FAIRBURY, Ill. — When action heated up after a lap-17 restart Tuesday at Fairbury Speedway, Bobby Pierce knew it was time to pounce while he held the third spot behind Hudson O'Neal and Garrett Smith in the 50-lap Castrol FloRacing Night in America event.
"I know Garrett probably didn't know where to go and Hudson was sneaking up in there," the 26-year-old Oakwood, Ill., driver said. "It was pretty wild. I saw them get together— I don't know exactly what happened — and I was like, well, 'Here's my chance.' "
Pierce dove under Smith exiting turn four, then under O'Neal entering turn one to grab a lead he'd never give up in racing to a $23,023 payday and his fourth career Castrol victory to become the third-year tour's winningest driver.
Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., overcame a slow start to finished 2.434 seconds behind at the finish with 11th starting Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., improving eight spots to give home-state drivers a sweep of the podium positions. Pole-starting Tanner English of Benton, Ky., who led the first five laps, settled for fourth with Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., rounding out the top five.
Eatonton, Ga.'s Smith started outside the front row and used the outside groove to sweep around English on the sixth lap, and the youngster controlled the race for 10 circuits before the race's critical moments developed.
Pierce and Martinsville, Ind.'s O'Neal, fresh off his World 100 victory at Ohio's Eldora Speedway, appeared to drop Smith to third on the 16th lap, but Garrett Alberson's slowing car drew a yellow and erased their moves, putting Smith back out front for a restart.
Smith led one more lap after the restart, but when O'Neal made an inside move in turn three — his Rocket Chassis house car nearly turned over as it got up on its right-side wheels briefly — O'Neal took the lead and Smith skittered up the track in turn four, losing momentum.
That allowed Pierce to go past Smith and then O'Neal at either end of the frontstretch, and he pulled away as Smith slid into turn two and made heavy contact with O'Neal, who nearly lost control and dropped back to the eighth position.
While Pierce stayed in control the rest of the way, Smith likewise began fading and retired on lap 32 while O'Neal ended up 11th in the final rundown.
Pierce noted the race might've been "pretty crazy" if Smith and O'Neal stayed in contention, but called it "just an awesome race. I was pretty nervous there when (O'Neal) was showing up in (near the front with) the tires he had on, but it all worked out."
The winner was pleased with his Longhorn Chassis he was forced to drive after a Saturday wreck at Eldora damaged his primary machine.
"The car was way better in the feature. You know, we worked on it all night and haven't raced this car much here lately — we wrecked the other car I got and it's gotta go to Longhorn, we'll be sending that of tomorrow. I'm glad that we got this thing dialed in so we've got two good race cars."
Erb started fourth but fell back to the seventh spot on laps 8-17 before mounting a comeback for a runner-up finish.
"We fell back a little bit but then we were able to get going around the bottom, and it seemed like that's where the place was to be. And we just got plugged away down there and was able to get up there second," he said. "To come back here with this group of cars here and have a second-place finish is real good after (struggling at the World 100). We had some bad luck over at Eldora, but we bounced right back here and we'll just keep going at it."
The third-finishing Babb had "a lot of luck on my side" in advancing from the 10th position to the fourth position between laps 17-22.
"The one restart, I don't really know what happened, but this time it worked out good for me," he said. "I was kind of in the middle there and it seemed like a bunch of guys got together and guys on the outside of me hit the brakes and it was an open hole for me, so I advanced a lot of positions right there."
Getting all the way to the front would've required a better starting spot, but Babb was pleased with where he ended up.
"I think Dennis and I and Bobby, we've raced here enough to know that that bottom, when it's got left-side traction like that, it's hard to (abandon it). We got to traffic and I was thinking in my head, 'Well, maybe I could roll them in the middle.' But once we got to traffic and Tanner (English) moved out to the middle and lost two spots, I thought, 'Well, that idea goes out the window.' So I just stayed married at the bottom behind Dennis and took the third place."
Notes: Pierce, the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series points leader and No. 1 driver in DirtonDirt.com's power rankings for six consecutive weeks, notched his 30th overall victory of the season and first of the season on the Castrol tour. ... He has three full-field victories at Fairbury in 2023 and has earned more than $110,000 at the track. ... With the car he wrecked at Eldora Speedway's World 100 going back to the Longhorn Chassis shop in China Grove, N.C., Pierce plans to take the next two weekends off. "Sometimes you've gotta take a break," Pierce said. ... Besides the lap-16 caution for Alberson, the only other yellow came when the initial restart was called back. ... Sixteen drivers completed 50 laps. ... Ryan Gustin scratched for the night after getting a hole in his oil pan during hot laps. ... Gordy Gundaker lost an engine in hot laps and loaded up. ... After taking a summer break, the Castrol FloRacing Night in America Series contested its first event since May 31 at Florence Speedway. ... Fairbury on Saturday hosts the MARS Championship Series for a $5,000-to-win event.