New crew help, quest for new records propelled Illinois icon to dominant season
At just 24 years of age, Bobby Pierce has now reigned supreme over the Midwest’s most grueling Dirt Late Model tour four times. But this one just might be his most impressive.
His fourth career DIRTcar Summer Nationals title run included 13 Feature wins, 23 top-fives and 25 top-10s in 28 starts, plus five weekly points titles for a grand total of $119,000 in first-place and championship earnings alone.
Pierce also set a new personal-best for wins in a single season – just two shy of fellow four-time champion Shannon Babb’s record of 15, which he established in 2005. To top it off, he finished with a 178-point advantage over runner-up Ashton Winger, all while having one less appearance than five of the other seven full-time drivers.
Overall, it was one of the most dominant and high-profile summers of his young career – one that began from the humble days of his early teens, with father and two-time Summer Nationals champion Bob right by his side.
“I’ve just gotta give a huge thanks to my dad, mostly,” Pierce said. “Starting me off pretty young, going to all these racetracks right in the beginning of my racing career. He pushed me to be the best that I could be, and it goes a long way.
“It’s been a long journey, even though I’m pretty young. It’s been a long journey so far, and I’m excited to maybe go on and get another four championships,” Pierce said.
But for the past three seasons, the Summer Nationals yard had been run by Illinois rival Brian Shirley. Pierce’s partial participation of the 2018 and 2020 tours, along with a runner-up effort in 2019, set up his chance for a return to the top in 2021.
On his climb back up the mountain from his home in Oakwood, IL, Pierce fended off some of the toughest full-time competitors from outside the state of Illinois the tour has seen in the last several years. Winger, Tanner English, even Devin Moran came out and scored two wins on tour over the 68-day stretch.
“For sure, Summer Nationals has its competition,” Pierce said. “Whether they think it or not, it definitely does. I think racing against that competition every night is what propels us to get better.”
Through all 1,240 laps of Feature competition, Pierce and his team sharpened their skills and only became more consistent as the season continued – most notably rattling off three-peat wins at Beaver Dam Speedway, Davenport Speedway and The Dirt Oval at Route 66 Raceway.
“I definitely feel like we’re more improved than we were last year,” Pierce said. “Even when we go to all these other races, we’ve been doing pretty good, qualifying good, running up front in the Features… Hopefully we can just keep that up.”
Their team got a few new additions for the tour, including tire prep specialist Kyle Albury and crew member Josh Raymond. The two joined forces with the Pierce father-son duo to make one of the most well-oiled machines in the pits.
“I give them an A, for sure. Everyone was working very hard. It’s definitely one of the toughest series when it’s super hot outside,” he said. “You have those long, late nights… we hit a deer early on [in the tour]… just stuff like that happens that you don’t expect.
“It made it pretty challenging with all the stuff thrown at us. And with that, we still ended up winning the points, and winning it by a lot. So, I’ve got to give everyone props for that.”
Twenty-eight races over any stretch of time is a lot for even the best Dirt Late Model teams in the country to take on, let alone perform at the top level every night. The tough courses, ranging from high-banked quarter-miles, to long, flat half-miles, are at the core of what makes the Summer Nationals unique. Pierce has been around the block several times now and knows that it’s a driver-crew-fortune combo.
“You’ve gotta be good, but you’ve gotta have some luck, too,” Pierce said. “You can’t have any failures and you’ve gotta qualify good every night. Every night’s a new battle within itself.”
“Just to be the fastest car every night is one thing, but you go to all these different places and track conditions – to be consistent is really key.”
Consistency wins championships, but records get the instant glory. Pierce owned 12 victories heading into the final four-race swing through Michigan, and won the first at Butler, but ultimately fell a few short of tying Babb’s record of 15.
Next year, he’ll start another quest to try and break it, while aiming for a fifth championship and the century mark in Feature wins.
“It could definitely maybe happen,” Pierce said. “If we don’t get that… if anything, it’s going to be a long time until I reach 100 wins, like [Shannon] Babb and [Billy] Moyer.”