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WHAT TO WATCH FOR: MARS Late Model Thaw Brawl Hits LaSalle Speedway May 7-8

Spatola won his first career World of Outlaws Feature in April at the Illini 100 (Jacy Norgaard Photo)

DIRTcar stars Spatola, English with recent weekly Feature wins, Simpson with great track record

One of the biggest DIRTcar Racing events on the spring schedule hits the LaSalle Speedway this weekend.

The MARS Racing Series opens its 2021 campaign this Fri-Sat night, May 7-8, with the running of the 10th annual Thaw Brawl. Originally scheduled to take place in its traditional spot at the end of March, rain forced its postponement to May – the latest on the calendar the event has ever been contested.

Joined by the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds and Stock Cars, the DIRTcar-sanctioned MARS Late Models will hit LaSalle’s quarter-mile surface for two consecutive nights or racing – twin 30-lap, $3,000-to-win Features on Friday followed by the 60-lap, $12,000-to-win finale on Saturday.

This is the first time since 2019 the event has been held; the 2020 edition was lost due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Times and admission prices are as follows for both Friday and Saturday – Pit gates open at noon, followed by grandstand gates at 3pm. Hot Laps are scheduled for 6pm. Pit passes are $40 for adults, $25 for children.

Friday general admission tickets are $25; Saturday tickets are $30. Children 11-and-under are free.

Here are the storylines to follow and drivers to watch for this weekend…

OPIE’S STRONG START – Mike Spatola, of Manhattan, IL, has had a great start to his 2021 season thus far. He claimed his first career World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series victory last month in the preliminary night of the Illini 100 at Farmer City Raceway, besting both the Outlaws’ best and several drivers he’ll be competing against this weekend at LaSalle.

This past Saturday night in weekly action, Spatola ran down the defending Farmer City track champion Mike Glasscock in traffic and made the pass coming to the white flag to seal his second win in under a month.

Thaw Brawl starts: 4
Best finish: 7th (2018)

NEW DIRECTION – Tanner English, of Benton, KY, and the Riggs Motorsports team have found a new direction for their 2021 campaign and have been riding a big wave of momentum that they’ll carry into LaSalle this weekend.

Tanner English at Farmer City Raceway (Jacy Norgaard Photo, 2021)

English recently announced his plans to chase the DIRTcar Late Model national points championship, worth $25,000 for the victor, as well as the DIRTcar Summer Nationals Hell Tour, which kicks off June 15 at Brownstown Speedway in Indiana. Since his announcement, he’s already taken his #81E to Victory Lane twice in the last three weekends.

English took the checkers at Lake Cumberland Speedway on April 17 and again this past Saturday at Clarksville Speedway – one of four Feature wins he has in DIRTcar-sanctioned competition at Clarksville already this year.

This will be English’s first career appearance at the Thaw Brawl. His teammate, Jason Riggs, finished 5th at this event in 2014.

NUMBERS NEVER LIE – There’s not many drivers with a better average finish in Thaw Brawl history, than Oxford, IA’s own Chris Simspon.

Simpson finished runner-up three times (2013, 2015, 2017) before finally taking the checkers himself in 2018. He finished third in the most recent running of the event two years ago and led laps 41-63 in the then-75-lap contest, giving him an average finish of 6.14 – the third highest amongst all drivers with at least five starts in the event.

His most recent appearance at LaSalle is a telltale sign as well – finishing runner-up with MARS in their season-ending race last year.

Thaw Brawl starts: 7
Best finish: 1st (2018)

Chris Simpson at Farmer City Raceway (Jacy Norgaard Photo, 2021)

THE CHAMP IS HERE – Defending DIRTcar Late Model national points and MARS Racing Series champion Brian Shirley, of Chatham, IL, is projected to be on the roster, and if he attends will come into the Thaw Brawl among the frontrunners to win his second event title.

Shirley won the 2016 Thaw Brawl, completing a weekend sweep of the action at LaSalle with his preliminary Feature victory the night before. Since that night, he’s won three of his last nine career starts at the facility – two of which were Summer Nationals triumphs; the latter of which came just last year.

As of late, Shirley’s been heating up, notching two Feature wins in the six events he attended in April – one in DIRTcar action at Lincoln (IL) Speedway.

Thaw Brawl starts: 6
Best finish: 1st (2016)

EXPERIENCE MATTERS – Rich Bell, of Sheffield, IL, is the only driver on this list to have entered and started every Thaw Brawl since its inception in 2012.

Bell had a solid go in MARS competition last year, attending every race on the schedule and bagging a seventh-place finish in points.

Lately, Bell’s been a big threat in weekly DIRTcar competition, posting a runner-up and a third-place finish in his two starts at Peoria Speedway. Last Saturday night, he captured his first Feature win of the season at one of DIRTcar’s newest weekly Late Model tracks – Winston Speedway in Rothbury, MI – topping the 22-car field.

Thaw Brawl starts: 9
Best finish: 6th (2016)

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