LA SALLE, Ill. (June 28) — It had been four years since Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., scored his last DIRTcar Summer Nationals victory. But the former series champion made a triumphant return to victory lane on Thursday night, earning a $5,000 payday at La Salle Speedway.
Starting outside the third row, Shirley powered to second in the early running, closing in on race leader Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., on lap 12. With the pair racing side-by-side, Babb fought back Shirley’s challenges through the halfway mark. But Shirley’s charge wouldn’t be slowed.
Pulling ahead of Babb down the backstretch on lap 21 of 41, Shirley led the remaining distance, outrunning Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., for his 16th career Summer Nationals victory and first tour win since July 16, 2014.
“It feels real good,” Shirley said after the race. “It was a little emotional for me tonight because my kid and my wife got to come. That was the first time my kid’s ever seen me race. I’d definitely like to dedicate this to Jason Johnson. I know there’s a lot of hearts hurting in the sprint car world. It’s still a racing community. We’ve got to put our hearts out to them.”
Running in second, Shirley knew he was in the right position to challenge for the lead. When Babb nearly slipped over the cushion in turns one and two on the 12th circuit, Shirley was able to close the gap between himself and the race leader, patiently waiting for the opportunity to strike. Momentum from a mid-race caution worked to his advantage as he shot ahead of Babb.
“I knew we was in the right catbird seat,” Shirley said. “The other night at (Spoon River Speedway), it was just hard racing. Shannon, he races hard. I race hard. It’s all bygones be bygones when we show up here today. That was the last thing on my mind was anything about him. He’s a great race car driver. All in all, just happy for my team.”
Rallying from the 16th starting spot, Erb finished runner-up, with Babb falling back to finish third after leading the first 20 laps. Advancing from the 12th starting position, Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., finished fourth, with eighth-starting Tanner English of Benton, Ky., rounding out the top five.
“We had a good car,” Erb said. “After the heat race we dialed it in a little bit better. The racetrack came to us and we was able to advance a lot. The car felt good, rolled out through the middle. I kind of put it all over, where we needed to. We had a good piece tonight.”
Charging around the high side, Babb attempted to reel in Shirley and Erb in the final circuits. But late-race cautions had already slowed his momentum. With his podium finish, Babb maintains the series points lead heading into Friday’s event at Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track.
“I needed to be a lot better than what I was,” Babb said. “I didn’t feel good all night, so I just kind of went with what we’ve been going with and it wasn’t no good tonight. Brian was definitely the dominant car. He just drove off from us, really looked good. We need to make a few adjustments but its over now and we’re happy with a third-place finish. We were just holding on.”
Notes: The race was slowed by five cautions. … The first yellow flag waved on lap eight for a turn-four tangle involving Mike Mataragas, Michael Kloos and Bob Gardner. … Frank Heckenast Jr. slowed off the pace to draw a caution on lap 17. … A yellow flag flew on lap 25 when third-running Billy Moyer made hard contact with the turn-three wall; he climbed from the car apparently uninjured. … Bob Gardner slowed in turn three to draw a caution on lap 32. … A yellow flag waved on lap 36 when Rusty Schlenk slowed on the backstretch.
Row 1: Billy Moyer, Shannon Babb
Row 2: Brent Larson, Jason Feger
Row 3: Bobby Pierce, Brian Shirley
Row 4: Tyler Erb, Tanner English
Row 5: Mike Mataragas, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 6: Gordy Gundaker, Ryan Unzicker
Row 7: Kolby Vandenbergh, Michael Kloos
Row 8: Bob Gardner, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 9: Allen Weisser, Chase Junghans
Row 10: Rusty Schlenk, Mike Spatola
Row 11: Chris Simpson, Timothy Culp
Polesitter Brian Diveley led first two circuits, falling to fellow front-row starter Allen Weisser on lap three. Gaining momentum from a lap-six restart, seventh-starting Chase Junghans moved into second as the race went back green, with Rusty Schlenk losing a transfer position as he fell back to fourth. With Weisser and Junghans maintaining their positions, Nick Hoffman pulled ahead in a battle for third on lap nine. Weisser won the consolation, with Junghans taking the final feature transfer spot.
