Tanner English Takes Career First at Clarksville Speedway
CLARKSVILLE, TN — Tanner English knows how to get around Clarksville Speedway. His eight victories at the quarter-mile oval last season serve as proof enough. Tuesday, however, the Benton, KY, driver put a bigger feather in his cap.
English inherited the lead from race-long leader Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, IL, on lap 37 when Babb busted a right rear wheel and careened into the turn two wall. English then held off Brian Shirley of Chatham, IL, over the final three laps to collect his first career DIRTcar Summer Nationals victory and a $5,000 payday.
“I don’t know what to say about it,” said a near speechless English. “I’ve always wanted to win one of these. It’s pretty cool. It’s just … everything I’ve ever wanted. You know, it’d be even better to win a Lucas (Oil Dirt Late Model Series) deal or something, but here, at Clarksville, my home track, or pretty much my home track now, it’s just really cool.”
Finishing 1.118 seconds behind English, Shirley finished just ahead of Allen Weisser of Peoria, IL, whose third-place finish is a career-best in Summer Nationals competition. Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., rallied from 14th to finish fourth, while Rusty Schlenk of McClure, OH, finished fifth after starting 11th. Babb, the series points leader entering Tuesday’s race, finished 12th after leading 37 laps from his second starting position. English was alongside Babb — where he’d been challenging for the lead for nearly a dozen laps — when the center broke out of Babb’s right rear wheel and his familiar red and black No. 18 suddenly pitched right and smacked the wall in turn two.
“I hated to see him go. I thought he was still beside me when they caution came out,” said English. “I thought I had passed him. I didn’t want to see that caution. Even when (Babb) fell out, I didn’t want to see it because that closed the gap back up.”
Babb dominated the first half of the 40-lap main event, turning back challenges from Shirley and polesitter Terry English. But as the race wore on, Tanner English — and a host of others — continued to get faster. When Terry English got into the backstretch wall on a lap-12 restart, Babb gained a measure of breathing room. But it didn’t last much longer. After a caution on lap 17 bunched the field yet again, Tanner English soon began to pester the leader, continually charging the bottom of the race track to pull even in the turns.
“I knew (Babb) was driving me clean,” said Tanner English. “I showed him my nose a couple times and he never cut me off. He always left me a lane. It’s just good to race with guys like that … that’ll leave you some room and let the race play out by itself and not end it.”
Babb, trying to keep English at bay, never stopped searching for the quickest way around the little bullring. With English working the bottom and the top side slowly losing its advantage, Babb decided he opt for the bottom as well on lap 33. The pair knifed their way through lapped traffic over the next four lap until English managed to pull even with Babb heading into turn one. Then, in a blink, Babb was sitting against the outside wall and English was gone.
“Going into (turn) one there I just broke the center out of the right rear wheel,” said Babb. “I just about got on my lid I think. The track had a lot of holes in different places. On this deal there’s been a lot of wear and tear. There’s only so much time you can put on all these parts and pieces before they get fatigued and give up. I just jinxed myself (Monday) by telling all my guys that when this Summer Nationals is over I need to sell all wheels and buy new ones and sure enough, one let go.”
Once in front by himself, English then had to hold off Shirley, a driver with one DIRTcar Summer Nationals win this season and hungry for more.
“I could see my brother giving me signals,” said English. “We had a pretty good lead before that caution, but I was still worried. You know, it’s (Brian) Shirley and he’s been good. You just want to hit your marks. I’ve never been so nervous as those last three laps I don’t think.”
Shirley, who had a couple of near misses during the feature when he jumped the cushion as well, could never mount a serious challenge though.
“The biggest thing was I was trying to run that top and when I’d get too close to Tanner the air would push me right into the wall,” said Shirley. “A couple of times I damn near did what Babb did and stuffed it into the wall. Luckily the car was strong enough to hang on and battle back up to third there before Babb got into the wall there.
“Tanner is really good here. He’s got more laps than anybody. I felt like he had a strong car. Realistically, he’s in the same car we are and he’s just as good a driver as I am, so he held his own and got the win. Obviously I tried to go to the top to see if I could get anything up there but there just wasn’t enough left up there to make anything happen.”
Feature Finish: Tanner English, Brian Shirley, Allen Weisser, Jason Feger, Rusty Schlenk, Gordy Gundaker, Frank Heckenast Jr., Steven Roberts, Calab Ashby, Paul Stubber, Dustin Rollins, Shannon Babb, Gavin Schmidt, Larry Barber Jr, David Seibers, Freddie Carpenter, Credence Mott, Terry English, Steven Ashby, Chuck Hummer, Jeremy Anderson
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals heads back to Illinois to celebrate July 4 at Fayette County Speedway (IL). See the complete schedule at the helltour.com/schedule. Follow @SummerNationals on Twitter or Facebook for updates during and between race seasons. The DIRTcar Late Models will be joined by the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds as the Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals runs parallel to the DIRTcar Summer Nationals. Information on the Modifieds can be found at modifiednationals.com.