LINCOLN, IL — It helps to be in the right place at the right time. That’s exactly where Brian Shirley was as the laps wound down in Monday’s DIRTcar Summer Nationals race at Lincoln Speedway. Shirley, running second behind Rusty Schlenk of McClure, OH, was in perfect position when Schlenk suddenly slowed because of engine failure with only 13 laps remaining.
Schlenk, who led the race from the onset, coasted off the track on lap 27, leaving Shirley, of Chatham, Ill., in the catbird seat. Shirley raced unchallenged the rest of the way, beating Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill, to the finish by a full straightaway for his second straight Summer Nationals victory and 19th of his career. He earned $5,000 for his effort. Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., finished third, while Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., and Brian Diveley of Springfield, IL, completed the top five. Myles Moos, the last driver on the lead lap, finished sixth at his home track.
“It’s the dedication of a lot of hard work from my guys,” said Shirley of his fourth Summer Nationals win of the season. “Big R, Randall, Wade, Larry, Boss Dog, they have literally put in the time and effort … and not that nobody else doesn’t, because everybody out here puts in the time and effort. But it also goes back to Bob and Lisa Cullen for the equipment that they give me. They give me second-to-none equipment, the best equipment that money can buy. All-in-all, I’m just lucky to be the guy who gets behind the wheel.”
Shirley started fifth, but quickly moved into second on the opening lap when front row starters Schlenk and Feger got together ever so slightly in turn two. Schlenk got a run on the outside, hooking Feger’s right rear quarterpanel as he rolled around the top. Feger was turned sideways briefly and it was Shirley who zipped to the bottom and came out of the cluster in second place.
“That was crazy,” said Shirley. “That’s just how racing is. You’ve got to capitalize on mistakes, other people’s mistakes and capitalize on the bad days to make them better. Tonight was just one of those nights where we capitalized on it. The car was good and we were lucky enough to get the win.”
Shirley had to battle Babb for the second spot while Schlenk set the pace early. Babb, who started eighth in his backup car after breaking an engine in qualifying, passed Shirley for the position on lap 10. Ten laps later, Shirley was back beside Babb. He reclaimed the runner-up spot on lap 22 and began to stalk Schlenk.
“We had a (Hoosier) 30 (compound tire) on the right rear, so it took a minute to get going, so I knew I had to run the top,” said Shirley. “Even when Babb got by me, I didn’t get nervous because he had a 20 on. Once I got my tire heated up, I felt like our car was good enough to win. I’m not saying we would have won because obviously Schlenk was leading, but we were fortunate enough to capitalize on his (misfortune) and was able to bring it home.”
After inheriting the lead, Shirley continued to ease away from Babb, who said his tire choice likely kept him from making a late charge.
“For the way the night started out, we were lucky to get to second,” said Babb. “The track was racey tonight. It was a heavy one again tonight and we was able to get up to second. I don’t know what everyone else had on for tires, but I went soft and I think I tapped out pretty early there.
“Lapped traffic just plays a role in all the races and I just wasn’t able to get around (a slower car) and it killed my momentum so Shirley was able to get by me. Schlenk was doing a good job. He obviously fell out, but for us to have passed him, he’d had to jump the cushion or do something.”
Feature Finish: Brian Shirley, Shannon Babb, Jason Feger, Frank Heckenast Jr, Brian Diveley, Myles Moos, Cameron Pearson, Cody Maguire, Colin Alexander, Gody Gundaker, Roben Huffman, Rusty Schlenk, Ryan Unzicker, Paul Stubber, Jeffery Reed Jr, Cliff Powell
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals will be at Shadyhill on July 10 for the kick-off to Champions Week presented by VP Racing Fuels. 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.