QUINCY, IL — Brian Shirley survived. Again. This time is wasn’t necessarily a challenge from an opponent though. It was a challenging track. Faced with a rugged surface at Quincy Raceway, Shirley got up on the wheel and outdrove his competitors while his car outlasted them.
Starting fourth, Shirley, of Chatham, IL, took the lead from Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfurt, IL, on lap 22 and went on to win his third DIRTcar Summer Nationals victory of the season and 18th of his career.
Steven Roberts, of Jesup, GA, started sixth and ran in the top five throughout the 40-lapper before advancing to second in the waning laps for a career-best Summer Nationals finish. Polesitter Rusty Schlenk, of McClure, OH, finished third, while Jason Feger, of Bloomington, IL, and Brian Diveley, of Springfield, IL, completed the top five.
Shirley and Heckenast raced side-by-side for the lead on laps 20 and 21 before Shirley finally grabbed the point just before a caution came out. After that, his toughest battle was with the track itself.
“It was just one of those deals where I just kept my head down and tried to find the smoothest line out there,” said Shirley. “I’m just glad to get out of here with the car in one piece and win the race. I just knew where them guys where running so I figured I’d just have to use a couple laps to figure out where I could get low to come off the corner the best, you know, without obviously getting the car upset of hitting a bunch of holes.
“I was lucky I found a couple decent lines. I figured out how to get into (turn) three there where the biggest hole was and once I figured that out, she’s just diggin’ like Dale son.”
Heckenast led the first 21 laps after starting from the outside of the front row. He took the lead from polesitter Rusty Schlenk on the opening lap and pulled out to a healthy advantage over second-running Shannon Babb. But once Shirley got around Babb on lap 15, he began to reel in the leader.
A caution on lap 18 bunched the field, giving Shirley a closer look at the front. He still had to be patient at he stalked Heckenast before finally getting an opportunity to pull alongside
“You can upset the car, get on two wheels,” said Shirley. “There’s so many things that can slow you down a half second, so the most part when we’d hit the corner right, there was nobody gonna keep up with us. It was just a couple of times we’d push and we’d drive through it and our Durham motor kept us out front and that’s all we needed.
“Frankie’s stuff was good tonight. He did a good job. I’m just happy that our stuff held together. We’ll take it for what it is. It’s a win tonight and tomorrow is a new night.”
As attrition began to take its toll — only eight of the 22 starters finished the race — Roberts, Schlenk and Jason Feger were never far from the front. The trio battled inside the top five — Schlenk fell back to sixth once — for most of the race. Roberts said it was a matter of knowing the terrain.
“Once you figured out where (the holes) were … there was a bad one coming off of (turn) two and there was a bad one coming into (turn) three and a bad one coming off of four there. Once you sort of navigated that and could work around those, we were pretty good,” Roberts said. “I was bouncing through them pretty bad right there at the beginning. Once everything got settled out, we were able to maneuver around them pretty good.”
A caution on lap 39 set up a two-lap dash to the finish. Roberts, hoping for his first career Summer Nationals victory, wasn’t able to make a run at Shirley.
“I went in there and revved (my engine) up at him a little bit, hoping I could maybe get in his head a little, hoping he might would mess up,” said Roberts. “I pushed getting into (turn) one down there and wasn’t able to hang with him. And he did hit that hole there in (turn) three. I wish I could’ve got off turns one and two better and been there at least to make it close at the finish line.”
Schlenk said that after missing his cars setup ever so slightly, he just decided to take it easy during the first half of the race.
“I was just way too tight early,” said Schlenk. “If I’d drove hard there the first half of that race, I’d ended up flipping in that hole getting into (turn) one. I bicycled there in the first laps so I just backed off. I figured people were gonna break. The track ended up pretty racy though. It was two or three lanes of racing. You just had to pick your way through it. It was alright. I hate to see the bad luck happen for everybody. At least it wasn’t me having it tonight, but I hate it for everybody else.”
Feature Finish: Brian Shirley, Steven Roberts, Rusty Schlenk, Jason Feger, Brian Diveley, Paul Stubber, Shannon Babb, Frank Heckenast Jr, Trevor Gundaker, Derek Fetter, Mark Voigt, Chuck Hummer, Mike Hammerle, David Jaeger, Gordy Gundaker, Jay Johnson, Mark Burgtorf, Vance Wilson, Cliff Powell, Rickey Frankel, Denny Woodworth, Melvin Linder
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals will be at Lincoln Speedway(IL) on July 9 for a make-up race from Challenge Week. 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.