Dispatches: Pierce snaps string of bridesmaid runs
The latest notes and quotes from Dirt Late Model special and sanctioned events during Labor Day weekend, including the DIRTcar Summer Nationals makeup at Macon (Ill.) Speedway, World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series action at Smoky Mountain and Lavonia, MARS Racing Series action in Illinois, Eldora Speedway’s Baltes Classic and more (find Lucas Oil Series coverage elsewhere):
Bridesmaid no more
The first words out of Bobby Pierce’s mouth after his victory in Saturday night’s 50-lap MARS Racing Series-sanctioned FALS Super Nationals at Fairbury (Ill.) Speedway expressed exactly how he was feeling.
“We were tired of second,” said the 25-year-old star from Oakwood, Ill.
Indeed, Pierce had entered Fairbury’s Labor Day weekend special riding a streak of four consecutive runner-up finishes, including three in a row during the Aug. 25-27 World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series-sanctioned tripleheader at Davenport (Iowa) Speedway and another in Friday’s MARS stop at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it was a bit frustrating when one considers that Pierce was going on a month-and-a-half since his last triumph.
Pierce needed a win, and he needed it now. He got it in dominating fashion at Fairbury, rolling off the outside pole to lead the entire distance without facing a serious challenge.
The hard-charging home-state racer perched his familiar No. 32 at the very top of the quarter-mile oval’s banked corners and tamed the difficult cushion with aplomb to earn a $10,000 winner’s check for his 13th triumph of 2022 but first since a DIRTcar Summer Nationals score on July 14 at Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind.
“The track was really slick and they had to not prep it because the rain was coming,” Pierce said. “Luckily it stayed away (but) it was tricky. (The surface) felt a lot like Macon (Speedway) — you know, how Macon gets that thick cushion right up on the wall, and that’s the only place I’m ever really good at.”
Pierce rarely strayed from the cushion as he pushed his machine to keep it out of his closest pursuers’ sight.
“(Ryan) Unzicker and (Shannon) Babb were coming on the bottom or middle or wherever they were, but I know those guys probably had some moments where they were fast,” Pierce said of the drivers who finished second (Babb) and third (Unzicker). “I was just trying to stay way ahead of them so I wouldn’t have to worry about ‘em.”
While Pierce’s misfortune in Fairbury’s marquee Prairie Dirt Classic is well-documented — he’s still looking for his first win in the event — he has no such trouble in other races at the down-home track. Saturday marked his second victory of the season at Fairbury, following his season-high $30,000 triumph in May 14’s MARS-sanctione Illinois Speedweek finale.
The run had Pierce eyeing one more holiday weekend flourish before he turns his focus to the Sept. 7-10 Dream/World 100 action at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
“Hopefully we can go to Spoon (River Speedway in Banner, Ill.) tomorrow and get another one,” said Pierce, whose Fairbury victory came one day after his girlfriend, Abby Foster, celebrated her 26th birthday. “We’ll be racing my other car there, my Eldora car. It’s got a special wrap on it and I think everyone will like it.”
Great night for Capital
Central Missouri isn’t typically a hotbed for Capital Race Cars, which are produced by Marshall Green’s business roughly 700 miles to the southeast in Woodstock, Ga.
On Saturday night, though, there was essentially a Capital party at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo. Three of the top five finishers in the 40-lap Lucas Oil MLRA-sanctioned Ron Jenkins Memorial — winner Tony Jackson Jr. of Lebanon, Mo., runner-up Mason Oberkramer of Broseley, Mo., and fifth-place Payton Looney of Republic, Mo. — drove Capital cars, giving the company a hefty boost far outside its usual territory.
Looney has brought Capital high-profile glory at the 3/8-mile Wheatland oval with his 2020 Show-Me 100 triumph, but he’s been sort of a lone wolf with the chassis brand in his home area. That has changed with Jackson and Oberkramer among those joining him in carrying the Capital torch in Missouri — and running well, too.
Jackson continued a late-summer hot streak with his Capital mount, making Saturday’s 40-lapper his third win in his last five MLRA starts. He wasn’t headed after overtaking Kolby Vandenbergh of Ashland, Ill., for the lead on lap 12 but showed his car’s versatility when he ripped off some circuits on the cushion to turn back a late threat from Oberkramer, a close friend of Jackson who has joined him in the Capital fold.
