SUPERIOR, Wis. — After failing to contend in last year's XR Super Series races at Gondik Law Speedway, Bobby Pierce wasn't exactly exuding confidence upon his 2023 return to the 4/10-mile oval. Sunday's practice session didn't help, and neither did Monday's hot laps ahead of the $20,000.
Pierce's thoughts on his chances of winning at Superior? "Very, very doubtful," said the 26-year-old Oakwood, Ill., driver, who had finished third or better in all but one of his previous 13 feature races over the last month.
Charging to a heat race victory that gave him a front-row starting spot in the 50-lap feature, Pierce brushed those doubts — and his 23 competitors — aside in rolling to his second XRSS victory of the season and third of his career.
Pierce wasn't seriously challenged at the slippery track in taking the checkers 0.708 of a second ahead of Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., one of two XRSS winners last year at the Head of the Lakes Fairgrounds. Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz., rallied from 15th to finish third while Ashton Winger of Hampton, Ga., ran second early before settling for fourth, one spot ahead of Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba.
Polesitter Pat Doar of New Richmond, Wis., doing his best to compete with a limited powerplant, faded to finish 10th while the night's fast qualifier, Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., was running outside the top 10 when he retired on the 38th circuit.
While Pierce was skeptical about his chances at Superior despite winning three World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series races last week — one at Boone (Iowa) Speedway and two at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis., including the $50,000 USA Nationals in a dramatic battle with Hudson O'Neal — it was more of the same at the northern Wisconsin oval that hosts weekly WISSOTA-sanctioned Limited Late Models.
"Oh, man, it feels like I'm dreaming right now because how good we've been, but especially here tonight," Pierce said after climbing from his red No. 32 Longhorn Chassis in victory lane. "You know, we didn't practice great yesterday and didn't hot-lap great today, and even my qualifying lap wasn't really stellar. I don't know, we just kicked it up a gear in the heat race there.
"If I wouldn't have won the heat race, I don't think I could have got the job done because, you know, I was getting bad in certain times of the (feature) there," added Pierce, who led by more than a second most of the race. "I found one last little squirt that got me away from second place and then with a few laps to go they really caught me."
Pierce, who finished seventh and 11th in two XRSS starts last season at Superior, was glad that his doubts were misplaced.
"I know the racetrack's always smooth and everything, I just have a hard time getting a hold of it, at least last year I did," he said. "We (had) just enough tonight, and that's how it's been these past few races. Sometimes you gotta have a little luck."
Madden started fifth and took the second spot from Doar on the 19th lap, but he never got close enough to Pierce to threaten the leader.
"We had a good car tonight. An awesome racetrack, these people do a great job with this facility here and we always stay out for this race and come up here and run because it's an awesome place to run on," the runner-up said. "We just needed a little bit there. We just wasn't quite where we needed to be. But overall, we had a good night and congratulations to Bobby and his team. They've done an awesome job all year."
Thornton's fourth-place finish in his heat race that left him with an eighth-row starting spot in the feature proved too much to overcome for the Indiana-based SSI Motorsports team.
"I felt like I had a really good car. I kind of had to wait for a little bit of moisture to get off the track" to get rolling, Thornton said. "Overall I didn't start tonight exactly how I needed to and it just put us behind. A really good car there in the feature. I've gotta thank (crew chief Anthony) Burroughs and the boys for busting their butts tonight and not giving up. I felt like I had a good enough car to win, but by the time I got the third, I was just so far out I couldn't ever get to 'em."
The feature was slowed by three cautions, none for serious incidents. Brent Larson slowed for a lap-nine yellow and retired. A lap-17 yellow flag dropped when Skeeter Estey slowed and pulled to the outer pits. Kevin Burdick turn-two infield incursion drew a lap-20 slowdown.
Notes: Pierce becomes the first two-time XRSS winner in full-field events; he earned $20,000 on July 10 at Dubuque (Iowa) Speedway. ... The 24th starter, Dustin Sorensen, was drawn by a fan as an extra starter. ... Among drivers failing to make the feature lineup: Jake Timm, Jesse Glenz, James Giossi, Dillon McCowan, Jeff Massingill, Sam Mars and Chad Mahder, who spun while leading the third heat. ... Superior hosted WISSOTA-sanctioned Late Models on Sunday with the makeup event of the Twin Ports Twin 25s. Pat Doar of New Richmond, Wis., won the opening 25-lapper on the Structural Buildings WISSOTA Challenge Series while Kevin Burdick of Proctor, Minn., won the non-series 25-lapper that capped the evening. Each driver earned $2,000. ... Doar earned a $1,000 bonus as the top finisher utilizing a WISSOTA-legal powerplant.
Correction: Fixes Pierce's record to 13 of his last 14 races finishing third or better.