Finish (top two transfer): Allen Weisser, Chase Junghans, Nick Hoffman, Mike Spatola, Timothy Culp, Scott Schmitt, Freddie Carpenter, Paul Stubber, Paul Parker, Rusty Schlenk, Brian Diveley, Chuck Hummer, Jonathan Brauns, Billy Drake, Dan Richardson.
(12 laps; top two transfer)
Row 1: Brian Diveley, Allen Weisser
Row 2: Rusty Schlenk, Timothy Culp
Row 3: Mike Spatola, Billy Drake
Row 4: Chase Junghans, Allen Murray
Row 5: Freddie Carpenter, Scott Schmitt
Row 6: Jonathan Brauns, Paul Stubber
Row 7: Nick Hoffman, Kevin Weaver
Row 8: Paul Parker, Chuck Hummer
Row 9: Chris Simpson, Dan Richardson
Polesitter Tanner English took an early lead, with third-starting Jason Feger edging ahead at the line to lead the fourth lap. With Feger holding a solid lead at the halfway mark, Dennis Erb Jr. attempted to reel in Ryan Unzicker for third. Feger pulled away in the final laps to win the heat, with English finishing second and Unzicker running third.
Finish (top four transfer): Jason Feger, Tanner English, Ryan Unzicker, Dennis Erb Jr., Timothy Culp, Allen Murray, Paul Stubber, Chuck Hammer.
Polesitter Tyler Erb led the first three laps, with fellow front-row starter Shannon Babb powering around the top side to take the lead on lap four. Distancing themselves from the field, the pair raced side-by-side mid-race, as Rusty Schlenk and Gordy Gundaker battled for third. With Schlenk jumping the cushion in turns one and two late-race, Gundaker and Bob Gardner were able to pull ahead. Babb held off Erb to win the heat, with Gundaker rounding out the podium in third.
Finish (top four transfer): Shannon Babb, Tyler Erb, Gordy Gundaker, Bob Gardner, Rusty Schlenk, Chase Junghans, Jonathan Brauns, Paul Parker, Dan Richardson.
Polesitter Billy Moyer shot to the lead at the drop of the green flag, with a yellow flag waving on the second circuit when Scott Schmitt slowed in turn four, collecting Kevin Weaver. Both drivers were forced to retire to the pits with damage to their cars. Moyer began stretching his lead on the restart, with Brian Shirley challenging Frank Heckenast Jr. for the second-place spot. Shirley slipped under Heckenast to take second at the halfway mark but was unable to reel in Moyer. The Hall of Famer won the heat race, with Shirley, Heckenast, and Michael Kloos taking transfer spots.
Finish (top four transfer): Billy Moyer, Brian Shirley, Frank Heckenast Jr., Michael Kloos, Allen Weisser, Billy Drake, Scott Schmitt, Kevin Weaver.
With the front-row starters racing side-by-side out of turn four, polesitter Brent Larson edged ahead of Mike Mataragas to take an early lead. A yellow flag waved on lap two when Chris Simpson and Kolby Vandenbergh tangled in turns one and two. Simpson headed to the pits but Vandebergh was able to continue. Larson held his lead on the restart, with Bobby Pierce overtaking Mataragas for the second-place spot. Slipping under Larson as the pair made contact in turns one and two, Pierce took the lead on lap six. Powering back ahead of Pierce down the backstretch, Larson nosed ahead at the line to win the heat.
Finish (top four transfer): Brent Larson, Bobby Pierce, Mike Mataragas, Kolby Vandenbergh, Brian Diveley, Mike Spatola, Freddie Carpenter, Nick Hoffman, Chris Simpson.