“It’s always good to have one of your buddies behind you,” Jackson said of Oberkramer. “I knew he had a good car. I was a lot more comfortable there when I was leading just rolling around the middle, but I had to go back up there and do some more work (at the top of the track) in one and two.”
Oberkramer, meanwhile, was all smiles during the post-race ceremonies after finishing second.
“I’m gonna count this as a win for us,” Oberkramer related. “Ever since we got this car from Marshall we just haven’t been able to hit it here. It’s like Lucas has been my nemesis, and it used to be one of my favorite tracks and I was really good here. To finally land a good podium finish and be back up front where we belong feels reassuring.”
Hurst back in the seat
Rust? What rust?
Jeremiah Hurst of Dubuque, Iowa, made his first true, competitive start since late 2020 in Friday night’s Hoker Trucking Series event at West Liberty (Iowa) Raceway and he scarcely looked like he had ever been away from the seat of a Dirt Late Model. The 46-year-old former IMCA Late Model national champion piloted a car fielded by veteran racer Joel Callahan, also of Dubuque, to a solid third-place finish in the 25-lap feature won by Chad Holladay of Muscatine, Iowa.
“It’s been a couple years now,” Hurst said when asked how long he’s been inactive since his four-year stint driving for Illinois team owner Ken Roberts ended following the 2020 season. “I think I made five laps at Dubuque in a car this guy bought, but that’s about it.”
Hurst hasn’t been far removed from what’s going on in the sport considering he works for Callahan’s construction company. When Callahan offered him the chance to enter West Liberty’s holiday weekend doubleheader in one of his red, white and blue No. 40 machines, he happily accepted.
“I’m glad I got the opportunity,” Hurst said. “My boss Joel, he’s an awesome guy, he’s an awesome boss. It’s awesome he let me do this. It put a little air under my helmet.”
Hurst moved forward in the A-main, advancing three spots from his sixth starting position. He thought he might have had the goods to climb even higher if the racing surface would have come to him a bit more.
“It was fast in the heat race and I didn’t want to change that much so just changed maybe minor things,” Hurst said of Callahan’s mount. “I wish I would’ve changed a little bit more, but I didn’t know the top was gonna be that fast. I wish the top would’ve went away a little bit and maybe we could’ve got a little racier there.”
Hurst’s primary takeaway from his return to action? He’s a big fan of the Capital Race Car he raced.
“I’ve drove some cars, I’ve been doing this awhile, and them Capital cars, man, I kind of wish I would’ve had one a couple years ago,” Hurst related. “For getting in it and I don’t really feel 100 percent comfortable in the seat — it’s a little bit bigger, my feet are kind of up off the ground a little bit higher for my liking — I’m tickled with third. I got to be racy.” — Mike Ruefer
Smiles all around
The top-three podium was a very happy place after Friday night’s Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Association-sanctioned Ellis Family Memorial at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.
Standing in the middle was winner Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., celebrating his first feature victory in over three years. To his left was runner-up Andrew Kosiski of Omaha, Neb., riding high after a career-best MLRA finish. And to Junghans’s right was a beaming Aaron Marrant of Richmond, Mo., whose third-place run also was a career-high in MLRA competition.
Junghans, 29, had reason to be the happiest driver in the field thanks to his dominating $5,000 triumph in the 30-lap A-main. He snapped a personal winless streak dating back to his last success — a World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series event on July 14, 2019, at Red Cedar Speedway in Menomonie, Wis. — while earning the second MLRA checkered flag of his career.
“The track was fun,” said Junghans, who grabbed the top spot from Kosiski on lap three and never looked back. “It had a lot of character to it. You had to kind of move around and stuff to pass lapped cars, but all in all it was a good night and we finally got er’ done.
“I was cussing myself a couple of times in the helmet,” he added. “It just got tricky and I about fenced it one lap up there. You would just lose the front end and stuff like that, and you definitely had to be up on the wheel to get it done tonight.”
The 31-year-old Kosiski primarily stuck to the inside of the half-mile oval in his run to a personal-best finish on the MLRA tour.
