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Eldora Speedway

World 100 events fell Pierce's way, dad says

September 12, 2016, 9:08 pm
By Kevin Kovac
DirtonDirt.com senior writer
Bobby Pierce and son Bob in victory lane. (heathlawsonphotos.com)
Bobby Pierce and son Bob in victory lane. (heathlawsonphotos.com)

ROSSBURG, Ohio (Sept. 10) — Bob Pierce is an old-school sort who doesn’t let himself get overconfident about his 19-year-old son Bobby’s chances for victory in a specific race, but after watching his boy become the youngest winner in the history of the World 100 at Eldora Speedway he sheepishly admitted that he had more than a sneaking suspicion that it might be Bobby’s year. | Complete World 100 coverage

He knew, of course, that Bobby has a natural knack for circumnavigating the intimidating high-banked, half-mile oval that belies his age. He knew Bobby’s maturity behind the wheel had reached the point where he could win the sport’s most prestigious event — the kid had proven that, after all, last month when he captured the North-South 100 at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky., for his first-ever crown jewel triumph.

And when Eldora announced a new tire rule for the World 100 — banning all grooving, siping, pinning or needling of tires and requiring teams to use Hoosier LM-20s on three corners with the option of an LM-20 or LM-40 on the right-rear wheel — the elder Pierce knew that circumstances were playing into his son’s hands.

Yes, Bob knew that Bobby was positioned well to make a run at the weekend’s $49,000 top prize.

“I was kind of predicting it,” Bob said late Saturday night while standing alongside his team’s hauler, a few feet away from the throng of fans waiting patiently to congratulate, get an autograph or take a picture with Bobby. “I hate to do that, but I thought it was in our favor with them doing the tire rule.”

From Bob’s perspective, everything just seemed to line up right for young Pierce.

“I knew from the day he rolled into this place for the first time that he was gonna be good here,” Bob said. “The fourth-place that first year (Bobby’s 2013 World 100 debut) proved it — he didn’t even know what the hell he was doing. He made so many mistakes, and still ran fourth.

“Then the second year we didn’t get a chance because we had a broken oil pump belt (Bobby finished 25th in 2014), and last year we were second. There were a few moves he might have made last year too (to contend more), but whatever … second place, 18 years old, that was great.

“Then when this tire rule thing come up for this year, I was almost grinning,” he added. “I was thinking, There ain’t many people that are gonna be here that have run as many laps as him on (LM) 20s. Running the three (soft-compound) 20s in the (UMP DIRTcar) Summernationals (en route to winning this year’s Hell Tour title) taught him patience because we had to run ‘em … we ran ‘em at three different racetracks that rubbered up and he won two of them and run third in the other. He learned how to take his time and be careful to save the tires.”

No one was quite certain how the softer, uncut tires mandated for the weekend would react come the time for Saturday’s headliner, but the Pierces got more of a preview than most of the feature starters because Bobby had to run an extra race. After Bobby ended up starting 13th rather than on the pole in a Saturday-night heat race because Eldora officials corrected the points standings from the preliminary programs that mistakenly gave consolation points to Pierce and several other drivers points despite the fact that they didn’t take the green flag in the event, he ended up having to win a consy to transfer to the World 100.

“I told him, ‘If you run the consy, you’re gonna know how hard you can push your tires,’ ” Bob said. “So when they changed the (heat) lineup (Saturday morning) everybody was all mad and I said, ‘No, this will be better, because if (Bobby doesn’t transfer in a heat) he’s got 20 more laps on the racetrack.’

“I know that little brain of his — he soaks up everything like a sponge, every little dip, every little bump, so he’ll know what the track’s doing for the feature. And we’ll get some temperatures on tires, so I can tell him, ‘Hey, you went too hard,’ or, ‘You gotta take it easy.’ ”

Stationed in the infield wearing his reflective vest and with signal sticks in both of his hands, Bob watched the World 100 play out for his son almost too well. Starting 22nd was of little consequence for Bobby, who wheeled his Pierce Race Car expertly through the field to reach second place behind leader Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., on lap 35.

“When I looked at the scoreboard and it said like 60-some laps to go, I went, ‘Oh, no, you’re in second. That’s too early!’ ” Bob said. “Then there was the restart (on lap 37) and he fell back (to fifth), and I’m going, ‘Now calm down, calm down, just get your rhythm back going again and you’ll be all right.’ ”

Bobby gathered himself and soon moved back toward the front. He overtook Erb for the lead on lap 56 and from there it was a matter of staying in command to the checkered flag.

For virtually all of those final 44 laps Bobby kept his machine perched on the track’s top lip, flirting with the unforgiving concrete and often bouncing noticeably through holes on the outside of the track. To the untrained eye, Pierce might have been running too hard when he should have been conserving his equipment as the eternally steady Erb churned around the inside of the speedway in dogged pursuit. Dear ol' dad knew better, however.

“I knew what Erb was gonna do — he was gonna charge that bottom, and that’s the hardest on your right-front (tire) to do,” Bob analyzed. “Every car that pulled in to get a tire change (during the feature), their right-fronts were peeled all to hell … and Bobby, he wasn’t beating our right-front up. He was driving in straight, smooth. Every once in a while he’d get a little more sideways then I’d like to see him, but he wasn’t hurting the right-front running up high.

“I kept thinking, As long as he don’t kill the left-rear (tire) on exit … which I was watching him hit that hole (off the corner), but he got traction in that hole. That hole, that’s not black, so he can’t hurt the left-rear if he hits that hole … there’s traction in it. He did the same thing between three and four, and I thought, Just keep hitting those spots.

