ALMA, Ohio (July 16) — The end of Wednesday night’s 40-lap UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feature at Atomic Speedway couldn’t have come at a better time for Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill.
With his Riggs Motorsports Rocket car’s engine overheating in the final circuits from a hole in its radiator, Shirley wasn’t sure how much longer he could have stayed at the front of the pack.
“It was getting hotter and hotter for about the last four laps there,” Shirley said after surviving the late-race scare to complete a convincing flag-to-flag run to his third Hell Tour triumph of 2014. “It got to about 240 (degrees water temperature).”
The checkered flag flew before the powerplant reached critical condition, however, allowing Shirley, 33, to claim the $5,000 top prize for his first-ever win at the high-banked, third-mile oval.
“It never actually blew any water out in the overflow,” related Shirley, the 2012 Summernationals champion. “That’s really why I kept racing. I have my overflow nozzle where I can see it and it never blew anything out it until I came in (to the pits afterward) and that’s when they put water on it.
“We’ll check (the engine) out tomorrow, but I think it’s OK. It’s getting to the point where it’s tired anyway, so winning the $5,000 will just help us rebuild it.”
Shirley’s 15th career Summernationals victory came after he vaulted from the third starting spot to the lead on the race’s opening lap and never looked back. He repelled several early challenges from polesitter Duane Chamberlain of Richmond, Ind., and then gradually inched away from the Hoosier State driver during the feature’s second half, ultimately beating Chamberlain to the finish line by 2.056 seconds.
R.J. Conley of Wheelersburg, Ohio, held off the relentless late-race bids of Wooster, Ohio’s Doug Drown to finish third. Drown settled for fourth and former Summernationals traveler Jeep Van Wormer of Pinconning, Mich., advanced from the 13th starting spot to complete the top five.
Van Wormer inherited fifth place on lap 29 when Summernationals points leader Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., slowed on the homestretch and pulled off the track due to a broken lift-bar plate on his car’s rearend. Babb, who started eighth, had moved into fifth place on lap 19.
Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., who entered the event trailing Babb by 41 points in the Summernationals standings, finished seventh after starting 14th. Unzicker unofficially closed to within 27 points of Babb, with Shirley, who is third in the standings, slicing his deficit to Babb from 87 to 46 points with three events remaining on the schedule.
“It’s nice to still have a shot at the championship but we’re not worrying about the points deal,” said Shirley, whose previous Summernationals victories this year came on June 22 at I-96 Speedway in Lake Odessa, Mich., and June 26 at Clayhill Motorsports Park in Atwood, Tenn. “We just came out here to try to win races and make as much money as we can, so we’re just gonna try to win the rest of the race and let the points fall where they fall.”
Shirley earned his Atomic laurels by dominating the second half of the feature. He pulled away from the 35-year-old Chamberlain after finding the optimum route around a track that sported several significant rough spots.
“Really, I didn’t know what line was better,” said Shirley, who couldn’t shake Chamberlain through the race’s first 18 laps. “I was running the middle and going up and then my (crew) guy kept telling to go around the holes and come down because I guess it was how those guys (behind him) were doing it.
“On that (lap-18) caution, I happened to just roll up there (around the top of turns three and four) and see if it would stick and I felt like it was gonna hold, so then I just thought, Well, heck with it, let’s just try it. We weren’t gaining a bigger lead by running the laps we were, so I just figured I’d try running higher and it turned out to just be the right spot to be.”
Navigating his way to the finish wasn’t easy, however. On top of his overheating engine with the checkered flag virtually in sight, Shirley worried himself several times by slamming his car through the turn-three ruts with particularly hard force.
“If you didn’t hit it right the front end would bounce and then you’d shove, so I just tried to be as careful as I could,” Shirley said. “It might have looked like I was running in there really hard, but I wasn’t. I was just running in there pretty calm, keeping the wheels in line and trying to miss those two big, huge holes.
“Probably the last three laps I hit it pretty good though,” he added. “The car bounced pretty good, but all I kept thinking about was making laps and getting to the checkered flag. The track was so damn rough and I knew I didn’t have a real good lead, so I just knew I had to stay up on the wheel and keep on digging.”
Chamberlain was never in danger of losing second place during the second half of the feature, but he also never was close enough to threaten Shirley.
“Right in the middle of the race I felt like I was getting a little bit better than Shirley,” said Chamberlain, who drives for Bill Dues’s increasingly well-known St. Henry Nite Club team. “(But) we had that caution and I just used my right-rear tire up, and after that caution I just never fired back good. He (also) changed his line and actually got a little better I think. He was just able to get away from me a little bit.
“But overall, good night for us.”
