The champions and championship contenders have officially arrived at Lincoln Speedway for the 27th annual DIRTcar Fall Nationals and are off to a strong start after an evening of practice for the 56 cars in attendance at the 1/4-mile bullring.
The DIRTcar Pro Late Model division consistently delivers some of the closest, most competitive racing seen all year, and this weekend will be no exception. Leading the charge with the fastest lap in all three sessions was 2021 East Region champion Billy Knippenberg, turning in a 14.384 to top the chart.
Last year, Knippenberg had a strong showing at Fall Nationals, bagging two top-five finishes over the weekend and a podium finish on Saturday night. He’s excited to return to the event once again, this time with a first full season under his belt in promoting DIRTcar staple venue Kankakee County Speedway.
“I’m a little bit jealous of it,” Knippenberg said with a smile, speaking about the event as a whole. “I wish we had an event just like this back home.
“It’s really nice what they do here. They run a nice show. The track’s always fun to race at, and it’s exciting.”
With eight Feature wins in the division last year, Knippenberg has shown he knows the recipe for success in driving the Chevy Performance 604 Crate engine-powered machines and plans to use every bit of it this weekend in pursuit of his first Fall Nationals trophy.
“Qualifying is the key,” Knippenberg said. “You’ve got to Qualify well to start at the front of the Heat Races. This type of racing is all about where you start. If you’re in the front two or three rows, you’ve got a good chance of winning.”
One of Knippenberg’s biggest sources of competition this weekend will come from two-time DIRTcar national champion Jose Parga, who will be crowned with his third national points title at the conclusion of Saturday night.
Parga, a winner of two Features and the track championship at Lincoln this year, had the third-fastest time in practice at 14.489. He’s bound-and-determined to avenge his defeats to 2020 national champion Aaron Heck in this event last year and gave some insight on what it takes to win at a track as technical as Lincoln.
“You’ve got to make sure you start up front in the Heat Race and get a front row starting spot [for the Feature], or at least the first two rows” Parga said. “The competition is real tough here, and it’s a lot easier to stay out front and make them pass you than you pass them.”
The 25-year-old from New Berlin, IL, recently broke out a brand-new Rocket Chassis XR1 and has been making progress in getting acclimated in the seat. He’s confident he’ll be one to watch come Feature time on Friday and Saturday night.
“I feel like it’s our first time here this year, really, because we just brought a new car here,” Parga said. “Only the fourth night on it, but it’s getting better and better every night.
“Practice went pretty well. We need to tune on it a little bit, but I definitely think we’ll have a shot Friday and Saturday.”
The UMP Modified division brought a solid field of competition out for practice and was led by former DIRTcar Stock Car national champion Mike McKinney. The 29-year-old from Plainfield, IL, turned the quickest lap at 14.205 – slightly over a tenth faster than nearest competitors Caden McWhorter (14.321) and Todd Sherman (14.329).
The DIRTcar Pro Modified division also had a strong practice night showing, featuring two drivers locked in the thick of the national points battle that will be settled on Saturday night. Deece Schwartz, the 2020 national points runner-up, is back in the hunt for his first national crown with an 11-point lead over second-place Guy Taylor.
On the clock, Schwartz was faster, turning in a best lap of 15.261, while Taylor was further back on the board with a best lap of 15.449. In a true test of skill and endurance, both drivers are voluntarily pulling double-duty this weekend in the Pro Modified and UMP Modified divisions, raising the stakes a bit higher as they pursue championship gold by Saturday night.
The first night of racing competition in the 27th annual DIRTcar Fall Nationals hits Lincoln Speedway Friday night, Sept. 30, featuring the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds, Pro Modifieds, Pro Late Models and Stock Cars.
Tickets are available at the gate on race day, and plenty of camping space is available. Pit gates open at 3pm; grandstand gates at 4. Hot Laps scheduled for 6.
DIRTcar Series PR