Though he now rolls on the national trail of the Outlaws, Brian Shirley hasn’t forgotten how to compete and win with the DIRTcar Summer Nationals.
The four-time Hell Tour champion led all 40 laps en route to his 39th career Feature win with the tour in the season opener Wednesday night at Peoria Speedway. For his efforts in holding off rivals Shannon Babb and Dennis Erb Jr. throughout the race, Shirley pocketed a $5,000 grand prize and his fifth Summer Nationals victory at the 1/4-mile of Peoria.
A win in Heat Race #4 set Shirley up to redraw the pole for the main event. He wasted little time at the drop of the green, winning the mad dash into the first corner with outside polesitter Chase Osterhoff and Erb Jr. right behind him.
Erb got first dibs in trying to get by Shirley for the lead, digging down low in signature Erb fashion. For nearly the entire first half of the race, Erb chased Shirley through lapped traffic, passing several cars in his efforts to hunt down the leader, but was unsuccessful.
“I was confused – I knew Erb was behind me for a while, so I was definitely more protective of that bottom,” Shirley, of Chatham, IL, said. “I was definitely trying to keep him crowded down, keep my line bent to where [it wouldn’t] open the door for him to get by me.”
A caution for Summer Nationals championship contender Ashton Winger paused the action for the second time in the event at Lap 24. He appeared to have an issue on the right-rear corner of the car and took it pit-side but was unable to return to the track before the restart, leaving him with a DNF in 18th position.
As Babb and Erb swapped the second position back-and-forth after the ensuing restart, Shirley was able to drive out to a three-second lead with more lapped traffic ahead of him. One final caution on Lap 33 restacked the field and gave Babb and Erb one final shot at the leader, but it was not in the cards. Shirley was not to be touched in the bottom lane as he drove off to the tour-opening victory.
“On that last restart, it did make me a little nervous because I knew Babb and how good he is at running the top,” Shirley said. “I definitely hesitated a little bit to run the top a lap or so, but at that point in time, I felt like my car was pretty good, so I was just going to stick to where I was running.”
Erb and Babb swapped the second spot twice again before the checkers, with Babb getting the last pass to take home the runner-up honors from his eighth starting position. Erb settled for third, while California-racer Ethan Dotson came home fourth and Bob Gardner rounding out the top-five.
The Summer Nationals Late Models head northward to Kankakee, IL, to race Kankakee County Speedway on Thursday, June 15. Get a ticket at the gate or stream the action live on DIRTVision.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
Feature (40 Laps): 1. 3S-Brian Shirley; 2. 18-Shannon Babb; 3. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 4. 174-Ethan Dotson; 5. 4G-Bob Gardner; 6. 24-Ryan Unzicker; 7. 25-Jason Feger; 8. 10J-Jordan Bauer; 9. 31AUS-Kye Blight; 10. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr; 11. 9R-Curtis Roberts; 12. 84-Myles Moos; 13. 101-Forrest Trent; 14. 4D-Doug Tye; 15. 30-Mark Voigt; 16. 130-Chase Osterhoff; 17. T22-Tegan Evans; 18. 12-Ashton Winger; 19. 21B-Rich Bell; 20. 27M-Rodney Melvin; 21. 38J-Jake Little; 22. 23NZ-Mick Quin