WILMOT, Wis. (June 19) — Bobby Pierce used one powerful surge in lapped traffic to vault himself to victory in Sunday night’s 40-lap UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feature at Wilmot Raceway.
And in the process, the 19-year-old sensation from Oakwood, Ill., gave his dad a great Father’s Day present.
“He probably works harder than any person in the pit area so it’s really cool to get it for him,” Pierce said of his father Bob, a former Dirt Late Model driving standout who is now a noted chassis builder and serves as his son’s car owner and crew chief. “He was giving me the sticks (signals) the whole race too and they were pretty close most of the time so it was pretty nerve-wracking.”
When race-long pacesetter Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., left the slightest of openings at the top of the track entering turn one while working through slower vehicles on lap nine, Pierce gassed his car into the gap and sailed past Feger to assume command. The teenager never looked back, keeping Feger at bay the remainder of the distance to pocket a $5,000 prize for his second win in the season’s first four Summernationals events.
Feger, 38, settled for a runner-up finish after starting from the pole position, crossing the finish line 0.929 of a second behind Pierce. It was the 2010 Summernationals champion’s best finish of the series’s opening four-race stretch, besting his third-place performance the previous night at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis.
Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., finished third, quietly running the position for most of the distance without ever seriously challenging Pierce and Feger.
Fourth place was claimed by Timothy Culp of Prattsville, Ark., a second-year Summernationals traveler who turned around the bad luck that plagued him in the circuit’s first three events to make a steady advance from the 12th starting spot. Bob Gardner of East Peoria, Ill., completed the top five, earning a career-best Summernationals finish.
It appeared that Rodney Melvin of Benton, Ill., and Kevin Gundaker of St. Charles, Mo., were headed toward top-five finishes, but they came together while battling for fourth on lap 37. Gundaker’s nose became hooked to Melvin’s rearend; both slowed, but no caution flew and the two drivers traded paint over the final circuits. After Gundaker finished sixth and Melvin placed seventh, they briefly pulled stopped alongside each other in the infield and made angry gestures and then exchanged pleasantries again in the pit area.
Pierce, who started third, was asked after the race about the daring move that ultimately won him the race. He admitted that he wasn’t sure it would work but it was nonetheless a risk he had to take.
“I went in turn one and I thought I had more room than that,” Pierce said of the critical moment on lap nine. “By the time I got out from (Feger’s) spoiler I saw the corner was right there, so I was like, ‘Man, I hope I don’t go flying off the racetrack.’ But the car stuck right there on the cushion.
“He was just getting bottled up behind all those (lapped) guys, and I knew I had to make my move in lapped traffic or else I would’ve had to get a really good run on him (in open track) … and I don’t think that would’ve happened.
“That lapped traffic kind of helped me out because it made him go to the middle and then he hit that slick and I had the perfect line around the top and got around him,” he added. “The rest of the race it was just holding on and praying for the race to get over soon.”
Feger was surprised that Pierce was able to sneak through the minimum of space that he left him.
“It was early in the race and I was just trying to be patient, but this track’s tough,” said Feger, who made his first start at Wilmot since finishing ninth in the 2012 Summernationals event. “It’s a little choppy and it’s really hard to see, and I kind of felt like a lot of them lapped guys — well, I don’t know if they knew where they were going, so I was just trying to be really patient that early in the race.
“And man, (Pierce) made a really aggressive move and the car stuck up there. I never expected him to go around me on the outside with that lapped car there. The lapped car just drifted down enough and left him room, and that was kind of all she wrote there.
“It’s hard to say if I could’ve stayed in front if he didn’t sneak by me there,” he added. “In the open he might have been struggling … it’s hard to follow somebody here being as dusty as it was. It’s tough to see. It’s really hard to follow somebody into the corner with the dust flying off cars like that, so it might have tough for him to get by me (in open track).”
Feger tried to return the favor to Pierce on four restarts over the remaining distance, but after briefly nosing underneath Pierce in turns one and two he couldn’t mount a serious challenge aside from a late bid in lapped traffic.