Heat race lineups
(10 laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Brent Larson, Mike Mataragas
Row 2: Chris Simpson, Mike Spatola
Row 3: Bobby Pierce, Freddie Carpenter
Row 4: Kolby Vandenbergh, Brian Diveley
Row 5: Nick Hoffman
Row 1: Billy Moyer, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 2: Billy Drake, Brian Shirley
Row 3: Scott Schmitt, Kevin Weaver
Row 4: Allen Weisser, Michael Kloos
Row 1: Tyler Erb, Shannon Babb
Row 2: Rusty Schlenk, Chase Junghans
Row 3: Gordy Gundaker, Bob Gardner
Row 4: Jonathan Brauns, Paul Parker
Row 5: Dan Richardson
Row 1: Tanner English, Allen Murray
Row 2: Jason Feger, Timothy Culp
Row 3: Ryan Unzicker, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 4: Paul Stubber, Charles Hummer
Making his first DIRTcar Summer Nationals start of the season, Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., recorded Thursday’s over all fast time, tripping the clock at 13.389 seconds. Larson will start on the pole of the evening's first heat race. As the fastest qualifier in his respective time trial group, Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas, will start on the pole of the third heat race.
After Tuesday’s tour stop at Charleston (Ill.) Speedway was rained out, the DIRTcar Summer Nationals get back under way on Thursday with a $5,000-to-win program at La Salle (Ill.) Speedway. Series competitors return to the quarter-mile high-banked oval for the 12th time in tour history, the first since 2016.
Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., heads to La Salle fresh off a pair of series victories at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind., and Spoon River Speedway in Banner, Ill. While his most recent La Salle Summer Nationals victory came in 2011, Babb won the opening night of the Lucas Oil MLRA-sanctioned Thaw Brawl back in March.
Recent Summer Nationals winners at La Salle include Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, and Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa. Pierce and Simpson are expected to be on hand Thursday night. Simpson was also a Thaw Brawl winner earlier this season.
Thursday’s show will include hot laps, time trials, heat races, consolations (if needed) and the 41-lap main event. A lap was added to the feature distance in memory of the late sprint car driver Jason Johnson, who piloted a No. 41. Modifieds will also be in action and the program will include a fireworks show.
Time trial results
Driver (car no.), hometown
Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 13.389
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 13.402
Mike Mataragas (1m), DeKalb, Ill., 13.425
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 13.491
Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 13.497
Billy Drake (75), Bloomington, Ill., 13.513
Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 13.528
Brian Shirley (3S), Chatham, Ill., 13.548
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 13.570
Scott Schmitt (10), Tonica, Ill., 13.635
Freddie Carpenter (K), Parkersburg, W.Va., 13.741
Kevin Weaver (B12), Gibson City, Ill., 13.760
Kolby Vandenbergh (15), Ashland, Ill., 13.767
Allen Weisser (61), Peoria, Ill., 13.805
Brian Diveley (11), Springfield, Ill., 13.878
Michael Kloos (6K), Trenton, Ill., 13.881
Nick Hoffman (2), Mooresville, N.C., 13.944
Tyler Erb (91), New Waverly, Texas, 13.586
Tanner English (96), Benton, Ky., 13.586
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 13.607
Allen Murray (2M), San Antonio, Texas, 13.765
Rusty Schlenk (CJ1), McClure, Ohio, 13.775
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 13.797
Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 13.847
Timothy Culp (C8), Prattsville, Ark., 13.857
Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 13.888
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 13.906
Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., 13.950
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.001
Jonathan Brauns (22B), Muscatine, Iowa, 14.237
Paul Stubber (31aus), Bunbury, Australia, 14.345
Paul Parker (10P), Depere, Wis., 14.356
Charles Hummer (25H), Lyons, Ohio, 14.760
Dan Richardson (8R), Macy, Ind., no time
6:30 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
7 p.m.: Hot laps
- Late Model hot laps
- Modified hot laps/time trials
- Late Model time trials (2 laps)
- Modified heats (8 laps)
- Late Model heats (10 laps)
- Late Model B-main (12 laps)
- Modified feature (25 laps)
- Late Model feature (41 laps)