A run, a dive, a bump, a pass, and a victory. That was Brandon Thirlby’s 40th lap around Merritt Speedway Saturday night – one that made him $10,000 richer and a first-time DIRTcar Summer Nationals Feature winner.
“It was definitely interesting,” said Thirlby, of Buckley, MI. “It was going to be wreckers or checkers down there.”
Polesitter Eric Spangler looked to be well on his way to a dominant first career Hell Tour Feature win at his home track, leading 39 laps of the race largely unchallenged. But a hungry Thirlby was driving hard behind him in a run all the way from 10th and had closed a gap that stretched nearly a full second with five laps remaining.
“With three-to-go, it stuck pretty good going into Turn 1,” Thirlby said. “The harder I charged the corner, this Longhorn [Chassis] race car just hooked up and took that Pro Power engine, put it to the floor and that’s where we went.”
Spangler had led the entire way using mostly the bottom and middle lanes around the 3/8-mile course before switching to the top lane in Turns 3-4 after the final restart with six-to-go. Thirlby also opted to go to the top side in favor of the momentum, leaning on the cushion in Turns 1-2 which propelled him within a car-length of Spangler by the time they came around to get the white flag. It was then that Thirlby knew he needed to go for it.
With a great launch off the top of Turn 2, Thirlby dove under Spangler into Turn 3 and gassed it, sliding his #M14 up in front of Spangler, making contact as he completed the pass in Turn 4 and crossed the finish line to steal the victory.
The crowd came to their feet as they crossed the stripe, in awe of what transpired. Spangler took the opportunity on the cooldown lap to express his displeasure with Thirlby, to which Thirlby had one comment after Victory Lane.
“[Spangler] was waving at me with one finger, not five, as I went by and kinda swerving at me. He can be pissed all he wants, but he would’ve done the same to me.”
Coming from 10th on the starting grid, Thirlby didn’t think it was possible from the fifth row before taking the green. But he kept picking one off every few laps, and with some help from the yellow flags, he was in position at the end to take the opportunity.
“I didn’t even know who was leading the race, honestly, because I couldn’t even see first or second, I was so far out,” Thirlby said. “Cautions definitely played a part in favor of myself, gathering everybody back up. But originally, no. I thought there was no way in hell.”
It’s a great kick of momentum before Thirlby and the team compete in one of Merritt’s biggest events of the season in two weeks – the 34th annual Ed Vanduinen & Dan Salay Memorial Wood Tic. It’s a special race to Thirlby’s friends and family, one they’d love to win as well.
“It’s definitely the biggest win of my career,” Thirlby said. “It’d be real nice to gather another one up here in a couple of weeks for my crew chief’s memorial race. I know that’d be huge.”
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals is still scheduled to contest one final race in the 37th annual campaign on Sunday, July 24 – the remainder of the program from Wednesday night’s rainout at Thunderbird Raceway in Muskegon, MI. Gates open at 2pm, racing picks up where it left off at 5pm.
If you can’t be there in person, watch all the action live on DIRTVision.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
Feature 40 Laps | 00:14:17.836
- M14-Brandon Thirlby; 2. 27-Eric Spangler; 3. 21-Billy Moyer Jr; 4. 91-Rusty Schlenk; 5. 14G-Joe Godsey; 6. 19X-Cody Bauer; 7. 21N-Logan Nickerson; 8. 42-Chad Finley; 9. 11X-Ryan Lanphierd; 10. 44S-Colin Shipley; 11. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr; 12. 55-Jeep Van Wormer; 13. 4-Travis Stemler; 14. 50-Greg Gokey; 15. F1-Payton Freeman; 16. 4T-Andrew Terrill; 17. 14R-Jeff Roth; 18. 23NZ-Mick Quin; 19. 30- Mark Voigt; 20. 07-Rylee Knoll; 21. 6M-Dona Marcoullier; 22. 33B-David Hilliker