WEST BURLINGTON, Iowa — Making his first Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association victory a big one, Jason Papich of Nipomo, Calif., overtook race-long leader Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., on lap 32 of Saturday’s 13th annual Slocum 50 at 34 Raceway and pulled away from Tony Jackson Jr. of Lebanon, Mo., through traffic during the race’s closing laps to claim a $10,555 payday.
Papich, who lives in California but operates a race team out of Camdenton, Mo., took the checkers 1.660 seconds ahead of Jackson in scoring the biggest victory of his career in an event that wrapped up five races in five days to open the season for the Lucas Oil MLRA tour.
The breakthrough victory was a long time coming for the 42-year-old Papich, who along with teammate Tony Toste of Pismo Beach, Calif., has made many flights from the West Coast to the Midwest in order to compete at the regional level of Dirt Late Model racing.
“We got the monkey off our back. Now we just gotta get a bunch more,” said Papich, whose previous best MLRA finish was a runner-up performance at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., late last season. “There was a helluva lot of good racers in this race. I’m just speechless.”
Jackson, who started seventh and followed Papich by Pierce into second, further established himself as a favorite for this year’s Lucas Oil MLRA title with a runner-up finish that extended his early-season points lead. He was followed by polesitter Garrett Alberson of Las Cruces, N.M., in third with sixth-starting Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., in fourth and eighth-starting Chris Simpson Oxford Iowa, in fifth.
Pierce, who was chasing his third straight Slocum 50 victory, started from the outside pole and cruised through the first half of the 50-lap race. But his preferred high line began to fade around the race’s midway point, allowing the low-running Papich to close the gap.
A lap-32 bobble by Pierce exiting turn two opened the door for Papich to make a bid for the lead with a hard drive into turn three. The two drivers exited turn four neck and neck before Papich inched ahead at the start-finish line and pulled ahead for good entering turn one.
“He’s one of the best in the country, but somehow I got around him,” Papich said of his battle with Pierce, who ended up eighth after slipping high and dropping numerous spots late in the race. “Down there in one and two I could get in there and whoa it up to stay below the bumps. He was kind of sliding through the bumps and it was upsetting his car. I just tried to stay disciplined and not spin the tires. It was awful slick out there. Tim Douglas (Papich’s crew chief) has got this Longhorn Chassis rolling. I’m looking forward to a great season ahead.”
Jackson kept pace with Papich until around the lap-40 mark when traffic began to be a major factor. Papich did a better job navigating the slower cars, forcing Jackson to settled for second.
“I really wanted to win this race,” said Jackson, who led the majority of last year’s Slocum 50 before dropping out with mechanical problems late in the race. “We was really let down last year. We put ourselves in position, but just couldn’t get it done.
“He was good. I’m definitely not going to say I shoulda, woulda, or coulda. Just trying to lap them cars. That’s part of racing. We had a second-place car.”
Alberson had high hopes after winning Saturday’s first heat race to earn the pole starting spot for the feature. But his car’s setup wasn’t quite good enough to carry him to what would’ve been his first series win.
“We missed it just by a little bit. Just a little bit too tight to circle that bottom real nice,” Alberson said. “I wanted to get a little bit more. I wanted to try somewhere else on the track, but I knew we needed a good run.”
The race was slowed by three cautions. The first appeared with just three laps complete when Terry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., slowed from the third position with a flat tire. The pace was immediately slowed again when Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., got spun in turn one on the restart collecting Mason Oberkramer of Broseley, Mo. The final caution waved on lap 19 and was for debris.
Notes: The event honored Brent Slocum, an IMCA Late Model racer killed after being struck by an errant car in the pits at 34 Raceway in 2005. … The race was the second leg of a Friday-Saturday MLRA doubleheader at 34 Raceway and it wrapped up the tour’s stretch of five races over five days that opened its 2021 season. … The tour’s first five races produced five winners.