“I think I’m happier than Chase is right now,” Kosiski said. “I’m telling ya, I needed this big time. We have been struggling, and we went and raced with the World of Outlaws last week (at Davenport, Iowa) and didn’t make a show. You know, you start thinking about a lot of stuff … holy moly I can’t believe I just ran second tonight!”
Marrant, meanwhile, used the knowledge he’s gained over the years running an open-wheel modified at Lakeside to tally a satisfying third-place finish.
“It’s nice to be at a track that I have made some laps on,” Marrant said. “We were pretty good tonight. The car was just a little tight and we definitely got lucky with starting position and got to move up to the outside, but we were good. I had to run about a tire width right below the cushion, which was killing some speed for sure, but it’s a good way to start the (three-race MLRA) weekend off.”
Mike Spatola praised his crew and sponsors after winning Friday night’s 40-lap MARS Racing Series feature at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway. But he gave an even bigger shout out to his better half while standing in victory lane.
“My wife (Robin) just had our third kid Monday, Myles,” Spatola said of the bouncing baby boy that joined the couple’s son and daughter. “Most wives wouldn’t want you going racing on the weekend the week your baby’s born, but she supported us and sent us off. She was down at the shop telling us good luck when we left.
“She supports us so much,” he continued. “She doesn’t come (to the track) a lot, but everything she does back home, I’m so thankful for.”
Spatola’s wife had to give him the green light to go racing, though. The 31-year-old driver from Manhattan, Ill., has been running too well this summer for him to skip a high-paying show at a quarter-mile oval he knows so intimately.
The $10,000 victory was Spatola’s sixth overall of the 2022 season, but four have come in his last six starts since the first weekend in August. His hot streak includes three straight wins last month — $2,500 FALS Cup scores on Aug. 6 and 13 at Fairbury (Ill.) Speedway and Aug. 19’s $5,000 MARS success at Kankakee (Ill.) County Speedway — and a runner-up finish on Aug. 27 at Fairbury. The lone blemish on Spatola’s recent ledger is a DNQ for Aug. 26’s World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series show at Davenport (Iowa) Speedway.
“This thing’s been rolling pretty good for the last month,” Spatola said of his Rocket car, “and hopefully I don’t screw it up and stuff it in the wall or something.”
Spatola was nearly flawless in leading Friday’s A-main from flag-to-flag off the pole position, but it was by no means an easy stroll to the first-ever five-figure checkered flag of his career. He had outside polesitter Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., dogging him throughout the race as he deftly slid around the bullring’s outside lane.
“That felt like the longest 40 laps of my life,” said Spatola, whose previous career-high payday was his $6,000 WoO victory in April 2021 at Farmer City. “When you’re ringing the top like that and you know you got Pierce behind you, it’s just, every lap you’re waiting. My signal guy, he just quit signaling me, which I knew that meant, ‘Get all you can out of it. There’s no point in me doing my job.’
“As the race went on, I was on a used right-front there, and I just kept pushing it off more and more every lap and I couldn’t steer. I was just praying to see that white. I seen it and I took the checker and I was like, ‘Man, was that the checker or the white? Maybe I better do another lap.’”
Pierce, 25, settled for a close runner-up finish, his fourth straight second-place outing over the past week.
“I know he was on a 30 (compound tire), a little softer than I was, so I didn’t want to see the (late) caution,” Pierce said of Spatola. “We were really digging before that. But he drove a heck of a race.”
'We're all here together'
The dark clouds hovering over Dirt Late Model racing weren’t lost on the top finishers in Friday’s World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series event at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tenn.
Flag-to-flag winner Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., and Chris Ferguson of Mount Holly, N.C., briefly mentioned their concerns for the Dirt Late Model community’s struggles over the past week.
Longtime pit presence and Longhorn Chassis staff member Matt Langston’s family is mourning the tragic loss of his 18-year-old daughter Sidney, who died in a Monday auto accident in Trinity, N.C. And champion modified racer and part-time Late Model driver Nick Hoffman of Mooresville, N.C., and others suffered serious injuries in an overnight hauler accident en route to Illinois. Hoffman struck his head and sustained a broken jaw and his father Darrell Hoffman suffered a broken vertebrae; they were hospitalized in Kentucky.
“Everybody in the pits is thinking about Nick Hoffman and his dad, and also Matt Langston, his daughter passed away this week,” Ferguson said. “So, you know, our hearts are heavy for you guys. And we're all here together. And we're here for you guys, so if you ever need anything, just let us know.”
Owens detailed his race before recognizing what had been the talk of the pits for the tight-knit racing community.
“It's been a bad week for the racing community,” Owens said. “You know, hat's off to Matt Langston and his whole family for their loss this weekend. They're good friends down at Longhorn.”
Owens added another to the list with his brother Kurt, a longtime crew member, feeling the loss of a family member, too, albeit a four-legged family member.
“My brother, he lost his dog today, “ Man, he's taken that pretty hard … Hoffman. It's just been a bad week for everybody and glad we could win it on a good note.” — DIRTVision reports
Big night for Dietz
Tyler Deitz of Saxonburg, Pa., headed to Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa., on Friday in good shape to wrap up his track championship in the Pro Stock division. It turned out to be the best night in his racing career.
The 33-year-old Dietz not only wrapped up the Pro Stock title, he captured the division’s points finale and — for good measure — added his first career feature victory in the Super Late Model division.
"For sure my biggest night of my life,” Dietz told DirtonDirt.com in a message shortly after his victory. “I had dreams of being able to pull off double wins on a Fab Four night but that Late Model win has been so hard to get, I’ve had big leads and been close so this one means a lot.”
Dietz’s victory in his Dan Huston-owned Late Model came in his fourth year in the division. His Pro Stock success is gratifying because he drove a chassis he built himself, “so it’s great being successful in something I designed and all my own ideas.”
It’s a night he’ll likely remember forever.
“This has been a long road and a lot of hard work sweat and tears into this operation,” Dietz said. — Staff reports
Finally for Feger
When someone dropped by Jason Feger’s Bloomington, Ill., race shop and discovered the 44-year-old racer was heading to Macon (Ill.) Speedway on Thursday night, the visitor had this to say about the tight, fifth-mile oval where anything can and does happen: “You’re crazy for going over there.”
But Feger, who for 20 years has tried to win the track’s long-running Herald & Review 100, it marked some unfinished business, not to mention a chance to continue Feger’s best stretch of racing this season.
Feger made the short trip central Illinois trip pay off with a $6,000 victory in the non-points makeup race on the DIRTcar Summer Nationals, his 23rd career of his tour career.
"I can't say enough how hard this guys have been working in his Longhorn car has been great and we’ve got a long weekend ahead of us,” said Feger, who has three MARS Racing Series events on the holiday weekend docket after going from fourth-to-first at Macon between laps 34-39 in taking the point from Rusty Schlenk. “I got into the backstretch wall there when I passed (third-running Myles) Moos. We definitely bent something on the front end ... I thought I might’ve gave it away, but still was able to get it done.”
Feger’s victory ended his futility at the 42nd annual event where he’d previously made 19 starts. He’d logged five podium finishes and eight top-five finishes but had never grabbed the checkered flag. He finished second in 2010, ’15 and ’16 and finally broke through.
“It’s going to take a few beers to rehydrate from this one,” Feger told longtime Macon announcer Larry Limbach after bowing atop his car in victory lane. “Man, this one's been on my list for a long, long time. This was our 20th year. We've had this thing won I felt like a few times. We've always been really good here and we won races here, just never this one.
“And you know, it might not pay the most or anything like that, but I'm telling you, it means a lot for me. I've been coming here I think since '96 you know whether it's helping guys or racing and it's just a fun place. I told the guys at the shop, somebody come over (and said) ‘You’re crazy for going over there.’ I'm like, man, this is one of my favorite tracks. We’ve always put on a show here. It’s little, it’s tough, but man, it's a racy little place and I love it.”
Feger started eighth and made sure he didn’t press too hard, too early in the sport’s shortest (by distance) 100-lapper.
The track “was still pretty fast when we started the feature, so I was just biding my time and letting them guys go,” Feger said of the caution-plagued affair. “They were going hard, and I was just kinda trying to roll around there in the middle groove, just keep working it and saving my stuff. I just felt like we kept getting better and better. When it was there, I had to be aggressive, but I was just biding my time and waiting for the opportunities.” — Jordan DeLucia and staff reports