PADUCAH, Ky. — A night after losing by mere feet, nothing impeded Brian Shirley’s path to victory on Saturday night at Paducah International Raceway.
There would be no door-banging photo finish, nor a flat tire come to vanquish the rewarding moment in the making, as the Chatham, Ill., veteran reaped a fourth career USA World 50 victory worth $15,000 with the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series. All the dominoes fell Shirley’s way, as midrace leader Bobby Pierce surrendered the lead on lap 33 because of a flat right-rear tire.
Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., who Friday night narrowly beat Shirley at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill., finished second, 0.644 of a second behind.
“Bobby was leading, and I don’t know if I would have got by him,” Shirley said. “We had a good car and it was capable of winning. It was nice to have a little fortune go our way. This team … everyone’s been working really hard. That was … woo … the hardest 50 laps I think I raced in a long time. Even last night, I fell I’m more wore out tonight. Just can’t thank Bob and Lisa Cullen enough. … Everybody has been trying to be better for us.”
It’s the first World of Outlaws win for Shirley since Aug. 5, 2019 on Illini 100 preliminary night at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway. Forty-seven races stood between WoO victories for Shirley, who’s committed to the entire tour this year for the second time in his career.
“It’s been a minute, and glad to get the victory,” said Shirley, whose lone WoO season in 2016 birthed three wins in 39 races. “We’ll get ready for Eldora (and the upcoming Dirt Late Model Dream).”
Shirley, who led the final 17 of 50 laps, wasn’t so sure he’d make to Saturday’s finish. Pierce, Shane Clanton and Cade Dillard were three of the top-10 runners that fell by the wayside because of flat right-rear tires, and that evoked unwelcome memories for Shirley.
“I was definitely nervous. Back when we had the World 50 here, it was definitely a tire game where we’d lose 40s or a tire here and there,” said Shirley, who first competed in the USA World 50 in 2003. “I was nervous, but honestly, I believed in faith and, if it was my night to win, that’s how I looked at it.”
From the outset, Bronson appeared poised for a second straight victory, as the Florida driver led the opening 20 laps from the pole. He built a 2.5-second lead by lap 10 and navigated lapped traffic without an issue. A harder left-rear tire selection, however, put Bronson in a vulnerable position on restarts, particularly after the race’s first of six cautions on lap 14 that involved sixth-running Tanner English and Todd Cooney, a lapped car.
Bronson couldn’t break free from the pack on the subsequent restart, falling into the clutches of Pierce, who utilized a sweeping slider on lap 21 to claim the lead.
“Yeah, I felt like I made a bad tire choice overall,” Bronson said. “My mind was set. What Brian won the race on is what I wanted to put on there, then I let people talk to me and I ended up putting a hard left-rear tire on. I’m not so sure I’m the only one in the field that had one. I couldn’t restart with the guys, and when I got going, I felt like I was as good as anybody.
“I was tighter than I’d like to be all night long, but I just felt like the left-rear wouldn’t fire off and I had to run four or five laps to get it going. That was the difference in the race. Awesome job to see my buddy Brian win. If anybody can win, I’d like to see him win.”
Bronson was still pleased with the runner-up result at the 3/8-mile track he hadn’t seen before prior to Saturday.
“This is a brand-new place for me,” Bronson said. "The biggest thing in this deal is let’s build a notebook and have some stuff for next time. A lot of these tracks are new for us. We’re getting the car better and that’s all that matter.
“It’s pretty good when I’m running second here and pretty frustrated with it. We’ll move onto the next one and I can’t wait to go to Eldora.”
Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., meanwhile, escaped the tripleheader with a scrappy third-place finish. The veteran started outside the top-10 for the third night in a row at Paducah — 13th to be exact — but methodically marched forward throughout the half-century race of attrition.
“We definitely had to take a little softer tire choice from where we were starting at to try and get past a few cars on restarts and what not,” Madden said. “We didn’t have the right tire combination. Kyle, Brian, them guys have been really good all weekend. It still shows. … Thanks to all my guys for working hard all weekend. We struggled hard the last two nights. They were rough.
“We’re still not where we need to be. … But congratulations to Brian and Kyle, they had a good weekend and it showed.”
Notes: Bobby Pierce seemed headed for his second series win of the weekend until a flat right-rear dismantled his race on lap 33; Pierce led laps 21-33 and salvaged an eighth-place finish. … Shirley notched his seventh career win with the World of Outlaws, tying him for 24th all-time with Iowan Brian Birkhofer. … Shirley’s previous USA World 50 triumphs came in 2006, ’08 and ’09. … Pierce was among five drivers to suffer flat tires: Logan Martin of West Plains, Mo., on lap 34; Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., fell outside the top-10 on lap 28; Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., relinquished seventh on lap 23; Johnny Scott of Las Cruces, N.M., on lap 23. …Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., saw his race end on lap 14 because of water pump issues. … Second-year Dirt Late Model driver Hunt Gossum of Mayfield, Ky., was the race’s first retiree, pulling to the pits on lap two. … Six cautions slowed the feature that lasted 40 minutes (lap 14 when sixth-running Tanner English of Benton, Ky., and the lapped car of Todd Cooney of Des Moines, Iowa, collided off the narrow exit of turn four; lap 23 for Clanton’s flat right-rear; lap 28 for Dillard’s flat right-rear; lap 33 for Pierce’s flat right-rear; lap 34 for Logan Martin’s flat left-rear; lap 34 for reigning Paducah champion Dylan Thompson)