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Fairbury American Legion Speedway

Shirley rules Fairbury, bags $10,000 payday

June 23, 2012, 6:08 pm
By Joshua Joiner
DirtonDirt.com staff writer
Brian Shirley shares a celebratory group hug with his crew in victory lane. (DirtonDirt.com)
Brian Shirley shares a celebratory group hug with his crew in victory lane. (DirtonDirt.com)

FAIRBURY, Ill. (June 23) — Series points leader Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., led every lap of Saturday night’s UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feature at Fairbury American Legion Speedway, earning a $10,000 victory in the 10th leg of the month-long tour. | Complete Summernationals coverage

Starting from the outside of the front row, Shirley outdueled polesitter Shannon Babb on the race’s opening lap and never looked back.

The 31-year-old driver committed to running the topside of the track from the outset and survived a tricky cushion and a mid-race brush with the wall to score his second series victory in three nights.

“It was definitely one of them things where you’d bobble a little bit and need to back off,” said Shirley, who avoided serious damage when he tagged the wall exiting turn two on lap 24. “There was a couple times in there that I told myself I needed to just calm down, get back smooth again and hit my laps. I knew if I could just him my laps we had a pretty good race car.”

Reigning track champion Eric Smith of Bloomington, Ill., came out on top of a fierce battling for the second spot, topping hometown driver Scott Bull, who finished third after starting 11th. Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., also battled for the second spot throughout the race, but fell back to fifth before recovering to finish ahead of Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., in a photo finish for the fourth position.

Smith used the low groove to quickly move forward from his fifth starting spot and briefly pressured Shirley around the 10-lap mark of the 50-lap race.

Shirley denied each of Smith’s challenges and pulled to nearly a straightaway lead when the race ran green for the remaining distance following the only caution with 18 laps complete.

“I seen Eric and I knew I needed to turn it up to get in front of him so he couldn’t keep coming in on me in the bottom,” Shirley said. “Once I got out there and not seeing him every lap, I just tried to lay down some good laps. And then with five to go, I just put the hammer down.”

Smith, who scored a career-high $10,000 victory in last September’s Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury, settled for the runner- up finish, never abandoning the bottom groove even as Shirley pulled away on the top.

“We pretty much setup for the bottom with soft tires on the left side,” Smith said. “I drove as hard as I could, we just come up short.”

Bull also used the low groove to move up in the race and was one of the fastest cars on the track during the later stages. He chased down Smith around the 10-to-go mark, but with Smith running smooth on the bottom, Bull couldn’t find a way around.

“I think we could have run (with Shirley for the lead), but Eric was still pretty tough on the bottom. It would’ve been tough to get around him,” said Bull, who currently leads the standings in Fairbury’s weekly UMP Late Model division. “It would’ve been real nice to win one of these, especially at Fairbury. But to run third, I’m happy with it.”

Shirley, who won the tour’s race Thursday at Fayette County Speedway in Brownstown, Ill., and was second Friday at Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, Ill., began the series only planning to run select events. Sunday’s race at I-96 Speedway in Lake Odessa, Mich., originally wasn’t among his planned races. But after emerging as a favorite to claim the tour’s $25,000 championship, he plans to remain on the tour, at least for now.

“I went home last night (after Tri-City) and it was so tough,” Shirley said. “It’s a different mindset for me. We’re trying to stay in the game, but I’m trying not to let the emotions get to me cause I miss my family. But as long as we keep doing good, it makes it worth it to keep on the road.

“As of right now, I’ve gotta make sure I text my wife, but I’d say we’ll be there.”

Notes: Shirley’s Pierce Race Car is powred by a Pro Power Engine and is sponsored by Jayco Construction, Skateland South, Allstar Performance, Kim’s Auto Body, and JFR Graphics. … Fast qualifier Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., brought out the lap-18 caution when he slowed from the fifth position with a flat right-front tire. … Shirley has won in three of his past four visits to Fairbury, including a $5,000 victory in last year’s Prairie Dirt Shootout. … Billy Drake advanced from 17th to ninth for his third top-five finish in three Summernationals starts this year. … Shirley becomes just the second driver to win multiple events on this year’s tour, joining Billy Moyer Jr., who won three of the tour’s first four events. … Sunday’s race at I-96 pays $5,000 to the winner.

Summernationals @ Fairbury: (1) Brian Shirley, (2) Eric Smith, (3) Scott Bull, (4) Shannon Babb, (5) Ryan Unzicker, (6) Jason Feger, (7) Brandon Sheppard, (8) Jason McBride, (9) Billy Drake, (10) Steve Lance Jr., (11) Dennis Erb Jr., (12) Daren Friedman, (13) Bobby Pierce, (14) Aaron Ricketts, (15) Brian Birkhofer, (16) Jimmy Mars, (17) Jon Henry, (18) Kevin Weaver, (19) Frank Heckenast Jr., (20) Billy Moyer Jr. (21) Joe Harlan, (22) Rodney Melvin. Fast qualifier (among 41 cars): Heckenast, 12.421 seconds. Heat race winners: Heckenast, Babb, Shirley, Feger. B-main winner: Drake. Provisional starters: Moyer Jr., Henry, McBride, Freidman. C-main winner: Mike Mullvain.

