LASALLE, Ill. — In a great short-track battle through lapped traffic Friday night, Ryan Unzicker claimed victory on the opening night of the Thaw Brawl at LaSalle Speedway.
The race was the season opener for the MARS Racing Series as Unzicker held off Brian Shirley and Tanner English in a battle through lapped traffic.
“Any time you can beat English and Shirley, that’s something that we need to be proud of because those are two top-notch teams,” Unzicker said.
Unzicker, Shirley and English were the three cars to beat all night long — top three in qualifying, three heat race winners and first three on the starting grid.
At the drop of the green, they each jumped out front and began their 30-lap throwdown on the fast quarter-mile.
English led the first two circuits from the pole before Unzicker found some great grip on the very bottom lane and beat English to the line on lap three before the caution came out.
Shortly after the ensuing restart, Shirley made the move for second around English and got a full head of steam on the top side as he charged after leader Unzicker. It wasn’t until he realized his eyes were deceiving him that Unzicker felt Shirley’s charge from behind.
“We got to playing around with the lapped traffic people, and I thought I had a decent lead, five-or-six car lengths or so,” Unzicker said. “[Turns out] I was looking at the wrong darn stick guy.”
With some big momentum from his drive out of turn two, Shirley dove deep under Unizcker into turn three and threw a big slide job to take the lead, but Unzicker was steady and crossed back underneath Shirley’s No. 3s to regain the spot at the stripe.
“I got that run in one and two, and I just went in too hard,” Shirley said. “The problem was I didn’t think [Unzicker] could see me if I would’ve went in slow and he would’ve come down, so I went in too hard and slid up.
“If I could’ve passed him, I just should’ve whoa-ed the brakes and stayed on the bottom there, but I just pushed up enough where he could run back by us.”
Unzicker kept Shirley at bay until the final laps set in. With six-to-go, Unzicker caught the tail end of the field and was forced to make some quick and risky decisions with Shirley now right on his bumper.
With cars both high and low, Unzicker chose the bottom lane in turns three and four to get by two slower cars, then pushed up to the top in turns one and two, leaving the door open for Shirley down low. However, he was unable to capitalize.
“It left a lane open because they guy had actually pushed [Unzicker] up, but I had pushed in one and two and it just left too much gap there, so I couldn’t make a move on him,” Shirley said.
Now with only a single slower car ahead, Unzicker overtook him quickly and drove away from Shirley’s grasp to the $3,000 victory – the fourth of his MARS career.
“The car was really balanced to where I could go top and bottom, really just put the car wherever I needed to. I think that’s what won me the race,” he said.
English crossed the line in third after holding off Jeremiah Hurst in fourth and Jason Feger fifth.
Feature (30 laps): 1. 24-Ryan Unzicker, 2. 3s-Brian Shirley, 3. 81E-Tanner English, 4. 41-Jeremiah Hurst, 5. 25-Jason Feger, 6. 91-Rusty Schlenk, 7. 59-Garrett Alberson, 8. 89-Mike Spatola, 9. 4-Travis Stemler, 10. 2-Mike Chasteen Jr, 11. 15-Kolby Vandenbergh, 12. 4G-Bob Gardner, 13. M27-Mike Provenzano, 14. 44-Collin Shipley, 15. 3-Dale Markham, 16. 73-Ryan Weistart, 17. 76-Titus Sneed, 18. 9-Jeff Ridell, 19. 21B-Rich Bell, 20. B14-Victor Benedetto, 21. 79w-Greg Wagner, DNS-28m Jake Miller