And so it ends.
It only seems like yesterday we had gathered for the April 1 opener at the Bullring, and now we’re pulling the curtain on the 2012 season.
Dustin Griffin, Craig Spegal, Tony Dunker, Terry Houston, Jeff DeLonjay and Austen Becerra provided us with the final Sunday night feature wins of the season, but before we touch on those, here are some quick thoughts about what we saw this season and what the immediate future will hold:
1. EVEN BETTER IN 2013?: Hands down, the biggest story of 2012 was the arrival of UMP late models. It was a smashing success, and will only be better in 2013. Late model car counts improved 50 percent over 2012, and it will climb higher next season when more of the “travelers” work Quincy into their schedules. Sam Driggers, the UMP director who was in town a week ago, predicts the same.
2. WHAT WILL IT BE?: Look for a relatively quick decision on the future of the stock cars, which for the third straight season struggled for numbers. Drivers and car owners need to know how to plan for next year, so track officials will let them know as soon as possible.
3. MORE OF THE SAME?: The sport compacts arrived as a competitive, entertaining class. And like the UMP late models, the sport compacts should continue to thrive as the years progress.
4. CAN DUNKER BE STOPPED?: Can Tony Dunker possibly duplicate the domination he demonstrated this season? It should be fun to watch him try, and even more fun as he and the rest of Team 3 (or 4, or whatever it is) go post-to-post with “flyby,” their online nemesis, during the offseason. The rest of the sport mod class needs to step up its game or Dunker — the man they love to hate — will again demolish the opposition.
5. THE MORE THE MERRIER: The 2013 season will open with late model and modified qualifying in place, which will be great. That has added a sweet new wrinkle to both of those classes. I love the dashes for those two divisions, and again I ask … why not have dashes for all six classes? (I know I’ll hear from someone about that comment.)
AROUND THE HORN
“Cheaters Night” turned out to be a lot of fun, especially in the stock and sport compact series. Houston showed up with a winged sprint car top, Michael Larsen added a spoiler that even NASCAR would ban in a minute and the sport compacts ran a 40-lap feature. (It’s rather ironic the only two 40-lap racers this season were the UMP Hell Tour on July 6 and the sport compacts on Sunday night.)
Late models: The Black Car Superstar — Dustin Griffin — won both his series-best fifth feature and fifth dash on the final night. Griffin’s victory from the pole was the division’s 11th in 21 features. His flag-to-flag domination was the 10th time that occurred. Both of those items were the most of any of the six weekly series. Denny Woodworth ran a strong second, his best showing of the season since a runner-up performance May 27.
Griffin was the 19th consecutive late model winner to come from the first two rows of the starting grid. He was also the seventh different winner in as many weeks.
Modifieds: Craig Spegal’s victory was his first ever at the Bullring and it came in impressive fashion. He led the final 27 laps of a feature that was plagued by cautions and took almost 24 minutes to complete. Spegal’s 4.835-second margin of victory over runner-up Mark Burgtorf was the largest of the season in any of the weekly series. Track champ Steven DeLonjay was third, but posted the fastest qualifying speed (68.133 mph) since the mods began preliminary timing a month ago.
Sport mods: Dunker finished off his career season by collecting his 15th checkered flag of the season, sixth in a row and ninth in the last 10 shows. Punctuating the night for The Villain was a 65.976 mph lap in the feature, the fastest of the season in this series. Dunker led 196 of the 354 feature laps he was on the track this season.
Stock cars: Terry “Kinser” Houston and his “Wing Thing” overpowered the rest of the field with relative ease. Houston’s feature win was his fifth and represented the sixth different winner in as many weeks in the stock cars.
Hobby stocks: Jeff DeLonjay’s first feature victory of the season was no fluke. He had the strongest car in the class throughout the night, dominating his heat and then leading the 11 laps of the main event. Jim Brown’s second-place finish was his best of the season. The hobbies concluded the season with no back-to-back feature winners in their 22 weeks of racing.
Sport compacts: This series normally runs a 12-lap feature, but chief steward Jake Croxton gave the thumbs-up for a 40-lapper that saw just four of the starting 13 cars running at the end. Becerra’s victory was his 10th of the year, fifth in a row and 10th in the last 12 weeks.
