Thornton Jr., Gallardo, and Sabraski Score Round No. 2 WWS Wins

By:  Aaron Clay

SAN TAN VALLEY, AZ – In racing, sometimes there are “feel good” moments; The kind of moments that are borderline unbelievable, or storylines that seem made for a Hollywood movie.  We may very well have witnessed a few moments just like that on Sunday, when the 15th annual Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts continued.

The Dirt Track Bank Super Late Model division presented by Black Diamond Race Cars completed their group qualifying without major incident, allowing Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., to earn overall quick time honors, as he blistered FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway in 15.105 seconds.  Not only was Shirley rewarded with the $100 SportTruck RV Fast Time Award presented by Screven Motor Speedway, he now holds the quickest overall time in the event thus far, an honor that would pay $1,000 courtesy of the Premier Waste Services Shock the Clock program, if his time were to stand throughout the rest of the week.

While earning the fast time award pays cash, perhaps more importantly, it allowed Shirley to start on pole for the first of six Super Late Model heat races.  “Squirrel” did not squander the opportunity, cruising to win his heat race and the right to draw for his starting position in the 40-lap, $5,000-to-win feature, to be held later in the evening.  Jason Papich of Arroyo Grande, Calif., Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., and Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz., joined Shirley as heat race victors on Sunday.

The Schaeffer Oil Redraw was held live on Flo Racing PPV this time, in front of the main grandstands of FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway.  Each heat race winner was given the opportunity to pick a Schaeffer Oil Can, which would display their starting position for the upcoming main event.  Jason Feger collected the $100 Gorsuch Performance Solutions Pole award on Sunday night, after pulling the “number 1” can, meaning he would start inside the front row.  In fact, we had an all-Jason front row, after Papich drew the outside starting position.  Shirley and Thornton Jr. would occupy the second row, respectively, leaving the third row to be filled by Jonathan Davenport and Mike Marlar.




Brian Shirley wasted no time when the C&D Bonding green flag flew, jumping out to the early lead over his competitors in the Dirt Track Bank Super Late Model division presented by Black Diamond Race Cars.  Jonathan Davenport also wasted little time, as he charged from his fifth starting position to occupy second place when the first of three Midwest Sheet Metal caution flags were displayed on lap six, when Jake Timm of Winona, Minn., slowed at the exit of turn four.

Unfortunately for Shirley, this would be the last time he would lead Sunday’s race, as “Superman” Jonathan Davenport flew around his outside on the ensuing restart and began to stretch his lead, with Ricky Thornton Jr. tagging along.  Working primarily on the bottom of the track, it took Thornton Jr. a few laps to clear Shirley for second place, as he began to set his sights on the distant Davenport.

Lap 11 saw the second Midwest Sheet Metal caution flag fly, ironically for car number 11, when Trevor Gundaker of St. Charles, Mo., slowed to a stop in turn four.  This erased Davenport’s lead, but he picked right back up where he left off on the ensuing restart and ran away from the field, with Thornton Jr. still in pursuit.  Davenport remained largely unchallenged until he began to encounter lapped traffic at the race’s halfway mark.  Thornton Jr. quickly began closing on Davenport and made his move at the completion of lap 23, at the exit of turn four.  Davenport was slowed by a lapped car and Thornton Jr. pounced, darting to the inside of both cars, using the lapped traffic as a “pick” and successfully clearing Davenport by the time they reached turn one.

The third and final caution flag dropped on the 31st circuit, as Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, slowed at the exit of turn two, erasing Thornton Jr’s nearly three second lead, at the time.  The tension was palpable, as you could sense that the more experienced Davenport might have the upper-hand on what would be the final restart of the night.  Tension was quickly relieved, as Ricky Thornton Jr. launched without hesitation and never looked back, cruising to win his first career Wild West Shootout feature in the Dirt Track Bank Super Late Model division presented by Black Diamond Race Cars.

Thornton Jr. crossed the finish line 1.015 seconds ahead of Davenport, who settled for the runner-up position on Sunday, after visiting Hoker Trucking Victory Lane himself, on Saturday night.  Ricky’s triumph makes him the 39th different Super Late Model competitor to reach victory lane, in the entire history of the Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts.  It was a very special moment to see the hometown driver accomplish this feat in front of his family and thousands of his fans.

Davenport held on to secure the runner-up spot, while Mike Marlar, Brian Shirley and Jason Feger completed the top-five finishers on Sunday.