Just two caution flags slowed the event. The first came on lap 10 when Kevin Wagner of Wheelersburg, Ohio, spun in turn four, and the second was thrown on lap 18 for debris on the track after Rod Conley, also of Wheelersburg, Ohio, broke a driveshaft.
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals continue with race No. 26 on Thursday at Brushcreek Motorsports Complex in Peebles, Ohio.
Brandon Sheppard was forced to pull out his backup car — a machine equipped with the Pro Power engine he’s had at his disposal since last month’s Dream XX at Eldora Speedway — after his primary mount was sidelined by undetermined mechanical trouble on the first lap of his heat. He retired from the B-Main early and will use a points provisional to start 19th in the feature. … Duane Chamberlain drew the pole position for the 40-lap headliner, with the 72-year-old Delmas Conley going off second and Brian Shirley starting third. … Joining Sheppard as provisional starters are Steve Kester (UMP national points), Rod Conley (track) and Steve Lance Jr. (Summernationals). … Thompson, Pa.’s Dan Stone said before the B-Main that the Atomic oval “wasn’t his cup of tea” and his fortunes in the last-chance event seemed to demonstrate that. He was forced over the turn-two bank on lap six of the B-Main and one circuit later nearly spun into the tractor tires that sit at the end of the outside wall between turns three and four. Stone then pulled off the track, content to try again Thursday night at Brushcreek Motorsports Complex. … Seen in the pit area tonight assisting Rocket Chassis drivers was three-time World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., who remains sidelined from competition by undisclosed medical issues. … At 9:25 p.m. EST, the Late Model feature was lining up in the staging area.
Mark Frazier grabbed the lead at the initial green flag and never looked back to win the 10-lap race, which was slowed by caution flags on laps six (Jeff Babcock’s spin between turns one and two) and seven (Dan Stone nearly sliding into the tractor tires at the end of the wall between turns three and four). Jason Riggs was within striking distance of Frazier in the closing laps but settled for second place, and Chad Smith finished third to secure the final transfer spot.
Finish (top three transfer): Mark Frazier, Jason Riggs, Chad Smith, Rod Conley, J.T. Conley, Steve Kester, Tim Dohm, Jeff Babcock, Josh Haynes, Bob Mayer, Steve Lance Jr., Dan Stone, Brandon Sheppard.
Brian Shirley led all the way to win the last prelim, staying several car lengths ahead of Doug Drown throughout the distance. Drown settled for second place, with Tanner English a straightaway behind in third, Ryan Markham placing fourth and Kevin Wagner grabbing the final transfer spot. Tim Dohm surged into second on the opening lap but then slid over the outside berm in turns one and two, bringing out a caution flag.
Finish (top five transfer): Brian Shirley, Doug Drown, Tanner English, Ryan Markham, Kevin Wagner, J.T. Conley, Dan Stone, Tim Dohm, Steve Lance Jr.
Delmas Conley, the patriarch of the Conley clan, led all the way to win the 10-lapper. Teenager Devin Moran offered an early challenge, but after slipping high on lap three he never got close to Conley again and settled for second place. Shannon Babb outdueled Ryan Unzicker early in the race to grab third place and finished there, while Pennsylvanian Garrett Krummert overtook Unzicker on the final lap to finish fourth and relegate Unzicker to the final transfer spot. A caution flag flew on lap six for Bob Mayer, who spun in turn four.
Finish (top five transfer): Delmas Conley, Devin Moran, Shannon Babb, Garrett Krummert, Ryan Unzicker, Jason Riggs, Steve Kester, Jeff Babcock, Bob Mayer.
Duane Chamberlain turned back an opening-lap challenge from brothers R.J. and Rod Conley and controlled the remainder of the distance. The Indiana driver kept R.J. Conley at arm’s length in the final laps to take the win by about three car lengths. Western Australian invader Jamie Oldfield finished third, Jason Montgomery placed fourth and Jeep Van Wormer grabbed the final transfer spot. Rod Conley slowed and pulled off the track just a caution flag flew on lap one for Brandon Sheppard, who stopped on the homestretch and had his powerless car pushed to the pit area.
Finish (top five transfer): Duane Chamberlain, R.J. Conley, Jamie Oldfield, Jason Montgomery, Jeep Van Wormer, Mark Frazier, Chad Smith, Josh Haynes, Rod Conley, Brandon Sheppard.
Duane Chamberlain of Richmond, Ind., was the first driver on the track during the group time-trial session and clicked off a lap 13.766 seconds, giving him the overall fastest time of qualifying. He will start from the pole position in the first heat.
The other heat-race polesitters will be veteran Delmas Conley of Portsmouth, Ohio, and Doug Drown of Wooster, Ohio.