James Leffew won his first DIRT-y Driver of the Year fans’ vote for the modifieds, holding off a rally from Michael Long backers over the final 36 hours of the three-day ballot. Leffew finished with 25.4 percent percent of the vote and Long 23.8 percent. Jake Griffin (15.3 percent) and Dave Wietholder (13.8 percent) finished third and fourth, respectively.
Leffew follows these former winners among the modifieds: Todd Reed (2011), Jared Schlipman (2010) and Tony Dunker (2009). The final top 10 in points qualify for the fans’ vote each season.
The final ballot will be for the late model drivers, which opened at midnight Sunday and will run through Tuesday.
The awards don’t stop with the DIRT-y Drivers of the Year. The Stevie Dirt Drivers of the Year and the All-Dirt teams will also be revealed in the near future.
DUSTIN GRIFFIN “WINS” UNOFFICIAL DASH POINTS TITLE
When Dustin Griffin finished first in the late model Fast 6 Dash — one spot ahead of Mark Burgtorf, it gave him the unofficial points title in that event 79-78. We have been awarding drivers points on a 10-7-4-2-1-0 basis all season. Twenty-six different drivers qualified for the Fast 6 Dash during the season.
Final Fast 6 Dash points standings:
Dustin Griffin, 79 points
Mark Burgtorf, 78
Jason Perry, 50
Michael Long, 36
Justin Reed, 33
Jerry Lierly, 24
Dewayne Kiefer, 19
Jim Moon, 18
Denny Woodworth, 17
Jake Griffin, 16
SUNDAY NIGHT FEATURE WINNERS
Late models: Dustin Griffin (5th). Season leader: Dustin Griffin, 5.
Modifieds: Craig Spegal (1st). Season leader: Steven DeLonjay, 8.
Sport mods: Tony Dunker (15th). Season leader: Tony Dunker, 15.
Stock cars: Terry Houston (5th). Season leader: Abe Huls, 11.
Hobby stocks: Jeff DeLonjay (1st). Season leader: Jake Powers, 7.
Sport compacts: Austen Becerra (10th). Season leader: Austen Becerra, 10.
Fast feature laps
Late models: Mark Burgtorf, 76.652 mph. (Fastest of season: Brian Shirley, 77.754 mph, Sept. 16)
Modifieds: Craig Spegal, 68.607 mph. (Fastest of the season: Michael Long, 70.808 mph, June 17)
Sport mods: Tony Dunker, 65.976 mph. (Fastest of season).
Late models (top 6): 1. Dustin Griffin 75.232 mph, 2. Denny Woodworth 75.130, 3. Mark Burgtorf 74.486, 4. Rusty Schlenk 74.375, 5. Jerry Lierly 73.953, 6. Jake Griffin 73.932.
Sept. 30: Dustin Griffin, 75.232 mph.
Sept. 23: Brian Shirley, 74.876 mph
Sept. 16: Brian Shirley, 76.054 mph.
Sept. 9: Michael Long 74.216 mph.
Modifieds (top 6): 1. Steven DeLonjay 68.133 mph, 2. Jared Schlipman 66.786, 3. Robbie Reed 65.500, 4. Dave Wietholder 65.332, 5. Ryan Porter 65.144, 6. Craig Spegal 65.059.
Sept. 30: Steven DeLonjay, 68.133 mph.
Sept. 23: Craig Spegal, 65.332 mph.
Sept. 16: Jared Schlipman, 64.764 mph.
Sept. 9: Matt Dotson, 67.303 mph.
SUNDAY NIGHT HEAT WINNERS
Late models: Jim Moon (5th). Season leader: Dustin Griffin 8, Mark Burgtorf 8.
Modifieds: Adam Birck (2nd), Jake Griffin (5th). Season leader: Steven DeLonjay 7.
Sport mods: Joe Bliven (3rd), Rick Barlow Jr. (1st). Season leader: Tony Dunker 12.
Stock cars: Terry Houston (5th). Season leader: Michael Larsen 9.
