Several trophies earned at Fairbury Speedway sit tall atop the mantle of Bobby Pierce and his young career. But besides the track’s iconic Prairie Dirt Classic event, there was one other field he’d yet to conquer at the famed Illinois bullring – the DIRTcar Summer Nationals.
Saturday night, after fighting to get the lead back in deep lapped traffic, he did it. Pierce had taken the lead, lost it to Shannon Babb in a tread through waves of traffic, and regained it again all within the 50-lap distance to finally score the win in an event that had eluded his grasp several times over.
“It was tough,” Pierce said. “There were cars three-wide. Thinking back on it, it was pretty wild.”
Pierce, the five-time Hell Tour champion from Oakwood, IL, led the field to the green in the Summer Nationals’ 36th main event all-time at the 1/4-mile and took off in the opening laps. His large gap over Babb was quickly shrunk when he hit the tail of the field and began to sort his way through traffic. With Babb right on his tail and slower cars two and three-wide in front of him, Pierce made a few gutsy moves, weaving inside-and-outside of cars to keep out ahead of Babb.
The two leaders soon cleared the large pack, and by the halfway point, Babb had closed the gap completely and was knocking on the door for the lead. With a swift move to Pierce’s outside in Turns 3-4 on Lap 27, Babb had taken the lead, but wasn’t getting too comfortable.
“I knew [Pierce] didn’t give up – he wasn’t going to quit,” Babb said. “I knew there was a lot of top [lane] tonight.”
Hugging the bottom lane, Babb soon closed back in on another large group of slower cars. Pierce, continuously hitting his preferred high side, was able to reel him back in and looked to his outside in an effort to regain the lead as the home stretch neared.
“He was pulling away at that time, and I got up top and was just letting it rip,” Pierce said. “It was kinda like Hail-Mary, last shot for it.”
With Babb held-up by the slower traffic on the bottom, Pierce shot around the outside and took the lead back on Lap 39.
“We caught the other pack of lappers, and I noticed he was having a hard time with them,” Pierce said. “I feel like his tires were starting to fade, and I feel like mine weren’t getting better.”
Now with the lead again, Pierce was forced to tread through even more traffic before shaking Babb in the closing laps. Try as he may, Babb was unable to catch his fellow five-time Summer Nationals champion as Pierce scurried across the finish line to collect the $10,000 grand prize and his second win in-a-row.
“I was thinking I need a caution, honestly,” Babb said. “I moved to the outside and tried it a little bit, but it was just so crumby out there, you really had to rip the lip to do anything.
“I just thought I’ll hang out [on the bottom] and see if one of these guys moves out of the way, or [see if] a caution pops… I just tried to take care of my equipment.”
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals rolls into Sycamore Speedway in Maple Park, IL, on Sunday, June 18 for the final race of Week 1, where the points champion will be crowned. Tickets will be available at the gate, and streaming service is available with a FAST PASS subscription to DIRTVision.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
Feature (50 Laps): 1. 32-Bobby Pierce; 2. 18-Shannon Babb; 3. 11-Gordy Gundaker; 4. 96V-Tanner English; 5. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 6. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr; 7. 12-Ashton Winger; 8. 1W-Donny Walden; 9. 25-Jason Feger; 10. T6-Tommy Sheppard Jr; 11. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 12. 42W-Mckay Wenger; 13. 4G-Bob Gardner; 14. 3S-Brian Shirley; 15. J12-Jason Wagner; 16. 174-Ethan Dotson; 17. 86-Kyle Beard; 18. 101-Forrest Trent; 19. 32S-Chris Simpson; 20. 89-Mike Spatola; 21. B12-Kevin Weaver; 22. 7-Drake Troutman; 23. 3-Dale Markham; 24. 24-Ryan Unzicker