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UMP DIRTcar Racing Weekly Update: Veteran Mike Hammerle Moves On Top Of Super Late Model National Points Race

Evansville, IN — TIME IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Veteran Mike Hammerle enters this weekend’s action leading the UMP DIRTcar Super Late Model national points standings, but he knows his run in the sun will probably be short-lived.

So the 60-year-old grandfather from St. Charles, Mo., is going to enjoy every minute of his stint in the catbird’s seat – just like he relishes every lap he turns on the racetrack.

A short-track racer for 35 years and counting, Hammerle is a classic low-buck driver who pours his heart and soul into the sport he loves.

“It’s fun to be on top of the points,” smiled the likeable Hammerle, who moved to the national points lead on the strength of his circuit-leading 14 starts through May 6 (the next-busiest driver has run 12 races). “Maybe I can stay there for a few weeks.”

Hammerle realizes he’s racing on borrowed time, of course. Even though he plans to enter more than 70 UMP DIRTcar events this season and the national title will be determined using a driver’s best 40 finishes, most of his racing will come in weekly shows at small ovals where he can be competitive with his bare-bones budget. He doesn’t have the finances to follow the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals, which provides its regulars a chance to pile up bonus points toward the national title thanks to the tour’s strong car counts.

“They’ll definitely catch me during the Summernationals,” Hammerle said of his current pursuers in the standings. “They’ll get those maximum bonus points for the car counts.”

But Hammerle is fine with his ultimate fate. He’s honored simply to spend some time in the spotlight as the points leader, however short his stay there might be.

“I thought I might get the points lead this week because I got three races in last weekend and a lot of guys had their races rained out,” remarked Hammerle, whose weekend was highlighted by a feature win on May 2 at Belle Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill. “Last year I got the points lead once too because I ran a lot of races early in the season, so I was hoping I’d get the lead again this year for a little while.”

It’s certainly a neat story to see the points paced by a hard-working journeyman like Hammerle, a home-based welder by trade who is the epitome of a UMP DIRTcar Weekend Warrior. There’s no frills about any part of his race team, from the ramp-truck he uses to haul his car to the aged, battle-scarred No. 16H machines he campaigns.

Hammerle has three cars in his arsenal, but the newest of the trio is five years old. His favorite mount is a homebuilt piece he constructed in 2000 (it’s the dirt Late Model he put in Victory Lane last Saturday at Belle Clair); he also has a 2000 GRT car and a 2003 Rayburn chassis – although “the chassis builders won’t claim them anymore because I’ve cut ‘em up and changed them all around,” quipped Hammerle, whose small group of sponsors is headed by his crewman Mike Hickman’s King Edward’s Fried Chicken stores. (“When we get to the track everybody always wants to know if we have chicken to feed them,” said Hammerle.)

The motors in Hammerle’s equipment are built to his limited budget by Rolla (Mo.) Competition Engines. He estimated that his powerplants produce “probably 100 horsepower less than the big guys” because he has to go for durability in order to race as often as he does – and the tight bullrings he frequents don’t require big power anyway.

Last year Hammerle focused his weekly efforts on the two smallest tracks under the UMP DIRTcar banner – Belle Clair Speedway and Macon (Ill.) Speedway, both one-fifth-mile ovals. He won the points championship at Macon and finished a close second at Belle Clair, helping him to a seventh-place finish in the 2007 UMP DIRTcar national points standings.

This season Hammerle plans to again run Belle Clair regularly on Friday nights – he already has a fourth-place finish to go along with his win there – but he’s not committed to a Saturday track. It’s a lengthy two-and-a-half-hour one-way haul to Macon from his home outside St. Louis, so with rising gas prices he’s backing off weekly trips there. The always penny-pinching driver said he can save $50 in gas by racing closer to home at I-57/I-64 Raceway in Mt. Vernon, Ill. (where he has a top finish of fifth in two starts this season), so he’ll likely split his Saturdays between Macon, Mt. Vernon and perhaps others tracks now-and-then.

Hammerle will always find somewhere to race. You can count on that.

“I’m 60, but you need to keep practicing,” he joked when asked why he’s still so active behind the wheel.

Hammerle launched his racing career 35 years ago, competing in the Sportsman division at tracks near his home. Three years later he began a decade-long stint in the dirt Late Model division, then he bounced between a center-steer Modified class very similar to the Northeast’s DIRTcar big-block Modifieds (he competed in DIRTcar big-block Modified events in Florida and Texas during the late ‘80s) and the emerging UMP DIRTcar Modified division before returning to dirt Late Models, which he’s run for the last decade.

According to Hammerle’s best recollections, he’s won over 300 features in various divisions and more than 20 points championships. He’s finished as high as second in the UMP DIRTcar Super Late Model national points standings and has three fifth-place finishes since 2000.

It’s been a long, fun ride for Hammerle, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down.

Hammerle has even outlasted his wife Linda, who rarely attends her husband’s races these days, preferring to spend more time with the couple’s grandchildren.

“I guess I burnt her out,” said a smiling Hammerle. “She went with me everywhere for 25 years, but she was always a nervous wreck when she watched me race and she finally decided she didn’t want to go anymore.”

