QUINCY -- If Brian Shirley goes on to win the UMP Summer Nationals Hell Tour title, he might look back at Sunday night's victory at Quincy Raceways as the turning point.
And if a larger late model schedule comes to fruition in 2019 at the track, local race fans might just point to Sunday night, too.
Shirley took a major step toward his second Hell Tour championship when he led the final 19 laps of the 40-lap main event. That victory, coupled with some late-race mechanical issues for chief title challenger Shannon Babb, provides Shirley with a semi-comfortable 51-point advantage atop the demanding, month-long schedule that covers seven states and winds up Saturday in Wauseon, Ohio.
The largest crowd in at least two years -- an estimated 2,900 fans -- watched the proceedings at 8000 Broadway. It was the first time the super late models raced in Quincy since late August 2018.
"We may be looking into some more late specials for next season," said track owner Jason Goble, who shortly after taking over the site last year in August canceled both the super open and crate model divisions because of dwindling car counts and higher purses that normally accompany those classes.
Goble addressed the large crowd at intermission Sunday night, thanking them for their support, and hinted there Quincy Raceways might again be at least a part-time home to the super open late models.
"We'll have to see how it goes," he said.
On the track, the evening belonged to Shirley, who steadily worked his way through the upper portion of a 22-car feature lineup, passing Frank Heckenast Jr. just past the halfway mark. Shirley was never seriously challenged for the lead afterward, navigating a rough track while repeatedly turning back Babb and a handful of other challengers.
"We're just trying to keep it together. We're giving it all we've got right now," said Shirley, a native of Chatham, Ill., who won his 18th career Hell Tour event and his first in Quincy since 2012.
Shirley can finally see the light at the end of the proverbial rainbow. The grind of 24 races in 31 days, which includes six rainouts, has been demanding.
"It's been tough, and Mother Nature has made it rough," Shirley said.
Finishing behind Shirley were Steven Roberts of Sylvester, Ga., Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, and Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill.
Babb, a three-time winner Hell Tour winner in Quincy and four-time tour champion, limped home in seventh.
Shirley earned $5,000 for his first-place finish. He had earlier tour wins at Illinois stops in LaSalle and Brownstown.
The top local finisher was Quincy's Mark Burgtorf, who was 17th after dropping out with mechanical issues on lap 12. The 17th-place showing was the lowest for a local driver since the Hell Tour started coming to Quincy in 2006.
In one of the two support series, Mike Harrison of Highland, Ill., got past two-time defending Quincy Raceways modified champion Dave Wietholder in the closing laps of a 25-lap main event. Wietholder wound up eighth after a lap 22 crash that punctuated what was a slam-bang feature.
"It was tough, (but) this is fun to do," Harrison said. "I knew when I wanted to make my move."
Harrison used a slide job on Wietholder to take the lead on lap 21, which allowed him to escape some of the late-race carnage behind him. Michael Long, a two-time champ at Quincy, also was caught up in the late-race melee that damaged Wietholder. He was running fourth at the time.
Harrison pocketed $1,000 for his victory.
Rick Stevenson of O'Fallon, Mo., was runner-up and Mike McKinney of Plainfield, Ill., wound up third.
Track regular Daniel Fellows of Keokuk, Iowa, won his first sport mod feature and the $2,000 payday that went with it. Nathan Bringer was second and Austen Becerra third in the 30-lap finale.