Shirley Cops Summer Nationals Opener

Brian Shirley in victory lane at Kankakee County Speedway. (Stan Kalwasinski photo)
Brian Shirley in victory lane at Kankakee County Speedway. (Stan Kalwasinski photo)

KANKAKEE, Ill. — Kankakee County Speedway hosted the first night of the annual DIRTcar UMP Summer Nationals Hell Tour Thursday night with Illinois racer Brian Shirley coming home the winner of the $5,000-to-win, 40-lap, late model stock car special at the quarter-mile dirt oval.  

Kankakee became the opening-night host after the schedule Hell Tour opener at Illinois’ Peoria Speedway was rained out on Wednesday.

Not planning on running the entire Summer Nationals tour, the 38-year-old Shirley, wheeling his Bob Cullen Racing, Thomason Express/Cheap Cars/KBX Graphix/Kid’s Castle Learning Center-sponsored No.3, took the checkered flag with a 1.776-second margin of victory over Frank Heckenast Jr.  

Fastest-qualifier Rusty Schlenk finished third, followed by Jason Feger, Ryan Unzicker and Billy Moyer.  Bobby Pierce, Mike Spatola, Kevin Weaver and Bob Gardner rounded out the top 10 in the 22-car field.

At the drop of the green flag, Shirley, who hails from Chatham, Ill., and Heckenast raced side by side for a lap or two until Shirley, using the outside groove, moved into the lead. With six laps in the books, Shannon Babb slowed bringing out the race’s first of three yellow caution flags.  

On the restart, Shirley set the pace, chased by Schlenk, Heckenast, Spatola and Feger.  Having a problem in his heat race, Pierce, who started 16th after winning the B main, was already up to sixth when the caution lights flashed again with 18 laps complete with Babb stopping off of turn four.

Green-flag racing resumed with Shirley showing the way with Heckenast hustling by Schlenk for second. Shirley attempted to build a comfortable lead only to see the final yellow flag fly with 22 circuits complete.  

Once green flag racing resumed again, Shirley was on his way to victory, building a full straightaway lead over Heckenast as the race wore down.

“The car drove really well,” said Shirley. “I had a good starting spot.   I can’t thank (car owner) Bob Cullen enough.  He puts me in great equipment.  We’ve already raced forty nights this year.”

The finish:

Brian Shirley, Frank Heckenast Jr., Rusty Schlenk, Jason Feger, Ryan Unzicker, Billy Moyer, Bobby Pierce, Mike Spatola, Kevin Weaver, Bob Gardner, Walker Arthur, Gordy Gundaker, Paul Stubber, Lyle Zanker, David Jaeger, Chuck Hummer, Dennis Erb Jr., Allen Murray, Allen Weisser, Glen Thompson, Shannon Babb, Matt Shannon.