GAYLORD, Mich. — Appropriately named The Hell Tour, the UMP DIRTcar Summer Nationals is hot, grueling and incredibly intense.
Twenty-nine races in 31 days, spanning eight states seems impossible, but one driver has been steadily proving that it’s not only possible, it’s a schedule on which he thrives.
Shannon Babb certainly has the hardware to prove that he has what it takes to be consistent. With 71 career Summer Nationals victories and three championships (2005, 2006 and 2011), Babb trails only Billy Moyer on the all-time win list.
Babb believes his Summer Nationals success comes from the routine of strapping into the cockpit of his No.18 more frequently.
“What’s made it good for me is the fact that we’re racing every single day,” proclaimed Babb. “My mind and my focus are on the car every day and if you work on something every day you’re going to get better. When you take a break from it and go home it takes time to mentally get back, and so I believe that the Summer Nationals tour is a great way to sharpen my skills.”
With a thoroughly impressive racing resume on file, Babb is definitely dangerous with sharpened skills. Over the past decade he has solidified himself as one of the best dirt model drivers in the nation by picking up crown jewel events such as the Topless 100 at Batesville (Ark.) Speedway (2003), the Dirt Track World Championship at Bluegrass (Ky.) Speedway (2002 and 2006), as well as prestigious events such as a $12,000 victory at the Springfield Mile in 2001 and a UMP victory at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in 2002.
Long before T-shirts sporting a No.18 and the moniker of “The Moweaqua Missile” were seen throughout the Midwest, fans near Babbn’s Illinois hometown were very familiar with the Babb name. As a second-generation driver, Babb knew the ins and outs of auto racing long before he strapped into a modified.
“My family was already racing when I was born, so I was drawn to it,” said Babb. “My uncles Rob and Terry and my dad (Greg) raced sprint cars and some stock cars, so they’ve had me out in the garage since I was little. When it comes to racing, I didn’t have a choice, it’s in my blood.”
Babb began his career in 1992, sporting a No.82, which was the number of the car’s original owner, but over that winter Babb’s own car was built and he chose to compete with the No.18. For Babb the choice to compete with the number was an easy one. It was his age at the time, there weren’t many cars using that number at his hometown tracks, and one of the drivers he admired most was sporting a silver No.18.
“Around the time I started racing, Scott Bloomquist was a hero of mine,” Babb explained. “I thought he really had a cool career going on, and so I chose the No.18 as well.”
Before long Babb went from being a young kid in the modified ranks to a successful late model driver in his own right, competing side by side with the guys he idolized as a teen. Because of Babb’s respect for his competition, some events have become memories never to be forgotten more for their significance than the victory.
“The 2006 Dirt Track World Championship still stands out to me,” stated Babb. “We hurt our engine during qualifying and almost gave up right then, but we changed out engines that day and ended up having a great race with Scott Bloomquist. Toward the end of the race he almost ended up taking it away from me, but I got him at the end and wound up winning the race. We didn’t give up, we just kept going and it ended up paying off pretty big.”
For Babb the $50,000 payday that accompanied the DTWC was also a much-needed boost after disappointment marred his 2005 season.
“We actually won the World 100 at Eldora,” Babb recalled, “but then went across the scales and were nine pounds light. That was one of the highest points in my life and then it dropped right down to the bottom within five seconds. Now looking back I can feel like I got the job done. We still beat everyone, it just wasn’t all the way there.”
Having spent the past 20 years racking up wins, one may wonder what is in store for Babb and his No.18 team in the future. It’s a question Babb asks himself.
“Racers are strong and the people who support them are stronger which is why our racing business is still going,” Babb said. “We have good sponsors who keep sponsoring up so that we can keep enjoying what we are doing. The cost of racing continues to go up and it takes a lot of money to do this, so I try not to drain my sponsors and myself. It’s tough in this economy to come up with realistic goals, but we are going to focus on winning some big shows, and maybe this year I can knock Billy Moyer off the top of the all-time win list, or at least draw in close to him.”
As for life after The Hell Tour, Babb and his wife of three years, Emalie, plan to relax by the pond of their Illinois home with their three dogs, two cats, chickens and ducks…until the next weekend rolls around that is.
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