EL PASO — Ryan Unzicker is hoping this time it will be different.
After a third-place finish a year ago and other near misses in a quest for the UMP weekly series late model national points championship, Unzicker finds himself atop the standings once more heading into this weekend.
“I’ve had some pretty good starts the past couple of years,” said Unzicker. “About three years ago, we had the lead and just couldn’t hold it. This year we’ve been running good every night. But it’s a long season to hold the top spot. You just about have to be flawless every weekend.”
Unzicker, 28, has been nearly flawless through the first two months of the season, nailing down four feature victories.
After an ill-fated trip to Florida in February that found him battling electrical problems in a brand new Masterbilt car, Unzicker worked out the kinks and got the area season underway with a victory in the $4,000-to win Don Bohlander Tribute at Peoria Speedway on April 3.
Since then he’s won another feature at Peoria, as well as adding main event victories at Farmer City Raceway and Macon Speedway.
When he hasn’t won, Unzicker has finished near the front in each of his outings to open his national points lead.
He’ll continue the quest by choosing races as near as possible to his El Paso home and shop.
“It’s expensive to operate one of these teams and we’re trying to make our racing more and more like a business,” said Unzicker, who works during the week as the safety manager at RJR Transportation in El Paso. “With gas prices the way they are and the cost of everything, we’ll run the events that pay the most money that are closest to home.”
That means running primarily special events around Central Illinois and precludes racing for a track championship anywhere, although he currently leads the standings at Farmer City after a win in a makeup feature there last Friday followed by a third-place finish in the regularly scheduled event.
Unzicker will be hitting the road for an extended period to compete on the 25-race UMP Summer Nationals tour that gets underway June 15 in Brownstown, Ind.
The tour will visit nine states with events scheduled at Fairbury’s American Legion Speedway on June 25 and at Farmer City on July 8. Lincoln Speedway, which doesn’t run late models on a weekly basis, will host a Summer Nationals race July 3.
“We’re getting geared up for Summer Nationals and I’m looking forward to getting on that tour again,” Unzicker said.
Unzicker says the Summer Nationals campaign can be either a boon or a bane toward a goal of winning the weekly series national title, which basically adds up points from a driver’s best 35 finishes of the season, among other variables.
“It could help you in that you can pick up bonus points because the Summer Nationals races always have bigger fields because of the bigger purses,” Unzicker said. “If you do well, you pick up those points. The downside is, the competition is much stiffer and it’s a lot harder to win. I could sit at home and run the local shows and improve my chances for a better finish, but I’d like to win at least a couple more Summer Nationals races.”
• Farmer City Raceway and Fairbury’s American Legion Speedway have teamed with Shepp’s Speedway, located between Springfield and Jacksonville, to host a modified extravaganza this weekend. The three-day series will culminate with a $5,000-to-win modified feature at Farmer City on Sunday, after modified drivers race for a winner’s share of $1,500 on Friday night at Shepp’s and $1,000 on Saturday night at Fairbury. Gates will open at noon on Sunday at Farmer City with hot laps at 4:30 and racing to follow. Tickets are $15.
• Friday will again be double feature night at Farmer City with the crate late models and sportsman cars running a makeup feature from the May 13 rainout before the regularly scheduled event. With no late models or modifieds on the card, the purse has been bumped up in other divisions with the street stock winner earning $550 and the hornets and mini-sprint feature winners each taking home $500. Hot laps are slated for 6:30 with racing to follow. Admission is $10.
• In addition to hosting the modified special on Saturday night, Fairbury will run the Eden-Piercy Memorial sportsman special. Hot laps are slated for 5:50 with qualifying at 6:30 and racing to follow. Tickets are $10.
• The Northern All Stars late model tour will visit Lincoln Speedway on Friday with $2,000 going to the winner. Hot laps are slated for 6:30. Tickets are $15. The event was originally scheduled as the tour opener, but was rained out on April 12.
• Farmer City co-promoter Kyle Logue won last Saturday night’s late model feature at Macon Speedway. It was Logue’s second win of the year at Macon.