IMPERIAL, Pa. (Oct. 7) — The sensational Bobby Pierce did it again.
Pulling off another memorable rally, the 21-year-old star from Oakwood, Ill., charged through the field after pitting on lap 44, grabbed the lead from Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., with 10 circuits remaining and drove away for a $20,000 victory in Sunday afternoon’s postponed 30th annual Pittsburgher 100 at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway.
Pierce, who made a right-rear tire change on his Dunn-Benson Racing XR1 Rocket during his mid-race stop, used both the extreme inside and outside lanes after returning to the track to earn his thrilling triumph in his first-ever appearance at the sprawling half-mile oval. It was his fourth Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series checkered flag of 2018 and came just two weeks after he came from deep in the field for a dramatic $20,000 victory in the Jackson 100 at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway.
Owens, 46, finished 2.039 seconds behind Pierce in the runner-up spot in his Ramirez Motorsports XR1 Rocket after leading laps 86-89. The three-time Lucas Oil Series champion overtook Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., to assume command after spending much of the distance chasing the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series regular, who led laps 15-85 after inheriting the position when early pacesetter Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., blew a right-rear tire on the 14th circuit.
Third place was claimed by Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., who also rallied from the rear of the field after pitting on lap 36 to swap the rear tires on his Black Diamond house car. Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., ran steadily in the top five throughout the distance and ultimately finished fourth in the Lance Landers Racing Longhorn — officially clinching his second career Lucas Oil Series championship in the process — and Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., placed fifth in the Best Performance Motorsports XR1 Rocket after running in third for most of the race’s first half.
The 25-year-old Sheppard, meanwhile, saw his bid for victory in the Rocket Chassis house car evaporate quickly after his long stint at the front of the pack came to an end when Owens slipped past him on lap 86. He lost second to Pierce the following circuit and smacked the turn-one wall on lap 88, causing him to bring out a caution and pit for hasty repairs before soldiering on to a disappointing 12th-place finish.
Pierce’s march to the checkered flag continued his trend of come-from-behind performances — even before Brownstown, he made high-profile advances from far back in the lineup this season to nearly win such races as the Silver Dollar Nationals, Dirt Millions and the Knoxville Nationals — but this one had a slightly different look to it. He actually started the Pittsburgher 100 relatively close to the front (10th) but ended up at the back of the pack because of his pit stop.
“I started 10th but I fell back to probably 20th,” Pierce said, “so technically I did come from the back again I guess.”
Landing in victory lane really wasn’t on Pierce’s mind early in the century grind, though.
“I didn’t think from the beginning that we were gonna be able to have a car to compete for the win and (due to) me just not knowing this place at all,” related Pierce, who noted that he was “about 2 seconds off the pace” during Sunday’s hot laps. “But eventually, getting all them laps under my belt (helped), and when we pulled in and changed that tire, that’s what really got me going. That’s what brought the car to life.”
Pierce had faded to around 20th place when a caution flag flew on lap 44. He was already considering reporting to his crew in the pit area when his father and crew chief, Bob, ordered him to come in.
“He was just waving the (signal) sticks around like crazy,” Pierce said of his father. “We talked and that’s kind of like our signal to pull in — if he starts going crazy with them, it’s like, ‘Hey, pull in!’ I was gonna pull in anyways because I was going backwards; I mean, I wasn’t sure what place I was in, but I thought I was almost last.”
Bolting a softer-compound tire on his car’s right-rear corner came at an opportune time for Pierce, who noticed upon returning to the track that the racing surface was transforming to his liking.
“Right when I pulled back out, the track was just starting to change,” Pierce said. “It was starting to clean off a lot, and that was letting us move all around. I like when the tracks get really clean and black like that with a little bit of traction here-and-there that you can kind of find.”
Nevertheless, while Pierce felt immediate improvement in his car, “I didn’t think I was gonna have anything to compete for the win,” he said. He climbed into the top 10 by the time a caution flag was displayed on lap 53 and reached fifth on lap 66 with a pass of Richards, but he didn’t think there was enough time, or speed in his car, to get all the way to the front.
“When I saw Josh and (Michael) Norris, around the top five, and I was catching those guys pretty quick, I knew Brandon (Sheppard) was probably in the lead and I didn’t see Jimmy in the mix,” Pierce commented. “So I was like, ‘They’re probably gone. I’m not gonna have anything for them.’
“And then I passed a few of them guys (overtaking Sarver, Pa.’s Norris for fourth on lap 67 and Davenport for third on lap 78), and I could hear (Lucas Oil Series announcer) James (Essex) in my head, ‘Please stay green!’ I ended up catching Brandon and Jimmy (erasing a near-straightaway deficit in less than 10 circuits), and I definitely knew that as long as I could keep that tire under me, and if the track didn’t rubber up anywhere else, I thought I’d have a pretty good chance.
