Shirley Thrills With Fairbury Summer Nationals Score

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Brian Shirley (3s) battles Ryan Unzicker Wednesday night at Fairbury Speedway. (Jim Denhamer Photo)
Brian Shirley (3s) battles Ryan Unzicker Wednesday night at Fairbury Speedway. (Jim Denhamer Photo)

FAIRBURY, Ill. – There’s one constant about Fairbury Speedway. The racing never disappoints.

Brian Shirley, Brandon Sheppard and Frank Heckenast Jr. put on an instant DIRTcar Summer Nationals classic Wednesday night, battling it out with the rest of the field over 40 laps that ended with Shirley’s fifth Hell Tour win of the season by .090 seconds over Sheppard.

Heckenast led the opening laps before outside polesitter Ryan Unzicker cracked the whip to his outside and swiped the lead away on lap three, but held it only briefly as Heckenast came back at him on the bottom on lap five.

Sheppard climbed aboard his horse on a restart after the caution on lap eight, throwing a slide job on Unzicker for second as they sailed through turns one and two. He was able to track Heckenast down in just two laps and made the move for the top spot on lap 11.

Sheppard took command out front for the next 11 laps before facing another strong challenge from Heckenast, who took the lead again briefly on laps 22 and 23. Sheppard got a better run on the top side to take the lead back, which he held all the way until the final 10 laps.

Shirley had silently been keeping pace all throughout the race behind the leaders and saw the chance to dig-in for the lead on lap 31. He nearly threaded the Sheppard-Heckenast needle going into turn three, but instead was able to get Heckenast to his outside as he steered his Bob Cullen Racing No. 3s back to the inside to get a run on Sheppard.

Squeezing Sheppard in behind a lapped car, Shirley found some traction down low and grabbed the spot with just eight laps remaining. Sheppard tried to return the favor on the cushion, but to no avail. He got one final push on the final lap, heading way up the banking in each corner, but Shirley was just too strong down low. He crossed the line by a mere .090 seconds over Sheppard to collect his 5th Summer Nationals feature win of 2020.

“I was just lucky the lapped cars kinda fell my way,” Shirley said in victory lane. “I knew where [Sheppard] was, and he was right there on my ass, so I just tried to do the best I could and was able to get the win.”

Unzicker and Weisser completed the top-five, while the former Summer Nationals champions of Shannon Babb, Dennis Erb Jr. and Jason Feger finished sixth through eighth.

The finish:

1. 3S-Brian Shirley [3][]; 2. B5-Brandon Sheppard [4][]; 3. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr [1][]; 4. 24-Ryan Unzicker [2][]; 5. 25W-Allen Weisser [9][]; 6. 28-Dennis Erb [15][]; 7. 18-Shannon Babb [5][]; 8. 25-Jason Feger [8][]; 9. 77M-Jay Morris [18][]; 10. 1W-Donny Walden [10][]; 11. 111-Steven Roberts [6][]; 12. 1M-Mike Mataragas [14][]; 13. 4G-Bob Gardner [11][]; 14. 89-Mike Spatola [7][]; 15. 33X-Gordy Gundaker [21][]; 16. 18L-Jeffrey Ledford [17][]; 17. 16-Rusty Griffaw [20][]; 18. 91P-Jason Papich [12][]; 19. B12-Kevin Weaver [19][]; 20. 75-Billy Drake [16][]; 21. 48L-Tim Lance Jr [22][]; 22. 6-Daryn Klein [13][]