After a Saturday night marred by misfortune and a bit of destruction, Brian Shirley was looking for an opportunity to bounce back. Sunday night at Sycamore Speedway, he got exactly what he came for – his third Feature win of the week and an extra $10,000 check as Week 1 champion of the 38th annual DIRTcar Summer Nationals.
Shirley, the four-time Hell Tour champion from Chatham, IL, endured a rough go of things Saturday at Fairbury Speedway – blowing a tire while running in a transfer spot in his Heat Race, then getting into a wreck early in the Feature, leaving him with a 14th-place finish as he watched one of his Illinois rivals drive off with another big payday.
“Last night, Bobby [Pierce] did what he does at Fairbury, and for us it was just a rough night,” Shirley said. “It knocked the wind out of my sails, I’m not gonna lie. I was definitely a little bummed today, but as I’ve always said, you just can’t stop fate.”
He and the Bob Cullen Racing team shook it off and regrouped in the short, overnight period they had Sunday and turned things around, readying a racecar that led all 40 Feature laps and collected their third $5,000 grand prize for the third time this week.
“All in all, I’m just proud of everybody that’s affiliated with my team,” Shirley said.
He ran into the wrath of a couple fellow Summer Nationals champions en route to the finish, starting with Dennis Erb Jr. just past the halfway point when he got a great restart and settled in behind Shirley. Erb soon showed a wheel to the inside of Shirley and kept digging at it, nearly nosing ahead of him for the lead as the caution flag flew on Lap 26.
“Dennis definitely had me at that point coming down the straightaway,” Shirley said. “I started changing my line a little bit because I could hear Dennis.
“I know Dennis – anytime it comes to being around the bottom, that guy is really good.”
Shirley was able to shake Erb on the ensuing restart, but soon after encountered another of his rivals in Jason Feger – who slipped by Erb with a quick crossover move in Turns 3-4 on the same restart.
“I knew I had a pretty good pull there down the backstretch, and I kept trying to set that move up,” Feger said. “But, if I was too close to [Erb] getting into Turn 3, I couldn’t get the run I needed, so it just kinda timed out right, and I think he over-shot Turn 3 a little bit.
“He got a little bit of a push, so once I saw that, I knew that was my chance. I just turned down and stood on it.”
Feger came in hot pursuit of the leader in the closing laps but was unable to close the gap in time as Shirley crossed the stripe for his 41st career Summer Nationals victory.
“I don’t know what he had left in the tank, but I knew our car was probably every bit as good,” Feger said. “We were probably gonna need some lapped traffic to set up a pick or make us move around out of our preferred groove and make something happen.”
Shirley was pleased with the comeback effort and ready said he’s to take on his next stretch of races as he returns to full-time World of Outlaws CASE Late Model Series competition next week.
“We’re gonna go home tonight tired as could be, but happy that we did do the best we could do,” Shirley said. “[My team] will be able to look at the checks we won this week and get some motivation to keep going and get ready for Kansas.”
Feger crossed the stripe in second after driving from 10th on the starting grid. He came into the race seeded third in Week 1 points, 35 behind Shirley, and emerged P2 after Frank Heckenast Jr’s eighth-place Feature finish.
“[Shirley] has been really fast as of late, so to be able to run right with him gives us some confidence,” Feger said. “Everything’s in one piece, we made a little money and ended up second in the week, and that pays good.”
Chad Finley, of St. Johns, MI, rounded out the podium and earned the night’s Hard Charger honors, driving all the way from 16th on the starting grid to finish third.
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals Late Models take on the high-banked half-mile of Moberly Motorsports Park for the only the second time in tour history on Tuesday, June 20. Tickets will be available at the gate; streaming is available at DIRTVision.com.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
Feature (40 Laps): 1. 3S-Brian Shirley; 2. 25-Jason Feger; 3. 42-Chad Finley; 4. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 5. 1T-Tyler Erb; 6. 4G-Bob Gardner; 7. 12-Ashton Winger; 8. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr; 9. 21B-Rich Bell; 10. 89-Mike Spatola; 11. 58-Tyler Clem; 12. 174-Ethan Dotson; 13. 31AUS-Kye Blight; 14. 130-Chase Osterhoff; 15. 30-Mark Voigt; 16. 19X-Cody Bauer; 17. 76-Titus Sneed; 18. 4D-Doug Tye; 19. 101-Forrest Trent; 20. 7-Drake Troutman; 21. 3-Dale Markham; 22. (DNS) T6-Tommy Sheppard Jr.