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Pierce’s Late Surge Thrills Dirt Late Model Dream Fans at Eldora

Bobby Pierce (32) splits Joseph Joiner (10) and Brandon Sheppard (B5) during Friday night's Dream prelim feature. (Josh James photo)

Mike Marlar, Hudson O’Neal earn final preliminary feature victories as field takes aim at Saturday’s $129,000-to-win main event

After the Dirt Late Model Dream’s opening two nights at Eldora Speedway, four different drivers have appeared on the podium, but none of them had the crowd buzzing like five-time DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion Bobby Pierce.

The two drivers celebrating $12,000 victories Friday night — Mike Marlar, the 2018 World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series champion, and Hudson O’Neal, who won the Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals finale in February at Volusia Speedway Park — both earned a bit of redemption after missing chances to win on Thursday. Jonathan Davenport, winner of the 2015 Dirt Late Model Dream, was the runner-up to Marlar on Friday night, but earned enough points over the two preliminary nights to be the high-point driver.

It was Pierce, though, who was running fifth in the second preliminary feature on a restart with nine laps to go when he summoned his years of experience running Illinois bullrings for a hold-your-breath moment, splitting Joseph Joiner and Brandon Sheppard going into Turn 1 and getting his car to slow enough before hitting the outside wall on the slick surface. He gathered it back in and two laps later slid past second-running Tim McCreadie, then he took off after leader O’Neal.

On the white flag lap, Pierce let it fly into Turn 1 and tried to slide O’Neal, but Pierce wasn’t close enough to make it stick and wound up settling for second.

“We were definitely the fastest car at the end there,” said Pierce, a two-time winner this season on the World of Outlaws tour who is in a three-way tie for second in the Series championship standings. “I was trying my hardest to save my car. We saved our stuff until the end, it was good timing and we went for it. I don’t think I was going to be able to clear Hudson, I backed off of it. Everyone says a corner too soon, but you get such a bad aero push off of Turn 2 that you lose so much ground, so I figured that was going to be my only shot at it.”

His move to split Joiner and Sheppard going into Turn 1 a few laps before had the crowd on its feet.

“You go for the move and once you commit to it, once you bail off into that corner, you’re in the slick and you’re in a free sail by then,” Pierce said. “I had to make sure the 10 car (Joseph Joiner) was low enough and I had to make sure Brandon wasn’t going to make a sudden move down. It looked like he was going to stay in the middle, so I just shot for it and didn’t make any contact, shot right through there then it was slowing down so I didn’t knock the wall down.”

Pierce, who has one top five in the Dream to go with a 2016 victory in Eldora’s World 100, definitely has a plan of attack for Saturday’s shot at $129,000.

“The track is staying very slick this weekend, even in qualifying,” said Pierce, who had a tire issue on Thursday that limited his chances for success. “Saturday I would expect the same thing. We’ll have to stay on top of it and tune the car to it. I was decent in the middle, but I was best on top. A good invert will be key for the heat races.”

Marlar controlled the first feature as Davenport gave chase. The 25-lap race went green-to-checkered even as Marlar was forced to weave through traffic with Davenport on his tail. Thursday’s winner Ricky Thornton Jr. was third with Chris Ferguson and Kyle Strickler rounding out the podium.

“Our tires kind of die after a few laps, and this is such a slick track you can’t be hustling but you’ve got to to get turned,” Marlar said. “It’s pretty tough getting through traffic, but we got through there. I saw Jonathan come there once and I shut the door on him and I don’t know how it went the last lap.”

The momentum continues for the World of Outlaws CASE Late Model Series’ two most recent winners, as four-time DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion Brian Shirley, who won last Saturday, was sixth, and Kyle Bronson, winner last Friday night was eighth. World of Outlaws rookie contender Johnny Scott was 14th.

Expected Summer Nationals racers Ashton Winger and Tyler Clem were 13th and 19th, respectively.

