Shirley Snatches Victory After Thorton Slip In Wild West Shootout

By:  Aaron Clay

SAN TAN VALLEY, AZ – In his first trip to the Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts, Chatham, Ill. native Brian Shirley visited Hoker Trucking Victory Lane.  But, it wasn’t easy for Shirley, as he had to battle with one of the most decorated Modified racers in event history.

Shirley claimed the opening Late Model heat race of the night, easily cruising to win by over three and a half seconds.  This qualified Shirley for the redraw along with the other five heat race winners.  Unfortunately for “Squirrel”, he drew the lowest number possible, meaning he would start Saturday night’s 40-lap feature from the outside of row three.

Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa drew the pole starting position, earning him the $100 cash bonus provided by Gorsuch Performance.  Birkhofer would be joined on the front row by Ricky Thornton Jr of Chandler, Ariz..  Thornton wasted no time when the green flag dropped, utilizing the preferred outside groove and jumped out to the early lead.  In fact, the entire line of outside starters benefited from being in the higher groove, at the initial start of the race.

The race remained green until just past the halfway mark, as Thornton Jr enjoyed nearly a straightaway lead over Mike Spatola, Shirley, Birkhofer and Bobby Pierce.  It was just prior to the race’s first Midwest Sheet Metal caution flag, when Shirley made his move around Spatola for second place while Pierce and Birkhofer waged battle for fourth.  That first caution flag flew on lap 26, as Ryan Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa slowed on the exit of turn four, erasing Thornton’s advantage.

Chaos ensured on the ensuring restart with 14 laps to go, as Shirley wisely elected the high line and easily cleared Spatola, as he began to set his sights on Thornton Jr.  Meanwhile, Spatola struggled to get going on the bottom line and held-up Pierce and Birkhofer.  This allowed Frank Heckenast Jr, of Frankfort, Ill., to jump up into the third position, bringing the defending Wild West Shootout Champion, Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., along with him and into fourth.

Thornton Jr and Shirley separated themselves from Heckenast Jr and Sheppard, while there was a snarling pack behind them.  Suddenly, coming to the completion of lap 30, Ricky Thornton Jr overdrove the entrance of turn three and pushed outside the groove of rubber that had built, causing him to slow in the heavier cushion, nearly hitting the wall in turn four.  This allowed Shirley and Heckenast Jr to slip by Thornton Jr, as he regrouped in the third position.  A couple of laps later, the race’s second and final Midwest Sheet Metal caution flag dropped, as Birkhofer slowed in turn four, on the 32nd circuit.

It was all she wrote from there, as Shirley executed a flawless final restart and cruised to win the $5,000 payday on opening night of the 2020 Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts.  Impressively, Shirley earned his first victory of the year in his first visit to FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway, aboard the Bob Cullen Racing Rocket XR1 Chassis.  Heckenast Jr finished a distant second place, nearly two seconds behind Shirley, making it an all-Illinois and all-Rocket Chassis top two.  Thornton Jr held on to finish third, with Sheppard securing the fourth spot and Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa completing the top five.

After the race, Thornton Jr was quoted with saying “I just screwed up”, insinuating that he felt like he gave the win away.  In talking with his crew chief and spotter, Taylon Center, during the race’s last caution, Taylon admitted he signaled Ricky, encouraging him to run the high line and felt like he may have misdirected his driver.  Irregardless, Ricky Thornton Jr proved that Casey Skyberg’s Black Diamond Chassis has the speed to compete for wins, throughout the remainder of the event.

On paper, the Mesilla Valley Transportation/Border Tire and Arizona Differential Modifieds main event seems like it was a runaway by Lucas Schott of Chatfield, Minn., as he led all 25 circuits.  However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  While Schott enjoyed a lengthy lead at times, the race really got interesting in the closing laps, as Dustin Strand of Grand Forks, N.D., and Jake Gallardo of Las Cruces, N.M., began to reel him in.  Strand got within a car length of Schott with just over five laps to go, as both were negotiating their way through lapped traffic.  However, it was that same lapped traffic that delayed Strand and allowed Gallardo to take the second position.  Now it was Gallardo’s turn, as he also closed within the bumper of Schott, with just a few laps to go.  However, Gallardo just didn’t have enough and Lucas Schott claimed his second career Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout victory in USRA Modified competition, along with the $1,000 payday, winning by less than half of a second over Gallardo.  Strand settled for the third position on Saturday night, while Tyler Peterson of Hickson, N.D., finished fourth and Mitch Keeter of Webb City, Mo., rounded out the top five.

