Shirley Storms to Victory at Fairbury

Brian Shirley celebrates in victory lane after his $10,000 win at Fairbury. (Addison Blair Photo)

By Trevor Gonzales, RPM Writer

June 22, 2019 (Fairbury, IL) - Brian Shirley said a few weeks ago that he was not intending on running the full 2019 Summer Nationals Hell Tour. After winning three of the first four races, he might change his mind. Shirley took the lead from Kyle Bronson on Lap 16 en route to his 22nd career Summer Nationals victory at Fairbury Speedway in Fairbury, Illinois paying $10,000 to win. “It’s pretty nice anytime you can win a race period. Let alone be running as good as we have been. It makes everything a little better” Shirley stated in our post race interview. “I didn’t know he (Heckenast Jr.) was that good and once I did see him, I didn’t know who it was because the cars were so dark but I just stuck to my guns, kept it to the floor, and we were able to come out on top.”

With a packed house on hand, there were 38 late models signed in for a $10,000 to win show with overcast skies and no rain in the forecast. It would be St, Charles, Missouri driver Gordy Gundaker who would set fast time in Group A qualifying with a lap of 12.674 seconds. Illinois drivers Mike Glasscock, “Opie” Mike Spatola, Shirley, and Jeff Herzog would complete the top five in Group A time trials. Group B qualifying would be lead by Frank Heckenast Jr. who would set the overall fast time of 12.631 seconds. Hometown driver McKay Wenger, Billy Drake, Florida’s Kyle Bronson, and Kevin Weaver would complete the top five in their qualifying session.

There would be four heat races with the top four finishers in each heat locking themselves into the feature. The winners of each heat race would go to the redraw to determine where they would start on the first two rows. Gordy Gundaker would lead the first 8 laps over Mike Spatola in Heat Race 1 before Spatola got around Gundaker with the white flag waving. On the final lap, Gundaker would then get back around Spatola to win the first heat of the night. Also transferring would be Allen Weisser and Jeff Herzog. Gundaker would draw a three to start third in the feature. The second heat race would be easily won be second starting Brian Shirley over Mike Glasscock, Bobby Pierce, and Donny Walden. Shirley would draw the pole position. The third heat race would be won by Heckenast Jr. as he beat out Tanner English, Kevin Weaver, and Kent Robinson. Heckenast Jr. would draw the fourth position. The final heat race would be won by Brandon, Florida driver Kyle Bronson. Scott Schmitt would finish second in the heat along with 8th starting Iowa driver Jonathan Brauns and Billy Drake transferring to the feature. Bronson would draw the outside pole position.

Shannon Babb would win the lone B-Main over Jason Feger as they would both lock themselves into the feature with the final two spots.

Rusty Schlenk, Ryan Unzicker, McKay Wenger, and Australia’s Paul Stubber would gain the provisionals to complete the 22 car field.

Bronson would lead the first lap of the $10,000 to win feature at Fairbury over Shirley, Heckenast Jr., Gundaker, and Spatola. The first caution of the night would fly on the second lap as Paul Stubber would spin out in Turns 1 and 2. On the ensuing restart, the top five would remain the same as Scott Schmitt would pass Tanner English for sixth on Lap 4. On Lap 5, Spatola would pass Gundaker for fourth. By Lap 6, B-Main winner Shannon Babb, who started seventeenth, would already crack into the top ten. Gundaker would pass Heckenast Jr. on Lap 9 for third. Bronson would continue to lead early on ten laps in over Shirley as he began to enter lapped traffic. On Lap 16, Shirley would be able to catch up to Bronson and get around him to take the lead. Both Schmitt and English would also pass Spatola on the same lap to take the fifth and sixth positions respectively. Shirley would begin to pull away and set his own pace on the field with Gundaker sliding around Bronson for second on Lap 18. English would also pass Schmitt for fifth on the same lap. Shannon Babb would grab the sixth spot on Lap 20. English would move up to fourth after getting around Heckenast Jr. on Lap 23. At the halfway mark, Shirley would continue to lead over Gundaker, Bronson, English, Heckenast Jr., Babb, Bobby Pierce, Schmitt, Kevin Weaver, and Spatola rounding out the top ten. Babb would move into the top five on Lap 27, passing Heckenast Jr. lap 29 would roll by as English would pass Bronson for the third spot. Two laps later on Lap 31, Babb would maneuver around Bronson for fourth. Bronson would drop to sixth place after Heckenast Jr. passed around him on Lap 33. After a 36 lap green flag run, the second caution would wave on Lap 37 for Kyle Bronson who would be slipping in the field over the past few laps. Bronson would get into the fence in Turns 3 and 4 and get a flat right rear tire. The third and final caution would come out on the Lap 37 restart as Mike Glasscock and Ryan Unzicker would spin coming out of Turn 4 on the front stretch with Jason Feger also getting collected. On the restart with 13 laps to go, English and Heckenast Jr. would both pass Gundaker for second and third. One lap later on Lap 39, Heckenast Jr. would bolt past English to move into second place as he began to reel in Shirley. Shirley would lead with 10 laps to go as Babb would pass Gundaker for fourth as well as Pierce getting around the St. Charles, Missouri driver for fifth. With 6 laps to go, Heckenast Jr. catches Shirley and attempted to pass him down low but Shirley was able to hold on. Shirley would maintain his lead with Heckenast Jr. close behind. With two laps to go, Pierce would pass Babb for fourth place. On the final lap, Heckenast threw the kitchen sink at Shirley in Turns 3 and 4 but “Squirrel” was able to hold off the hard charging Frankfort, Illinois driver to win his third 2019 Summer Nationals Hell Tour event and 22nd overall Summer Nationals victory. Frank Heckenast Jr. would finish second with Tanner English rounding out the podium. “I was riding for a little bit and then when I pushed it, I pushed it too hard. If I started up front, it would’ve been a little bit different but we probably should’ve won that race. I showed Shirley my nose too early but I can’t thank my crew and sponsors enough,” Heckenast Jr. said after finishing second.

Fairbury Speedway Feature Finish:

1.3s Brian Shirley- Chatham, IL

2.99 Frank Heckenast Jr.- Frankfort, IL

3.96 Tanner English- Benton, KY

4.32 Bobby Pierce- Oakwood, IL

5.18 Shannon Babb- Moweaqua, IL

6.11 Gordy Gundaker- St. Charles, MO

7.10 Scott Schmitt- Tonica, IL

8.77m Kevin Weaver- Gibson City, IL

9.CJ1 Rusty Schlenk- McClure, OH

10.89 Mike Spatola- Manhattan, IL

11.1w Donny Walden- Towanda, IL

12.42 McKay Wenger- Fairbury, IL

13.25w Allen Weisser- Bartonville, IL

14.22B Jonathan Brauns- Muscatine, IA

15.25 Jason Feger- Bloomington, IN

16.40B Kyle Bronson- Brandon, FL

17.24 Ryan Unzicker- El Paso, IL

18.30 Mike Glasscock- LeRoy, IL

19.7r Kent Robinson- Bloomington, IN

20.11H Jeff Herzog- Festus, MO

21.31AUS Paul Stubber- Bunbury, Australia

22.75 Billy Drake- Bloomington, IL