by Rocky Ragusa
Brian Shirley’s gamble on a tire selection paid off as he captured the American Late Model Series $2,000 to win special at the Fairbury American Legion Speedway Saturday night.
Shirley took the lead at the start of the 30 lap feature with Jason Feger, Frank Heckenast Jr., Brandon Sheppard, and Kevin Weaver following. On the next lap, Feger slowed on the backstretch and pulled into the infield with a broken rear end on his car. On the restart, Shirley jumped out to a 10 car length lead over Heckenast, Sheppard, Weaver, and Joe Harlan. Caution came out on the fifth lap as Phil Ausra’s engine let go and sprinkled the track with debris. On the restart, the top four cars ran in single file formation as Harlan, Scott Bull, and Eric Smith went three wide for fifth while Daren Friedman kept the foursome in sight. Heckenast stuck the nose of his car under Shirley several times to take the lead but Shirley hung on to first. Shirley, Heckenast, and Sheppard in spite of the race for first, pulled away to a straight away lead over Weaver. The top side of the track proved to be dominate as the first three drivers set a torrid pace. With ten laps to go, slower traffic looked to become a factor.
Shirley, with Heckenast and Sheppard stuck to his bumper, ran next to the wall dicing by the slower cars. Heckenast pulled alongside Shirley coming off of turn four for the lead but Shirley was able to hang on. With three laps remaining, Shirley tried to lap Glen Thompson, made contact, but Shirley got away and led the final laps for the win.
Heckenast, Sheppard, Weaver, Bull, Harlan, Brandon Thirlby, Ryan Unzicker, Smith, and Friedman rounded out the top ten. Unzicker was the race’s hard charger. Bull bested 25 other drivers in qualifying at a 12.995. Shirley, Heckenast, and Feger won heat races; while Unzicker took the semi. Taking his fourth win of the year, Shirley spoke following the win, “We gambled on tires. They had harder tires on than us. The left rear is about gone. It all paid off. We were able to get the jump on them at the start. I knew Frankie would be good with three hard tires on. We knew what we had to do. It was good enough to get the win. Thanks to Aaron and Albie for their hard work. The Pro Power motor ran great. Thanks to all the fans, you have great support here. Fairbury is a good place to race."