Auburn, MI - Officials at Tri City Motor Speedway in Auburn, Michigan opened the gates on the 2023 season Friday night featuring a special $1,000 to win Pro Stock feature, plus a $1,000 to win Fast Shafts Qualifier race for the IMCA Modifieds, plus the regularly scheduled program for the DIRTcar Racing UMP Late Models. An impressive track surface awaited drivers as they hit the race track for the first laps with qualifying.
Finley, the track record holder at Tri City, came close to knocking it down again in qualifying, however, the St. John's Michigan native couldn't quite find the speed he needed in his No.42 machine. Curtis Roberts set fast time in group one with an 11.742 second lap time, just a few hundredths of a second off the track record.
After the field was set for the 30 lap main event, David Hilliker and Eric Spangler led the field to the green flag. Hilliker, who looked sporty early, fell pitside after a failed tire on his iconic No.21D. That handed things over to Spangler who led the first few rotations before the Lake City, Michigan driver found himself in heavy lapped traffic. This allowed Finley to close the gap on Spangler, who ran the top, while Finley rolled the bottom.
In traffic, Finley sliced his way around Spangler, looking to be opening up a decent lead on his way to the win; that was until Brandon Thirlby used similar moves as Finley to claw through lapped traffic, get around Spangler and lock his sights on Finley.
Thirlby quickly reeled in Finley who began struggling on the bottom after holes developed in both sets of turns on the race track. One lap, Finley would hit the mark perfect, the next, the speedway would turn Finley car straight to the outside wall. At one point, that bobble was exactly what Brandon Thirlby needed to get a nose to Finley's inside. Going into turn three, Thirlby went for the inside like, while Finley worked to also run as low as he could to stay in the moisture. The pair made contact in turn three as Thirlby took the race lead.
Then, one rotation later, the tables were turned, as Finley got a run to Thirlby's inside off turn two, sent his car to the inside of turn three, made contact with Thirlby and retook the lead. As the pair hit, the contact forced Thirlby's No.69 machine up the race track and the veteran driver nearly spun at the exit of four when he got back to the throttle. Instead, Thirlby launched over the infield tractor tire, kept his foot in it, and worked to track back down Finley.
Thirlby's efforts came up short, as Finley collected the win. Despite the detour through the infield, Thirlby finished second ahead of Derrick Hillicker, Curtis Roberts, and Spangler who rounded out the top five.
After the checkers, Thirlby drove up to Finley to show his displeasure with the on-track activities. Aside from further crinkled sheet metal, the issue seemed mostly resolved as the cars left the track.
The IMCA Modified race, while highly entertaining, didn't bring quite the same drama. Collin Thirlby, who started inside of row number two, had his No.47 Diamond Chassis on a rail nearly all night long. His biggest challenge came during a late race caution when West Branch, Michigan's Brian Brindley found a line that worked well for his No.3B.
Brindley, who had been searching the Speedway all evening long for the best route forward, found a line on the bottom of the race track to take a run at Thirlby who had found his home on the cushion. Finally, with less than 10 to go, Brindley had pulled alongside Thirlby at the exit of turn four. This forced the Traverse City native to move off the cushion and start defending the slider line.
The move worked as Thirlby lead virtually from start to finish, Brindley settled for second, Kendall Morrison finished third, Chad Bennet fourth, and Myron DeYoung rounded out the top five.
DIRTcar UMP Late Models:
Story - Zach Hiser
Photo - Randy Ellen