By Robert Holman
MACON, Ill. — Retaking the lead on lap 73 after a back-and-forth battle with Ryan Unzicker, Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., ran away over the final 27 laps to win his second straight Herald & Review 100 at Macon Speedway. Pierce collected $5,000 for his third victory of the season on the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals tour.
The race winner held a 1.2-second advantage when the third and final caution waved on lap 76. With clear track in front of him on the restart, Pierce, 20, pulled away, leaving Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., to battle Gordy Gundaker of St. Charles Mo., and Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., for the runner-up spot.
“That was probably one of the funnest races ever. Me and Ryan were duking it out so hard,” said Pierce. “Heck we rubbed fenders a little bit through lapped traffic. I’m just glad that (Bob) Pierce (Race) cars finished 1-2-3, so that’s pretty cool. Man it was such a fun race. Big shout out to Sargent on the race track. Heck we could go anywhere tonight.”
Gundaker, who started on the outside front row, slipped to seventh early in the race, but rallied back to grab the second spot from Unzicker in the waning laps. Sheppard, who was gunning for his sixth straight UMP DIRTcar Summernationals victory, followed Gundaker by Unzicker as well, nicking him at the finish line to pace third.
Unzicker slipped to fourth at the finish despite a lengthy lead-swapping battle with polesitter Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., through the first 25 laps and then with Pierce through the middle stages of the race. Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville, Ark., ran a steady race to finish fifth.
Gundaker led the first two laps before Babb finally nosed ahead on lap three. Unzicker and Moyer Jr. passed Gundaker on lap 7 as he continued to get shuffled back. After a pair of cautions slowed action around the 1/5-mile bull ring early, Babb raced back out front with Unzicker in tow. Unzicker appeared to lead laps 22 and 23, but Babb pulled back ahead. Finally, on lap 27 Unzicker took the lead.
“The car was really good. It shot out of the gate really nice,” said Unzicker. “I knew we was good when we was warming up the tires.”
As Unzicker settled into the lead, Pierce, who started fifth, worked his way up to second. He looked to the inside of the leader on lap 37. Eight laps later he blew by Unzicker on the outside as they exited turn four. Over the next 25 laps the two waged a thrilling battle for the lead, trading jabs with one another while countering each other’s attack blow for blow. Unzicker went back in front on lap 52. Pierce led lap 55. Unzicker was in front on lap 59, but it was Pierce at the point on lap 60.
Lap after lap, they chased one another through heavy traffic. In all, there were 12 official lead changes, among them were 10 between Pierce and Unzicker.
“Racing with Ryan like that, I don’t think me and him have raced side by side for the lead like that ever,” said Pierce. “With us being really good friends, that was a lot of fun too. Gordy getting up to second, that’s really cool for him too.”
After the final caution waved on lap 76, Gundaker, who had recovered from his slow start, continued to roll the bottom. By lap 82, he had managed to grab the second spot from Unzicker.
“I just didn’t get off to a very good start. I was kinda trying the top and bottom and couldn’t really get a hold of anything and fell back,” said Gundaker. “We had that (first) yellow and could catch my breath, regroup. We got rolling around there right around the bottom and I found something and I just kinda took my time. I knew we had 100 laps. I was biding my time. Getting around those lapped cars that was hectic (when) you get in traffic with those guys.”
While the cautions fell in Gundaker’s favor, the last one was a killer for Unzicker. Though he was trailing Pierce when the final yellow waved, he was still within striking distance. When racing resumed, however, he watched as the leader pulled away.
“I didn’t feel like that last caution really helped me,” Unzicker said. “After that caution the car just wasn’t sticking on the right rear. Before that caution it was. So I don’t know, maybe a tire cooled down or maybe I just had it too hot. I don’t know … what the hell. It was a good race between me and Bobby there. At the beginning I thought we were gonna have him and then he was gonna have us.
“Then the track started to fade in the middle there and that’s were I was good. Then I moved to the bottom and it was really good. I don’t think Bobby … he just didn’t trust his car as much down there. But he had a great car. He could move around.
“(I’m) pretty disappointed after leading some and swapping the lead with Bobby. I guess I can’t hang my head with B-Shepp passing me at the line, but you know, we were just trying to hang on there.”
Sheppard nipped Unzicker at the finish, despite having a car that wasn’t quite where he needed it to be.
“I didn’t have the car quite right tonight. We were off from the get-go. I considered pulling off about halfway through the race but I figured maybe I could ride around this bottom and salvage a decent finish out of it and Moyer Jr. got up underneath me with a few laps to go there and I decided to just go blast the cushion for a couple laps and got back to third so it was a decent night all in all for as off as we had the car.”
Notes: With the win, Pierce not only padded his UMP DIRTcar Summernationals points lead, he also took the early lead in the weekly points chase for the tour’s designated Midwest Week, which runs July 5-9. The weekly points winner will receive $2,000 of the $5,000 points fund, which is sponsored by Petroff Towing. … Seeking a record sixth Herald & Review 100 victory, Babb led a handful of laps early, but slid all the way back to eighth by race’s end. … The Race lasted only 27 minutes, 33 seconds. It was the fastest Herald & Review 100 in the past decade. … Bobby Pierce and his father Bob are the only father-son duo to win the race in its 37-year history. Bob has four wins in the event, including two — ’94 and ’01 — while UMP DIRTcar Summernationals sanctioned. … Sheppard was gunning for his sixth straight Hell Tour victory, but was said he wasn’t completely disappointed with his third-place finish. … Gundaker said he wouldn’t have been upset to see one more caution. “I think we might of had a shot at (Pierce),” he said. “I was rolling around that bottom pretty good. I would’ve like to have seen what we could have done. But this feels like a win to run second at a big race like this. We’ll take it and keep moving on.” … Rusty Schlenk brought out the first caution when he spun on lap nine. Paul Stubber spun in turn four to bring out the second caution. The third caution was for Timothy Culp, who rolled to a stop after his car began spraying sparks from beneath the rearend with 24 laps remaining.
FEATURE RESULTS: 1. Bobby Pierce; 2. Gordy Gundaker; 3. Brandon Sheppard; 4. Ryan Unzicker; 5. Bill Moyer Jr. 6. Brian Shirley; 7. Kevin Weaver; 8. Shannon Babb; 9. Brent Larson; 10. Rusty Schlenk; 11. Jason Feger; 12. Bob Gardner; 13. Austin Theiss; 14. Paul Stubber; 15. Dustin Nobbe; 16. Jeff Herzog; 17. Timothy Culp; 18. Rusty Griffaw; 19. Eric Cooley; 20. Jordan Bauer; 21. Daryn Klein; 22. Michael Kloos.