“Then Jimmy passed Brandon (for the lead) and I passed Brandon, and Jimmy, like he did at Knoxville (last month when Pierce challenged him for the lead in the Nationals), he kicks it into another gear and he gets even tougher to beat. But then that caution came out (on lap 88 for Sheppard), and that helped me. I didn’t have a very good first lap (following the restart) but I was still right there with (Owens) so I was like, ‘All right, we probably got a really good chance at winning this.’ Then the very next lap I passed him.”
Pierce made his winning move by racing right along the outside wall through turn four, tailing Owens closely off the corner and then cranking his car abruptly underneath Owens midway down the straightaway. The youngster surged to the inside of turn one and vaulted ahead of Owens, completing a slide-job maneuver that had worked successfully for him several times during his run to the front.
“Owens, he seems like he’s the guy to beat in these long races, it seems like, and to finally pull off a slider on him that worked feels really good,” said a smiling Pierce, who recalled his late-race attempt to overtake Owens at Knoxville that failed. “I was gonna make sure I pulled that slider off and didn’t jump the cushion this time.”
Owens could only shake his head over Pierce’s dramatic victory.
“It surprised me Pierce being up on top because one and two kind of rubbered up, but he had a good car,” Owens said. “Hat’s off to those guys. You can never count ‘em out.”
Owens remained winless in four career Pittsburgher 100 starts, but his personal-best second-place finish continued his knocking-on-the-door success in the race. He previously finished fourth in 2015 and fifth in ’16 and ’17.
“We had a good car all weekend,” Owens said. “As soon as we unloaded, we hot-lapped good, qualified good, ran good in the heat race. We went out for practice tonight and hot laps and we never touched the car and it was good, so I thought, ‘Man, we’re gonna leave it alone and see what we got.’
“They throwed the green there and Mike (Marlar) and those guys got in front of us, but we was just riding, biding our time there, and we was able to reel Brandon in there and get by him.”
Pearson, 46, was satisfied with his comeback to finish third after pitting. It was his best finish in five career Pittsburgher starts, topping his fourth-place run in 2017.
“We come in and changed rear tires, and (team owner) Ronnie (Stuckey) and the guys, they worked on the chassis a little bit,” said Pearson, who started 16th. “We could get by a couple people on the restarts, and then once we got up there to the top five, then we could race them pretty good.
“Me and Josh (Richards) had a good race going, and Davenport and all them guys, but when we got to third we kind of just single-filed. We couldn’t do nothing with Jimmy and Pierce was really good around the top.”
The feature was slowed by 11 caution flags, 10 of which came in the race’s first 53 laps.
Drivers who joined Sheppard in triggering caution flags included Marlar, who continued after having the blown tire knock him from the lead on lap 14 and briefly reached the top 10 before retiring on lap 73; Boom Briggs of Bear Lake, Pa. (lap 17); Jon Hodgkiss of Pittsburgh, Pa. (laps 20 and 44); Derek Stefanick of Imperial, Pa. (lap 36); Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind. (lap 44); Gregg Satterlee of Indiana, Pa. (lap 45); Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa. (lap 46); and Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., who slowed on lap 47 shortly after tumbling out of the top five and struggled the remainder of the distance with fuel-pressure trouble.
Preliminary notes and results:
The 10-minute horn to line up the Pittsburgher 100 was blown at about 5:20 p.m. … The PPMS track crew lightly watered the half-mile oval, but teams are still worried about tire wear with the sun still out. B-main starters reported that tire wear was significant over the 12-lap distance. … Tim McCreadie fell back on a provisional to start 23rd in the A-main after slowing while running sixth on the final lap of the B-main. He did not have a mechanical problem, however, so he’s good to go for the headliner. … Polesitter Jimmy Owens has never won the Pittsburgher 100 in his three previous feature starts, but he’s never finished outside the top five. He placed fourth in 2015 and fifth the last two years.
Row 1: Jimmy Owens, Mike Marlar
Row 2: Scott Bloomquist, Brandon Sheppard
Row 3: Michael Norris, Josh Richards
Row 4: Colton Flinner, Jonathan Davenport
Row 5: Mason Zeigler, Bobby Pierce
Row 6: Don O’Neal, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 7: Frank Heckenast Jr., Chub Frank
Row 8: Gregg Satterlee, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 9: Ricky Thornton Jr., Darrell Lanigan
Row 10: Alex Ferree, Davey Johnson
Row 11: Kyle Bronson, Boom Briggs
Row 12: Tim McCreadie, Jon Hodgkiss
Row 13: Derek Stefanick
Finish (12 laps; top 6 transfer): Ricky Thornton Jr., Darrell Lanigan, Alex Ferree, Davey Johnson, Kyle Bronson, Boom Briggs, John Mollick, Jon Hodgkiss, Derek Stefanick, Tim McCreadie.