“Then Bill (Schlieper) from Pro Power (the Pierce team’s engine builder) comes over and says, ‘He’s killing the car! He’s hitting that hole and jumping in the air!’ I said, ‘He has to hit that hole.’ Bill said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘That’s where the traction’s at!’ He says, ‘He’s better off moving down.’ I said, ‘He’ll kill the left-rear, Bill. I can’t move him down.’

“So I kept telling him, ‘Stay up, stay up.’ ”

The 44-year-old Erb did begin drawing closer to Pierce with about 15 laps remaining. Bob responded by telling his son to pick up the pace, and Bobby had plenty still in reserve to follow that directive.

“Erb started coming toward the end because he was really driving into one, so I figured if he was doing it in one he was doing it in three,” Bob related. “He closed the gap up, so I sort of stretched my (signal) sticks out and gave him a little wind up, like, ‘Let’s go harder!’ I could tell he had something left because he was letting off in one and I saw the spoiler was still on, so I was like, ‘Bounce it off the wall a couple times if you have to. You aint’ gonna hurt nothing!’

“When I did that he started stretching out and then Erb just couldn’t do it no more. I’m like, ‘I think we got it. As long as he gets through lapped cars alright and don’t make a mistake and get in the wall too hard, we’ll be OK.’ ”

Bobby pulled away over the final circuits, beating Erb to the finish line by a healthy 4.489 seconds and clinching a World 100 victory that his father coveted but could never accomplish during his driving career. Bob couldn’t have been more proud.

“He was patient … he finally got patience,” said Bob, whose best finish 13 career World 100 feature starts between 1984 and 2002 was third, in ’84. “He didn’t even knock the spoiler off. He got a little crinkle in it, but that was a slide-job deal.

“For him to win this race at 19 years old — man, it’s unreal. It took a week to get the North-South (win) to set in, but I don’t think this is ever gonna set in. This is too cool.

“It’s definitely better to watch your son win it,” he added. “Yeah, we all wanted it for me and Illinois wanted it for me, but this … this is pretty cool. To be involved with him since he started racing, watching him grow, watching him screw up and do things stupid and then I tell him he’s stupid and we get mad at each other … after going through all that and seeing him win the World 100, it’s pretty cool.”

Bob smiled when he heard the raucous cheers Bobby received from Eldora’s packed house upon reaching victory lane. Nobody in the field elicited a louder cheer from the fans during driver introductions than Pierce, so it was no surprise that a giant roar rained down on him after the race.

“We got an Illinois following (for Dirt Late Model racing) like nobody’s business and that’s why when Erb won the Dream (in June) it was so good (the crowd reaction),” Bob said. “I knew it was gonna be a battle between the two Illinois guys right there at the end, so I was like, ‘What’s the crowd gonna do now?’ They made plenty of noise for Bobby. It’s just cool he’s got a good following. I’m glad the people are behind him.

“Yeah, there were some boos in there, too, and for a young kid to hear some boos when they don’t like him, it hurts. A 34-year-old guy can take it. Scott (Bloomquist) can take it, he don’t care. It’s not good for a young guy to hear that stuff, but he rolls with it pretty good. He’s been around this a lot and knows it can happen, but I know in the back of his mind it probably bothers him. But that’s all right … he’s got a big following. Just look over there.”

Bob motioned over to the sea of well-wishers inundating Bobby and his car in the pit area. It was a scene filled with joy and happiness, though Bob couldn’t help acknowledging that there was a bittersweet aspect to the night as well.

For one, Bob had always had an agreement with Eldora’s famed founder, the late Earl Baltes, that the two men who had become friends would hook up for some postrace libations if Bob were to win the World 100.

“That’s what I said when they talked to me up there (on the winner’s stage) — I said, ‘Earl, you’ve got to come down,’ ” Bob said wistfully. “That’s what me and him talked about. Earl said, ‘Bob, if you ever win this race, we’re gonna sit up there and drink Budweiser all night long until the sun comes up.’ I said, Earl, ‘We’re gonna do it, buddy!’ So I know he’s smiling.’ ”

The Pierce team’s celebration also went in the wake of news that hometown racer Shane Unger of Rossburg, Ohio, had been pronounced dead after his involvement in a multi-car heat-race crash earlier in the evening. The tragedy was on Bob’s mind — as a racer and the father of a driver — while he savored his son’s victory.

“As soon as we think we’ve got everything right, stuff does happen,” Bob said. “I don’t know the whole story of what happened or how it might have happened, but everyone knew is probably wasn’t good … then here we have my son going out there right after that. You never know … but this is what we do.

“It’s tough … we had that bad wreck at Tazewell (the Tennessee track where Bobby flipped in a 2013 Lucas Oil Series event), and all the way home I was quitting. Then Angie (Bob’s wife and Bobby’s mother) goes, ‘All right now, he’s 16, getting ready to go to his first Dream next week, and you’re gonna tell him he’s gotta quit racing?’ I said, ‘I can’t take another gun and load it with bullets and take him there (to Eldora) and see this again.’ I was done.

“But by the time we got home from Tazewell, which was eight or nine hours, Bobby kept saying, ‘I’m OK. I’m ready to go.’ He couldn’t wait to come to Eldora. He sat up there as a kid forever and watched this race, and he had to get on the racetrack.

“Well, here we are,” he concluded. “Here he is.”

A World 100 winner.

“This is pretty cool. To be involved with him since he started racing, watching him grow, watching him screw up and do things stupid and then I tell him he’s stupid and we get mad at each other … after going through all that and seeing him win the World 100, it’s pretty cool.”

— Bob Pierce, father of World 100 winner Bobby Pierce

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