It’s a pretty good bet that Hammerle will never leave the pit area behind. He even dreams of a way to stay in the game after he finally hangs up his helmet sometime well into his senior-citizen years.

“I’m just gonna do it as long as I can,” Hammerle said of his future plans. “I still enjoy it too much to stop.

“Maybe I’ll get one of my grandkids driving some day,” he added with a twinkle in his eyes. “I’ve got a grandson who’s three years old, so maybe I can hold out and keep racing until he’s ready to take over driving my car.”

NOTABLE UMP DIRTcar RACING THIS WEEKEND:

* The UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned Sunoco American Late Model Series swings back into action on Friday night (May 9) at Limaland Motorsports Park in Lima, Ohio.

* The Northern Allstars Late Model Series – another UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned tour – has a Saturday-night (May 10) date at Highland (Ill.) Speedway.

* Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway will host a $700-to-win UMP DIRTcar Modified special on Friday night (May 9) as part of its USAC Sprint Car program.

UMP DIRTcar RACING INFO: Log on to www.dirtcar.com for more information on UMP DIRTcar Racing and to view complete points standings for all divisions.

ATTENTION: Any UMP DIRTcar track or race team with news that could be used in the ‘UMP DIRTcar Racing Weekly Update’ release can e-mail the info to Kevin Kovac at kkovac@dirtcar.com.

UMP DIRTcar Racing National Points Standings (as of May 6):

Super Late Models (driver/points/races):

1. Mike Hammerle 648 14
2. Jason McBride 557 11
3. Rusty Griffaw 544 10
4. Michael Kloos 534 12
5. Dennis Erb Jr. 521 7
6. Billy Moyer 506 6
7. Rusty Schlenk 499 9
8. Steve Francis 484 6
9. Ryan Unzicker 472 8
10. Chris Shelton 440 10
11. Brad Looney 428 7
12. Tony Albright 404 7
13. Wes Steidinger 395 6
14. Billy Faust 394 7
15. B. J. McCammon 375 7
16. Frankie Martin 369 7
17. Rick Eckert 368 5
18. Ed Dixon 364 8
19. Chub Frank 363 5
20. Chuck Proctor 360 6

Open-Wheel Modifieds (driver/points/races):

1. Kent Robinson 988 14
2. Randle Sweeney 964 13
3. Tim Hancock 914 14
4. Chad Evans 690 12
5. Gary Cook Jr. 687 10
6. Denny Schwartz 666 12
7. Jon Henry 614 12
8. Jeff Leka 592 9
9. Clayton Miller 584 10
10. Clint DeMoss 564 9
11. Mike Spatola 549 9
12. R.C. Whitwell 538 7
13. Rob Fuqua 525 9
14. Tommie Seets Jr. 511 8
15. Nick Allen 509 7
16. Matt Bex 494 8
17. Todd Miller 488 8
18. Johnny Scott 487 7
19. Bobby Bittle 480 8
20. Chad Osterhoff 480 7

Pro Late Models (driver/points/races):

1. Duane Hodges 511 8
2. Levi Ashby 487 10
3. Kevin Hardin 482 8
3. Jason Jones 482 10
5. Josh Harris 456 8
6. Caleb Ashby 430 8
7. Phil Gregory 424 8
8. Tait Davenport 371 5
9. Carnell Parker 365 5
10. Mike Watson 359 8

Sportsman (driver/points/races):

1. Troy Clark 474 9
2. Chris Hillman 466 8
3. Brad Cummings 448 8
4. Shawn Daugherty 445 7
5. Anthon Jackson 430 6
6. Bruce Westerman 420 7
7. Jeremy Hines 410 7
8. Patrick Vareika 391 7
9. Danny Vogel Jr. 380 6

Limited Modifieds (driver/points/races):

1. Jonathan Clayton 400 6
2. John Paul Talkington 368 6
3. Brandon Buhler 350 5
4. Will Duncan 313 5
5. Bryan Barrett 302 6
6. Evan Delahoussaye 260 4
7. Matthew Holmes 255 4
8. Alex Ashley 231 4
9. Lee Fincher 212 4
10. Ray Allen Kulhanek 210 3

Street Stocks (driver/points/races):

1. Travis Myers 561 9
2. Aaron Penton 474 9
3. Jon Wix 444 7
4. Randy Arnold 442 9
5. Grady Christian 433 6
6. Brad Taylor 409 8
7. Tyler Blankenship 390 6
8. Jerrad Krick 380 5
9. David Cline 380 6
10. Josh Griffith 371 6

Factory Stocks (driver/points/races):

1. Cody Vanosdol 364 5
2. Mickey Hines 335 5
3. William Burton 296 5
4. Willie Sallee 286 5
5. Bodi Henry 269 4
6. Josh Phelps 260 5
7. Mark Bruce 251 5
8. Bill Moore 245 5
9. Seth Hull 231 4
10. Tim Roberts 220 4

4-Cylinders (driver/points/races):

1. Joe Reed 525 7
2. Jeff Rittenberry 495 7
3. Michael Rittenberry 452 8
4. Michael Perrigo 443 7
5. Jeffrey Bailey 433 7
6. Travis Staats 425 6
7. Daniel Stephens 425 7
8. Bob Zbinden 407 7
9. Keaton Downing 406 6
10. Charlie Staats 399 6

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