Phoenix, AZ — What could possibly make Chris Shannon’s 2008 Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series championship season even sweeter?
The 41-year-old from Merced, Calif., doesn’t have to think twice before answering that question. He just points to this weekend’s Barnett Harley Davidson Nationals at the famed Manzanita Speedway – the biggest DIRTcar Racing-sanctioned Late Model event on the West Coast this season.
“It would mean so much to top off our year with a win at Manzanita,” said Shannon, who parlayed a remarkable string of consistency into his first Western Allstars title. “It’s gonna be a huge event for all of us West Coast guys. With all the great racers from the east who are coming in to run, it gives us a chance to show them what we can do.”
Shannon has his family-owned team geared up for Manzy’s blockbuster weekend, which boasts non-point DIRTcar Late Model racing on the sprawling half-mile oval and Barnett Harley DIRTcar Modified action on the inner one-third-mile layout. An open practice is scheduled for Thursday night (Nov. 13), followed by a preliminary-feature program on Friday night (Nov. 14) and the grand finale for both divisions ($6,000 to win for Late Models, $5,000 to win for Mods) on Saturday night (Nov. 15).
“We put a new body on our car and sent our motor out to Steve Allen (Racing Engines in Murphy, N.C.) to get freshened up,” said Shannon. “And Chris Sivesind (of Victory Circle Chassis in Bakersfield, Calif.) is going to crew chief for me to help me out, so I’m real excited about the weekend.”
Shannon will be behind the wheel of the same Victory Circle machine that he debuted with a second-place finish in last year’s Barnett Harley Davidson Nationals (then called the Western World Championships) at Manzanita. He took the checkered flag several car lengths behind winner Kelly Boen of Henderson, Colo., who plans a return this weekend to defend his Nationals title.
Boen will be just one of the well-known talents Shannon must battle for supremacy at Manzanita. Others expected to enter include dirt Late Model legend Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., who will steer his own familiar Victory Circle No. 21; five-time and reigning Southwest DIRTcar Late Model Series champion Lonnie Parker Jr. of El Mirage, Ariz., who scored his first-ever win at Manzy in the regional tour’s last visit on Sept. 13; Scott James of Greendale, Ind., who won last year’s Nationals preliminary feature and returns to drive a car fielded by Arizona’s Randy Carder; Bobby Hogge IV of Salinas, Calif., who led the Western Allstars DIRTcar tour in feature wins and finished second in the points standings this season; former wingless Sprint Car standout Mike Kirby of Anaheim, Calif., who finished second in Manzy’s SWDLMS event on Sept. 13; and up-and-coming Midwesterner Jesse Stovall of Galinas, Mo.
“I’m looking forward to racing with some really great drivers,” said Shannon, who is leaving his Golden State home on Wednesday morning to start the 14-hour haul to Manzanita. “They all run hard and will be tough to beat. We’re going to have to step up our game if we hope to run up front.”
That shouldn’t be a problem for Shannon, who is on a fast rise in the dirt Late Model world. He’s actually completing just his second full season of racing in the division.
A former competitor on pavement with the NASCAR Southwest Tour in the early- to mid-‘90s, Shannon stepped out of the cockpit after the 1995 season to focus on his long-running family business, Shannon Pump Co., and raise his family. He returned to the track in 2006 in California’s DIRTcar Modified division before moving the following year to the dirt Late Model class, which he had dabbled in during the early moments of his career.
After finishing second in the 2007 Western Allstars DIRTcar points standings to Mike Johnson of Lompoc, Calif., as a rookie, Shannon moved to the top of the heap this season. He spent most of the 2008 schedule chasing Hogge, but Hogge’s absence from the Aug. 30 tour event at Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway allowed Shannon to grab the points lead by 54 markers and carry it to the finish line.
Shannon failed to win a feature in ’08 on the West Coast’s premier dirt Late Model tour, but he recorded 14 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes in 18 events. He clinched the title with a second-place finish – his fourth of the season – in the points-season-ending A-Main on Sept. 20 at Bakersfield.
“It was a pretty rewarding season,” said Shannon, who won his first points title since his go-kart racing days 25 years ago. “We all worked real hard to win the championship, and that showed in our consistency. We didn’t have any (mechanical) failures all year – not one broken part to knock us out of race.
“We’re not where we need to be yet, but we’re getting there,” he added. “Running against guys like Bobby Hogge and Mike Johnson is a real challenge. They’ve been doing this a long time and we’re just in our second year in a Late Model, so we have to work hard to catch up.”
Shannon was able to break through for his first-ever dirt Late Model feature win after securing the Western Allstars title, capturing the unsanctioned Western Dirt Nationals on Oct. 4 at Kings Speedway in Hanford, Calif. That victory whet his appetite for this weekend’s Barnett Harley Davidson Nationals and an even more ambitious 2009 season ahead.
“We’re hoping to build up our team and do more stuff next year,” said Shannon. “Billy Moyer (who assists in the development of Victory Circle Chassis) has been consulting with us, and we’re going to spend some time talking with him at Manzanita about some things we want to do next year.”
One of the events on Shannon’s hit-list is February’s Alltel DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. He’s planning a cross-country trip to make his first appearance at the 38th annual winter racing extravaganza.
And of course, Shannon will be back on the Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series in search of his second consecutive points crown.
“I really enjoy racing with the Western Allstars,” said the personable Shannon. “There’s so many great people with the series – like Bobby Hogge. He’s just top-notch. We pit together. Sometimes we’ll travel together to the races. We’ll hang out after the races and barbeque together.
“That’s what’s so great about the Western Allstars deal. It’s all about having fun.”
Racing is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at Manzanita Speedway, which is located on the corner of 35th Avenue and Broadway Road in Phoenix.
For more information, visit www.manzanitaspeedway.us or call 602-276-7575.
Manzanita’s blockbuster doubleheader won’t end the DIRTcar Racing Western Region action in Arizona for the 2008 campaign. The two-day Bill Cheesbourg Memorial – a non-point Southwest DIRTcar Late Model Series program – will be contested on Nov. 22-23 at USA Raceway in Tucson. More information is available at www.usadirttrack.com.
Additional info on all of the series, sanctioning and member tracks of DIRTcar Racing is available at www.DIRTcar.com.