Hobby stocks: Jeremy Buss (2nd), Jeff DeLonjay (2nd). Season leader: Jake Powers 9.
Sport compacts: Austen Becerra (6th), Josh Barnes (1st). Season leader: Austen Becerra 6.
Late model dash winner for pole position: Dustin Griffin (5th). Season leader: Dustin Griffin, 5.
Past dash winners
April 1: Brandon Sheppard
April 8: Dustin Griffin
May 6: Dennis Erb Jr.
May 13: Dustin Griffin
May 20: Mark Burgtorf
May 27: Mark Burgtorf
June 3: Jerry Lierly
June 10: Dustin Griffin
June 17: Dewayne Kiefer
June 24: Jason Perry
July 1: Late models did not run
July 8: Justin Reed
July 15: Matt Bailey
July 29: Mark Burgtorf
Aug. 5: Kevin Weaver
Aug. 12: Dustin Griffin
Aug. 19: Michael Long
Sept. 9: Steve Thorsten
Sept. 16: Brian Shirley
Sept. 23: Jake Griffin
Sept. 30: Dustin Griffin
Modified dash winner for pole position: Jared Schlipman (1st).
Past dash winners
Sept. 9: Robbie Reed
Sept. 16: Steven DeLonjay
Sept. 23: Steven DeLonjay
Sept. 30: Jared Schlipman
SUNDAY NIGHT STARS
10 stars: Craig Spegal, who won his first modified feature at the Bullring by the largest margin of victory this season — in any series.
9 stars: Jeff DeLonjay, who won his first hobby stock feature of the season in dominating fashion.
8 stars: Terry Houston, for not only winning his fifth stock car feature of the season but for introducing the “Wing Thing” to 8000 Broadway.
7 stars: Tony Dunker, who ended the season just as he began — with a victory. In between there were 13 other feature wins.
6 stars: Dustin Griffin, who won the late model feature and will likely enter 2013 as the man to beat for the track championship. He was also one of two late model drivers to win back-to-back features this season.
5 stars: Austen Becerra, who capped his dominating second half of the season with his 10th feature win in the last 12 weeks.
4 stars: Doug Mealy, the track announcer who provided another entertaining season behind the microphone.
3 stars: Jake Croxton, the chief steward who called for a 40-lap sport compact feature. It was great fun..
2 stars: The Rev. Dennis Thomas of Grandview Church, who again offered his services all season long providing the invocation before the races began.
1 star: Lee Ann Lambert, who provided the track with another season of outstanding national anthems.
10-star recipients this season: Dustin Griffin 3, Steven DeLonjay 2, Jake Griffin 2, Dave Wietholder 2, Justin Reed 2. These drivers have all have one: Tanner Klingele, Pat Dunker, Craig Spegal, Matt Bailey, Jason Perry, Abe Huls, Robbie Reed, Jim Hurley (sprint cars). Special award: Hall of Fame inductees, Charles “Photobilly” Haffer.
Late models: 12 (Season average 17.6, six shows of 20 or more cars).
Modifieds: 19 (Season average 18.9, eight shows of 20 or more cars).
Sport mods: 11 (Season average 11.4).
Stock cars: 9 (Season average 8.4).
Hobby stocks: 12 (Season average 12.3).
Sport compacts: 14 (Season average 15.1).
Season high car counts
Late models: 23, May 6. (regular weekly show only)
Modifieds: 25, Sept. 9.
Sport mods: 18, May 13.
Stock cars: 12, April 1.
Hobby stocks: 16, May 13 and June 10
Sport compacts: 18, May 30
Late models: 2, 74 for the season. (Season high: 18, July 6.)
Modifieds: 10, 182 for the season. (Season high: 16, July 29.)
Sport mods: 5, 124 for the season. (Season high: 11, April 1.)
Stock cars: 0, 45 for the season. (Season high: 8, July 8.)
Hobby stocks: 2, 82 for the season. (Season high: 8, June 10.)
Sport compacts: 2, 61 for the season. Season high: 7, May 27.)
Recent season caution totals
2012: 576 (through Sept. 30)