FAIRBURY, Ill. (July 29) — Ricky Thornton Jr. didn’t need to wax poetic about his first Prairie Dirt Classic victory on Saturday at Fairbury (Ill.) Speedway. It was the classic display of show, don’t tell.
When the Martinsville, Ind., superstar slowed out of the lead with 20 laps to go and drew the race’s final caution because of a glitch in the ignition, World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series officials restarted him sixth by virtue of the blend-in rule.
Thornton didn’t agree with the call as he repeatedly stopped on the backstretch of the quarter-mile to express his frustration with series officials before the race’s resumption. What proceeded was one of the more frenetic charges to victory Dirt Late Model racing has ever seen. Thornton not only reclaimed the lead in eight laps, but he topped Bobby Pierce by more than six seconds.
“After that, I was just mad,” Thornton said. “We broke a crank trigger there in turn three, and I’m freaking flipping switches and everything else. Then it finally came back to me. I didn’t think I was that far back. We just had a little motivation. After that, I said, ‘Screw it. If we aren’t going to win, we’re going to tip it over.’ ”
Thornton led a total of 23 laps on Saturday, whereas Pierce led a race-high 73 laps only to fall short of his first Prairie Dirt Classic title for the 13th year in a row. As frustrating as that script could easily be for Pierce, there was no trace of disappointment in his post-race synopsis.
“He had a good car. But his driving style through those corners, he was going for broke no matter what,” Pierce said of Thornton. “When they sent him to seventh, or whatever they did, (that) upset him a little bit. He drove even harder and got faster. I thought he was getting sent to the tail. They made the right call, I think.”
There was technically only four lead changes throughout the 100-lap running, but Pierce and Thornton warred in the lead battle for much of the second-half of the event. Four cautions the first 37 laps helped Pierce’s case early on. The Oakwood, Ill., driver glued to the bottom better than anyone from the outset and the frequent stoppages provided plenty of open racetrack to set a steady pace.
But then everything shifted during the long green-flag run from laps 37 through 76, when Pierce couldn’t navigate traffic as swiftly or fluidly as Thornton. Pierce’s car simply wasn’t as maneuverable as Thornton’s. It ultimately showed when Thornton unseated Pierce from the lead on lap 71 and then for good on lap 87.
“We couldn’t get through the corners like he did,” Pierce said. “Even so, I wasn’t going to cowboy up and do that with (World of Outlaws) points on the line. I’m leading these points, so I have to focus on that. But he was getting down them straightaways better than I did, too. If I would’ve pushed the issue, I don’t think I would’ve had anything for him. He was getting down the straightaways really good. He’s a heckuva wheelman. Congrats to him on the win. I’m just glad we didn’t break.
“All the rain they had, they did what they could. They had so much rain, it made the track soft in spots, and it got rough. We just weren’t going to push the issue too much. Of course, if I had something for him, I would’ve. But he was pretty fast.”
Thornton collected a total of $61,500 on Saturday: $50,000 for the feature victory and an $11,500 bonus thanks to the FALS Draw raffle bonus that dished out $500 for every lap led, courtesy of Bank of Pontiac and the Illinois State Rifle Association. It’s Thornton’s fifth win of more than $50,000 this year.
“It’s all my crew. My job is easy,” Thornton said. “We have a good enough car where I don’t have to run hard the whole time. … Bobby was really good there. Then once we got to traffic, I was a little better than he was. I just knew once we got to traffic and if we’d have a really long run, we’d have a really good shot. It worked out for us. I figured the whole right side was going to be killed on this thing. After I went to the back, it was whatever it takes to get it done. It was pretty awesome.”
Thornton’s sixth-place finish in last year’s Prairie Dirt Classic is the only other feature start he’s made in the crown jewel event. Before this week, Thornton didn’t think much of Fairbury fitting his driving style. Now, “it’s definitely high,” he said.
“I was giving (FloRacing CEO Michael) Rigsby crap because it probably isn’t my favorite place, but heck, after that it probably is my favorite place now,” Thornton said. “It’s nice we can get some PDC shirts made. I have to thank all these great fans here for stopping by.”
Pierce's second-place finish was worth $56,500, including $36,500 in lap money for pacing 73 circuits.
Ryan Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa, meanwhile, led the opening four laps from the pole — worth $2,000 in lap money — and held on to finish third. Pierce used an early slider to overthrow him from the lead. From there, Gustin ran steadily inside the top five.
“Definitely not what we wanted, but we’ll take it,” Gustin said. “Felt like we got going on the bottom and they kept knocking the tires back out on the yellows. That definitely didn’t help us. I don’t know. I kind of wanted to go up top there, but I went up there one lap and bounced real bad. I knew we needed to finish for this points deal, (whereas) Ricky, he’s going to win it or wear it. He ain’t points racing.”
Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., finished fourth while Hudson O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., placed fifth after losing two spots on the final lap.
Seven cautions slowed the main event that lasted 43 minutes: lap seven for debris; lap 12 for an incident between Jason Feger and Kevin Weaver; lap 27 for a stopped Shannon Babb in turn four; lap 36 for Wil Herrington and Tyler Erb; lap 765 for Cade Dillard; lap 77 for Mike Spatola; and lap 79 for Thornton.
33rd annual Prairie Dirt Classic
Pos. Driver (car no.), hometown, earnings
1. Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., Longhorn, $61,500
2. Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., Longhorn, $56,500
3. Ryan Gustin (19r), Marshalltown, Iowa, Rocket, $14,000
4. Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., Longhorn, $7,500
5. Hudson O’Neal (1), Martinsville, Ind., Rocket, $6,000
6. Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., Rocket, $5,000
7. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., Rocket, $4,750
8. Nick Hoffman (9), Mooresville, N.C., Longhorn, $4,500
9. Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., Rocket, $4,250
10. Tanner English (96v), Benton, Ky., Longhorn, $4,000
11. Josh Rice (11), Verona, Ky., Rocket, $3,900
12. Chris Madden (44), Gray Court, S.C., Rocket, $3,800
13. Daulton Wilson (18d), Fayetteville, N.C., Longhorn, $3,400
14. Cade Dillard (97), Robeline, La., Longhorn, $3,700
15. Chris Ferguson (22), Mount Holly, N.C., Team Zero, $3,600
16. Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., Rocket, $3,500
17. Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., Capital, $3,400
18. Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., Longhorn, $3,300
19. Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Kan., Rocket, $3,200
20. Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., Longhorn, $80
21. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., Longhorn, $3,060
22. Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, Rocket, $3,040
23. Mike Mataragas (1M), DeKalb, Ill., Rocket, $3,020
24. Kyle Hammer (26), Clinton, Ill., Rocket, $3,000
25. Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, Longhorn, $3,000
26. Kevin Weaver (B12), Gibson City, Ill., Rocket, $3,000
27. Wil Herrington (19m), Hawkinsville, Ga., Longhorn, $3,000
28. Mike Harrison (33), Highland, Ill., Rocket, $3,000
Lap leaders: Gustin 1-4; Pierce 5-70, 80-86; Thornton 71-79, 87-100
Fast qualifier (among 63 cars): Brandon Overton, 12.681 seconds
Semifeature winners: Pierce, Madden, Gustin, Thornton
Consolation winners: Heckenast, Hoffman, Wilson
Non-qualifiers’ race winner: Feger
Provisional starters: Bronson, Clanton, Spatola, Weaver, Gundaker
x-Additional lap money for Pierce ($36,500), Thornton ($11,500) and Gustin ($2,000)
Row 1: Ryan Gustin, Bobby Pierce
Row 2: Ricky Thornton Jr., Chris Madden
Row 3: Brian Shirley, Hudson O'Neal
Row 4: Wil Herrington, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 5: Mike Harrison, Shannon Babb
Row 6: Brandon Sheppard, Chris Ferguson
Row 7: Josh Rice, Cade Dillard
Row 8: Tanner English, Mike Mataragas
Row 9: Frank Heckenast Jr., Nick Hoffman
Row 10: Daulton Wilson, Kyle Hammer
Row 11: Tyler Erb, Chris Simpson
Row 12: Kyle Bronson, Shane Clanton
Row 13: Mike Spatola, Kevin Weaver
Row 14: Jason Feger, Gordy Gundaker
Prairie Dirt Shootout results
Results (winner $3,500 or option to start feature): Jason Feger, Ryan Unzicker, Jeff Larson, Myles Moos, Garrett Alberson, Mike Spatola, Justin Duty, Johnny Scott, Kye Blight, Brandon Overton, Bill Hough, Jason Riggs, Gordy Gundaker, Michael Lake, Chase Junghans, Brent Larson, Doug Drown. Scratched: Shane Clanton, Trevor Gundaker, Mike Marlar, McKay Wenger.
