FAIRBURY, Ill. (May 13) — Bobby Pierce let his emotions run wild when he climbed out of his car in victory lane after winning Saturday night’s 60-lap FALS Spring Shootout at Fairbury Speedway.
But then the 26-year-old star from Oakwood, Ill., paused for a moment before answering a question during his post-race interview.
“Water!” Pierce said, seeking some fluid to quench his thirst after putting in a hard evening’s work to snatch the $30,000 top prize in the first-ever Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event at the quarter-mile oval in his home state.
It was a physical battle from start-to-finish for Pierce, who worked his way forward from the eighth starting spot to grab the lead on lap 37 after Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., was knocked from the point the previous circuit by a tangle with Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind. He then spent the remainder of the distance turning back furious challenges from O’Neal and Daulton Wilson of Fayetteville, N.C.
Pierce crossed the finish line with a slight 0.471 of a second edge over the 25-year-old Wilson, who nosed inside the high-riding Pierce through the corners during a green-white-checkered conclusion that followed O’Neal’s losing lap-58 bout with the cushion in turns one and two as he ran second.
Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., quietly moved through the top 10 over the race’s final 20 laps to finish third. Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., took over the Lucas Oil Series points lead with his 21st-to-fourth run while Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., placed fifth to tally his first top-five of the 2023 Lucas Oil Series campaign.
Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., who led laps 1-4, and Erb, who paced laps 5-36, both were early retirees as a result of a lap-36 incident that saw O’Neal make contact with Erb while attempting to make an inside pass for the lead through turns one and two. Erb spun and collected Babb, who immediately withdrew from further action while Erb restarted at the rear of the field and completed three more circuits before stopping in turn four with race-ending rearend trouble.
The 22-year-old O’Neal, meanwhile, chased Pierce throughout the late stages — and once, on lap 53, nearly taking the lead at the start-finish line — until he got caught in the cushion between turns one and two on lap 58. He rode up on the wall and nearly rolled over before coming to a stop on the backstretch with his Rocket Chassis house car’s nosepiece mangled, necessitating wrecker service to tow the machine to the pit area.
Pierce’s triumph came after a disappointing outing the previous night in the Lucas Oil Series-sanctioned Illinois Speedweek stop at Farmer City Raceway, where he slid to stop in the turn-one cushion while leading his heat and then failed to transfer in the first B-main before the remainder of the program was postponed by rain to Monday night. He called his Fairbury success “definitely redemption.”
“I just messed up yesterday and my team didn’t give up,” Pierce said. “They said, ‘Get back in that car and drive it,’ so I gotta give a huge thanks to them. I went home and relaxed overnight and they got the job done on the car.”
The win was Pierce’s fifth special-event checkered flag at Fairbury over the last two years — his second straight FALS Spring Shootout victory, in fact — but there was a new wrinkle to this one.
“We won with a Longhorn at Fairbury (running) on the top,” said Pierce, who switched to the China Grove, N.C.-based manufacturer this season. “(And) I think three of the four wheels were these new wheels from American Racing … you gotta get ‘ya some. They’re pretty nice. They held together on that Fairbury cushion, that’s all I gotta say.”
Pierce didn’t spend the entire feature pounding Fairbury’s ample cushion, which was thickened by a downpour after qualifying that caused a 3-hour delay in the program. But he certainly turned plenty of laps near the concrete wall as he sought to find the best way to stay ahead.
“I mean, I didn’t know where to go,” Pierce said of his strategy once he gained command. “Running the bottom, going to the top … transferring was super difficult to do.
“I figured if somebody was gonna pass me, let it be on the top. If they pass me and I can slide ‘em in the next corner and beat ‘em, then that’s just what we’re gonna keep doing.
“Not necessarily blocking, but I was just trying to figure out where I was best,” he added. “All them guys had on different tires than me so I was pretty nervous there.”
After powering around the top following the lap-58 restart to keep the low-running Wilson at bay, Pierce was able to celebrate his sixth victory of 2023 but first since April 8 at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway.