The top five finishers in each of the three 10-lap heat races will transfer to the feature. Three more drivers will qualify from the consolation event and four provisional starters will round out the field in the headliner.
Temperatures are comfortably in the 70s under partly cloudy skies as teams prepare for action at Atomic. A cool summer night is in store for attendees. … With 28 cars signed in, group qualifying will be used to line up the three 10-lap heat races that will transfer five cars from each to the feature. ... The top four drivers in the Summernationals points standings — Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., and Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill. — are on hand, maintaining their perfect attendance on the series. Jason Riggs of Harrisburg, Ill., who has missed just one event, is also in the field, and familiar Hell Tour faces Tanner English of Benton, Ky., and Steve Lance Jr. of Cuba, Ill., have towed in. … Making his Summernationals debut is Dan Stone of Thompson, Pa., who plans to enter all four Ohio events after his hopes of running the first five races of the Hell Tour last month fell through. He made the haul out accompanied only by his father Warren, but they will be joined tonight by car owner Leo Milus, who lives in Indianapolis, and other members of Milus’s Super Deuce team. … Another first-time Summernationals entrant is J.T. Conley, a third-generation of the Wheelersburg, Ohio-based Conley racing clan. The 25-year-old in his third season of Dirt Late Model racing will be one of four Conleys in tonight’s field, joining his father R.J., grandfather Delmas and uncle Rod. … Other contenders entered include former Summernationals regular Jeep Van Wormer of Pinconning, Mich.; Duane Chamberlain of Richmond, Ind.; Tim Dohm of Cross Lanes, W.Va.; Garrett Krummert of New Castle, Pa.; and Ohio standouts Ryan Markham of Ashland, Devin Moran of Dresden, Mark Frazier of Chillicothe, Jason Montgomery of Jackson, Jeff Babcock of Wayne and Doug Drown of Wooster. ... The long-distance traveler in the pits is Jamie Oldfield, a a racer from Morley, Western Australia, who is starting a six-race American racing tour that includes the four Summernationals events in Ohio. A friend of Van Wormer, Oldfield has made the trip to the U.S. to shake down two Dirt Late Models he's purchased stateside before packing them in containers to ship back to his native country for competition later this year.
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals begins its final four-race swing through the Buckeye State, returning to action after two off days with a Wednesday-night visit to Atomic Speedway near Chillicothe, Ohio. A 40-lap feature paying $5,000 tops the program at the former K-C Raceway, which is hosting its first-ever Hell Tour event.
Former racer and life-long Chillicothe resident Brad McCown is in his first full season promoting the high-banked, third-mile oval, which sat silent until shortly after he purchased it on Aug. 1, 2013.
While Atomic is new to the Hell Tour, current Summernationals points leader Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., has enjoyed resounding success at the track in the past. He recorded the biggest victory of his career here, collecting a $50,000 prize for capturing the 2006 Dirt Track World Championship.
Wednesday night’s program, which also includes UMP Modifieds, street stocks and sport mods, is scheduled to kick off with hot laps at 6 p.m. EST.
Heat race lineups
Duane Chamberlain (20c), Richmond, Ind., 13.766
Rod Conley (71R), Wheelersburg, Ohio, 13.954
R.J. Conley (71c), Wheelersburg, Ohio, 13.963
Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 14.046
Jamie Oldfield (51), Morley, Western Australia, 14.200
Jason Montgomery (21M), Jackson, Ohio, 14.299
Jeep Van Wormer (55), Pinconning, Mich., 14.636
Chad Smith (19), Miamisburg, Ohio, 14.724
Mark Frazier (9F), Chillicothe, Ohio, 14.924
Josh Haynes (5J), Fostoria, Ohio, 15.441
Delmas Conley (71), Portsmouth, Ohio, 14.109
Devin Moran (99M), Dresden, Ohio, 14.158
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 14.181
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.477
Garrett Krummert (29K), New Castle, Ohio, 14.494
Jeff Babcock (1B), Wayne, Ohio, 14.596
Jason Riggs (81Jr), Harrisburg, Ill., 14.636
Steve Kester (77K), Holland, Ohio, 14.726
Bob Mayer (42*), Holland, Ohio, 15.599
Doug Drown (20), Wooster, Ohio, 14.250
Brian Shirley (81), Chatham, Ill., 14.302
Ryan Markham (5M), Ashland, Ohio, 14.472
Tim Dohm (6T), Cross Lanes, W.Va., 14.473
Tanner English (96), Benton, Ky., 14.574
Kevin Wagner (33), Wheelersburg, Ohio, 14.757
Dan Stone (2d), Thompson, Pa., 14.824
J.T. Conley (71J), Wheelersburg, Ohio, 14.984
Steve Lance Jr. (25L), Cuba, Ill., 15.294