DirtCar Summer Nationals kicks off a Hellish series of 32 races over 39 days

DirtCar Summer Nationals

On June 14 dirt track racing’s greatest endurance race kicked off at Kankakee (Ill.) Speedway with Ryan Unzicker winning the late model portion of the DIRTCar Summer Nationals and Nick Hoffman victorious in the UMP Modified division.

It is the 37th annual running of the Hell Tour, as the series has affectionately come to be named.

Tonight, the series races at Peoria (Ill.) Speedway and on June 16 the late model drivers head to Davenport (Iowa) Speedway. Modifieds will join them once more Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill. the following night.

Is a picture beginning to form?

Over the 39 days, 32 late model and modified races will be run on 30 tracks in the Midwest. There are few open days that will undoubtedly be spent repairing equipment and rain usually cancels an event or two, but the stamina of the drivers, officials and PR representatives is unparalleled in auto racing. The first scheduled break in the action won’t come until June 26th and 27th.

Unzicker, who finished 14th in the standings last year after competing in 11th races, knew the importance of getting a strong start. As he shot to the lead early in the event, last year’s champion Bobby Pierce was hot on his tail. So was the current World of Outlaws Late Model Series points’ leader Dennis Erb, Jr.

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With second-place swapping spots a couple of times in the closing laps, that is how they finished. It was the 12th Summer Nationals win for Unzicker and his first since June, 2018. And there is no time to rest.

The results were a little less dramatic in Modifieds, but the forecast is no less extreme.

The four-time and defending champion might not have been a surprise winner, but the night was not as easy as Hoffman made it appear.

“We were smoking earlier. … Dad had just changed the valve cover gaskets on both sides, so we had a mess back there with oil and stuff,” Hoffman said in a press release. “Had some issues with my transmission too. It’s just wear-and-tear on parts.

“This deal’s grueling; we’re only one night in.”

Chasing the series would be almost as challenging as running it, but fans can keep up with the action by watching on DirtVision, (subscription required).

IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway


The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)