Before Pierce made his charge in the second preliminary feature, O’Neal was seeking redemption from Thursday night’s battle with McCreadie, who earned the victory after O’Neal led most of the race. This time, McCreadie led early before O’Neal took charge on a Lap 10 restart and held off McCreadie first then Pierce on the final lap.

“I was killing so much time getting down the straightaways coming off the bottom I figured I’d try something a little bit and about the time I did I saw Bobby on the video board giving it hell up there, so I was just waiting for the slider,” said O’Neal, who is trying to join his father, Don, as a winner of the Dirt Late Model Dream. “I thought he was going to get close enough too me. I kept making mistakes, I was too tight to run the top in Turns 3 and 4 and I figured he was going to be able to get a good enough run on me to slide me in Turns 1 and 2. I was just lucky enough to stay out front long enough.

“I gave one away Thursday night I felt, I just made a bad decision on a restart getting off into Turn 1. I tried not to do that tonight.”

Joiner, who is making plans to race the DIRTcar Summer Nationals tour, was fourth with Sheppard rounding out the top five. World of Outlaws top rookie contender Nick Hoffman was seventh with last year’s top rookie Tanner English charging from 24th to 8th. World of Outlaws points leader Chris Madden was 10th with defending Series champion Dennis Erb Jr. in 11th. Ryan Gustin, a two-time World of Outlaws winner this season, was 16th.

The Dirt Late Model Dream at Eldora concludes on Saturday with a $129,000-to-win main event.

The DIRTcar Summer Nationals begins next week with races Wednesday at Peoria Speedway, Thursday at Kankakee County Speedway, Friday at Tri-City Speedway, Saturday at Fairbury Speedway, and Sunday at Sycamore Speedway. Follow the entire five-week tour by watching all of the action on DIRTVision. For more info, visit DIRTcarSummerNationals.com.

RESULTS

Feature – Group A (25 Laps): 1. 157-Mike Marlar[1] [$12,000]; 2. 49-Jonathan Davenport[3]; 3. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr[2]; 4. 22-Chris Ferguson[6]; 5. 8-Kyle Strickler[5]; 6. 8S-Brian Shirley[7]; 7. 20-Jimmy Owens[4]; 8. 40B-Kyle Bronson[9]; 9. 7R-Kent Robinson[12]; 10. 93-Carson Ferguson[10]; 11. 11H-Spencer Hughes[18]; 12. 99-Devin Moran[16]; 13. 12-Ashton Winger[8]; 14. 1ST-Johnny Scott[23]; 15. 25-Shane Clanton[17]; 16. 88-Trent Ivey[14]; 17. 2S-Stormy Scott[22]; 18. 48-Tim Lance[11]; 19. 58C-Tyler Clem[13]; 20. 99M-Camaron Marlar[15]; 21. 18D-Daulton Wilson[20]; 22. 31-Tyler Millwood[24]; 23. 55-Jeep Van Wormer[21]; 24. 111-Steven Roberts[19].

Feature – Group B (25 Laps): 1. 1-Hudson O’Neal[4] [$12,000]; 2. 32-Bobby Pierce[7]; 3. 39-Tim McCreadie[1]; 4. 10-Joseph Joiner[9]; 5. B5-Brandon Sheppard[3]; 6. 42-Carson Hocevar[10]; 7. 9-Nick Hoffman[8]; 8. 96V-Tanner English[24]; 9. 25S-Chad Simpson[13]; 10. 44-Chris Madden[22]; 11. 28-Dennis Erb Jr[6]; 12. 46-Earl Pearson Jr[20]; 13. 23-Cory Hedgecock[17]; 14. 17M-Dale McDowell[15]; 15. 24D-Michael Brown[21]; 16. 19R-Ryan Gustin[16]; 17. 55H-Benji Hicks[18]; 18. 11R-Josh Rice[12]; 19. 25Z-Mason Zeigler[5]; 20. 7-Ricky Weiss[14]; 21. 19M-Wil Herrington[23]; 22. 1T-Tyler Erb[2]; 23. 04-Tad Pospisil[19]; 24. 58-Garrett Alberson[11].

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