Not to be outdone, the Mesilla Valley Transportation and Border Tire Modifieds presented by Arizona Differential would feature an even more exciting finish, in their $2,000-to-win main event.  The 25-lap feature started a bit slowly, as three Midwest Sheet Metal caution flags were displayed within the first three laps; However, the racing excitement escalated, with Jake Gallardo of Las Cruces, N.M., taking advantage of his inside front row starting position and showing the way early.

Gallardo committed to running the outside line around FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway originally, but soon found himself under heavy pressure from Rodney Sanders of Happy, Texas.  Sanders was sticking primarily to the inside of the track and showed Gallardo his nose on several occasions, but remained unable to draw even with the New Mexico native.

Being an experienced racer, Gallardo adjusted his line and switched to running the bottom of the speedway, especially as the two leaders began to hit lapped traffic.  Shane Sabraski of Rice, Minn., held third position comfortably, hoping the leaders would begin battling or possibly make contact.  Neither happened to Sabraski’s favor, as Gallardo and Sanders put on a display of experienced drivers racing hard, but giving respect to their fellow competitors.

Gallardo seemed destined to win, as Sanders simply could not muster enough momentum in order to draw even or complete the pass.  As both drivers took the white flag on lap 24, Sanders decided it was time to strike, generating a huge run on Gallardo at the exit of turn two.  Sanders’ momentum propelled him into a huge slide job at the entrance of turn three, taking away Gallardo’s line and sliding up in front of him; However, Gallardo remained unphased and never lifted off the throttle, successfully steering back underneath Sanders at the exit of turn four as they both barrelled toward the checkered flag.

Gallardo and Sanders raced side-by-side to the finish line, with Jake successfully completing the last-lap, last-corner crossover move on Rodney, narrowly beating him by 0.099 seconds in an epic photo finish.  Sabraski held on to finish third, while Calvin Iverson of Eleva, Wis., and Saturday’s winner, Dustin Strand of East Grand Forks, N.D., completed the top-five on Sunday.

The RHRswag.com X-Mod division presented by Barnett Harley-Davidson raced for 25 laps, one of two $1,000-to-win features scheduled for them, during the 15th annual Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts.  Domination doesn’t even begin to explain Shane Sabraski’s performance on Sunday, as he remained seemingly unchallenged throughout the longer and more lucrative feature.

Sabraski had no problem executing three perfect restarts throughout the race, immediately jumping back to the outside line of FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway and leaving his competitors in his dust.  At one point, Andy Bryant of Fort Scott, Kan., took a look underneath Sabraski during the race’s first restart, but Sabraski was not to be denied, earning his first trip to Hoker Trucking Victory Lane and his first career Wild West Shootout triumph.

An all-out battle ensued for second place on the final restart, which occurred with two laps to go, between Bryant, Preston Carr of Carrington, N.D. and 22nd place-starting Rob Moseley of Los Lunas, N.M.  Carr prevailed, successfully taking the runner-up position, 0.515 seconds behind the untouchable Sabraski.  Moseley passed 19 cars in total, finishing in third position and relegating Bryant to finish fourth.  Brennan Gave of Princeton, Minn., also passed 19 of his competitors on Sunday, completing the top-five.

The 2021 Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts continues on Wednesday, January 13th, with cars scheduled to hit the track for hot laps at 4:30pm local time (6:30pm eastern).

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. 9, 10, 13, 15, 16 and 17.

For more information on the 15th Annual Wild West Shootout, please visit www.WildWestShootout.net.

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, RHR Racing Swag, Barnett Harley Davidson, Dirt Pro Grading & Padwork, Contractors & Developers (C&D) Bonding, Shocks by Hammer, Hoker Trucking, Premier Waste Services, Midwest Sheet Metal, Speedway Motors, Rodeo Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, VP Racing Fuel, Hoosier Racing Tires, Pro Power Engines, Penske Racing Shocks, Beaver Stripes, Gorsuch Performance Solutions, Toste Construction, Sipes Tractor & Transport Service, Total Ag Solutions, Merry’s Home Furnishings, The Joie of Seating, Schill Construction, Screven Motor Speedway, Whisler Investments, DirtDraft.com, FinishLine Graphics, and FloRacing.com.

