Patient Shirley Conquers Rockford Dirt

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Brian Shirley won Thursday night's World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series race at Rockford Speedway. (Stan Kalwasinski photo)
Brian Shirley won Thursday night's World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series race at Rockford Speedway. (Stan Kalwasinski photo)
Brian Shirley won Thursday night’s World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series race at Rockford Speedway. (Stan Kalwasinski photo)

LOVES PARK, Ill. — Brian Shirley won the Outlaw Clay Classic on a crazy Thursday night at Rockford Speedway.

Though Mother Nature warned The World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series officials to speed-up the show, the Illinois-native remained patient. He coasted to 1.115-second win in his home state.

In lieu of clear skies from the sprint car series show the day before, dark clouds began to surround the track following heat races for the late models. The two-hour rain delay did not deter Shirley though, who was the quickest in hot laps and won his heat race. Shirley’s No. 3s Bob Cullen Racing/ Arnie Renta Motorsports Longhorn machine went on to lead the 24-car feature through challenging track conditions for all 30 laps.

“We’ll take it for what it is,” Shirley said. “It’s hard to put dirt on top of asphalt, but it’s just a good day for my team and all the fans that were here. At the end of the day somebody has to win, and we’ll take it.”

Within the first lap of the race, Shirley took advantage of his throttle-down technique through the wet track. Joey Coulter, who led the pack into the green flag, slipped-up entering turn two, leaving enough room for Shirley to swoop down under him. Coulter lost a few more spots because of the same spot of the track, while Shirley created a 1.861-second cushion in the top spot.

Shirley rinsed and repeated through the four cautions in the race. The first caution on with on lap six regrouped the field, but Shirley’s strong restarts extended his lead by more than one second each time. From the first caution to the race’s second caution on lap 13, Shirley lapped up to 18th position. He led by as much as 3.276 seconds in this sequence.

“Just trying to miss the ruts was the biggest part of it,” said Shirley, who frequently switched his lines to evade the more troublesome spots. “But we got 10,000 reasons but ruts ain’t one of them.”

While Shirley built his lead, 2015 series champion Shane Clanton battled to maintain the second spot. At the halfway mark, Clanton built a similar cushion to Shirley’s from the pack – about one-second separated his No. 25 Weldbank Energy/ Coopers Meat Packers Capital car from third place.

The third caution in the race opened up the door for Billy Moyer Jr. to make the charge for third; he and Coulter went bumper-to-bumper, fighting for the final podium position. That is, until Moyer’s car faded to a stop on the backstretch, causing the fourth and final caution with six laps to go.

Though the final caution did not create any opportunities to pass Shirley, rookie of the year contender Tyler Erb used the restart to make a break toward his first career podium finish in the series. Erb overtook third position with his No. 91 First Class Septic/ P&W Sales Club 29 car, and briefly challenged Clanton for the runner-up position.

“(The track) did the best they could, and that’s all we can ask for,” Erb said. “I was just trying to do all that I could do with the track we had. We just appreciate everyone coming out and supporting us. (These races) are only a part of the Outlaw deal. It can only make you better. I think that kind of showed tonight.”

The battle between Clanton and Erb lasted a couple laps until a rut sent Clanton’s car to the top of the track exiting turn four. Erb carried more momentum than Clanton coming out of turn four to make the final pass of the feature within the podium. The top three finished in one-second intervals of each other.

“We did what we could, and I wish we could have come home with second,” Clanton said. “I screwed up the last five laps.”

The finish:

Brian Shirley, Tyler Erb, Shane Clanton, Joey Coulter, Chub Frank, Brandon Overton, Eric Wells, Mike Mataragas, Rick Eckert, Steve Casebolt, Mike Fryer, Jason Rauen, Mike Spatola, Billy Moyer Jr., Reno Markham, Frank Heckenast Jr., T.J. Markham, Morgan Bagley, Gary Hunt, Lyle Zanker, Jeff Hartzell, Josh Richards, Boom Briggs, Chase Junghans.