The 20-lap Barnett Harley-Davidson X-Mod feature was just as exciting on Saturday, featuring a battle between Brock Gronwold of Fergus Falls, Minn., Skeeter Estey of Kelly Lake, Minn., and Lance Schill of Langdon, N.D.  Estey inherited the lead early, after initial race leader, Tyler Mecl of Queen Creek, Ariz., suffered mechanical problems and pulled into the pits.  Gronwold and Estey waged a fierce battle for the lead, seemingly trading slide jobs on every corner.  As the race progressed, Schill began to close in on both drivers, while they battled for the lead.  Gronwold finally cleared Estey and distanced himself in the closing laps, winning the $500 prize by nearly two seconds.  Schill also enjoyed quite a battle with Estey in the closing laps and was just able to nip him at the line, claiming the runner-up position by less than a tenth of a second.

The 14th annual Wild West Shootout continues on Sunday, January 12, with cars scheduled to begin hot laps at 3:00pm local time (5:00pm Eastern). Once again all three divisions will be in action with Dirt Track Bank Super Late Models battling for a $5,000 top prize, X-Mods pursuing a $1,000 winners check and the Mesilla Valley Transportation/ Border Tire Modifieds competing for $2,000 to win.

Online sales of single and multi-day tickets continue for the popular miniseries, which will pay over $200,000 in purses over six nights of Super Late Model, Modified and X-Mod racing with tripleheaders set for Jan. 11, 12, 15, 17, 18 and 19. Fans can pick up their advanced tickets by visiting

Fans and competitors planning trips to FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway can also now book rooms at the Wild West Shootout’s official hotel, Hyatt Place Phoenix Gilbert, located approximately 20 minutes from the track in Gilbert, Ariz. Call 1-888-591-1234 or visit to schedule your stay.

For more information on the 14th annual Wild West Shootout, please visit

The Wild West Shootout is made possible by Keyser Manufacturing, O’Reilly Auto Parts, FK Rod Ends, Dirt Track Bank, Black Diamond Race Cars, Shaw Trucking, Schaeffer Oil, SportTruck RV, Mesilla Valley Transportation, Border Tire, Arizona Differential,, Barnett Harley Davidson, Shocks by Hammer, Hoker Trucking, Premier Waste Services, MidWest Sheet Metal, Rodeo Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, VP Racing Fuel, Hoosier Racing Tires, Pro Power Engines, Penske Racing Shocks, Five Star Graphix, Beaver Stripes, Gorsuch Performance Solutions, Screven Motor Speedway, Total Ag Solutions and

14th Annual Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts results from FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway – Saturday, January 11, 2020
Dirt Track Bank Super Late Models presented by Black Diamond Race Cars:
Group 1: 1. 76-Blair Nothdurft 15.451, 2. 3s-Brian Shirley 15.701, 3. 1-Earl Pearson Jr 15.704, 4. 74-Mitch McGrath 15.836, 5. 32B-Cody Laney 15.928, 6. 38-Thomas Hunziker 16.152, 7. 28-John Cornell 16.172, 8. 74D-Dan Deibele 17.190

Group 2: 1. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr 15.638, 2. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr 15.790, 3. 19R-Ryan Austin 16.026, 4. 17-McLain Beaudoin 16.246, 5. 28W-Jim Whisler 16.435, 6. 78S-Steve Stultz 16.709, 7. 24-Rick Ortega 17.183, 8. 89L-James Laing 17.258

Group 3: 1. B5-Brandon Sheppard 15.137, 2. 32s-Chris Simpson 15.539, 3. 1st-Johnny Scott 15.547, 4. 99-Clay Fisher 15.812, 5. 91t-Tony Toste 15.941, 6. 3x-Lyndon Bolt 16.476, 7. 75-Kenny Densman 16.622, 8. 83-Dennis Souza 17.997

Group 4: 1. 28M – Jimmy Mars 15.502, 2. 89-Mike Spatola 15.571, 3. 75t-Terry Phillips 15.630, 4. 2M-Allen Murray 15.724, 5. 37-Rob Mayea 15.957, 6. 15-Justin Duty 16.216, 7. 91P-Jason Papich 16.262, 8. 28T-Brian Barrett 17.857