Dirt Track Bank Super Late Models presented by Black Diamond Race Cars

A Feature 1 (40 Laps): 1. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr[4]; 2. 49D-Jonathan Davenport[5]; 3. 157-Mike Marlar[6]; 4. 3S-Brian Shirley[3]; 5. 25F-Jason Feger[1]; 6. 28M-Jimmy Mars[10]; 7. 1-Tyler Erb[19]; 8. 91P-Jason Papich[2]; 9. 21-Billy Moyer Sr[11]; 10. 2S-Stormy Scott[7]; 11. 1ST-Johnny Scott[20]; 12. 32S-Chris Simpson[18]; 13. 75T-Terry Phillips[21]; 14. 20-Rodney Sanders[13]; 15. 15-Donny Schatz[12]; 16. 11-Gordy Gundaker[9]; 17. 32B-Cody Laney[24]; 18. 91T-Tony Toste[15]; 19. 19-Dustin Sorensen[23]; 20. 11T-Trevor Gundaker[25]; 21. 21M-Luke Merfeld[22]; 22. 91-Rusty Schlenk[14]; 23. 49-Jake Timm[8]; 24. 32-Bobby Pierce[17]; 25. 59-Garrett Alberson[16]

B Feature 1 (12 Laps): 1. 1-Tyler Erb[4]; 2. 75T-Terry Phillips[1]; 3. 19-Dustin Sorensen[3]; 4. 74-Mitch McGrath[2]; 5. 130-Chase Allen[5]; 6. 37-Scott Ward[7]; 7. 98-Jared Landers[11]; 8. 10C-Chad Olsen[9]; 9. 48L-Tim Lance[13]; 10. 48-Craig Parker[8]; 11. 99-Joey Tanner[6]; 12. 21F-Gunner Frank[10]; 13. 28-John Cornell[12]; 14. 76-Blair Nothdurft[17]; 15. 28W-Jim Whistler[16]; 16. 21X-Tyler Reagle[20]; 17. 6N-Justin Mills[14]; 18. 81X-Matt Sparby[15]; 19. 3X-Lyndon Bolt[19]; 20. 77-Dustin Knight[18]

B Feature 2 (12 Laps): 1. 1ST-Johnny Scott[1]; 2. 21M-Luke Merfeld[2]; 3. 32B-Cody Laney[8]; 4. 11T-Trevor Gundaker[4]; 5. 02-Kent Rosevear[10]; 6. 41-Douglas Elkins[6]; 7. 86-Kyle Beard[19]; 8. 82-Eston Whisler[12]; 9. 7D-Austin Theiss[11]; 10. 78S-Steve Stultz[7]; 11. 5AZ-James Webster[13]; 12. 19X-Brian Bowman[18]; 13. B29-Blonde Bomber[16]; 14. 3-Brody Montgomery[14]; 15. 25-Chad Simpson[5]; 16. 4G-Bob Gardner[9]; 17. 15H-Steve Hucovski[17]; 18. 38-Thomas Hunziker[3]; 19. 74X-Braden Fugate[15]

Heat 1 (8 Laps): 1. 3S-Brian Shirley[1]; 2. 2S-Stormy Scott[2]; 3. 20-Rodney Sanders[4]; 4. 75T-Terry Phillips[5]; 5. 1-Tyler Erb[3]; 6. 37-Scott Ward[6]; 7. 21F-Gunner Frank[8]; 8. 48L-Tim Lance[9]; 9. 28W-Jim Whistler[7]; 10. 3X-Lyndon Bolt[10]

Heat 2 (8 Laps): 1. 91P-Jason Papich[1]; 2. 49-Jake Timm[3]; 3. 91-Rusty Schlenk[2]; 4. 74-Mitch McGrath[4]; 5. 130-Chase Allen[7]; 6. 48-Craig Parker[6]; 7. 98-Jared Landers[5]; 8. 6N-Justin Mills[10]; 9. 76-Blair Nothdurft[8]; 10. 21X-Tyler Reagle[9]

Heat 3 (8 Laps): 1. 25F-Jason Feger[1]; 2. 11-Gordy Gundaker[2]; 3. 91T-Tony Toste[3]; 4. 19-Dustin Sorensen[4]; 5. 99-Joey Tanner[6]; 6. 10C-Chad Olsen[5]; 7. 28-John Cornell[8]; 8. 81X-Matt Sparby[7]; 9. 77-Dustin Knight[9]

Heat 4 (8 Laps): 1. 49D-Jonathan Davenport[1]; 2. 28M-Jimmy Mars[4]; 3. 59-Garrett Alberson[2]; 4. 1ST-Johnny Scott[3]; 5. 11T-Trevor Gundaker[5]; 6. 78S-Steve Stultz[7]; 7. 02-Kent Rosevear[9]; 8. 5AZ-James Webster[10]; 9. B29-Blonde Bomber[8]; 10. 86-Kyle Beard[6]