Preliminary results:

Redraw and notes

Officials have decided to take a brief intermission for track prep after the modified feature ran caution free with most cars running around the bottom of the racetrack. The Super Late Model feature follows the intermission. ... Shannon Babb will start from the pole of tonight's 50-lap main event after a redraw among heat winners. Brian Shirley starts second with Jason Feger and Frank Heckenast Jr. sharing row two. A miscommunication between series and track officials led to the lineup earlier being posted with the incorrect redraw. ... Billy Moyer Jr. and Jason McBride will use series provisionals to start the feature while Daren Friendman will use the track provisional and Jon Henry will use the UMP national points provisional.


Billy Drake moved by polesitter Jon Henry on the second lap and led the remaining distance for the win and a feature starting spot. Rodney Melvin overtook Billy Moyer Jr. midway through the race to earn the race's other transfer spot. Both Henry and Moyer jumped to the high side after losing their positions and faded badly in a race where most of the field ran the bottom groove.

Finish: Billy Drake, Rodney Melvin, Kyle Logue, Mike Mullvain, Mike Spatola, Steve Sheppard, Daniel Flessner, Billy Moyer Jr., Jason McBride, Wes Steidinger, Derek Chandler, Matt Taylor, Jerry Lierly.

B-main lineup

Top two transfer to main event
Row 1: Jon Henry, Billy Drake
Row 2: Billy Moyer Jr., Jason McBride
Row 3: Torin Mettille, Kyle Logue
Row 4: Rodney Melvin, Derek Chadler
Row 5: Matt Taylor, Wes Steidinger
Row 6: Mike Spatola, Jerry Lierly
Row 7: Mike Mullvain, Steve Sheppard Jr.
Row 8: Daniel Flessner

C-main results

Top three transfer to B-main
Finish: Mike Mullvain, Steve Sheppard Jr., Daniel Flessner, Shane Allen, Jay Morris, Glen Thompson, Brian Dunn, Daren Friedman, Nick Bartels, Kathy Jarvis, Scott Duvall, Snooky Dehm, Jay Sparks.

Fourth heat

Jason Feger pulled ahead on the start of the race and led every lap to take the win by a half-straightaway. Ryan Unzicker shot from a canon on the start of the 10-lapper and used every bit of the track surface to charge from sixth to second on the race’s opening lap. He looked under Feger briefly, but settled into second and held off Dennis Erb Jr. late in the race. Steve Lance Jr. finished fourth to also make the feature lineup.

Finish: Jason Feger, Ryan Unzicker, Dennis Erb Jr., Steve Lance Jr., Jason McBride, Derek Chandler, Jerry Lierly, Glen Thompson, Mike Bartels, Brian Dunn.

Third heat

Polesitter Brian Shirley turned back repeated challenges from Brian Birkhofer during the first half of the race and pulled away to victory in the caution-free race. Birkhofer faded during the second half of the race and held off a hard charging Brandon Sheppard by less than a car length to finish second. Sheppard settled for third with Jimmy Mars fourth in a race that transferred the top four finishers to the main event.

Finish: Brian Shirley, Brian Birkhofer, Brandon Sheppard, Jimmy Mars, Billy Moyer Jr., Rodney Melvin, Mike Spatola, Mike Mullvain, Steve Sheppard.

Second heat

Shannon Babb outdueled polesitter Bobby Pierce on the start of the 10-lap race and held the younger driver at bay in a race-long battle for the lead. Driving around the bottom of the track, Pierce pressured the high-running Babb throughout the race and dove under the leader entering turn three on the final lap. He eged ahead exiting turn four, but Babb charged back ahead on the top to win by less than a car length. Scott Bull survived a near spin early in the race to finish third with Joe Harlan taking the fourth and final transfer position. Jay Morris and Wes Steidinger tangled back in the pack to bring out the race's only caution with two laps complete.

Finish: Shannon Babb, Bobby Pierce, Scott Bull, Joe Harlan, Billy Drake, Kle Logue, Wes Steidinger, Daren Friedman, Jay Morris

First heat

Polesitter Frank Heckenast Jr. blasted the cushion around Fairbury's quarter-mile oval and pulled away to a convincing victory in the 10-lap prelim. Reigning track champion Jimmy Smith stayed close to Heckenast early, but faded late in holding off Aaron Ricketts for the runner-up finish. Kevin Weaver ran fourth the entire race and held off a hard-charging Jon Henry in a close battle late in the race. He'll join the top three in transferring to the main event. Henry rallied on the high side after a dust up back in the pack dropped to nearly last on the opening lap.

Finish: Frank Heckenast Jr., Jimmy Smith, Aaron Ricketts, Kevin Weaver, Jon Henry, Tony Mettiline, Matt Taylor, Shane Allen, Daniel Flessner, Snooky Dehm, Kathy Jarvis

Time trials

Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., posted a lap of 12.421 seconds around Fairbury American Legion Speedway to top 41 qualifiers for Saturday night’s UMP DIRTcar Summernationals event at the quarter-mile oval.

