HERE'S KEVIN'S ARTICLE FROM DIRT LATE MODEL MAGAZINE FEB 2010:
As modern-day dirt Late Model champions go, Jason Feger seems to have come straight from central casting. He has all the marketable qualities -- steely desire and dedication (he's steadily built his family back operation from humble beginnings), exciting style (he's not called the "Highside Huster" for nothing), youthfulness (he's just 31), bubbling personality (he's always approachable and accommodating) and a dose of hipness (cool race car graphics, trendy apparel, the occasional mohawk hairdo and a team that's not afraid to party and have fun).
It's no surprise, then, that after winning his first career UMP DIRTcar Racing Super Late Model national championship in 2009, Feger has become the poster boy of the Midwestern-based sanctioning body. He even hails from Bloomington, Illinois, right in the heart of UMP Late Model Country.
Feger will blush at the notion that he's now the face of UMP, but it's a fact. A driver doesn't put together one of the most spectacular season in circuit history -- a UMP -leading 23 feature wins at an astonishing 13 different tracks in fours states -- and end the two-year national title reign of a hard-nosed owner-operator like Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Illinois without turning into the It Guy of the moment.
A winner of UMP DIRTcar's Most Improved Driver Award in 2008 after finishing a then career-best third in the national points standing, Feger got a taste of his new found celebrity status when he made some late-season trips to tracks outside his usual realm.
"A lot of fans came up to talk to me and I heard a lot of compliments,"Feger said. "So you realize that winning the championship is a pretty big deal." The way Feger secured the prestigious $20,000 crown, of course made him a deserving recipient of widespread acclaim. He's not only a home-grown UMP talent who started his racing career in the Sportsman division before moving to the seat of a dirt Late Model in 2002, but also the driver who finally took down the 37-year-old Erb, aka the "One Man Band" an impeccably consistent racer whom many observers thought would remain atop the UMP Late Model work in 2009 sweeping the organizations Summernationals tour and national titles for an unprecedented third consecutive season. To be The Man you have to beat The Man, ant that's what Feger did in '09.
"I think beating Dennis really makes the championship more special," said Feger, who bested Erb by 31 points in a national battle that was determine using drivers' best 40 finishes/points night of the season. "A lot of people know how good Dennis is. He's good in the big shows and can win against anybody, and he's definitely the guy to beat around here. Whenever you roll into a racetrack -- especially for the last three years -- night in and night out, Dennis is the guy you know you're gonna have to beat to win. You very rarely see that guy [finish] out of the top five.
"Racing against Dennis makes you focus to really stay up on your game. He's a competitor who hates to lose, so I think people know [the title] wasn't given to us or anything. We had to earn it."
Erb certainly got a little too close for Feger's comfort heading down the homestretch of UMP points race. While Feger never relinquished the top spot in the standings after grabbing it late in the summer, Erb pulled within seven points in late September with just two weekends of weekly points action remaining. Then Feger's two bouts with bad luck the last weekend in September -- a flat tire struck him leading at Peoria (Ill.) Speedway and more trouble knocked him from the lead the next night at Shepp's Speedway in Alexander, Illinois - left him wondering if all his success in '09 might not be enough to dethrone Erb.
"After those races at Peoria and Shepp's, I started getting stressed out, " said Feger who found himself thinking of points possibilities morning, noon and night. "It was tougher than I ever thought it would be and got us worrying a little bit. You don't want to give a guy like Erb any extra chances because he can take advantage of 'em."
But Feger came through under pressure, rolling through the final weekend of weekly points racing with three consecutive victories in October 2 - 4 at Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, Illinois, Lincoln (IL) Speedway and Shepp's to clinch the title. He was able to make the points-season-ending UMP DIRTcar Nationals the following weekend at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, his championship coronation rather than a pressure-packed weekend.
Finally, Erb was out of Feger's hair, though even with the title decided, Erb didn't stray far from Feger's mind. Feger, after all, feels honored to follow Erb as the UMP Late Model national champion since he sees a bit of himself in the gritty veteran. The tow drivers have decidedly different personalities -- while Feger is talkative and outgoing, Erb tends to be quiet and reserve -- and aren't especially friendly with each other, but they have scratched and clawed their way to the top of UMP DIRTcar Racing in much the same manner.
"i have a lot of respect for him," Feger says of Erb. "I feel like the way he's done it is kinda the way I've done it. He's a self made guy who's worked his but off to get where he is.
"I probably have a little more help in the pit [crew] department than him, but we come from the same ranks."
Indeed, Feger and his family have slowly-but-surely assembled a championship-caliber operation. His entire rise has come driving Late Models under the banner of Feger Brother Racing (that's Jason and his 29-year-old brother/crew chief Austin), though he creits his more recent associations with the chassis builder and former UMP Late Model national champion Bob Pierce (Feger began running Pierce cars midway through the 2007 season), powerplant constructor Ryhne Engines and sponsors Stearn Ironworks and Jaxon Chase Steel Detailing (who signed on midway through the 2009 seasons) with giving him that final push into the promised land.
"To be kind of self-made and win the championship is a big deal in my mind," says Feger, who works for his family's Absolute Apparel business when he's not racing (or getting ready to race) more than 80 nights a seson. "it's not like we just had somebody give us money and we went out and used it. We've gotten our program really built up over time. "it's definitely tough to di it this way. It's a lot of hard work , but we're proof it can be done."
The future appears incredibly bright for Feger, whose entry into the limelight in 2009 puts him near the top of every one's list of potential national stars capable of carrying the dirt Late Model division for years to come.