Heat 5 (8 Laps): 1. 157-Mike Marlar[2]; 2. 21-Billy Moyer Sr[3]; 3. 32-Bobby Pierce[1]; 4. 21M-Luke Merfeld[6]; 5. 25-Chad Simpson[5]; 6. 32B-Cody Laney[4]; 7. 7D-Austin Theiss[7]; 8. 3-Brody Montgomery[8]; 9. 15H-Steve Hucovski[9]

Heat 6 (8 Laps): 1. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr[1]; 2. 15-Donny Schatz[2]; 3. 32S-Chris Simpson[3]; 4. 38-Thomas Hunziker[4]; 5. 41-Douglas Elkins[5]; 6. 4G-Bob Gardner[7]; 7. 82-Eston Whisler[6]; 8. 74X-Braden Fugate[8]; 9. 19X-Brian Bowman[9]

Group A Qualifying: 1. 3S-Brian Shirley, 00:15.105[6]; 2. 91P-Jason Papich, 00:15.290[2]; 3. 25F-Jason Feger, 00:15.434[3]; 4. 2S-Stormy Scott, 00:15.435[8]; 5. 91-Rusty Schlenk, 00:15.514[5]; 6. 11-Gordy Gundaker, 00:15.541[1]; 7. 1-Tyler Erb, 00:15.588[24]; 8. 49-Jake Timm, 00:15.589[4]; 9. 91T-Tony Toste, 00:15.606[19]; 10. 20-Rodney Sanders, 00:15.619[7]; 11. 74-Mitch McGrath, 00:15.621[17]; 12. 19-Dustin Sorensen, 00:15.645[22]; 13. 75T-Terry Phillips, 00:15.787[23]; 14. 98-Jared Landers, 00:15.840[10]; 15. 10C-Chad Olsen, 00:15.988[12]; 16. 37-Scott Ward, 00:16.014[13]; 17. 48-Craig Parker, 00:16.084[16]; 18. 99-Joey Tanner, 00:16.269[9]; 19. 28W-Jim Whistler, 00:16.269[21]; 20. 130-Chase Allen, 00:16.291[15]; 21. 81X-Matt Sparby, 00:16.293[11]; 22. 21F-Gunner Frank, 00:16.319[29]; 23. 76-Blair Nothdurft, 00:16.390[26]; 24. 28-John Cornell, 00:16.568[27]; 25. 48L-Tim Lance, 00:16.597[28]; 26. 21X-Tyler Reagle, 00:16.967[20]; 27. 77-Dustin Knight, 00:16.988[14]; 28. 3X-Lyndon Bolt, 00:17.097[18]; 29. 6N-Justin Mills, 00:17.402[25]

Group B Qualifying: 1. 49D-Jonathan Davenport[15]; 2. 32-Bobby Pierce[28]; 3. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr[24]; 4. 59-Garrett Alberson[21]; 5. 157-Mike Marlar[12]; 6. 15-Donny Schatz[1]; 7. 1ST-Johnny Scott[10]; 8. 21-Billy Moyer Sr[7]; 9. 32S-Chris Simpson[11]; 10. 28M-Jimmy Mars[14]; 11. 32B-Cody Laney[9]; 12. 38-Thomas Hunziker[6]; 13. 11T-Trevor Gundaker[25]; 14. 25-Chad Simpson[22]; 15. 41-Douglas Elkins[26]; 16. 86-Kyle Beard[17]; 17. 21M-Luke Merfeld[2]; 18. 82-Eston Whisler[13]; 19. 78S-Steve Stultz[20]; 20. 7D-Austin Theiss[5]; 21. 4G-Bob Gardner[19]; 22. B29-Blonde Bomber[23]; 23. 3-Brody Montgomery[4]; 24. 74X-Braden Fugate[16]; 25. 02-Kent Rosevear[27]; 26. 15H-Steve Hucovski[18]; 27. 19X-Brian Bowman[8]; 28. 5AZ-James Webster[3]

Pro Power Dash (6 Laps): 1. 11T-Trevor Gundaker[2]; 2. 74-Mitch McGrath[1]; 3. 98-Jared Landers[3]; 4. 10C-Chad Olsen[5]; 5. 86-Kyle Beard[6]; 6. 41-Douglas Elkins[4]