Group 5: 1. 15B-Brian Birkhofer 15.469, 2. 97-Cade Dillard 15.503, 3. 2s-Stormy Scott 15.544, 4. 55D-Nick Deal 15.557, 5. 77M-Jay Morris 15.890, 6. 6T-Terry Carter 16.344, 7. 7V-David Vennard

Group 6: 1. 18-Chase Junghans 15.323, 2. 32-Bobby Pierce 15.503, 3. 7-Ricky Weiss 15.757, 4. 86-Kyle Beard 15.827, 5. 2-Garrett Alberson 16.064, 6. 6-Casey Skyberg 16.151, 7. 7W-Richard Wallace 17.692

Heat Races –  Top 3 advance to “A” Main, balance to two “B” Mains

Heat One (8 Laps): 1. 3s-Brian Shirley, 2. 74-Mitch McGrath, 3. 76-Blair Nothdurft, 4. Earl Pearson Jr, 5. 32B-Cody Laney, 6. 28-John Cornell, 7. 38-Thomas Hunziker, 8. 74D-Dan Deibele

Heat Two (8 Laps): 1. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr, 2. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr, 3. 19R-Ryan Gustin, 4. 28W-Jim Whisler, 5. 24-Rick Ortega, 6. 17-McLain Beaudoin, 7. 78S-Steve Stultz, 8. 89L-James Laing

Heat Three (8 Laps): 1. 32S-Chris Simpson, 2. B5-Brandon Sheppard, 3. 1st-Johnny Scott, 4. 99-Clay Fisher, 5. 91t-Tony Toste, 6. 3x-Lyndon Bolt, 7. 83-Dennis Souza, 8. 75-Kenny Densman

Heat Four (8 Laps): 1. 89-Mike Spatola, 2. 28M-Jimmy Mars, 3. 75t-Terry Phillips, 4. 15-Justin Duty, 5. 2M-Allen Murray, 6. 37-Rob Mayea, 7. 28T-Brian Barrett, 8. 91P-Jason Papich

Heat Five (8 Laps): 1. 15B-Brian Birkhofer, 2. 97-Cade Dillard, 3. 2s-Stormy Scott, 4. 6T-Terry Carter, 5. 55D-Nick Deal, 6. 7V-David Vennard, 7. 77M-Jay Morris

Heat Six (8 Laps): 1. 32-Bobby Pierce, 2. 18-Chase Junghans, 3. 7-Ricky Weiss, 4. 2-Garrett Alberson, 5. 86-Kyle Beard, 6. 6-Casey Skyberg, 7. 7W-Richard Wallace

“B” Mains – Top 3 from each advance to “A” Main

First “B” Main (12 Laps): 1. 1-Earl Pearson Jr, 2. 99-Clay Fisher, 3. 32B-Cody Laney, 4. 91t-Tony Toste, 5. 3x-Lyndon Bolt, 6. 28-John Cornell, 7. 38-Thomas Hunziker, 8. 75-Kenny Densman, 9. 6T-Terry Carter, 10. 83-Dennis Souza, 11. 74D-Dan Deibele

Second “B” Main (12 Laps): 1. 15-Justin Duty, 2. 2-Garrett Alberson, 3. 86-Kyle Beard, 4. 6-Casey Skyberg, 5. 37-Rob Mayea, 6. 2M-Allen Murray, 7. 78S-Steve Stultz, 8. 7W-Richard Wallace, 9. 28T-Brian Barrett, 10. 89L-James Laing, 11. 17-McLain Beaudoin, 12. 28W-Jim Whisler, 13. 24-Rick Ortega

Pro Power Dash
Dash (10 Laps): 1. 91t-Tony Toste, 2. 6-Casey Skyberg, 3. 3x-Lyndon Bolt, 4. 37-Rob Mayea, 5. 38-Thomas Hunziker

“A” Main
“A” Main (40 Laps): 1. 3s-Brian Shirley, 2. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr, 3. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr, 4. B5-Brandon Sheppard, 5. 32S-Chris Simpson, 6. 18-Chase Junghans, 7. 7-Ricky Weiss, 8. 1st-Johnny Scott, 9. 28M-Jimmy Mars, 10. 2-Garrett Alberson, 11. 32-Bobby Pierce, 12. 2s-Stormy Scott, 13. 89-Mike Spatola, 14. 15-Justin Duty, 15. 1-Earl Pearson Jr, 16. 99-Clay Fisher, 17. 15B-Brian Birkhofer, 18. 86-Kyle Beard, 19. 75t-Terry Phillips, 20. 32B-Cody Laney, 21. 19R-Ryan Gustin, 22. 74-Mitch McGrath, 23. 76-Blair Nothdurft, 24. 91t-Tony Toste, 25. 97-Cade Dillard

