Reigning champ crewing for Lance on Hell Tour
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
BROWNSTOWN, Ind. (June 12) — After capturing his first UMP DIRTcar Summernationals championship last season, Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., is back on the daily grind of the rugged series in 2013. But not in the role you might expect. | Complete Summernationals coverage
Mothballing his family blue No. 3s Pierce Race car for six weeks, the 32-year-old Shirley is tackling the so-called Hell Tour as a crew chief, turning wrenches for fellow Illinois driver Tim Lance of Brimfield for 31 races through July 20.
Shirley has plotted the strategic move for his racing career and to provide for his family, working as a hired hand for Lance and saving his own equipment for major events in the second half of the season.
“The bottom line is it’s about making money,” said Shirley, who has partnered with Lance occasionally in recent seasons. “Times are tough, so you’ve gotta be smart and not stupid.”
Drivers in the twilight of their careers frequently become crew chiefs, but Shirley’s temporary move comes in the prime of his career and just 12 months after he won a Summernationals-best five races along with 21 top-five finishes in 28 starts, earning $25,000 for the title.
While Shirley admitted he had to put his ego aside in not defending his title, the opportunity to keep his equipment fresh while earning a summer salary to supplement his racing income was too difficult to pass up.
It’s also guaranteed money vs. having to chase checkered flags on the month-long grind. Shirley was successful in piling up winnings during last year’s tour, but at an estimated $2,000-to-per-day expenses in fielding a car as an owner-driver, Shirley appreciates the monetary benefit of his decision.
“At the end of 30 days, my pockets will be full,” Shirley said at the Brownstown Speedway opener, “and those others guys, theirs may not be as full.”
Shirley fans shouldn’t be too dismayed, though. While Lance plans to field his No. 48 throughout the Summernationals, Shirley will pilot Lance’s backup car during weekend races. Shirley already shook the car down last month during a stretch of three Sunoco American Late Model Series events, scoring a pair of top-five finishes in his only two features starts.
With Lance and Shirley both fielding cars, Aaron Faugust, Shirley’s full-time crew chief, will handle things in the pits.
Shirley hopes to help Lance win his first Summernationals race. He’s helped build Lance’s cars in recent years, and the weekend before the tour started he assisted Lance at Eldora Speedway’s Dream XIX. Shirley wasn’t impressed with Lance’s driving effort in the opener of the three-night racing, but “from Thursday to Saturday he made huge improvements,” Shirley said.
Shirley knows he’ll have to improve his own racing, too, come late July when he goes back into action during World of Outlaws Late Model Series action at Fairbury (Ill.) America Legion Speedway’s Prairie Dirt Classic. Shirley has a single victory in a dozen starts so far this season, so he’ll look forward to putting his fresh equipment back on the track heading toward late-season specials.
“We're going to be ready,” he said.