Prairie Dirt Shootout lineup
(25 laps; winner can choose $3,500 top prize or last starting spot in PDC)
Row 1: Jason Feger, Doug Drown
Row 2: Brent Larson, Myles Moos
Row 3: Ryan Unzicker, Jeff Larson
Row 4: Justin Duty, Johnny Scott
Row 5: Michael Lake, Mike Spatola
Row 6: Jason Riggs, Chase Junghans
Row 7: Brandon Overton, Kye Blight
Row 8: Gordy Gundaker, Shane Clanton
Row 9: Mike Marlar, Garrett Alberson
Row 10: Trevor Gundaker, McKay Wenger
Row 11: Bill Hough
Frank Heckenast Jr., Nick Hoffman and Daulton Wilson scored flag-to-flag victories in the three 15-lap consolations. … The most hotly-contested transfer spot was second place in the first B-main as Kyle Hammer secured the finishing position after spending the last three laps trading sliders with Jason Feger. … Kyle Strickler slid sideways between turns one and two on lap two of the first consolation and collected Trevor Gundaker; Dustin Walker and Alex Wilson also stacked up. … Myles Moos, who dominated Friday’s third semifeature before losing a right-rear tire while leading the field on a green-white-checkered restart, advanced from the 11th starting spot to finish fourth in the first B-main. … National stars Brandon Overton (seventh in the first consolation) and Mike Marlar (eighth in second B-main) made little headway in their come-from-behind bids for transfer spots. … McKay Wenger’s car bicycled onto its right side between turns three and four on the final lap of the second consolation but didn’t roll over as he finished ninth. … Todd Cooney, who flipped wildly during Friday’s first semifeature, reported having a slight headache when he awoke on Saturday but felt well enough to pull out his backup car. He finished 10th in the second consolation. … Drivers have one more chance to crack the Prairie Dirt Classic feature lineup in the 25-lap Prairie Dirt Shootout non-qualifiers’ race. The victor can opt to take the $3,500 top prize or the last starting spot in the 100-lap finale. … Saturday’s race program began over an hour after its scheduled 5:45 p.m. start time because the track crew needed extra time to run in the quarter-mile oval’s surface following several strong bursts of rain during the overnight hours. … The Late Model consolations started at 8:44 p.m. and ended at 9:17 p.m. ... With significant moisture in the racetrack, the outside walls became caked with thick, black mud; Fairbury officials "striped" the concrete in the turns between the second and third consolations so drivers could see the barriers.
(15 laps; top two transfer)
First consolation finish: Frank Heckenast Jr., Kyle Hammer, Jason Feger, Myles Moos, Justin Duty, Mike Spatola, Brandon Overton, Shane Clanton, Trevor Gundaker, Dale Markham, Matt Cosner, Dona Marcoullier, Kevin Weaver, Kyle Strickler, Dustin Walker, Alex Wilson
Second consolation finish: Nick Hoffman, Tyler Erb, Doug Drown, Ryan Unzicker, Johnny Scott, Jason Riggs, Kye Blight, Mike Marlar, McKay Wenger, Todd Cooney, Scott Schmitt, Paul Parker, Lyle Zanker, Greg Wagner (DNS) Richie Stephens, Drake Troutman.
Third consolation finish: Daulton Wilson, Chris Simpson, Brent Larson, Jeff Larson, Michael Lake, Chase Junghans, Gordy Gundaker, Garrett Alberson, Bill Hough, Todd Bennett, Thomas Hunziker, Matt Mickelson, Jason Wagner, Chase Osterhoff, Kyle Bronson.
(15 laps; top two transfer)
Row 1: Jason Feger, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 2: Shane Clanton, Kyle Hammer
Row 3: Kyle Strickler, Trevor Gundaker
Row 4: Dale Markham, Justin Duty
Row 5: Dona Marcoullier, Mike Spatola
Row 6: Myles Moos, Dustin Walker
Row 7: Brandon Overton, Alex Wilson
Row 8: Kevin Weaver, Matt Cosner
Row 1: Nick Hoffman, Doug Drown
Row 2: Tyler Erb, Jason Riggs
Row 3: Ryan Unzicker, Johnny Scott
Row 4: Mike Marlar, McKay Wenger
Row 5: Kye Blight, Todd Cooney
Row 6: Scott Schmitt, Richie Stephens
Row 7: Lyle Zanker, Drake Troutman
Row 8: Greg Wagner, Paul Parker
Row 1: Daulton Wilson, Brent Larson
Row 2: Chris Simpson, Chase Junghans
Row 3: Bill Hough, Jason Wagner
Row 4: Thomas Hunziker, Kyle Bronson
Row 5: Matt Mickelson, Michael Lake
Row 6: Todd Bennett, Chase Osterhoff
Row 7: Garrett Alberson, Gordy Gundaker
Row 8: Jeff Larson
(All times local)
7-11 a.m. - VFW Post PDC breakfast (VFW Building 205 E. Locust Street)
3 p.m. - Live Suave Talk show (at the bus on the backstretch turn two)
4- 4:45 p.m. - Drivers’ autograph session (vendor row on backstretch)
5:15 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting (WoO command center)
5:45 p.m. - On-track activity begins
- Modified hot laps (consolation entrants)
- Late Model hot laps (consolation entrants)
Redraw and prerace festivities
- Modified consolations (15 laps)
- Modified hot laps (feature entrants)
- Late Model consolations (15 laps)
- Late Model hot laps (feature entrants)
- Modified feature (40 laps)
- Prairie Dirt Shootout (25 laps)
- 33rd annual Prairie Dirt Classic (100 laps)