Anyone who might wonder whether Feger has the good to excell beyond the hardscrabble weekend wars of the UMP circuit need only look at some of his recent performances on the big stages. For instance, Fege bascially announced his 2009 intentions in March when he drove by such luminaries as Billy Moyer, Steve Francis and Shannon Babb to win the 40-lap March Madness feature at Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway in Calvert City, Kentucky, a vitory he calls "a turning point" in his burgeoning career.
Two months later, on May 24 at Charter Raceway Park in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, Feger tossed his trademark "tumbling dice" number 25 around the outside lane for 40 laps to register his first-ever triumph in a World of Outlaws Late Model Series A-Main. It was another checkered flag that added to his growing stature.
"I had never been to Beaver Dam before, so to be able to show up and beat those Outlaw guys was an incredible feeling," says Feger, whose previous best finish in a limited World of outlaws starts was a fourth in the 2008 Pepsi Nationals at I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Missouri. "I really like racing with those guys and I have a whole lot of respect for them. "I just hope that win gives them a little more respect for me -- you know, solidifies me a little more in their minds."
Feger closed out his '09 campaign with a memorable heat-race charge to qualify for October's Dirt Track World Championship at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway and just two weeks late, an outing at The Dirt Track @ Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, that likely raised his national profile to an even higher level. With a packed house of over 14,000 fans looking on during the Friday-night World of Outlaws World Finals 50-lapper, Feger made a stirring, cushion-pounding assault on the tour-tenths-mile oval that took him from the 19th starting spot to second place -- and the bring of passing eventual winner Scott Bloomquist -- before a flat tire did him in with just ten laps remaining. Feger's run at The Dirt Track so endeared him to the crowd, he sold enough t-shirts at his trailer the following day to pay his tire bill for the weekend.
In addition, Feger has been a force in Eldora's recent crown-jewel shows, qualifing for the World 100 in 2007 and 2008 and the $1000,000 Dream in 2009. He was one of just 12 drivers to qualify for all three of those UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned events.
Does his success against national-caliber competition give him the confidence that he can strike out on the road and make a profitable living as a dirt Late Model driver? You bet it does, although he also still understands that has plenty left to learn.
"Talent-wise, I feel I can go out and run with the best guys in the country," says Feger, who also won the championship of Don Hammer's UMP-sanctioned Monster Midwest Tour in 2009. "That's always been my ultimate goal - to race for a living, to run a national series like the World of Outlaws. But if I go run with the Outlaws, I know it's gonna be a learning curve for me. I know I can do it, but it would take some time to figure things out. We haven't run open tires very much.
"We definetly would need some time to make our program better (on open tires), and that means you have to have the backing to keep you out there on the road when you're struggling and learning those lessons."
Feger is getting closer to putting together the necessary backing that would allow him to test his talen - and go through the school of hard knocks - as a national touring driver, but he's not there yet. His fresh sponsorship deal with Stearn IornWorks and Jaxon Chase Steel Detailing provided him the chance to obtain a former Scott Bloomquist hauler and trailer to replace the conventional enclosed trailer he had been using and he plans to start his 2010 season with a February Speedweeks trip to Florida's East Bay Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway Park, but his regular -season focus will likely remain the UMP trail.
And Feger is content to continue building his reputation in the UMP Late Model divison, which happens to give an Illinois-based dirt Late Model driver like Feger more opportunities to race than virtually any other circuit in the country.
"Some people don't understand why we don't get out aways from home to race more than we do, but it's tough to leave what we have here, "says Feger, who graduated with honors from Parkland community College in Champaign, Illinois and has also completed courses at Heartland Community College and Illinois State University. "UMP country is pretty tough, and we've got a lot of pretty good tracks and races that pay decent money right around home. There's always a special somewhere in our area; I think I probably only ran five regular nights all year in (2009). "And in my opinion, UMP has the best tire deal in the country. With three compounds, you don't need many tires or many wheels. I've only got 24 rims to my name, so it's a great rule for me."
The grueling, month-long UMP Summernationals tour, which Feger began following in 2007, is the championship Feger most covets in 2010. Perhaps he could even follow in Dennis Erb's footsteps again, becoming the second driver in UMP DIRTcar history to sweep the Summernationals and national titles in the same season.
"The Summernationals is a goal," says Feger, who finished fourth in the 2009 Summernationals points standing while winning the first two tour features of his career. "And if you have a good year on the Summernationals, it's going to put you in a position for the national title. The you just have to take advantage of it."
Summernationals gloris is definitely a possibility in 2010 for Feger, who last year demonstrated the type of across the board speed and versatility that's necessary to achieve success on the series.
"[In 2008] I was good at my certain tracks, most the the fast, high-banked places," says Feger. "We had a good setup for places like Paducah (KY), Farmer City (IL) and Boswell (Indian's Kamp Motor Speedway), but we lacked something when we went to other places. We made some huge strides in that department [in 2009] - especially with the help of Pierce - and that's why we were able to win at so many different tracks."
Feger is also figuring out how to balance his instinct to charge, charge, charge with a calmer, smarter approach. "I'm not a points racer," says Feger. "I like to win races. For eight years in a Late Model, I've only driven one way. I try to get to the front and get everything I can out of my equipment. I'm always gonna run as hard as I can, but I'm learning to be more patient and not take all the chances I'd normally take." The Highside Hustler isn't going anywhere. He's just refining his distinctive style in order to win more races and more championships.