WAUSEON, Ohio (July 14) — Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., already had his third consecutive UMP DIRTcar Summernationals championship clinched before taking the green flag in Friday night’s 40-lap feature at Oakshade Raceway. He celebrated by adding another victory to his ledger.
Surging past race-long pacesetter Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, in lapped traffic on lap 32, Pierce assumed command and turned back a furious comeback bid from Schlenk over the final circuits to kick off the 3/8-mile oval’s Birthday Race weekend with a $5,000 score.
The 20-year-old sensation registered his fifth Hell Tour triumph of 2017 — tying him with Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., for winningest-driver status — and his first-ever victory at the down-home track located about a half-hour’s drive west of Toledo.
“This is one of my favorite wins just because it’s so hard to win here,” said Pierce, who tallied his 23rd career Summernationals checkered flag. “And Schlenk, he’s so good here Schlenk, he’s so good here … to beat guys like that at a place you know they’re good at, that says a lot about your team.”
Schlenk, who turns 31 on July 20, settled for a runner-up finish, 0.509 of a second behind Pierce. The race’s polesitter had kept his self-owned Rayburn No. 91 at the front of the pack until a miscue while negotiating slower traffic through turns three and four on lap 32 opened the door for Pierce, who started fourth, to vault ahead for good.
Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., hustled forward from the seventh starting spot to place third in his Pierce Race Car. Outside polesitter Cody Mahoney of Hanover, Ind., finished fourth in the Bowman Motorsports Black Diamond and third-starter Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio, who won Oakshade’s Birthday Race finale last year, completed the top five in his Club 29 mount.
Pierce had a simple synopsis of his winning move: “I was in the right spot at the right time.”
Indeed, Pierce, who reached second place with a lap-21 pass of Unzicker and caught Schlenk about 10 circuits later, was perfectly positioned to take advantage of Schlenk’s slip on lap 32. When Schlenk made contact with the lapped Gordy Gundaker of St. Charles, Mo., between turns three and four, he slipped out of the prime lower groove and could only watch Pierce grab the top spot.
“Rusty was having trouble with lapped traffic,” Pierce related. “It’s really hard sometimes for the leader — do I go to the outside of him, or do I dive to the inside? When it started rubbering up a little bit, I’m sure it got hard for him to know where to go. Then he dove down in there and he got into Gordy a little bit … I think he just overshot it a little bit. It doesn’t take much. When he hit him, I think he let off the gas because Gordy almost was spinning, they both kind of shoved up, and at that time I was right there and just shot right by them.
“After that I was just trying to hang onto the lead. Luckily, we held on, but (Schlenk) was right there on my bumper the whole time.”
Schlenk was able to get completely underneath Pierce off turn two on lap 37, but he couldn’t complete the pass.
“He almost got me back,” Pierce said of Schlenk. “I was trying to get around (Bob) Gardner there (to lap the East Peoria, Ill., driver in the closing laps), and, every single time in (turns) one and two, when you’d hit it wrong it would be like you were on ice coming off of two. I realized I had to get lower and lower and lower … I thought I was low enough, but obviously I wasn’t because (Schlenk) peaked his nose in there, but he gave me enough room to get back down to the bottom in front of him (entering turn three).”
With the Summernationals crown in his back pocket before the start of Thursday night’s series event at Merritt Speedway in Lake City, Mich., Pierce was a driver totally at ease while celebrating his triumph.
“It’s really nice,” Pierce said when asked about his early clinching of the title. “My first time I won the Summernationals (in 2015) it came down to the final night (at Oakshade) with me and Little Billy (Moyer Jr.). I think I was running like eighth in the feature while he was leading it and at that time I would’ve lost the points, but I got up to fifth or fourth in that race and won by only 10 points. It was a really close battle, but this year, we don’t have to worry about points. We can kind of just relax this whole weekend and go for the win.”
Schlenk, meanwhile, thought he was destined to secure his first Summernationals victory since the 2010 Birthday Race at Oakshade until he made a critical mistake on lap 32.
