FLETCHER: It’s Bye-Bye Boats For Late-Model Racer Brandon Thirlby


Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Brandon Thirlby’s hydroplane-boat racing exploits are lost on most of us in the dirt late-model world.

If I’m not wrong, that’s kind of sad.

Myself, I know jack-nothing about boat racing, except that Brandon Thirlby does it and he’s pretty damn good at it.

At the ripe old age of 22, he’s already won numerous national championships, one world championship and has been honored multiple times by the American Power Boat Ass’n.

Not sure any of us dirt-track folks have really comprehended that and put it into perspective.

I’ll admit right now when I speak to Thirlby, and I try to often, we talk about his dirt-track racing exploits, not that boat stuff.

A likeable kid from northern Michigan, Thirlby comes from a line of racers that goes back at least as far as his grandfather, Ed.

Thirlby was one of nine late-model drivers who competed every night of the UMP Summer Nationals that wrapped up in mid-July.

It was during that tour when he started telling me about the future.

“Going into this deal, my mental state was (to) just try and make some shows, keep my nose clean, try to make a name for myself,” Thirlby said. “I’m getting a lot of positive feedback from people.

“This whole deal is basically the start of me traveling around and focusing on (late-model racing). My dad and mom are absolutely committed to me doing the car racing.”

There you have it. Bye-bye boats, hello cars.

The Thirlby family is well-connected to the northern Michigan dirt-track racing scene through its chain of nine auto parts stores, and its driver sponsorship ventures that help about a dozen or so racers in the region.

Brandon has been racing late models for four years and has won a handful of features on the local level. He has expanded his travel schedule a little each season.

The Summer Nationals was a huge learning experience for the team, as difficult as it was.

“Tough’s an understatement,” Thirlby said near the end of the month-long grind across the Midwest. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is to slow down and think things through.

“Don’t think you’ve gotta change something just because you’re not running with Dennis Erb and (Jason) Feger.”

Competing and winning in dirt late models is getting harder every year. But Thirlby appreciates and understands the difficult nature of the game he’s chosen.

That’s one of his admirable qualities.

He sometimes struggles, but even on the worst of nights, he seems to control his emotions and continue on in an even-tempered manner, knowing it will take time to attain his goal of being a top-notch dirt racer.

“We’re definitely not getting any worse at car racing,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re doing great by any means, but we’re learning.”

Toward the end of the Summer Nationals, Thirlby had a five-man crew preparing his racing boat for some upcoming events. He described doing a couple of boat deals and a late-model event or two on the same weekend, or some such craziness.

A few weeks later, I asked him how he did in the boat races. He told me and I can’t even remember. But there on the Internet, I found a picture of him standing on the podium again at race’s end.

I’m not sure that Thirlby is completely leaving the hydroplane world, and I don’t think he is either, at this point.

But he did say he was cutting back and will focus more and more on the late models.

Either way, he will likely be missed from the boat races.

But we’ll gladly welcome him over here in our dirt-track world.

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