Heckenast will start from the pole of one of four heat races coming up that will determine the lineup for the night’s 50-lap, $10,000-to-win main event. Other heat race polesitters after group qualifying: Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill.; points leader Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill.; and 2010 series champion Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill.

Each of the four 10-lap heats will transfer the top four finishers into the 22-car feature lineup, with the remaining spots to be set by consolation races and provisional starters.

Pre-race notes

Brian Birkhofer slowed in a puff of smoke before his group's hot laps started. Birkhofer later reported a blown oil line was to blame and said his crew had replaced the line and was checking to make sure the engine wasn't hurt. ... Ryan Unzicker topped the speed charts in hot laps. ... With his runner-up effort Friday night at Tri-City Speedway, Brian Shirley overtook reigning champion Shannon Babb in the series standings. Shirley’s 585 points leads Babb (564), Billy Moyer Jr. (493), Jason Feger (470) and Bobby Pierce (458). … Brian Birkhofer foresees a heavy track surface tonight at the black-dirt oval. “It’s been overcast all day and they’re watering the crap out of it,” the veteran driver from Muscatine, Iowa said as he watched track prep early this afternoon. “I might as well go ahead and cut half my right-rear quarter off of my car.” Birkhofer added that his race car has been in need of a new body for quite a while, but he’s specifically waited until after this race before changing it. “It can get rough and tumble at this place,” he said. … Jon Henry’s crew member John McClain is happy to be back with his driver after missing Henry's breakthrough victory Tuesday night at Spoon River Speedway. “I was actually asleep and my wife came in the room and said ‘Jon won! Jon won!' I was just like ‘man, I wish I could be there,’” McClain recalled of the night Henry scored his first series victory. … California driver Nick Bartels is at Fairbury for the first time, and he isn’t too sure what to think of it, describing it as “too much corner and not enough straightaway.” … Local favorite Kevin Weaver of Gibson City, Ill., won the most recent Late Model event at Fairbury. He earned $2,000 for winning last week’s Pappy and Bob Allen Memorial.

Qualifying order

First group

  1. Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 12.421
  2. Eric Smith (9), Bloomington, Ill., 12.626
  3. Aaron Ricketts (95), Fairbury, Ill., 12.723
  4. Torin Mettille (116), Cullon, Ill., 12.854
  5. Kevin Weaver (B12), Gibson City, Ill,. 12.861
  6. Jon Henry (15) Ada, Ohio, 12.901
  7. Matt Taylor (24), Springfield, Ill., 12.921
  8. Daniel Flessner (9D), Roberts, Ill., 12.933
  9. Shane Allen (16) Washinton, Ill., 13.395
  10. Snooky Dehm (2), Chatsworth, Ill., 13.659
  11. Kathy Jarvis (30), Park City, Utah, 14.190

Second group

  1. Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 12.471
  2. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 12.568
  3. Billy Drake (75), Bloomington, Ill., 12.660
  4. Scott Bull (83), Fairbury, Ill., 12.679
  5. Joe Harlan (Z), El Paso, Ill., 12.693
  6. Kyle Louge (21k), Oreana, Ill., 12.748
  7. Daren Freedman (89F), Forrest, Ill., 13.082
  8. Wes Steidinger (94), Fairbury, Ill., 13.212
  9. Jay Morris (77), Watseka, Ill., 13.434
  10. Jay Sparks (7s), Metamera, Ill., no time

Third group

  1. Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 12.613
  2. Brian Birkhofer (15B), Muscatine, Iowa, 12.720
  3. Jimmy Mars (28), Menomonie, Wis., 12.720
  4. Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill., 12.742
  5. Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill. 12.816
  6. Rodney Melvin (27), Benton, Ill. 12.981
  7. Billy Moyer Jr. (21jr) Batesville, Ark. 13.106
  8. Steve Sheppard (5s), New Berlin, Ill. 13.197
  9. Mike Mullvain (4), Bartonville, Ill. 13.214
  10. Scott Duvall (87), hometown unavailable 15.164

Fourth group

  1. Jason Feger (25) Bloomington, Ill. 12.848
  2. Derek Chandler (35), Pontiac, Ill. 12.882
  3. Jason McBride (77), Carbondale, Ill. 12.893
  4. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill. 12.918
  5. Steve Lance Jr. (25), Cuba, Ill. 12.957
  6. Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill. 12.978
  7. Jerry Lierly (7L), Camp Point, Ill. 12.997
  8. Nick Bartels (27), El Segundo, Calif. 13.326
  9. Glen Thompson (14), Herscher, Ill. 13.380
  10. Brian Dunn (5), Faribury, Ill. 13.721

Feature lineup

Row 1: Babb, Shirley
Row 2: Feger, Heckenast
Row 3: Smith, Pierce
Row 4: Birkhofer, Unzicker
Row 5: Weaver, Ricketts
Row 6: Bull, Sheppard
Row 7: Weaver, Harlan
Row 8: Mars, Lance
Row 9: Drake, Melvin
Row 10: Moyer Jr., Henry
Row 11: Friedman, McBride

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