Clanton, Shirley Ready For World 100
ROSSBURG, Ohio – Shane Clanton joined a select group of all-star drivers with his victory in June’s Dirt Late Model Dream at Eldora Speedway.
He’ll etch his name on an even more exclusive list with another crown-jewel triumph at the famed half-mile oval this Saturday night.
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series standout from Fayetteville, Ga., has his focus squarely set on capturing the prestigious 42nd annual World 100 - a success that would make him just the third driver to win both of Eldora’s marquee DIRTcar-sanctioned late-model events in the same season.
“That’s what were shooting for,” said Clanton, who seeks to pull off a Big E big-race sweep accomplished previously only by dirt late-model immortals Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark. (1998 and 2010) and Donnie Moran of Dresden, Ohio (1996). “Winning the World is a big enough deal itself, but doing something that only two of the greatest drivers of our sport have done before would be so cool.”
Clanton, of course, already owns membership in a club of all-time Eldora greats. With victories in the 2008 World 100 and this years Dream, he’s one of five drivers to win both races, joining Moyer, Moran, Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., and Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn.
That’s a pretty big deal for a 37-year-old racer who made his first competitive appearance at the blazing-fast high-banked oval in western Ohio just a decade ago.
“To win two crown-jewel races at Eldora - the biggest-paying race of the year and the most prestigious - that means more now that I look back on it,” said Clanton, who has started the Dream A-Main six times and cracked the World 100 starting field on four occasions. “I have people say to me all the time, ’Wow, you won the World 100 and the Dream.’ Every time somebody mentions your name now, you got that on your back.”
Clanton, who celebrated his 37th birthday on Aug. 29, will also have some momentum behind him when he takes to the Eldora clay for World 100 qualifying on Friday night (Sept. 7).
Not only did his last visit to the speedway three months ago result in a $100,000 payday, he’s coming off an $8,000 score in a UFO Series event last Friday night at Tyler County Speedway in Middlebourne, W.Va.
“I feel pretty good about going (to Eldora), especially after the things we learned (at Tyler County),” said Clanton, whose hopes for an even richer victory at Tyler County were dashed when rain washed out last Saturday nights WoO LMS Black Diamond 125. ”(Tyler County) is nothing but a smaller Eldora - you drive it like you do Eldora unless you run dead on the bottom - so we did some things that we did at the Dream and they worked. Hopefully we can carry it over to the World.”
Clanton isn’t the only driver making the trip to Eldora with plans to pull off a historic double.
If Brian Shirley can find a way to capture the 42nd annual World 100 on Saturday night, he would be in position to pull off an unprecedented DIRTcar UMP hat trick - winning the circuits biggest race, most high-profile touring series (DIRTcar Summer Nationals) and most important points title (national championship) in a single season.
Shirley, 31, of Chatham, Ill., already has this years DIRTcar Summer Nationals Hell Tour crown in his back pocket and he holds a solid lead in the organizations national points standings with five weeks of points competition remaining. So its the World 100 - the $45,000-to-win Grand Daddy of Dirt Late Model racing - that stands as the primary hurdle between him and dirt-track immortality.
“It would definitely be a dream come true to win all three (major DIRTcar UMP prizes) in one year,” said Shirley, who began driving a dirt late-model in 2002 after his promising career as an American Motorcycle Ass’n flat-track racer was cut short by an injury. ”You couldn’t ask for anything better than putting your name in the history book like that. We’re just blessed that everythings gone our way this year to give us an opportunity to do what weve done and maybe pull off something no one has ever accomplished.
Defeating the most star-studded dirt late-model field of the season - at perhaps the most famous and intimidating half-mile oval in the country - will be a supreme challenge for Shirley, who has not scored a top-five finish in a crown-jewel event at Eldora. But he enters the World 100 with plenty of confidence about his chances for success.
“I think I’m more focused and prepared than I’ve ever been for the World 100,” said Shirley, who has made two World 100 A-Main starts (sixth in 2008, 28 th in 10) and four appearances in Junes $100,000 Dirt Late Model Dream headliner (top finish of 15th in 11). ”Expectations are definitely high for us. I really want that race. I’m just dying to win it and show people how good we are there.”
Shirley has tasted victory at Eldora, albeit on a smaller scale. He won the 2010 DIRTcar UMP Nationals, the circuits annual points-season-ending event that has provided him very valuable tours around the high-banked track.
“Going there for the (UMP) Nationals has really helped our Eldora program a bunch,” said Shirley. ”We learn a lot from those extra laps, and its a reason why we have been able to make the races at the Dream and the World now on a pretty good program. We’ve won a couple heat races now, and weve won a B-Main. We’ve put ourselves in contention. But besides that sixth-place finish (in the 2008 World 100), we just havent done the right things in the feature.
“It’s all about experience,” he continued. “You can’t explain to people enough that experience means so much when youre going against the caliber of drivers that are at Eldora. So many of them guys have been racing there so long and understand 100-lap races better than I do. We’re so immature to them. We just don’t run a lot of 100-lap races, so its so hard to understand them. You just gotta be in em and understand the agony of defeat.
Shirley lived those words just three months ago during the Dream at Eldora. He won the events sixth heat race to earn the pole position in the 100-lap A-Main, but he was unable to take advantage of the opportunity. After running second to Clanton for the first 20 laps, he gradually faded from contention before retiring and placing 20th.
“To be honest, I was so heartbroken over the Dream, my confidence just went down,” said Shirley. “I was down in the dumps for a week or so before my wife (Shannon) kicked me in the ass and told me to get up and go show everybody that it wasn’t an accident that we won a heat, started on the pole and ran up front early.”
Shaken from his Eldora hangover by his better half, Shirley headed out on the DIRTcar Summer Nationals one week later and promptly caught fire. He authored a spectacular assault on the grueling Hell Tour, winning the $25,000 title on the strength of five wins, 21 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes in 28 events.
“It was because of my wife that we turned things around for the Hell Tour,” said Shirley. ”She gave me the confidence to believe in myself. She made me realize that even though we didn’t do good in the Dream as far as the feature was concerned, there were 80 other people who went home without even making it.”
Clanton and Shirley are just two drivers on a huge list of experienced dirt late-model racers who will be at Eldora this weekend.
Which one of them will win? Now that’s probably the best question of all.