“Driver error,” said Schlenk, a six-time Oakshade points champion. “I missed my entry into three. My entry into three was four, five car lengths better than everybody’s, and when I got to lapped traffic I had to try and figure out how to get through there. Well, I set the car down too early trying to keep from getting into the back of the 11 car (Gundaker) and I just got tight and pushed up out of the rubber. Once I pushed up out of the rubber I left Bobby the whole bottom, so I was a sitting duck until I could get back down in it.
“I think we were still better than (Pierce) at the end … we were better in the slick. It wasn’t quite rubbered up down in one and two, so I could roll through there a little bit better than him. The whole bottom half of the racetrack was slick, and all of one and two was slick because those crumbs kind of kept it clean.
“About three to go there I was about half a car ahead of him,” he added. “But he caught that rubber out by the wall (on the backstretch) and put two, three car lengths on me. That was about it. I didn’t want to get in there and door him. He never runs me like that, so I wasn’t gonna do that to him.”
The race’s lone caution flag flew on lap 18 when Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., spun in turn two right in front of the leaders. Schlenk had Unzicker in position to challenge when the incident occurred.
Preliminary notes and results:
Six-time Oakshade champion Rusty Schlenk drew the pole position for the 40-lap feature. He has one Summernationals victory at his home track, in 2010 — the last of his two career Hell Tour triumphs. … Bobby Pierce will go for a sweep of the evening’s program from the fourth starting spot. He’s gunning for his first-ever Summernationals win at Oakshade. … Mathew Chapman was scheduled to start fifth in the feature, but he will instead take the green flag from the rear because mechanical trouble forced him to pull out a backup car. … Provisionals starters are Gordy Gundaker and Brent Larson (Summernationals), Michael Kloos (UMP national points) and Dusty Moore (track).
Row 1: Rusty Schlenk, Cody Mahoney
Row 2: Jon Henry, Bobby Pierce
Row 3: Mathew Chapman, Brandon Thirlby
Row 4: Ryan Unzicker, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 5: Kent Robinson, Curtis Deisenroth
Row 6: Brad Eitniear, Brian Ruhlman
Row 7: Curtis Roberts, Travis Stemler
Row 8: Jeff Babcock, Steve Kester
Row 9: Mike Bores, Jason Feger
Row 10: Devin Shiels, Bob Gardner
Row 11: Gordy Gundaker, Michael Kloos
Row 12: Dusty Moore, Brent Larson
Finish (12 laps; top 2 transfer): Devin Shiels, Bob Gardner, Adam Bowman, Casey Noonan, Brent Larson, Dustin Nobbe, Ky Harper, Bob Mayer, Gordy Gundaker, Graeme Short, Matt Shipley, Ryan Missler, Paul Stubber, Ken Hahn, Andrew Reaume, Daniel Wallace.
(12 laps; top 2 transfer)
Row 1: Devin Shiels, Casey Noonan
Row 2: Bob Gardner, Adam Bowman
Row 3: Gordy Gundaker, Brent Larson
Row 4: Daniel Wallace, Dustin Nobbe
Row 5: Ky Harper, Bob Mayer
Row 6: Paul Stubber, Matt Shipley
Row 7: Andrew Reaume, Graeme Short
Row 8: Ryan Missler, Ken Hahn
First C-main finish (10 laps; top 2 transfer to B-main): Andrew Reaume, Ryan Missler, Michael Kloos, Brett Miller, Jake Rendel, Drew Smith, Rob Anderzack, Matt Lindsey, Rody Schroyer, Scott Moyer, Scott Robertson, Jeff Robertson, Ron Miller.
Second C-main finish (10 laps; top 2 transfer to B-main): Graeme Short, Ken Hahn, Dusty Moore, Wayne Chinn, Chris Sands, Steve Miller, Brad Wade, Doug Baird, Hillard Miller, JR Gooden, Gregg Haskell, Brian O’Brien, Dan Shaffer.
