North Carolina-based G.R. Smith Racing will make a run at the 2018 World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Late Model Series championship with Illinois hot-shoe, Brian Shirley behind the wheel of the team’s familiar #22 entry.
“I’m really excited to be teaming up with Brian (Shirley) for 2018,” G.R. Smith said on Wednesday evening. “We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the past year or so. He and I have a lot in common on-and-off the track, so it’s a natural fit to have him drive our team’s car on a national tour.”
Shirley made his debut in G.R. Smith’s Team 22 Inc. Super Late Model during November’s Textron Off-Road World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte. Shirley surged to a Top-10 finish in the opening night feature before mechanical woes sidelined the team early on the second night.
Smith was immediately impressed from what he saw out of Shirley.
“Clearly, Brian is a guy who has won a lot of races, and he’s a championship-caliber guy, but it absolutely opened my eyes to see how well he performed in my car – even though he had never even sat in it before,” Smith commented. “He and I had talked a few different times previously about one day teaming up and doing something. Seeing him in the car and with the way he and I were on the same page right off the bat, made me realize that we could accomplish a lot together.”
For Shirley, the opportunity to drive for Smith gives him a very unique situation.
“Over the past few years I’ve been very lucky to have Bob (Cullen) owning my team,” Shirley noted. “Bob has gone out of his way to give me all of the things that I need, and there’s no way I could ever thank him enough. However, there’s times that I still find myself having to spend a lot of time to get the car ready or do the bookkeeping at the shop or just every little odd and end that needs to be done. Sometimes this makes it hard to focus on my job of driving the car.
“With this deal with G.R. my only job is to show up and race. I can put 110% of my energy and focus into what I’m doing in the driver’s seat, and that’s a huge deal for me. That’s the type of situation that you have to be in these days if you are going to compete and win at the top level.”
Shirley will pursue the full WoO tour in Smith’s Team 22 Inc. #22 Victory Circle Auto Sales/ XR1 Rocket Chassis/ Cornett Racing Engine Super Late Model. In addition, the team will enter various crown jewels together. The team plans to enter 70-75 races in 2018.
Shirley will also continue to drive for Wisconsin’s Bob Cullen Racing in approximately 25-30 events.
“This is an incredible opportunity for me because I will be driving for G.R. on the Outlaws tour and in the crown jewels, and then any other time I want to race I’ll be in my #3s ride with Bob Cullen Racing,” the 36-year-old Shirley explained. “This will allow us to keep both teams fresh. It’s so easy to race your equipment and your crew to the ragged edge these days, so we’ll split some of the time between the two rides.
“I’m looking forward to running some of the Speedweeks stuff in my own car as well as some of the local stuff around the house, when my schedule allows. The cool thing is that we have two different teams with pretty much two different sets of equipment and two different sets of sponsors. This is going to be a great situation for a lot of folks, and I’m really pumped about it.”
Cullen will also be an associate sponsor on the Team 22 Inc. entry.
The team has already hired full-time crew help, which will include Christopher Jayco – who makes the move over from Tyler Erb Racing – as well as Shirley’s long-time crewman Randall Gregory.
Brian Shirley will be making his 2018 debut with G.R. Smith Racing on February 2-3 in a pair of Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series (LOLMDS) events at Georgia’s Golden Isles Speedway. From there, Shirley will compete in events at North Florida Speedway (Lake City, Florida) and East Bay Raceway Park (Gibsonton, Florida) in the Bob Cullen Racing #3s.
The team’s pursuit of the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series championship will begin on February 9-10 at Screven Motor Speedway (Sylvania, Georgia).
G.R. Smith will also contest a limited schedule behind the wheel of a Team 22 Inc. entry on off-weekends from the WoO tour.
“I want to make sure our guys and our equipment stay fresh, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I still want to race some too,” Smith laughed. “Chasing the WoO tour with Brian is our primary focus, but I’m going to work in some race nights for me as well. With as busy as my business stays I can’t race all the time, so this is a really nice compromise for me.”
For Shirley, he knows that all the pieces are in place to hit the ground running and make a legitimate run at the WoO title.
“The equipment is there, the knowledge is there, the crew is there, and the bottom line is that all of the pieces are in place,” the 2012 UMP DIRTcar National Champion stated. “I don’t see a reason that we can’t win right out of the box. My goal is to win races and leave Speedweeks as the WoO point leader. We are looking to hit it hard right off the bat, and never look back”
G.R. Smith and Brian Shirley will be available for media interviews at the Bear Pit Carts booth (booth #7124) at the Performance Racing Industry tradeshow – located at the Indiana Convention Center – on Thursday, December 7 at 10:00 a.m.