Sunday pre-race notes
After Saturday afternoon’s torrential afternoon downpour and its residual effects forced the postponement of the Pittsburgher 100 finale, Sunday afternoon has dawned clear and sunny with a summer-like high temperature soaring into the mid-80s. The revised schedule called for hot laps to start at 2 p.m., but that time wasn't met as the PPMS track crews continued to work on several spots on the racetrack where water run-off continues to seep through the outside wall to create wet spots. Cars finally hit the speedway at 3:20 p.m. when RUSH Crate Late Models were called out for practice. … With six scheduled B-main starters — Jared Miley, Dan Angelicchio, Andy Haus, Jake Gunn, A.J. Campbell and Kelvin Kolhan — scratched from Sunday’s action, Lucas Oil Series officials have condensed the two last-chance races into one that will transfer six drivers to the feature. … Jared Miley, whose family operates the PPMS oval, pulled out of Sunday’s action because his mother suffered a serious health issue on Saturday and was hospitalized. … John Mollick of Toronto, Ohio, will replace Todd Weldon in the No. 13 machine and start at the rear of the B-main. … The postponement created a tough decision for Lucas Oil Series standout Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., who skipped Friday’s qualifying program to compete in time trials and heat races for the Super DIRT Week big-block modified event at Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway. He qualified for Sunday’s 200-lap, $50,000-to-win big-block feature, but the conflict with the Pittsburgher 100 set up by the rain prompted him to stay at PPMS in hopes of preserving his fifth-place spot in the Lucas Oil points standings and other tour benefits he receives as a regular. … The Pittsburgher 100 feature will follow the RUSH Crate Late Model dash and B-main; Lucas Oil B-main; hot laps for Friday’s Pittsburgher 100 and RUSH Crate qualifiers; and the Penn-Ohio Series dash.
(12 laps; top 6 transfer)
Row 1: Kyle Bronson, Alex Ferree
Row 2: Ricky Thornton Jr., Boom Briggs
Row 3: Darrell Lanigan, Davey Johnson
Row 4: Derek Stefanick, Jon Hodgkiss
Row 5: Tim McCreadie, John Mollick
Rain postpones 100 to Sunday
In the wake of a torrential afternoon thunderstorm that swamped the track and pit area, Saturday night’s 30th annual Pittsburgher 100 at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway has been postponed to Sunday afternoon.
Track and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series officials made the announcement shortly after 6:30 p.m. as runoff rain water continued to leak through the outside walls in the turns and light rain began to fall.
On Sunday, gates will open at 12 noon and hot laps are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. with racing to follow. The program includes B-mains and the $20,000-to-win Pittsburgher 100 as well as a dash, B-mains and the Bill Hendren Memorial for the RUSH Crate Late Model Series.
DirtonDirt.com will provide live pay-per-view video coverage of Sunday’s action. Those purchasing Saturday packages (or two-day weekend packages) will receive access to watch the makeup program.
Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., rolled to victory in the first of four Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series heat races Friday night, earning him the pole position for Saturday’s 30th annual Pittsburgher 100.
Owens will begin his chase for the 100-lap feature’s $20,000 top prize starting alongside his pal Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., who secured the outside pole with his triumph in the third heat.
Five-time Pittsburgher 100 champion Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., and Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., will share the second row in Saturday’s finale after also capturing heat races.
All four heat winners led the 10-lap prelims from flag-to-flag.
Saturday's program includes B-mains and the 100-lap headliner.
(12 laps; top 3 transfer)
Row 1: Kyle Bronson, Ricky Thornton Jr.
Row 2: Darrell Lanigan, Jared Miley
Row 3: Derek Stefanick, Dan Angelicchio
Row 4: Andy Haus, Kelvin Kohan
Row 1: Alex Ferree, Boom Briggs
Row 2: Jake Gunn, Davey Johnson
Row 3: Todd Weldon, Jon Hodgkiss
Row 4: A.J. Campbell, Tim McCreadie
First heat finish (10 laps/top 4 transfer): Jimmy Owens, Michael Norris, Mason Zeigler, Frank Heckenast Jr., Kyle Bronson, Darrell Lanigan, Derek Stefanick, Andy Haus.
Second heat finish (10 laps/top 4 transfer): Scott Bloomquist, Colton Flinner, Don O’Neal, Gregg Satterlee, Ricky Thornton Jr., Jared Miley, Dan Angelicchio (DNS) Kelvin Kohan.
Third heat finish (10 laps/top 4 transfer): Mike Marlar, Josh Richards, Bobby Pierce, Chub Frank, Alex Ferree, Jake Gunn, Todd Weldon.