(10 laps; top 2 transfer to B-main)
Row 1: Drew Smith, Andrew Reaume
Row 2: Brett Miller, Ryan Missler
Row 3: Michael Kloos, Rody Schroyer
Row 4: Rob Anderzack, Matt Lindsey
Row 5: Scott Robertson, Jake Rendel
Row 6: Ron Miller, Dan Gehring
Row 7: Scott Moyer, Jeff Robertson
Row 8: Cody Houston
Row 1: Ken Hahn, Graeme Short
Row 2: Chris Sands, Dusty Moore
Row 3: Doug Baird, Steve Miller
Row 4: Brad Wade, Gregg Haskell
Row 5: Hillard Miller, JR Gooden
Row 6: Wayne Chinn, Dan Shaffer
Row 7: Brian O’Brien, Cody Laney
After swapping the lead on each of the race’s first three laps, Brandon Thirlby surged ahead of Brian Ruhlman on the fourth circuit and pulled away to a convincing victory. Ruhlman finished 1.729 seconds behind in the runner-up spot and Jason Feger claimed the final transfer position.
Finish: Brandon Thirlby, Brian Ruhlman, Jason Feger, Brent Larson, Matt Shipley, Chris Sands, Steve Miller, Hillard Miller, Dan Shaffer.
Mathew Chapman ran away with the prelim, leading from wire-to-wire to defeat Curtis Deisenroth by a commanding margin of 3.093 seconds. Deisenroth’s teammate, Steve Kester, finished third.
A caution flag flew on the opening lap for a tangle in turns one and two involving Graeme Short and Bob Mayer.
Finish: Mathew Chapman, Curtis Deisenroth, Steve Kester, Adam Bowman, Bob Mayer, Graeme Short, Doug Baird, Gregg Haskell (DNS) Cody Laney, Wayne Chinn.
Rusty Schlenk led all the way, surviving a last-lap restart to defeat Billy Moyer Jr. by 0.707 of a second. Travis Stemler was close behind Moyer in third at the finish. JR Gooden brought out the race’s lone caution flag when he stopped in turn two on lap nine.
Finish: Rusty Schlenk, Billy Moyer Jr., Travis Stemler, Casey Noonan, Dustin Nobbe, Ken Hahn, Dusty Moore, Brad Wade, JR Gooden, Brian O’Brien.
Jon Henry outdueld Brad Eitniear for the lead at the start and never looked back en route to capturing the prelim by 0.920 of a second over Eitniear. The race was slowed by a caution flag on the opening lap for Dan Gehring’s spin off turn two and another on lap seven when Gehring and Cody Houston spun between turns one and two.
Finish: Jon Henry, Brad Eitniear, Mike Bores, Gordy Gundaker, Paul Stubber, Brett Miller, Rody Schroyer, Scott Robertson, Dan Gehring, Cody Houston.
Cody Mahoney cruised to a flag-to-flag triumph, maintaining a steady edge over Kent Robinson throughout the distance. Jeff Babcock passed Bob Gardner for third midway through the race and finished in the final transfer spot.
Finish: Cody Mahoney, Kent Robinson, Jeff Babcock, Bob Gardner, Ky Harper, Andrew Reaume, Michael Kloos, Matt Lindsey, Ron Miller, Jeff Robertson.
Bobby Pierce dominated the event, leading the entire distance without facing a serious challenge. He beat Ryan Unzicker to the finish line by 1.483 seconds and Curtis Roberts was another second behind in the third at the checkered flag. A caution flag flew on lap four when Ryan Missler spun in turn three while battling for second with Rob Anderzack and Ryan Unzicker; officials sent Anderzack to the rear of the field with Missler for initiating the contact.
Finish: Bobby Pierce, Ryan Unzicker, Curtis Roberts, Devin Shiels, Daniel Wallace, Drew Smith, Ryan Missler, Rob Anderzack, Jake Rendel, Scott Moyer.
Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., was the overall fastest qualifier among 59 entrants, turning a lap of 15.702 seconds in the first group. He will start from the pole position in the first of six 10-lap heat races.
Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, was quickest in the second group, clicking off a circuit of 15.755 seconds to grab the pole for the fourth heat.
Other heat polesitters are Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., Brad Eitniear of Wauseon, Ohio, Curtis Deisenroth of Oak Harbor, Ohio, and Brian Ruhlman of Clarklake, Mich.