“It’s been a pretty rough month,” said Pierce, who in recent weeks saw potential big-money wins at Alabama’s Talladega Short Track ($50,000) and Kentucky’s Florence Speedway ($15,000) slip away due to mechanical trouble. “We’ve been really fast, just bad luck and everything. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in victory lane.”
Wilson showed little despair after falling short of what would have been the richest victory of his young career. He was satisfied with earning $15,000 for a runner-up finish that matched his best ever in Lucas Oil Series competition earlier this year, on Feb. 10 at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla.
“These guys have been busting their butts lately,” Wilson said of his Rattliff Racing crew. “We had a really good (Longhorn) car. We’ve had really good speed here lately. We’re getting better and I hope this kind of shows that we’re here. We put a whole night together tonight and hopefully we got plenty more of them coming.”
Wilson, who moved to third when Erb met his demise on lap 36, made just his second career start at Fairbury.
Sheppard, 30, raced much of the distance out of the spotlight before ascending into contention late with his Sheppard Riggs Racing Longhorn car.
“My car was good,” said Sheppard, who earned $100,000 for winning last year’s World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series-sanctioned Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury. “We started 10th there and I wasn’t very good at the beginning of the race. I don’t know if I was a little too hard on tires or what, but it really took me till about halfway to get rolling there. Then once we got going it was just kind of waiting for somebody to make a move in front of me and go the opposite direction so I could make a pass.”
Sheppard was hoping for an open top or bottom lane to make a last-ditch bid for victory on the lap-58 restart, but he couldn’t make any push with Pierce running high and Wilson sucked low.
“Those last two laps there they were two-wide in front of me,” Sheppard said, “so there was nowhere I could go.”
Eight caution flags slowed the event, beginning on lap 10 when Jonathan Davenport was left sitting in turn one with nose and right-side damage that forced him to retire one circuit later. Boom Briggs brought out the second caution, on lap 25, when he bounced off the outside wall on the homestretch and nearly collected the second-running Babb. Subsequent yellows flew for Garrett Alberson (lap 35); Erb and Babb (lap 36); Erb again (lap 39); Ricky Thornton Jr. slapping the homestretch wall while sixth (lap 46); debris (lap 48); and O’Neal (lap 58).
Notes: Pierce’s first Lucas Oil Series win since Sept. 16, 2022, at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway was the 13th of his career on the tour. … Pierce won four of Fairbury’s five richest events in 2022 — including his $25,000 score in last year’s FALS Spring Shootout — but he’s still looking for his first victory in the marquee Prairie Dirt Classic. … While Overton entered the race third in the Lucas Oil points, he was not part of the tour’s loyalty program because he did not commit to running the full schedule at the start of the year. As a result, if he wouldn’t have pulled off a last-lap pass of Max Blair for the final transfer spot in a B-main, he would have had to sit out the feature. … Dennis Erb Jr. angrily motioned to a passing O’Neal after climbing out of his disabled car on the track on lap 39. … Spencer Hughes nearly reached third place at one point before settling for a sixth-place finish. … Two-time defending Lucas Oil Series champion Tim McCreadie was never a factor after qualifying through a B-main and pitting multiple times en route to a 14th-place finish. … Ryan Unzicker was running 10th when he retired on lap 25 with terminal motor trouble. … A rain shower hit the track at 6:15 p.m. local time just after the completion of Late Model qualifying and continued for roughly one hour. The track crew went to work after the precipitation ended and UMP modifieds began rolling onto the speedway at 8:38 p.m. to finish packing it in; the first Lucas Oil Series heat took the green flag at 9:16 p.m., all prelims for the tour were completed in rapid-fire fashion by 9:58 p.m. and the 60-lap feature's field assembled for pace laps at 10:20 p.m. before ending at 11:09 p.m. … The race was the third of Illinois Speedweek, which concludes Monday with the completion of Friday’s postponed Lucas Oil-sanctioned Farmer City 74 at Farmer City Raceway.