Shirley’s Gamble Pays Off for ALMS Win

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."

In the 20 lap UMP Modified race, Lance Dehm and Jeb Friedman led the field to the green flag. Friedman and Dehm raced side by side before Friedman took the lead on lap three. Trailing the duo were Jeff Curl, Jim Farris, and Tommy Duncan. As Friedman held a five car length lead, Dehm changed his line and went to the top side of the track. The two drivers went door handle to door handle before Dehm took over on the eighth lap. Curl and Farris broke away from Duncan and started to close the margin on the lead pack.

At the halfway mark Dehm opened a ten car length lead as Curl began to challenge Friedman for second. Farris rode alone in fourth while Bobby Crego battled with Duncan for fifth. With seven laps remaining and Dehm comfortably in command, Curl got under Friedman to take second. Friedman came back at Curl but Curl was able to turn back the challenge. Curl was able to close the margin on Dehm but Dehm held on to pick up the win. Friedman, Farris, Crego, Mike McKinney, Duncan, Cullen Breeden, Dave Porth, and Andrew Funk completed the top ten. Crego took hard charger honors with Dehm and Friedman winning heat races. Dehm was the fast qualifier at a 14.243. Taking his third win of the year at Fairbury, Dehm commented in victory lane, “My crew pointed to the top and it was really good. Toward the end the left rear tire was getting slick and I had to use the cushion hard because the car started to tighten up. I saw Jeff a couple of times. We had a good race with him last night and tonight. Thanks to all my crew and fans for coming out. We couldn’t do it without your support.”

Richie Rich battled with Jimmy Dehm in the opening laps of the 15 lap UMP Sportsman race, before Dehm pulled away and won his fifth straight feature. Richard Craven tried several times to take the second position from Rich but Rich kept his car in control to take the runner up spot over Craven. The race’s hard charger, Dustin Mounce, was fourth, followed by Matt Mills, Scott Hatzer, Paul Graf, Jim Bailey, Tim Bohm, and Troy Dodson. Dehm and Rich took heat wins. “The top was the quick way around. We broke last night so it’s nice to rebound and get the win,” Dehm commented.

Racing action opened with a 15 lap UMP Street Stock race. Rick Thomas survived a late race challenge from Joel Funk to pick up the win and reclaim the points lead. Funk, Darrin Kohler, Don Hilleary, Lee Hall, A.J. Meiferdt, Jeff Semmens, Eric Gaus, Matt Maier, and Paul Westermeyer completed the top ten. Gaus was the hard charger of the race. Funk and Thomas took heat wins.