The significance of the Birthday Race weekend at Oakshade Raceway for the local racing community is abundantly clear from the car count for Friday night’s opener. A huge field of 59 Dirt Late Models is signed in for action — easily the largest of the 2017 UMP DIRTcar Summernationals. … Oakshade was deluged by heavy rain in recent days — leaving big collections of water in the infield — but Friday has brought beautiful weather. Sun has been peeking out of puffy clouds all day and the high temperature has reached about 80. … There will be no Hell Tour championship drama this weekend as Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., has already clinched his third consecutive title. The battle for the $2,000 Champions Week crown sponsored by FK Rod Ends, however, will be decided at Oakshade; Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville, Ark., leads the standings on the strength of his back-to-back wins in Michigan. … Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio, is back hoping to repeat his memorable victory in last year’s Birthday Race finale. He’s only made about a half-dozen starts this year with his Club 29 Race Car — the same machine he drove to a $10,000 triumph last year at Oakshade — but he wouldn’t miss this show. “This is one of my favorite races of the year,” Henry said. … Cody Mahoney of Hanover, Ind., is entered in the Bowman Motorsports mount after experiencing a frustrating fate in Thursday night’s Summernationals feature at Merritt Speedway in Lake City, Mich. After a mid-race caution period, he went from challenging Moyer Jr. for the lead to fading to a seventh-place finish because his LM30-compound right-rear tire sealed over. … Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, is driving his own No. 91 Rayburn car in the weekend’s doubleheader. … Dustin Nobbe of Batesville, Ind., will close out his first complete tour of duty on the Summernationals with his first-ever start at Oakshade. The 21-year-old has visited the track before, however — two years ago when he attended the Birthday Race as a crewman for fellow Hoosier State driver Scott James. … Nobbe is one of seven drivers on the verge of attaining perfect attendance on the ’17 Summernationals, joining Pierce, Moyer Jr., Gordy Gundaker of St. Charles, Mo., Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., Bob Gardner of East Peoria, Ill., and Australia’s Paul Stubber.
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals begins into its last weekend of points racing with a two-day program at Oakshade Raceway, a series stalwart that will host a pair of complete Hell Tour events for the second straight year. Friday night’s $5,000-to-win show leads into Saturday evening’s traditional 60-lap Birthday Race that boasts a $10,000 top prize.
The Summernationals has visited Oakshade every year since 2000. Only once, in 2002, was the event not the finale of the Hell Tour.
Thirteen drivers have won Summernationals features at Oakshade. Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., and Matt Miller of Whitehouse, Ohio, lead the way with three victories apiece. Other former Hell Tour victors include Billy Moyer (two), Kevin Weaver, Don O’Neal, Brian Shirley, Jeep VanWormer, Tim McCreadie, Rusty Schlenk, Ryan Unzicker, Billy Moyer Jr., Jason Feger (last year’s Friday winner) and Jon Henry (last year’s Saturday winner).
Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and racing is set to get the green flag at 7:30 p.m.
