The final click of a camera played like a director yelling “cut” on the scene in Victory Lane.
Crews spread. Forced poses eased. And Tim McCreadie had already given his star performance as the 2014 Prairie Dirt Classic champion at Fairbury Speedway. However, they were far from wrapped.
Before leaving with the trophy and big check, McCreadie and his team were asked to drive their winning car a few blocks down the street to Fairbury’s Bank of Pontiac drive-thru.
“I think everybody had a little skepticism like, ‘What are we doing?’ ‘What type of post race celebration is this?’,” said Matt Curl, owner and promoter of Fairbury Speedway in Fairbury, IL.
At the bank, a new scene – one of a photo op and celebration never seen before – that brought the Prairie Dirt Classic its Oscar moment and left every driver afterward saying, “I want to go to the bank.”
The prestige of the Prairie Dirt Classic had faded in the early 2000s. With bigger events scheduling on top of it, pulling the star drivers away, the Classic had dissolved to a $10,000 to win regional show.
Knowing the importance of the event to fans and the town, a group of race fans volunteered their time at the track to help revive its status. Among them was Gunner Sullivan, who sparked an idea that helped give the Prairie Dirt Classic something no other track had.
His idea came as the Prairie Dirt Classic’s renaissance was taking shape. Matt Curl joined as the new track promoter in 2013 and brought the Prairie Dirt Classic under World of Outlaws sanctioning. The event was also moved from Labor Day Weekend to the final weekend in July.
During the 2014 season, Sullivan and Curl looked at ways they could attract a title sponsor for the event. The winning solution came with a little help from NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray.
Sullivan’s brother-in-law told him how he saw McMurray win $1 million at NASCAR’s All-Star event and did a big check photo op at a bank. With the Bank of Pontiac already a sponsor of the track and having a drive-thru branch only a few blocks down from the pit entrance, Sullivan presented the idea of having the winner drive their car down South 3rd Street to the bank for another victory celebration.
“We were doing some marketing with [Bank of Pontiac’s] marketing department and bank president and we presented the idea to them, and they really liked the idea,” Sullivan said. “We didn’t advertise it because we didn’t know if the winner of the PDC would be interested in driving his car down the street to that after he just won.”
McCreadie, the now multi-time national Late Model champion, including the 2006 World of Outlaws championship, was the first to experience the stunt after winning his first Prairie Dirt Classic in 2014.
“Yeah, that was different,” McCreadie said about driving his car from the track’s Victory Lane to the drive-thru lane at the bank. “It was neat that they did something like that and kind of fun.”
During the first year, the bank celebration was more of a private event with only the track photographer capturing it. But once the photos of the celebration made it to social media, it went viral. With fans, and with the Bank of Pontiac.
“Once we did that, then [the Bank of Pontiac] got on board to be the title sponsor for the next year,” Sullivan said. “They really liked that marketing idea. We got a lot of good PR out of it. It was all over social media.”
From there, the celebration grew year to year. The second year saw around 20 people attend and has increased to about 400 who attended Brandon Sheppard’s bank celebration last year. Fans now line the street, waiting to watch the winner make the victorious parade down the street, and gather at the bank to join in on the celebration.
“It’s pretty cool, man,” said Sheppard, who’s got to make the bank trip three times (2017, 2019, 2022). “It’s unique. There’s nothing else like it. It’s cool in that aspect of it. Then, to take the pictures with all your friends and family and the money bags and all that stuff. It’s just cool.”
Along with the celebration, the Prairie Dirt Classic has flourished into one of the biggest dirt Late Model events of the year. With continued support from the Bank of Pontiac, and others like the Illinois State Rifle Association, which joined as a presenting sponsor, the event now boasts a nearly $300,000 overall purse, paying $50,000 to win for its main event – along with $500 to every lap leader. Last year, Sheppard led all 100 laps and walked away with a $100,000 check that he took to the Bank of Pontiac.
Also helping to keep the momentum of the event going, Curl took over ownership of the track in 2018 and Sullivan took on a full-time position in 2021 as the director of business development.
“It’s been very special for me to roll into that Victory Lane with every winner since ’14,” Curl said. “After all the hard work that we put in here and all the hours we put in, it’s worth every second to see the celebration that we have.
“No other place has a tradition like this around the country. It is totally unique. That’s what makes it special is people talk about it everywhere we go. Whether it is Eldora just in passing with drivers. They always want to get to the bank. It’s pretty neat. I’m proud to have that.”
“We never imagined it would be as popular as it is now,” Sullivan said. “The drivers, kind of all, that’s what they want to do. They want to drive to the bank. And obviously they want to win the PDC, but the biggest thing is they want to drive to the bank.”
If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision.