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DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

Dispatches: Pursley's win snaps dry spell on Clash

April 16, 2022, 4:30 pm
From series, tracks, staff and others
Johnny Pursley celebrates. (Kevin Ritchie)
Johnny Pursley celebrates. (Kevin Ritchie)

The latest notes and quotes from Dirt Late Model events nationwide from April 15-16, including Schaeffer’s Spring Nationals action at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va., and Tazewell (Tenn.) Speedway and the Spring 50 at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky.:

Pursley snaps dry spell

Johnny Pursley didn't make any bones about his five-year dry spell on the Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series. His frank evaluation of many of those performances? "We've been really bad for the last couple of years," Pursley said.

The 38-year-old Clover, S.C., the 2016 Carolina Clash champion and an 11-time winner on the series entering Saturday's event at Fayetteville (N.C.) Motor Speedway, led flag-to-flag at the 4/10-mile oval for a $5,000 payday. The victory followed a second-place finish in Ultimate Southeast action at Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, N.C., his first back-to-back podium finishes in touring competition in more than two years.

"You know, all my guys here, they've stuck with me through some hard times," Pursley said after his Fayetteville victory. "We've been really bad for the last couple of years. we we've we've been really bad for the last couple of years. And all this crowd stuck with me.

"Mikey, he works his tail off on the race car, Joey he came along this year. He's watched us suck for the last couple years (but) for some reason gave us a new race car and we've put all our stuff, Mom and Dad, they've poured their heart and soul into it. We've all just came together and I think we're gonna have a pretty good race team. I gotta think thank all this crowd, my wife my kids, Mom and Dad. Just everybody that does anything for this race car."

While Pursley officially led every lap, it was a little dicey at the outside as he battled polesitter and fellow front-row starter Michael Rouse on the initial start. The pair came together in turn three and Pursley spun, triggering an eight-car pileup. Officials reset the field with drivers in their original starting positions and the second start fell Pursley's way. Rouse ran second until tangling with the slower car of Mike Huey just before the halfway point.

"I got a run on Michael," Pursley said, recounting the initial start. "I mean, I felt like I hadn't cleared I couldn't see him beside me and I drove it off in there because this track, if you can get out front, it's hard to get around (the leader). I felt like like I had him cleared; I must not have. I don't know what happened.

"He run into the door, but luckily we both got our spots back. The car's a little banged up, but I can feel (Rouse pressuring him) most of the race he was running me pretty hard and hate (he got eliminated in) lapped traffic."

Fast out of the box

Less than 24 hours before the start Saturday’s 46th annual Spring 50 at Florence Speedway, Josh Rice still wasn’t sure which of his Rick Jones-owned cars he should enter in the season-opening event at his home track.

Stick with his battle-tested XR1 Rocket from last year? Go with the brand-new Rocket sitting in his team’s shop? The decision was a simple one for the 23-year-old talent from Verona, Ky.

Rice finally opted to pull out the fresh piece — the first front-to-back, inside-and-out new machine he’s ever raced — and he promptly piloted it to a $10,000 victory.

“We debated all night last night getting it out,” Rice said in victory lane when asked about his new Senesis Construction-sponsored No. 11. “We’ve kind of been struggling with our other car (in early-season appearances). We’ve just been having to throw a lot of stuff at it to get it to work. We need to go back home and go over it real good, but we knew this thing was sitting there ready to rip.”

And rip it around the half-mile oval Rice did. He started fourth, outdueled Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., for third by lap 15, shot by Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas for second on lap-16 restart and overtook race-long pacesetter Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., for the lead on lap 19.

Rice proceeded to control much of the race’s remaining distance, combining his fine-handling car with a powerful new Jay Dickens-built engine to build a healthy edge over Pierce midway through the 24-lap run of green-flag racing to close the feature.

“Down there in (turns) three and four when the top come in, man, it was awesome,” Rice said. “It was so much fun.”

But things became a bit hairy in the final circuits. Pierce drew closer and closer as Rice worked lapped traffic, and finally, on lap 47, Pierce swept to the inside of turns one and two and forged ahead of Rice.

Alas, Pierce’s momentum carried him up the track, he brushed the outside wall in turn two, and Rice sped underneath him to maintain command beat Pierce to the finish line by 1.665 seconds.

“I seen Bobby slide me there,” Rice said. “I knew he had to be close because I seen (crewman) Noah on the (signal) sticks, and then I think I slid Scott (James) down here and I felt like I was running about two mile an hour off (turn) four. I knew (Pierce’s bid) was coming, but luckily I was prepared for it to cross him over.”

And so Rice recorded his first win of the 2022 season, adding the Spring 50 to an ever-growing resume that includes his first-ever Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victory last year at Florence.

“Hopefully we can keep knocking these big ones off,” said Rice, a seven-time winner at Florence in 2021 who happily declared that his new car — dubbed "Betty Crocker" by him and his team — "was cookin'."

Settling for second

Bobby Pierce didn’t go down to defeat in Saturday’s Spring 50 at Florence Speedway without swinging for the fences.

Unfortunately, contact with the fence — specifically, the outside wall in turn two — derailed what would have been Pierce’s dramatic late-race pass of Josh Rice for the lead and left him as the race’s runner-up.

“We came up short,” the 25-year-old star from Oakwood, Ill., said, “but we gave it our all.”

Indeed, after ceding the lead to Rice on lap 19 and falling several seconds behind the eventual winner at one point during the feature’s second half, Pierce mounted a furious late-race assault. He swept underneath Rice rounding turns one and two on lap 47 and surged ahead, but his slipped up the track exiting the corner, bumped the wall and was helpless to stop Rice from vaulting by to regain command for good.

“I decided to push it a little harder once I saw (Rice) get into lapped traffic,” said Pierce, who altered his weekend schedule to enter the Spring 50 — a race he won in 2019 — after his initial plans to run three Lucas Oil MLRA events in Iowa were dashed by weather-related cancelations. “I was trying to save my stuff until then. I figured we timed it about right, but then I had that awesome run there and both of ‘em (Rice and a lapped car) were just stopped right there on the frontstretch. I had nowhere to go … I knew right then I had to make a shot at it.”

But Pierce didn’t hit the slick inside of turn two just right, and “that wall comes up on you fast,” he noted. “If I would’ve had another shot at it I probably could’ve run it a lot better and not pushed and tapped the wall a little bit. But you only get that one shot, and Josh drove a helluva race. He’s a heck of a wheelman here. It was a lot of fun.”

Invading the Bluegrass

Cory Hedgecock has races in Kentucky before — but that was going in a straight line. The former drag racer notched his first Dirt Late Model victory in the Bluegrass State on Friday at Junction City's Ponderosa Speedway, earning a flag-to-flag victory on the Valvoline Iron-Man Racing Series that paid $5,000.

The Loudon, Tenn., racer will be gunning for his second Kentucky victory on Saturday when he travels to Union's Florence Speedway in the $10,000-to-win Spring 50.

"This is just testament how good our team is how just good everything's working right now," Hedgecock said in victory lane at Ponderosa. "I cannot thank all my people enough. We come here to you know try to run top-five. We thought we were good enough to do that. But to win and everything. I mean, that's that's awesome."

And don't think Hedgecock, a frequent winner at Tennessee ovals, was coming to Kentucky to find weaker competition. The field not only had some of Kentucky's top racers but plenty of regional and national talent, the winner notes.

"I'm going to call like a little mini-Lucas (Oil Late Model Dirt Series) race," Hedgecock said. "I mean, (Tyler Erb), Garrett Alberson, Spencer Hughes ... Josh Rice, Zack Dohm. It's just a lot of good people especially to outrun 'em. ... "

Drama at Wythe

Brandon Overton knew passing Jonathan Davenport for the lead — especially a hungry-for-his-first-win-of-the-season J.D. — wasn’t going to be easy in Friday night’s 53-lap Schaeffer’s Spring Nationals feature at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va.

So how did Overton pull a dramatic last-lap maneuver to steal the $10,053 victory from Davenport? Just call it a perfect combination of patience and controlled aggression — along with a little bit of good fortune (in the form of an apparent deflating left-rear tire on Davenport’s car).

Overton, 31, of Evans, Ga., chase Blairsville, Ga.’s Davenport — the leader from the start of the A-main — throughout the race’s second half. He peaked inside the pacesetter several times but couldn’t pull abreast of Davenport until the final circuit when he stayed with J.D. off turn two, allowing last year’s No. 1-ranked driver to surge ahead of 2021’s No. 2-ranked chauffeur rounding turns three and four and reach the checkered flag first.

“I knew I just needed to get a run (into turn three) and I could sail it off in the there, because I was actually running a lane lower than him getting into three and I could kind of feel it sticking,” Overton said in his post-race interview.  “Awesome race … heck of a race with me and J.D. Hell, I don’t know what else to say.”

Racing two days after celebrating his birthday, Overton was slightly flabbergasted by his walk-off triumph. He started fourth but had scratch and claw to grab second from the red-hot Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., and then do the same to defeat Davenport.

“I was dogging Madden there for second for the longest time, and we got the restart and he chose the top and I knew that was my opportunity to get by him,” said Overton, who did snatch the position when the green flag came back out. “It was just really hard to pass tonight, so I wanted to slide J.D., but at the same time I just said, ‘I just need to wait and wait, and when I do make a move, make it count.’”

Overton did just that, guiding his David Wells-owned Longhorn car by Davenport’s Double L Racing Longhorn in the race’s final moments. The move kept Davenport winless in 13 starts this season — though he’s shown plenty of consistent speed with eight top-five and 12 top-10 finishes — and gave Overton his sixth victory of the season but first since March 5 at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tenn.

A six-race winless streak can’t quite be termed a slump, but for Overton, who won 31 times and earned nearly $1 million last year, it was a slightly frustrating lull. Snapping out of it at a blazing-fast, high-banked half-mile like Wythe provided him a nice boost.

“I try to calm myself down,” Overton said. “I’ve never really run good at Tazewell or Bristol .. the more that they’re banked, I always say, the slower I am. We’re just steadily working on it. We’re looking forward to getting back to some ‘normal’ racetracks and we’ll keep doing our thing.”

DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

In continuing to streamline our race coverage, we've added DirtonDirt.com Dispatches to our list of regular features on the site. The idea of the new feature is to spotlight key storylines of the weekend (and sometimes during the week), putting notes, quotes and accomplishments in context to provide subscribers a quick-hitting read on all the latest from tracks around the country. Bear with us as the new feature evolves. Our intention is to have a single file that's regularly topped by the latest news, so check back throughout the weekend.

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