By MATT PRIEUR
CONCORD, NC – One of the most popular divisions that race at Volusia Speedway Park during the DIRTcar Nationals are the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds. They’ve also been the busiest division during the month of February and perhaps the most competitive. With car counts averaging in the 70s and 101 feature races conducted since 2005, the DIRTcar UMP Modified division has produced 44 different Feature winners as well as 10 different champions over the past 13 years. Only three drivers have captured more than one championship, and it wasn’t done for the first time until 2013 when NASCAR legend Ken Schrader accomplished the feat.
No driver, though, has been more successful in recent years than two-time defending DIRTcar Nationals Modified Champion Nick Hoffman. The 25-year-old has ascended to the status of Best Gator at a surprising pace. Hoffman, the all-time career wins leader of the DIRTcar Nationals with 11, scored his first ever DIRTcar Nationals Feature on February 20, 2012 when he won the first of what would be three Big Gators, worth $5,000 each.
The wins didn’t stop for Hoffman after that. Single victories in 2013 and 2015 set the stage for the past two seasons of domination by the Belleville, IL-born driver. Four Feature wins each in both 2016 and 2017 propelled the driver of the No. 2 Elite Chassis entry to the last two DIRTcar Nationals titles within the DIRTcar UMP Modified division. With last year’s title, he joins Schrader (2008 & 2013) and another NASCAR shoe, Ty Dillon (2012 & 2014) as the only drivers with more than one DIRTcar Nationals title from 2005 to present time. The Modifieds have been a part of Volusia in February since 1996 and are an integral part of the track’s 50th anniversary celebration.
The 2017 championship battle was one of the most memorable. After Fairmont, WV’s Jacob Hawkins kicked off the 2017 DIRTcar Nationals with his first ever DIRTcar Nationals victory, it would be Hoffman scoring night number two. Brian Ruhlman – the DIRTcar Late Model and Modified ace from Clarklake, MI – briefly stopped Hoffman on night three before Hoffman rebounded and scored the next two nights. Will Krup, from Mt. Carmel, IL (Hoffman’s teammate), picked up his first-ever DIRTcar Nationals win on night six before Hoffman grabbed his third Big Gator, worth $5,000, to go with his 2012 and 2016 Big Gators.
The points battle for the 2017 title wasn’t done, though. It all came down to the final night and the Triple 15s. J.E. Stadler and Johnathan Taylor scored the first two Feature wins as the third Feature came down to Hoffman and Hawkins. Hawkins won the battle, his second feature win of the DIRTcar Nationals. Hoffman finished right behind him in second to seal his second consecutive DIRTcar Nationals Championship by just a single point over Hawkins (489-488).
Heading into the 47th annual DIRTcar Nationals, Hoffman leads the charge once again in 2018 and will see plenty of competition from the likes of Hawkins, who looks to advance one position higher in the final standings and capture his first career DIRTcar Nationals title. Brian Ruhlman has went to Victory Lane once in each of the past two years while Krup, Taylor and Stadler hope their first tastes of winning in 2017 will propel them to bigger asperations in 2018. Winners from 2016 who would like to return to victory lane include Tyler Nicely, Trent Young, Derrick Ramey and Ray Bollinger.
Two NASCAR stars who can never be counted out of any DIRTcar UMP Modified event at Volusia are Schrader and Kenny Wallace. Schrader has two career victories at the DIRTcar Nationals, but it’s been awhile, five years to be exact (2013) was the last time Schrader went to Victory Lane. It’s been even longer for Wallace. After his three-win year of 2012, the year he also won the Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals Championship, the St. Louis, MO veteran has gone winless at Volusia, but still ranks seventh all-time in career DIRTcar Nationals Feature wins.
One more NASCAR star, David Stremme would like to end a mini slump of sorts as the South Bend, IN driver now residing in Mooresville, NC and is the President of Lethal Chassis, has one win to his credit at Volusia. That lone checkered flag came in 2015. NASCAR Xfinity Series star, Justin Allgaier also has a single win at Volusia in 2016 and, like Stremme, would love to change that. 2017 Southeast Dirt Modified Series Champion, Billy Workman Jr., is a longtime standout at Volusia and is still in search of his first ever Volusia win and so is Stanley, NC rising star, Taylor Cook, a two-time winner in the Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals. That first Volusia victory has so far eluded him as well.
For more information about the 47th annual DIRTcar Nationals and to order tickets, please call 844-DIRT-TIX or visit dirtcarnationals.com. Follow DIRTcar Nationals throughout the off-season and into the month of February by visiting the DIRTcar Nationals Social Media outlets.