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La Salle Speedway

Birky outduels Simpson for $10,000 at La Salle

March 31, 2013, 6:15 am
From staff reports
Brian Birkhofer heads to victory at LaSalle. (mikerueferphotos.photoreflect.com)
Brian Birkhofer heads to victory at LaSalle. (mikerueferphotos.photoreflect.com)

La SALLE, Ill. (March 30) — Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, outdueled new protege and fellow Iowan Chris Simpson on Saturday at La Salle Speedway for a $10,000 victory in the Sunoco American Late Model Series-sanctioned Thaw Brawl.

Birkhofer, who fought off Simpson’s mid-race challenge that saw the drivers nearly side-by-side for a few laps, scored a $10,000 victory at the quarter-mile oval in his first racing weekend of the season. | Video | Slideshow

“I’m just glad I got to race this weekend. It’s been a few month since I’ve drove a car. It’s kind of like riding a bike,” said the 41-year-old Birkhofer, whose initial plans to race in Paducah, Ky., and Pevely, Mo., were scuttled by rain. “It’s one of those weekends that I’m just glad I got some money out of it.”

Simpson settled for second in the 50-lapper while pole-starting Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., was third. Billy Drake of Bloomington, Ill., and Austin Hubbard of Seaford, Del., rounded out the top five finishers. Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., Friday’s $2,000 winner at La Salle, was seventh.

Sheppard led the early laps while Birkhofer, starting outside the front row, slipped back to fourth briefly on the first lap before plugging away in the high groove. He edged past Sheppard on the 10th lap and Simpson dropped Sheppard to third three laps later.

From there, Simpson gave Birkhofer all he wanted, working underneath the fellow MB Customs chassis driver several times in chasing the leader.

“I guess the 32 there, a car we built over the winter, we must’ve made it pretty good, too,” Birkhofer said. “I’m glad he ran well. I was hoping (fellow chassis designer) Jimmy (Mars) would get up there and run top five ... it’s a good start for us, getting the momentum into next weekend hopefully.

“I think Chris, obviously he’s showed me talentwise he’s got plenty of talent — probably more talented than me. He’ll learn how to tune that car better and better. It’s helped me some. I kind of know what we did on the left-rear shock stuff, and I did something different, and the way my car felt, and the way his looked, and I’ve talked to him a little bit. His was better, so it’s going to help me, my learning curve a little bit. It’ll be kind of a fun year I think. Jimmy and I have always bounced stuff back and forth, and just to have another guy in the arsenal will help speed us up.”

Simpson, of Mount Vernon, Iowa, scored a Tucson, Ariz., victory in January with Birkhofer helping out in the pits, but he couldn’t quite overtake him at La Salle.

“I was right there,” Simpson said. “I actually wish it would’ve, the lapped traffic, would’ve stayed out of it. I think I could’ve kept working him and working him. When the lapped traffic got below us, it threw dirty stuff up and we kind of had to follow each other around.

“I don’t have any problem running second to him. I was talking to myself while I was in there. I said, ‘You know, if I pull up here and pass him, it might be the only car I get from him.’ I might want another one down the road, so we better keep him happy. I gave it all I had. If I could’ve beat him, I’d have beat him. I probably started driving a little over my head just because I knew I had a good car.”

Sheppard rebounded from Friday night struggles for third, knowing he was facing tough competition from the MB Customs drivers running up front.

“Birky’s always good here when he comes here. I think he’s got Simpson on some of the similar stuff,” Sheppard said. “I’m definitely happy with a third place, especially (because) my night didn’t go so good last night, and last week we started fourth and fell back to like 16th or something ... we fell back, but we fell back to good competition.”

Notes: Birkhofer’s MB Customs chassis is sponsored by ASi Racewear, J&J Steel, Zen’s Flooring and Quality Construction Services. ... Birkhofer finished sixth in Friday’s opener. ... Birkhofer survived a brief scare when Brian Ruhlman and Scott Bull tangled just in front of the leaders in turn two. ... The victory was his first since last September’s World 100 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. ... ALMS competitors have a choice with the next series race with the tour splitting into East and West divisions for 2013. Eldora hosts an April 13 event and Peoria (Ill.) Speedway also runs an ALMS event April 13.

Thaw Brawl: (1) Brian Birkhofer, (2) Chris Simpson, (3) Brandon Sheppard, (4) Billy Drake, (5) Austin Hubbard, (6) Jimmy Mars, (7) Dennis Erb Jr., (8) Tim Isenberg, (9) Frank Heckenast Jr., (10) Russ Scheffler, (11) Jason Jaggers, (12) Kevin Weaver, (13) Brian Ruhlman, (14) Rich Bell, (15) Jon Henry, (16) Scott Bull, (17) Ryan VanderVeen, (18) Jeff Babcock, (19) Brandon Thirlby, (20) Jesse Stovall, (21) Phil Ausra, (22) Jason Feger. Fast qualifier (among 40 cars): Isenberg, 13.25 seconds. Heat race winners: Sheppard, Birkhofer, Simpson, Hubbard. Consolation winners: Thirlby, Babcock.

Correction: Fixes Jesse Stovall as 20th-place finisher.

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