Devin Shiels isn’t a name you may recognize on a national level. However, it’s a different story throughout Northwest Ohio and Southeastern Michigan. The reserved and mild-mannered driver has been tearing up the track for over two decades. He’s won A-mains and track championships along the way.
Hailing from the wolverine state, or “the state up north” as Ohioans call it, you can find the Britton, Michigan-driver, and father Dennis, tending to their car wash and mini storage businesses during the week. Come Friday afternoons, their weekend racing journey to Ohio begins. The normal routine is to make the two-hour trip to Attica Raceway Park, followed up by a Saturday visit to Wauseon, Ohio’s Oakshade Raceway.
2019 marked the 39-year-old driver’s third-consecutive Oakshade Raceway track championship. Before his hot streak started in 2017, he had finished Second in Oakshade points, losing the 2016 title by only about three feet. You can also throw in a 2017 Attica Raceway Park title along with a 2019 runner up in Attica points to help fill out his resume. Shiels was also in the hunt for the 2018 Attica track title going into the final night. A broken valve spring during hot laps ended his hopes for a title.
Having found success on the race track, he started his early racing career as a spectator. He may have ended up being a dirt track regular, but his first racing influences came from the pavement world.
“My family owned a Big Boy restaurant in Flat Rock, Michigan, so we always went there,” Shiels reminisced. “We sponsored races and did other stuff there, so I grew up watching figure 8’s because that’s why you went to Flat Rock. I was probably 6 or 7 then, so that was our weekend, going to Flat Rock Speedway.”
The Gospel Of Dirt
Pavement racing was a childhood attraction for the Shiels, but eventually, the gospel of dirt track racing was introduced to them through their car wash business when they hired a glass installer, who also happened to be a Dirt Late Model driver.
“We have always been from the Britton/Adrian area,” said Shiels. “We hired a guy named Brian Koebbe to put the windows in our car wash. Like any racer, he asked if we would want to sponsor him for some tires or something. So we said, ‘alright we could do a set of tires,’ so we would go down to Oakshade to watch him race. Then every Saturday from there on out, it was me, my cousin, and my dad going down to watch the races at Oakshade.”
While the Michigan driver spent most of his early-high-school years playing other sports, his summers were spent heading to the racetrack. After making the hour drive to Oakshade weekly, Shiels’s dad, Dennis, was the one who got more and more excited to see what his son could do behind the wheel. Devin admits it was the elder Shiels who kick-started him and his older brother to jump behind the wheel of an entry-level stock car, using his “spoke into existence” tactic that his dad often uses.
“My dad said ‘we need to own a bomber, just to race, to have fun’,” quipped Shiels. “He always seems to do that kind of stuff. Just like, now we own a plane, and none of us like to fly. My nephew wanted to get a pilot’s license, so dad figured it would be cheaper to buy the plane for a short time than rent one for lessons. So next thing you know, we own a plane.”
Devin and his dad were able to get a deal done buying an entry-level stock car for the ‘bomber’ class at Oakshade. This put the Michigan driver behind the wheel for the first time in high school. The only caveat was there would be shared responsibilities between Devin and his older brother Darren. The two brothers would take turns behind the wheel of one car. Eventually, it progressed into owning a late model and Darren cutting his driving career short ultimately.
“We started in ‘98, when I was a senior in high school. My brother and I just started taking turns racing a bomber. He would get three tries at it, then I would get three tries. Eventually, that led to two bombers because he wrecked one. Then it kept going more and more from there. My brother got married and quit racing. So, in 2000, we got a Sportsman, and I was the only driver from then on. We almost won some championships in the Sportsman class; then we decided to move up. In 2004, we went late model racing and won rookie of the year at Oakshade.”
Joining the late model ranks would also prove to be a learning curve. Shiels gained experience by branching out to new tracks but was still falling short of his expectations. After running a couple of different types of chassis, the family team finally found its home. Shiels teamed up with Rocket Chassis in 2010, yielding his first career late model win in the same year.
Fast-forwarding to the present day, the popular XR1 mount seems to have helped the Shiels Racing team raise their game.
“We stepped up our game a little bit,” said Shiels. “I think the reason we’ve been more successful in recent years, rather than in the first few seasons in late models, is we switched to Rocket Chassis. We learned a lot of little things I was doing wrong in the car. I started to learn the car needs to be balanced to be consistent.”
Getting Dialed In
Shiels adds fellow competitor and Rocket Chassis dealer, Brian Ruhlman, was also a tremendous help getting the new chassis dialed-in. Even with the success of the last few seasons, he isn’t letting off the gas any time soon. The Michigan driver is still searching for more trophies going forward.
“Rocket Chassis does a great job of simplifying how to set up your chassis and get fast right out of the box,” said Shiels, who has spent nearly a decade using the West Virginia chassis manufacturer.
“Brian Ruhlman has been helping us with setups for the past ten years or so. He has pushed me to learn more about what the car needs at the racetrack as the night progresses. The last four years have been a lot of fun. We have been very consistent wherever we have raced. But, I’m still not at the level I want to be. We haven’t had the number of wins I feel we should have. I need to find a good balance of when to be conservative and when to be aggressive. But it’s just my dad and me who work on the race cars during the week. I hate doing bodywork,” joked Shiels
Going into 2020, it will be status quo for the small Michigan-based race team. You will find Devin and his dad at their usual spots racing for track titles and A-main wins. They will also venture for some home-state races when the schedule allows.
“Plans for 2020 are going to work on getting two more track championships if all goes well,” Shiels said. “We plan on running Attica and Oakshade again, as well as running a few shows at Tri-City Motor Speedway on Friday nights when Attica isn’t running. We’re lucky to have great sponsors who make this possible. Without Rally’s Hamburgers of Adrian, Ruhlman Racecars, Wallace Racing Products, Performance Machining, Magic Fountain Auto Wash, and Magic Fountain Mini Storage, we wouldn’t be able to compete as we do.”
Beyond 2020, you may see the Shiels Racing number 51 branch out a little more. Don’t be surprised if you start to see another Shiels family member behind the wheel in the years to come.
“We’ll probably look to pick and choose different races around our area,” the Michigan driver added. “Maybe Summer Nationals races and stuff like that. It’s tough with work and family events. I have two kids in high school, so that will take up a lot of time in the next couple of years. As my son Brayden is getting older, I see him taking more of an interest in racing. I see him getting more involved as he’s getting ready to start high school next year. I know he’s already checked to see if he can fit in my seat a time or two. But, I don’t want him to get started until he’s done with school. I want him to enjoy his high-school years and not worry about working on race cars.”
As we near the beginning of the season, Shiels won’t only be looking to take on two track-title hunts, he will also be turning 40 in early May. You can bet Shiels won’t be having a party to celebrate “going over the hill” but would rather celebrate being “king of the hill” at season’s end. You may not find Shiels taking on a national tour any time soon, but if all goes well, you will see him up front at a track in the Great Lakes region.