Brian Shirley made a name for himself racing AMA flat-track motorcycles in the mid 1990s.
Now, the Chatham, Ill., native is one of the country’s top dirt-late-model racers after an injury derailed his motorcycle career in 1999.
Injuries put Shirley on the sidelines and in 2001, he began racing dirt modifieds. The following season he owned his own late model.
He chose to run the premier division for one simple reason. “Late models just paid better…but it was a night and day difference. I had to learn so much and it’s taken time,” he said.
Shirley certainly didn’t take long to begin making a name for himself, and even though dirt-late-model racing was an entirely different world, in his first full season behind the wheel he captured the Macon Speedway track title and finished third in UMP Illinois state points.
In 2003, the No. 3s team decided to venture out and began running some Northern All Star series events throughout the region, and then in 2004, as Shirley said with a chuckle, “I just woke up one day and decided, ‘Heck! We’re just gonna go for it,’ and we went racing instead of to work. We got hooked up with some pretty good sponsors, which allowed us to go full time.”
That 2004 season was filled with excitement for the then 23 year old with raw talent and passion. He won one Summernationals event and made history by capturing the Northern All Stars Rookie of the Year title as well as the series championship.
“We shot out pretty early, but then we stalled,” Shirley explained. “I have learned that I just have to put in my dues, my time and learn what we need to do to go faster. It definitely wasn’t easy in the beginning and it’s still not easy.”
It’s no light undertaking to run against some of the best late-model drivers in dirt history and in recent years fans of the driver nicknamed “Squirrel” have seen him transform into a driver with patience, control and the ability to adapt to many different conditions. This has made Shirley not only a contender, but a respected winner.
“We’ve won a few races here and there that were pretty exciting, like the Larry Phillips Memorial at I-44 Speedway in 2006 and the Paducah [Ky.] World 50, which we have won three times,” Shirley said. “But winning Knoxville in 2006 was the biggest thing in my career. No matter if I never win another one, at least I have won one crown jewel event and that’s something a lot of people never get to do.”
With the support of his girlfriend Shannon and 3-year-old daughter Drue, the possibilities are endless for Shirley, and he is looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead for the No. 3s team.
“We’ve still got a lot to learn, but we definitely stepped back into the stride in 2010, so hopefully we will get even better in 2011.”