“I couldn’t believe the track was so top-dominant tonight,” Feger said. “It’s really two extremes … it’s a really unique track. I don’t know if I’ve ever been anywhere like this place. It’s a long, long way around the top compared to the bottom, but the bottom is about as slow as you can get to pinch down there and there just wasn’t quite enough down there tonight to make it work.
“This place you can run both lines, and it kind of goes back-and-forth to what’s better, but tonight it just built a pretty good berm and you had to be there and I just was in the wrong place at the wrong time and lost the lead.
“But the (Billy Moyer Victory) car was good again,” he asserted, “and we just keep making gains and hopefully we can keep getting it up front.”
Pierce has had his mount near the front of the pack throughout the opening stretch of the Summernationals. The defending series champion is the only driver with a top-five finish in all four events, giving him the early points lead and earning him a $2,000 prize for capturing the Northern Kickoff points race, the first of five weekly miniseries within the Hell Tour that concluded at Wilmot.
“I hope to win ‘em all,” Pierce said of the new separate miniseries that each carry $5,000 points funds. “With last year’s Summernationals $25,000 was the whole thing (for winning the championship), so if I can win every one of these (miniseries) it will equal $25,000 (with the $15,000 overall points crown check included) so hopefully we can do that.
“We’re off to a good start. We’ll go home and regroup for a day (on Monday’s off-day), and then we’ll go to Jacksonville (Ill.) — where we won last year — on Tuesday and there’s four $10,000-to-win shows (from June 22-25) so I’m pretty pumped about that. We hope to be ready for them.”
Four caution flags slowed the race. The first came on lap 11 when Jeff Hartzell of Genoa, Ill., spun between turns one and two. Another caution flew on the ensuing restart because Charlie Olson of Kingston, Ill., twirled in turn four, and later caution-causing spins were executed on lap 16 by Mike Spatola of Manhattan, Ill., and lap 36 for Bill Rezutek of Big Band, Wis.
Preliminary results and notes:
Polesitter Jason Feger is making his first start at Wilmot since a ninth-place finish in the 2012 Summernationals event. His only previous start was an 11th-place run in the ’10 Hell Tour show. … Bobby Pierce, who starts third, has entered the last three Summernationals events at Wilmot, registering finishes of 16th (’14), seventh (’13) and fifth (’12). … Gordy Gundaker was all smiles after overtaking Mike Spatola to win the second heat. “If I could get it to run like that every night I’d be doing all right,” the 23-year-old Gundaker said of his Pierce Race Car after capturing his second career Summernationals heat triumph (he won a prelim last year at Illinois’s Quincy Raceway) and drawing the second starting spot for the feature. … Bob Gardner finished second in the third heat but had some work to do after discovering that his car’s fan shroud came apart. … Spectating in the pit area is Wisconsin native Dan Schlieper, a former World 100 champion and two-time Summernationals feature winner who now races only sparingly. Schlieper, whose last appearance in a Dirt Late Model was earlier this year in chassis builder C.J. Rayburn’s car at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky., lives only 35 minutes from Wilmot so he decided to take in the race.
Bobby Pierce ran away with the prelim, winning by 5.235 seconds over Bob Gardner in a caution-free race. Rodney Melvin finished close behind Gardner in third while Timothy Culp was farther back in fourth.
Finish: Bobby Pierce, Bob Gardner, Rodney Melvin, Timothy Culp, Don Hammer, Jeff Hartzell, James Letizia.
Gordy Gundaker was victorious for the first time in a Summernationals heat this season, making his dad — former Dirt Late Model standout Kevin Gundaker — proud on Father's Day. He passed Mike Spatola for the lead on lap four and didn't look back. A caution flag flew on lap one for Lyle Zanker, who started second but had to restart at the rear.
Finish: Gordy Gundaker, Mike Spatola, Taylor Scheffler, Matt Fabrizius, T.J. Markham, Paul Parker, Charlie Olson, Lyle Zanker.
Jason Feger cruised to victory, leading all the way and crossing the finish line 2.674 seconds ahead of Mike Marlar. Brent Larson lost fourth place on the final lap when he tangled with Turke Letizia.
