Brian Shirley, who became a familiar face this season at Quincy Raceways, of Chatham, Ill., and Devin Gilpin of Columbus, Ind., shared the spotlight during last weekend’s annual DIRTcar Racing UMP ‘Night of Champions’ Awards Banquet inside the Springfield Crowne Plaza Hotel’s ballroom.
Shirley, 31, entered the DIRTcar UMP Late Model history books in 2012, becoming just the third driver to win the organization’s Summer Nationals “Hell Tour” and weekly series national points titles in the same season. His sweep earned him the lion’s share of the $45,200 in points-fund checks he collected on Saturday evening.
The 22-year-old Gilpin won his first UMP Modified weekly series points title with one of the most spectacular campaigns the open-wheel division has ever seen. He won a circuit-leading 36 features en route to a total points-fund payoff of $21,600 for his season-long efforts.
Nearly 900 attendees from more than a dozen states and Canada watched as DIRTcar Racing officials distributed more than $350,000 to the champions and top performers who raced under the DIRTcar UMP banner in 2012.
Shirley’s portion of the DIRTcar UMP points-fund spoils was the largest accumulated by a Late Model driver since 2008 when Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., pocketed $51,400 for sweeping the Summer Nationals “Hell Tour” and national crowns. Erb (2007-08) and Indiana’s John Gill (1986) preceded Shirley as DIRTcar UMP double-dip champions.
“It definitely was my best, most consistent all-around season,” said Shirley, a full-time professional driver who drove self-owned equipment to his historic season. “My wife and kids brought a lot more meaning to the situation, a lot more of what you’re fighting for. When you go out and do your job it’s just not you anymore. It’s your family, so you put a lot more emphasis on what you’re doing every day.”
A DIRTcar UMP competitor for a decade, Shirley beat three-time and defending Summer Nationals champ Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., by a healthy 70-point margin (1,857-1,787) for his first career “Hell Tour” title. He outgunned veteran Kevin Weaver of Gibson City, Ill., by 58 points (2,556-2,498) for the weekly series national crown, which was determined using drivers’ best 35 finishes/points nights in sanctioned events.
Shirley’s 2012 log showed 12 wins (at eight different tracks in Illinois) and 43 top-five finishes in 71 DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned starts. He picked up $25,000 for the “Hell Tour” title, $20,000 for the national crown and $200 for finishing sixth in the Illinois State points standings.
GILPIN ALL SMILES
Gilpin wore one of the night’s biggest smiles after accepting accolades for a UMP Modified national championship he’s dreamed about virtually his entire life. He followed his grandfather Don Fleetwood, who fielded Gilpin’s race car, and father Todd into the seat of a UMP Modified.
“It’s a pretty humbling experience,” Gilpin said of putting a huge exclamation point on a UMP Modified career that he began at a fresh-faced teenager in 2005. “Being a kid growing up in a racing family, and watching your grandfather and dad – to win 36 races and a national championship is really hard to explain.
“I can’t thank my grandfather enough for giving me the opportunity I’ve had. It’s just something really special and I’ll never forget it.”
After back-to-back runner-up finishes in the national UMP Modified standings in 2009 and ’10, Gilpin beat Nick Allen of Wheatfield, Ind., by 40 points (2,346-2,306) in the points battle, which was determined using drivers’ best 30 finishes/points nights. His 36 feature wins came at 13 tracks in four states and he registered a total of 56 top-five finishes in 82 starts during the points season.
WIETHOLDER AMONG STATE/REGIONAL CHAMPS RECOGNIZED
State champions recognized during the banquet included:
* Late Models ($2,000 each): Weaver (Illinois), Rusty Schlenk (Eastern), Brandon Thirlby (Michigan/Canada), Michael Kloos (Midwest), Rob Mayea (Northwest), Terry English (Southern) and Justin Wells (Western).
* UMP Modifieds ($2,000 each): Ray Bollinger (Central Illinois), Derek Losh (Northern Illinois), Kyle Bronson (Deep South), Richie Lex (Indiana), Trent Young (Kentucky/Tennessee), David Mielke (Michigan/Canada), Jamie Lomax (Northern), Jeremy Rayburn (Ohio/Pennsylvania), Mike Harrison (Southern Illinois) and Quincy Raceways regular Dave Wietholder (Western).
* Pro Late Models ($500 each): Nick Bauman (Northern) and Mark Oller (Southern).
GRIFFIN LATE MODEL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Dustin Griffin, 26, of Camp Point, Ill., who was runner-up in the Quincy Raceways points chase, received a $1,000 check for winning the 2012 DIRTcar UMP Late Model Rookie of the Year award. He captured 10 features and finished 11th in the national standings.
A number of special awards determined by a vote of the DIRTcar UMP membershipwere handed out:
• Frankie Martin of DuQuoin, Ill. (Late Models) and Nick Allen (Modifieds) received Sportsman of the Year trophies.
• Aaron Faugust, who turns the wrenches on Shirley’s Late Models, and Don Fleetwood, Gilpin’s grandfather, car owner and crew chief, were presented the Mechanic of the Year awards.
• Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, Ill., was announced as the DIRTcar UMP Track of the Year.
PIERCE RECEIVES MEMMER AWARD
Former DIRTcar UMP Late Model national champion Bob Pierce received the eighth annual Bob Memmer Achievement Award, which honors the memory of the circuit’s late founder. The resident of Oakwood, Ill., is a huge figure in DIRTcar UMP’s history, not only as a driver but also in his current role as a high-profile chassis builder and the father of up-and-coming teenage Late Model racer Bobby Pierce.
Adding to a big night for Pierce, he also was honored as the 2012 Late Model national champion chassis builder and the UMP Modified division’s Chassis Builder of the Year. Pierce-constructed UMP Modifieds registered 139 sanctioned feature wins in ’12.
NEW SEASON RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER
The 2013 DIRTcar UMP season begins on Feb. 1 with the first of two consecutive nights of UMP Modified racing at North Florida Speedway in Lake City, Fla. North Florida also hosts a UMP Modified event on Feb. 10, with additional sanctioned races for the open-wheel division scheduled for Feb. 6-9 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.; Feb. 7-9 at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla.; and Feb. 12-19 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., as part of the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit Racing Equipment.
The DIRTcar UMP Late Model division will also jump-start the 2013 season in Florida, running a $5,000-to-win special on Sun., Feb. 10, at North Florida Speedway before competing as part of UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit at Volusia Speedway Park. Six nights of full-fender action at Volusia includes three under the DIRTcar UMP banner (Feb. 18-20) and three World of Outlaws Late Model Series programs (Feb. 21-23).
For more information on DIRTcar Racing and to see the complete final points standings for all DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned divisions, visit www.dirtcar.com.