FAIRBURY, Ill. — From Summit Modified races, the FALS Super Nationals, to the FALS Cup points championship, Mike McKinney had won just about every marquee DIRTcar UMP Modified race on the Fairbury Speedway schedule, except one.
The Prairie Dirt Classic had evaded his grasp throughout his career, but now, it’s finally his.
“I wanted it more than anybody here, I can promise you that,” McKinney said. “It doesn’t matter who we beat, I just wanted to win this race. I’m glad it’s on our list now.”
Though his determination seemed unmatched, McKinney was forced to fend-off another driver with an equal drive to win Saturday night — the newly crowned, five-time DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals champion, Nick Hoffman.
The two waged a war of epic proportions throughout the final 15 laps of the 40-lap main event, swapping the lead twice in that span and bringing the crowd to the feet as they zoomed around the quarter-mile oval.
In the end, Hoffman came up just one spot short.
For the second time this season, McKinney had gotten the best of the winningest Summit Modified driver.
“Mike just hit six perfect laps to beat me,” Hoffman said. “He did a great job.”
Their lane choices acted as weapons in their bullring battle for $5,000 — McKinney firing on the high side, right against the wall, while Hoffman swung down low, hugging the extreme bottom lane.
Hoffman had to drive from 11th on the starting grid after a rough qualifying result on Friday set him back in his showdown feature. But with 15-to-go, Hoffman had just made the pass for second and was coming after McKinney.
Caution was displayed just two laps later, erasing McKinney’s half-second lead and putting Hoffman right on his bumper for the restart. The green dropped and Hoffman immediately challenged McKinney to his inside, taking the lead for the first time on lap 28.
“Up until about 15-to-go, I thought I was gonna finish fifth in that race,” Hoffman said. “I just couldn’t get breaks and didn’t feel great in the car either. But some lanes opened up and I was able to get to the lead.”
Hoffman led through lap 34, when the caution was displayed for the final time. Though Hoffman got a great jump on the restart, McKinney hit his marks on the cushion, reeling the leader in and making the pass back for the lead with four-to-go.
“The harder I was running, the better it actually got,” McKinney said. “We had that last restart with six-to-go, and it took me a couple laps to get into a rhythm and get wound-up. Finally, I was able to shoot the gun and drive back by [Hoffman].”
Hoffman gave it everything he had on the bottom in the final laps to close on McKinney, but it proved fruitless. McKinney rounded Turn 4 for the final time and beat Hoffman to the line by .361 seconds to score a dramatic victory in the 32nd annual Prairie Dirt Classic.
“Getting out of the car and seeing all those people, it’s exactly what I thought it would be,” McKinney said. “It feels damn good.”
Though Mike got the biggest dose of victory lane glory, his father and crew chief David shared a part in the shining moment as well. The two took on a brand-new game plan and joined the new Longhorn Chassis Modified program for the start of the 2021 season, putting in a ton of time and energy into learning how to master the new car.
Though it wasn’t easy at first, David has helped accelerate Mike’s learning curve with the setup and together, they’ve finally bagged one of Fairbury’s most prestigious events.
“Sometimes I nail it and he can drive it with one hand,” David said. “Sometimes I miss it and he says, ‘I’ll make up for it.’ How good is it for father and son to spend time together and race. I wouldn’t do it with anybody else, and he’s the same way.”
Though it doesn’t happen often in Summit Modified competition, Hoffman conceded to McKinney for the second time this season. He was bested by McKinney a few weeks earlier at Shadyhill Speedway in Indiana, and this time around, just didn’t feel as comfortable as he normally does out front at Fairbury.
“I just felt terrible everywhere in Turns 3-4,” Hoffman said. “I ran the bottom most of the race, but I tried the middle with a couple guys and just couldn’t make any speed off of 4. Normally, I feel like I get from Turn 4 to the flag stand better than anybody. I just didn’t feel that way tonight.”
Outside of the top-two, Tyler Nicely came home third after running up front all night. Six-time Summit Modified champ Mike Harrison came all the way out of a Last Chance Showdown event to finish fourth, while Allen Weisser charged from 14th to round-out the top-five.
Feature (40 Laps): 1. 96M-Mike McKinney; 2. 2-Nick Hoffman; 3. 25-Tyler Nicely; 4. 24H-Mike Harrison; 5. 25W-Allen Weisser; 6. 45-Chase Holland; 7. 22-Josh Harris; 8. 8-Kyle Steffens; 9. 12H-Jason Hughes; 10. 777-Trevor Neville; 11. 8A-Austin Holcombe; 12. 28M-Frank Marshall; 13. 5-Steven Brooks; 14. 37-Michael Ledford; 15. 35W- Ethan Weber; 16. 88S-Alan Stipp; 17. 21D-Danny Schwartz; 18. 5CS-Curt Spalding; 19. 18L-Michael Long; 20. 54-Zachary Hawk; 21. 130-Chase Allen; 22. 1S-Brian Shaw; 23. 00-Ethan Dotson; 24. 8K-Levi Kissinger