Center in St. Louis on Dec. 14-16. Unzicker finished ninth there in the inaugural event last year.

Bruce Yentes covers motor sports for The Pantagraph and can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @pg_yentes


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