Mesilla Valley Transportation/Border Tire and Arizona Differential Modifieds:
Heat Races – Top 16 in passing points advance to “A” Main, balance to two “B” Mains
Heat One (8 Laps): 1. 1TPO-Tyler Peterson, 2. 27x-Calvin Iverson, 3. 69-Lucas Schott, 4. 57-Duke Erickson, 5. 111x-Bumper Jones, 6. 292-Tony Martin, 7. 88-Nathan Smith, 8. 8-Joe Dietrich, 9. 72-Dustin Grabowski, 10. 30t-Travis Tipton, 11. 54-Carlos Ahumada Sr

Heat Two (8 Laps): 1. 52-Mitch Keeter, 2. 4w-Tyler Wolff, 3. 5M-Zachary Madrid, 4. 32-D.J. Shannon, 5. 21x-Travis Saurer, 6. 30-Matt Leer, 7. 44-Christy Barnett, 8. 8C-Chris Clark, 9. 24-Xavier Ortega, 10. 51t-Tim Thomas, 11. 5K-Mike Kirby

Heat Three (8 Laps): 1. J17-Jake Gallardo, 2. 85D-Mark Dotson, 3. 20t-Trevor Anderson, 4. 91-Joe Duvall, 5. 65x-Carlos Ahumada Jr, 6. 22-Jonathan Ortega, 7. 21xxx-Randy Klein, 8. 2J-Blakle Jegtvig, 9. 111-Logan Drake, 10. 23-Justin Rexwinkle, 11. 5G-Scott Greer

Heat Four (8 Laps): 1. 71-Dustin Strand, 2. 02-Tanner Mullens, 3. 2c-Dave Cain, 4. 10c-Chad Olsen, 5. 20-Rodney Sanders, 6. 11x-Matt Gilbertson, 7.G17-Fito Gallardo, 8. 37-Kelly Estey, 9. 75-Alan Sharpensteen, 10. 196-Joey Olschowka

“B” Mains – Top 4 from each advance to “A” Main
“B” Main One (12 Laps): 1. G17-Fito Gallardo, 2. 20-Rodney Sanders, 3. 21x-Travis Saurer, 4. 11x-Matt Gilbertson, 5. 37-Kelly Estey, 6. 57-Duke Erickson, 7. 5G-Scott Greer, 8. 44-Christy Barnett, 9. 2J-Blake Jegtvig, 10. 8C-Chris Clark, 11. 75-Alan Sharpensteen, 12. 51t-Tim Thomas, 13. 196-Joey Olschowka

“B” Main Two (12 Laps): 1. 10c-Chad Olsen, 2. 65x-Carlos Ahumada Jr, 3. 88-Nathan Smith, 4. 22-Jonathon Ortega, 5. 5K-Mike Kirby, 6. 72-Dustin Grabowski, 7. 30t-Travis Tipton, 8. 54-Carlos Ahumada Sr, 9. 8-Joe Dietrich, 10. 292-Tony Martin, 11. 24-Xavier Ortega, 12. 21xxx-Randy Klein

“A” Main (25 Laps): 1. 69-Lucas Schott, 2. J17-Jake Gallardo, 3. 71-Dustin Strand, 4. 1TPO-Tyler Peterson, 5. 52-Mitch Keeter, 6. 5M-Zachary Madrid, 7. 91-Joe Duvall, 8. 27x-Calvin Iverson, 9. 10c-Chad Olsen, 10. 2c-Dave Cain, 11. 02-Tanner Mullens, 12. 111x-Bumper Jones, 13. 65x-Carlos Ahumada Jr, 14. 85D-Mark Dotson, 15. 4w-Tyler Wolff, 16. 20t-Trevor Anderson, 17. 20-Rodney Sanders, 18. 21x-Travis Saurer, 19. 22-Jonathan Ortega, 20. 88-Nathan Smith, 21. G17-Fito Gallardo, 22. 32-D.J. Shannon, 23. 30-Matt Leer, 24. 11x-Matt Gilbertson Barnett Harley-Davidson X-Mods:
Heat Races – Top 16 in passing points advance to “A” Main, balance to “B” Main
Heat One (8 Laps): 1. 11-Bryan Kakela, 2. 37xxx-Kelly Estey, 3. 71AZ-Tyler Mecl, 4. 17x-Mike Striegel, 5. 777-Justin Allen, 6. 11x-Tyler Griggs, 7. 8272-Sherman Barnett, 8. 08-Glen Maga, 9. 14M-Blake Meyer, 10. 15-Speedy Madrid, 11. 112x-Brennan Gave