Fourth heat finish (10 laps/top 4 transfer): Brandon Sheppard, Jonathan Davenport, Dennis Erb Jr., Earl Pearson Jr., Boom Briggs, Davey Johnson, Jon Hodgkiss, A.J. Campbell (DNS) Tim McCreadie.
Heavy rain struck Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway on Thursday evening and through the overnight hours, leaving the infield and grounds very soft and muddy. The track surface, however, was sealed and is ready to go. … The wet pit area did prompt PPMS officials to request that teams wait until later in the afternoon to pull in; in fact, the Lucas Oil Series operations trailer didn’t enter the infield until about 4 p.m., so officials weren’t able to begin registration until 4:30 p.m. That left only an hour until the scheduled 5:30 p.m. drivers’ meeting, leading tour director Rick Schwallie to push the meeting to 6 p.m. and set the start of hot laps for 6:30 p.m. … Weather conditions for Friday: overcast with a slight chance of isolated showers. … Four-time Pittsburgher 100 winner Davey Johnson of Latrobe, Pa., has a brand-new, self-owned Barry Wright Race Car ready to debut. The 55-year-old driver hasn’t raced since entering late June’s Firecracker 100 weekend at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa., in a car owned by fellow western Pennsylvanian Todd Bachman, who has handled preparation of Johnson’s new car that is powered by a fresh Andy Durham-built Ford engine. … Teammates and cousins Chub Frank and Boom Briggs, both of Bear Lake, Pa., arrived at PPMS shortly before 6 p.m. after their trip was lengthened by a stretch of rain they hit well north of the track and slow Pittsburgh traffic. … Lucas Oil Series regular Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., will not compete in Friday night’s qualifying program because he opted to stay at Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway for Super DIRT Week big-block modified qualifying this afternoon after rain washed out Thursday’s time trials. McCreadie, who timed 19th-fastest in Oswego’s Friday afternoon qualifying session in a modified from the Sweeteners Plus team’s stable, will run heat races on Friday night in hopes of transferring to Sunday’s $50,000-to-win feature and then travel to PPMS for Saturday’s Pittsburgher 100 action. Lucas Oil rules allow a regular to miss time trials once during the season and still use a provisional starting spot — a benefit that McCreadie will fall back on if he fails to qualify through a B-main on Saturday.
Heat race lineups
(10 laps; top 4 transfer)
Row 1: Michael Norris, Jimmy Owens
Row 2: Andy Haus, Mason Zeigler
Row 3: Darrell Lanigan, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 4: Kyle Bronson, Derek Stefanick
Row 1: Scott Bloomquist, Dan Angelicchio
Row 2: Colton Flinner, Ricky Thornton Jr.
Row 3: Don O’Neal, Jared Miley
Row 4: Gregg Satterlee, Kelvin Kohan
Row 1: Mike Marlar, Bobby Pierce
Row 2: Josh Richards, Chub Frank
Row 3: Alex Ferree, Jake Gunn
Row 4: Todd Weldon, Davey Johnson
Row 1: Brandon Sheppard, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 2: Jonathan Davenport, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 3: Boom Briggs, Jon Hodgkiss
Row 4: A.J. Campbell, Tim McCreadie
Michael Norris (72), Sarver, Pa., 17.667
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 17.842
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 17.858
Dan Angelicchio (14a), Mt. Pleasant, Pa., 18.210
Andy Haus (76), Hamburg, Pa., 18.243
Colton Flinner (4T8), Allison Park, Pa., 18.278
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 18.312
Ricky Thornton Jr. (20RT), Chandler, Ariz., 18.389
Darrell Lanigan (14), Union, Ky., 18.448
Don O'Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 18.468
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 18.472
Jared Miley (10), Pittsburgh, Pa., 18.507
Kyle Bronson (40b), Brandon, Fla., 18.524
Gregg Satterlee (22), Indiana, Pa., 18.751
Derek Stefanick (65), Imperial, Pa., 19.006
Kelvin Kohan (15*), Pittsburgh, Pa., no time
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 17.800
Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill., 17.874
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 17.896
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 18.068
Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va., 18.209
Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 18.233
Chub Frank (1*), Bear Lake, Pa., 18.651
Earl Pearson Jr. (1P), Jacksonville, Fla., 18.693
Alex Ferree (4), Saxonburg, Pa., 18.776
Boom Briggs (99b), Bear Lake, Pa., 18.826
Jake Gunn (7G), Pittsburgh, Pa., 18.910
Jon Hodgkiss (69), Pittsburgh, Pa., 18.919
Todd Weldon (13), Monongahela, Pa., 18.958
A.J. Campbell (94), Pittsburgh, Pa., 20.318
Davey Johnson (1J), Latrobe, Pa., no time
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., no time