By Todd Turner, DirtonDirt.com chief writer
LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. (Oct. 17) Fans at the 29th annual Dirt Track World Championship who don't often get to see Jason Feger didn't have to ask twice why he's called the Highside Hustler.
During daytime heat races at Lawrenceburg Speedway when most every driver stuck with the lower grooves, the 31-year-old Feger from Bloomington, Ill., showed everyone there was enough traction on a slick high groove to get the job done.
Feger, who recently wrapped up the $20,000 UMP DIRTcar Racing points championship while racking up more than 20 victories, got as many cheers as any heat winner with his runner-up performance in the fifth heat.
And the fans bundled up under coats, hats and mittens in the stands on a chilly afternoon weren't the only ones to notice. Plenty of Feger's competitors admired the Illinois driver's performance on the high-banked, 3/8-mile oval baked by afternoon sun.
"Did you see that Feger?" second heat winner Rick Eckert of York, Pa., asked. "That guy was up there, he was in a lane of his own. That guy's cool to watch, he really is."
For Feger, starting fourth and needing to run in the top three to advance to his first Dirt Track World Championship feature, running the high groove was a given, especially after he briefly fell back to sixth at the outset of the 15-lap prelim.
"You know where I was going to go," the Highside Hustler said later. "There wasn't much choice for me."
Feger clocked Dale McDowell's laps while running a little higher during his heat race run and figured the high groove was worth a shot even with rubber starting to build up in the lower grooves where everyone else was racing.
"Everybody kept saying it was rubbering up, but the lap times never picked up, so I figured I oughta just jump up there and see what it was," Feger said. "It was make or break and it ended up working real good.
"I got shuffled back there a little bit at the beginning; kind of a racing deal — and I had to fight my way back up. I'm just real happy to make my first Dirt Track and hopefully they can do some work on the track and get it more raceable for tomorrow."
Feger's groove choice was obvious as his Tumbling Dice No. 25 stood out in the high groove, especially when he swept past competitors exiting turns two or four. First he moved around Steve Casebolt, then took third from Scott Bloomquist and then grabbed second from polesitter Jeep Van Wormer. Ray Cook was a straightaway ahead by the time Feger got into second, and although he made up a little ground, he was fortunate to survive his only near-mistake as he once got a bit high in turns one and two.
Third-heat winner Steve Francis and sixth-heat winner Jimmy Mars were among drivers pointing to Feger's run to show that Lawrenceburg's daytime racing surface has definite possibilities of being better than the one-grooved norm.
"If they wanted to work the track a little bit (Sunday), they could end up with a really racy track," Mars said. "Even if you watched Feger there, right before my heat, he was balls to the wall up on the top and here there are guys creeping around on the rubber, and here he's passing guys out in no man's land."
Feger spends most of the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals exploring the high grooves on 25 tracks each season, so it was nothing new to do the same thing at Lawrenceburg. "I was pretty confident, just by knowing how I drive and how the track's banked," Feger said. "I knew the cushion in three and four; not really a cushion, but the little bit of moisture that was up there; I was pretty confident the whole time."
"We've still got some work to do, but we're just happy to get in the show, and tomorrow's a new day."