Story By: JORDAN DELUCIA / DIRTCAR – SPRINGFIELD, MO – On a restart with three laps to go, leading the Feature for the second time in three days, Brian Shirley could feel something was amiss on his car.
As he rolled into DIRTcar Summer Nationals Victory Lane Tuesday night, the crew discovered the culprit immediately – a flat right-rear tire on the Bob Cullen Racing #3s.
“I didn’t know I had a flat tire, but I knew… something was wrong,” Shirley, of Chatham, IL, said. “For me to go [to the bottom line] and bend, it wasn’t good. I couldn’t bend with the tire being that flat.”
Though it was going flat in the final laps, it didn’t seem to bother the four-time Hell Tour champion. The tire held just enough air in it for Shirley to motor across the finish line, holding off hungry challengers Bobby Pierce and Max Blair to record the 37th DIRTcar Summer Nationals win of his career and first at the big quarter-mile oval of Springfield Raceway.
Starting outside Row 2, Shirley had to work to get the lead in the first half of the race, working around Joe Godsey for second on Lap 8, and later getting past polesitter Payton Freeman for the lead on a Lap 18 restart.
“I was able to get a better drive there off of Turn 2 on that restart and was able to launch in front of [Freeman] in Turns 3-4,” Shirley said. “He wanted to be up top too, and that’s where I wanted to be.”
Once he got the lead, Shirley’s drive to the finish was peppered with yellow flags, putting him through several restarts with a field of relentless drivers behind him. At least five cautions were thrown in the final 20 laps of the 40-lap affair, forcing him to be extra sharp on the gas at the drop of the green.
“I was definitely nervous, I’m not gonna lie,” Shirley said. “I was hoping about two or three [restarts] before the final one that we could just go green for a little while and get some laps, because at that time, I could gap ‘em pretty good.”
Max Blair was his biggest threat for the lead in the closing laps. Using the bottom lane, the Centerville, PA-driver nearly pulled even with Shirley at various points but was unable to match Shirley’s speed on the top.
“He was definitely better; it would’ve taken a mistake for me to get by him,” Blair said of Shirley. “I thought, at one point, I hit the bottom pretty good there for a couple laps in-a-row, and I thought maybe there was a chance. But once he got that top off and got rolling, he was just too good up there.”
Shirley’s anti-kryptonite was the super-smooth top line in Turns 3-4, which he took almost the entire race.
“Tonight, they did a heck of a job,” Shirley said of the track preparation. “They had a mud ring around the bottom, had it to where we could run the top. Even down there, I felt like you could’ve run the top, it was just faster to run the bottom in Turns 1-2. Kudos to the track guys.”
Reigning tour champion Bobby Pierce, of Oakwood, IL, had a steady run from his seventh starting spot to come back and finish second. He trailed Blair for most of the second half of the Feature but was able to get by him with two-to-go, notching his third runner-up finish of the season thus far.
Blair crossed the stripe third for his third top-five finish in the last four races. With his normal World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series schedule on break until this Friday-Saturday at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 vs. the Summer Nationals regulars, he’s taken this past week to refine his Viper Risk Management #111v and work out the bugs before the big money goes on the line this weekend in Pevely.
“I need to steer better,” Blair said. “That’s the thing we’ve been fighting the last few nights. If we can get it to steer better, maybe we’ll have a little something more for them.”
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals action continues with the second race of Missouri-Illinois Week on Wednesday, June 22, at Adams County Speedway in Quincy, IL.
Feature 40 Laps
1. 3S-Brian Shirley; 2. 32-Bobby Pierce; 3. 111V-Max Blair; 4. 36-Logan Martin; 5. 86-Kyle Beard; 6. F1- Payton Freeman; 7. 93-Mason Oberkramer; 8. 24-Ryan Unzicker; 9. 25-Jason Feger; 10. 91-Rusty Schlenk; 11. 14G-Joe Godsey; 12. 77-Preston Luckman; 13. 10-Garrett Smith; 14. 0-Deshawn Gingerich; 15. 50- Kaeden Cornell; 16. 45-Kylan Garner; 17. 30-Mark Voigt; 18. 14R-Jeff Roth; 19. 26M-Brent McKinnon; 20. 4D-Doug Tye; 21. 23NZ-Mick Quin; 22. 31AUS-Kye Blight