Heat Two (8 Laps): 1. 37x-Skeeter Estey, 2. 7B-Bailey Cousins, 3. 82x-Christy Barnett, 4. 4H-Grant Hall, 5. 15x-Blake Davis, 6. 16-Brock Hess, 7. 25-Kenneth McDonald, 8. X44-Mark Maga, 9. 20-Al Ferguson, 10. 37-Clint Johnson

Heat Three (8 Laps): 1. 2G-Brock Gronwold, 2. 17-Lance Schill, 3. 3J-Josh Cain, 4. 13B-Jess Brekke, 5. 10-Cole Searing, 6. 10c-Cole Haugland, 7. 96F-Eric Folstad, 8. 13-Steve Bitting, 9. 17B-Zach Benson, 10. 22-Matt Heinzerling

Heat Four (8 Laps): 1. 476x-Troy Hovey, 2. 19-Lucas Rodin, 3. 39-Steve Muilenburg, 4. 65-Kris Jackson, 5. 97x-Don Schaefer, 6. 27x-Andy Mikowic, 7. 2SS-Mark Smith, 8. 33s-Ben Stockton, 9. 56-Terry Bahr, 10. 17E-Neil Eckhart

“B” Mains – Top 4 from each advance to “A” Main
“B” Main One (10 Laps): 1. 82x-Christy Barnett, 2. 10c-Cole Haugland, 3. 17B-Zach Benson, 4. 16-Brock Hess, 5. 112x-Brennan Gave, 6. 15x-Blake Davis, 7. 27x-Andy Miskowic, 8. 8272-Sherman Barnett, 9. 13-Steve Bitting, 10. 15-Speedy Madrid, 11. 56-Terry Bahr, 12. 20-Al Ferguson

“B” Main Two (10 Laps): 1. 2SS-Mark Smith, 2. 37-Clint Johnson, 3. 777-Justin Allen, 4. 97x-Don Schaefer, 5. 33s-Ben Stockton, 6. 17E-Neil Eckhart, 7. X44-Mark Maga, 8. 11x-Tyler Griggs, 9. 96F-Eric Folstad, 10. 25-Kenneth McDonald, 11. 22-Matt Heinzerling, 12. 08-Glen Maga

“A” Main
“A” Main (20 Laps): 1. 2G-Brock Gronwold, 2. 17-Lance Schill, 3. 37x-Skeeter Estey, 4. 11-Bryan Kakels, 5. 19-Lucas Rodin, 6. 4H-Grant Hall, 7. 10-Cole Searing, 8. 476x-Troy Hovey 9. 10c-Cole Haugland, 10. 65-Kris Jackson, 11. 37-Clint Johnson, 12. 37xxx-Kelly Estey, 13. 17x-Mike Striegel, 14. 82x-Christy Barnett, 15. 17B-Zach Benson, 16. 13B-Jess Brekke, 17. 39-Steve Muilenburg, 18. 2SS-Mark Smith, 19. 7B-Bailey Cousins, 20. Brock Hess, 21. 97x-Don Schaefer, 22. 71AZ-Tyler Mecl, 23. 777-Justin Allen, 24. 3J-Josh Cain

(Full story to follow)

Wild West Shootout Round 1 (40 Laps):  Brian Shirley, Frank Heckenast Jr, Ricky Thorton Jr, Brandon Sheppard, Chris Simpson, Chase Junghans, Ricky Weiss, Johnny Scott, Jimmy Mars, Garrett Alberson, Bobby Pierce, Stormy Scott, Mike Spatola, Justin Duty, Earl Pearson Jr, Clay Fisher, Brian Birkhofer, Kyle Beard, Terry Phillips, Cody Laney, Ryan Gustin, Mitch McGrath, Blair Nothdruft, Tony Toste, Cade Dillard.