Cullen becomes owner of national touring team
By Bert Lehman
Call it fate, call it being lucky, or call it just being in the right place at the right time, but Brian Shirley of Chatham, Illinois his happy to be racing this year. And he owes that to Bob Cullen, dirt Late Model pilot from eastern Wisconsin.
After close to 15 years of racing a dirt Late Model, Shirley had plans to hang up his helmet after the 2015 season. It wasn’t because he wanted to, rather it was the right thing to do.
“My wife is really sick, and as much as it takes to race financially, to have that much equipment and equity invested in all this stuff,” Shirley said. “I did sell everything that I had to get out of racing. Not that I wanted to get out of racing completely but you have to take care of your family first.”
Over the course of an almost 15 year career racing a dirt Late Model around the Midwest, Shirley had become one of the top regional racers.
Ready to walk away from the sport and career that he loves, Shirley’s driving career received a reprieve from Cullen.
Wisconsin driver Dan Schlieper was supposed to drive one of Cullen’s Late Models at the USA National at Cedar Lake Speedway last season. When Schlieper was unable to do that, Cullen asked Shirley to drive the car.
“I went up there and drove for him (Cullen) that weekend. To make a long story short we kind of stayed in contact and talked a little bit,” Shirley said. “He helped me out a little with my own deal at the end of last year. It was a deal where I would maybe call it the end of the road and Bob decided he wanted to make something happen so we got something going fulltime this year.”
Cullen joked that he wasn’t quite sure how the deal came to be.
“I went to Eldora [Speedway] with him (Shirley) last year and we talked through the winter and thought we’d put a team together,” Cullen said. “We didn’t think it would be to this extent but over the year it just evolved. We went to Florida [in February], did well and thought we’d stick with it after Florida.”
Speedweeks in Georgia and Florida in February saw Shirley finish in the top 10 six times out of 14 shows. He followed that up with three victories through mid-April, finishing outside the top 10 only twice.
“Everyone says how great of a year we’re having but we’ve had our ups and downs,” Cullen said. “It’s still regular racing. Just like local racing, these guys have their ups and downs. We’ve had a few bad weeks so hopefully we’ll rebound.”
Cullen said it had been a goal of his to own a traveling dirt Late Model race team, but it happened about three years earlier than he expected.
“The circumstances were right,” he said. “Brian is a really good guy to be around and have as a driver. So things happened a littler earlier than expected for a good reason.”
The team is following the World of Outlaws Dirt Late Model Series this season, as well as traveling to other select shows. As of mid-May, the team sat in fourth place in the standings.
Cullen said he travels with the team to around 90 percent of the races it competes in.
“It’s a lot of flying on Friday morning and getting home on Sunday morning,” Cullen said.
Shirley is appreciative for the opportunity to continue racing.
“It’s one of those deals where you go from having a tough time in life, that when there is a down, there is always an up,” Shirley said. “For me, he (Cullen) was the up. I am looking forward to taking on this year’s challenges of having good equipment and looking to run good.”
When asked what kind of car owner Cullen is, Shirley responded, “He’s probably one of the best you could ever want. Coming from being a driver and understanding all aspects of what it takes to win, what you need to win. We have the best of everything. He just knows what it’s like and understands the pressure of everything to make me comfortable and giving me every aspect of all the tools I need to win races.”
Shirley added, “It takes more than just one person. It takes one person who wants to be involved and then we have to bring it all together as on puzzle. That’s what Bob did a good job of doing, putting the right crew and all the puzzle pieces together.”
(This article appeared in the July 2016 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)