Finish: Jason Feger, Mike Marlar, Eric Spangler, Bill Rezutek, Chris Carlson, Reno Markham, Brent Larson, Turke Letizia.
Bobby Pierce was far and away the star of time trials, turning a lap of 15.882 seconds to lead all entrants. His circuit was more than a half-second quicker than the second-fastest qualifier in his heat-race group.
A 23-car field is signed in for the event, up four from the car count for the last Summernationals stop at Wilmot in 2014. … The event is promoted by Tony Izzo Jr., who operates La Salle (Ill.) Speedway. … Noticeably absent from Wilmot’s entry list is Summernationals stalwart Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., who experienced shifter problems with his hauler and never left the Cedar Lake Speedway pit area after Saturday night’s program. He was unable to locate the necessary replacement parts nor arrange to have his rig towed to Wilmot. … Timothy Culp of Prattsville, Ark., once again contemplated heading home after his bad luck continued with flat tires in his heat race and the feature Saturday at Cedar Lake, but decided to stop at Wilmot to see if his fortune might change. “We figured we might as well stop here since it’s on the way home,” Culp said. “We’ll see if we can get a little spark.” … Rodney Melvin of Benton, Ill., who won the first Hell Tour event held at Wilmot in 2010, has unloaded his second Rocket car after struggling to get rolling with the machine he ran the first three nights of the Summernationals. He said he plans to continue down the road with the series as long as he can go. … An unexpected entrant is Eric Spangler of Lake City, Mich., who decided to hit Wilmot to complete a weekend of racing that included Hartford (Mich.) Speedway’s Ethanol Series event on Friday night and a visit to Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway on Saturday evening. ... Wilmot's event concludes the opening Northern Kickoff stretch of the Summernationals, the first of five miniseries with separate points funds within the larger Hell Tour points race. Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., is in the driver's seat for the $2,000 first-place share of the $5,000 points fund that will be distributed to the top 10 in the Northern Kickoff standings; he has 214 points to lead the absent Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark. (189), Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn. (183), Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill. (161) and Bob Gardner of East Peoria, Ill. (137).
The UMP DIRTcar Summernationals visits Wilmot Raceway for the fifth time in its history for a 40-lap main event paying $5,000 to win.
On a beautifully sunny day with temperatures about 90, the Hell Tour will complete its opening stretch of action. The scheduled lidlifter last Wednesday night at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway was rained out but subsequent shows at Kankakee (Ill.) County Speedway and Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis. (a doubleheader) have been spun off according to plan.
Wilmot hosted the Summernationals for the first time in 2010 with Rodney Melvin of Benton, Ill., emerging victorious Other winners are Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill. (2012), Kevin Weaver of Gibson City, Ill. (2013) and Rick Eckert of York, Pa.; last year’s scheduled event was rained out.
Heat race lineups
(Heat races aligned straight-up from group qualifying times; 10 laps, all drivers transfer)
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 16.162
Eric Spangler (27), Lake City, Mich., 16.217
Turke Letizia (D1), Milwaukee, Wis., 16.282
Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 16.298
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 16.449
Reno Markham (20Jr), Kingston, Ill., 16.498
Bill Rezutek (8R), Big Band, Wis., 16.567
Chris Carlson (C12), Union Grounds, Wis., 16.71
Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 16.273
Lyle Zanker (9), Rockford, Ill., 16.302
Paul Parker (10), Depere, Wis., 16.367
T.J. Markham (21), Sycamore, Ill., 16.442
Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 16.483
Charlie Olson (28), Kingston, Ill., 16.783
Taylor Scheffler (74), Waukesha, Wis., 16.835
Matt Fabrizius (615), Genoa, Ill., 16.868
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.882
Bob Gardner (4G), East Peoria, Ill., 16.435
Don Hammer (45), Clinton, Ill., 16.57
Rodney Melvin (27M), Benton, Ill., 16.651
Timothy Culp (c8), Prattsville, Ark., 16.803
Jeff Hartzell (5), Genoa, Ill., 16.849
James Letizia (D7), Milwaukee, Wis., 16.939