(10 laps; top 3 transfer)
Row 1: Bobby Pierce, Ryan Missler
Row 2: Ryan Unzicker, Curtis Roberts
Row 3: Daniel Wallace, Rob Anderzack
Row 4: Devin Shiels, Drew Smith
Row 5: Jake Rendel, Scott Moyer
Row 1: Kent Robinson, Cody Mahoney
Row 2: Bob Gardner, Michael Kloos
Row 3: Jeff Babcock, Matt Lindsey
Row 4: Ky Harper, Andrew Reaume
Row 5: Ron Miller, Jeff Robertson
Row 1: Brad Eitniear, Jon Henry
Row 2: Mike Bores, Gordy Gundaker
Row 3: Cody Houston, Rody Schroyer
Row 4: Paul Stubber, Brett Miller
Row 5: Dan Gehring, Scott Robertson
Row 1: Rusty Schlenk, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 2: Casey Noonan, Dustin Nobbe
Row 3: Travis Stemler, Dusty Moore
Row 4: Ken Hahn, Brad Wade
Row 5: JR Gooden, Brian O’Brien
Row 1: Curtis Deisenroth, Mathew Chapman
Row 2: Steve Kester, Adam Bowman
Row 3: Wayne Chinn, Bob Mayer
Row 4: Gregg Haskell, Graeme Short
Row 5: Doug Baird, Cody Laney
Row 1: Brian Ruhlman, Brandon Thirlby
Row 2: Jason Feger, Brent Larson
Row 3: Matt Shipley, Hillard Miller
Row 4: Chris Sands, Steve Miller
Row 5: Dan Shaffer
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.702
Kent Robinson (7R), Bloomington, Ind., 15.817
Brad Eitniear (B4U), Wauseon, Ohio, 15.964
Ryan Missler (50Y), Bellevue, Ohio, 16.026
Cody Mahoney (4), Hanover, Ind., 16.054
Jon Henry (15H), Ada, Ohio, 16.058
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 16.065
Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., 16.083
Mike Bores (15B), Bellevue, Ohio, 16.144
Curtis Roberts (9R), Coleman, Mich., 16.146
Michael Kloos (6k), Trenton, Ill., 16.160
Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 16.188
Daniel Wallace (x3), Toledo, Ohio, 16.192
Jeff Babcock (7B), Wayne, Ohio, 16.212
Cody Houston (7H), Bryan, Ohio, 16.258
Rob Anderzack (8), Metamora, Ohio, 16.264
Matt Lindsey (49L), Adrian, Mich., 16.284
Rody Schroyer (66s), Ottawa, Mich., 16.286
Devin Shiels (51), Britton, Mich., 16.294
Ky Harper (34), Delta, Ohio, 16.315
Paul Stubber (31AUS), Bunbury, WS, 16.328
Drew Smith (71JS), Sylvania, Ohio, 16.345
Andrew Reaume (88), Blenheim, Ont., 16.410
Brett Miller (97), Greenville, Tenn., 16.453
Jake Rendel (06), Adrian, Mich., 16.473
Ron Miller (35), Lambertville, Mich., 16.518
Dan Gehring (31G), Pettisville, Ohio, 16.545
Scott Moyer (77M), West Unity, Ohio, 16.606
Jeff Robertson (P3), Defiance, Ohio, 16.941
Scott Robertson (P33), Defiance, Ohio, 17.141
Rusty Schlenk (91), McClure, Ohio, 15.755
Curtis Deisenroth (77D), Oak Harbor, Ohio, 15.763
Brian Ruhlman (49), Clarklake, Mich., 15.794
Billy Moyer Jr. (21Jr), Batesville, Ark., 15.823
Mathew Chapman (00), Tecumseh, Mich., 15.838
Brandon Thirlby (M14), Traverse City, Mich., 15.858
Casey Noonan (1N), Toledo, Ohio, 15.885
Steve Kester (77K), Holland, Ohio, 15.887
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 15.888
Dustin Nobbe (5N), Batesville, Ind., 15.967
Adam Bowman (77), Seymour, Ind., 15.983
Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 16.140
Travis Stemler (2s), Ionia, Mich., 16.142
Wayne Chinn (26), Bradford, Ohio, 16.151
Matt Shipley (44s), Weston, Ohio, 16.223
Dusty Moore (75), Swanton, Ohio, 16.234
Bob Mayer (42*), Holland, Ohio, 16.249
Hillard Miller (39), Defiance, Ohio, 16.274
Ken Hahn (27), Oregon, Ohio, 16.429
Gregg Haskell (RH21), Chatham, Ont., 16.464
Chris Sands (78), Morenci, Mich., 16.536
Brad Wade, (23), Dundee, Mich., 16.556
Graeme Short (6*), Archbold, Ohio, 16.562
Steve Miller (95), Toledo, Ohio, 16.674
JR Gooden (52Jr), Toledo, Ohio, 16.791
Doug Baird (69R), Aluada, Ohio, 17.122
Dan Shaffer (B18), Morenci, Mich., 17.594
Brian O'Brien (0), Morenci, Mich., no time
Cody Laney (P33x), Hicksville, Ohio, no time