By Robert Holman
HIGHLAND, Ill. (July 8) — Bobby Pierce said he likes bullrings. Point taken.
Pierce, of Oakwood, Ill., emerged from a three-way battle with Chad Zobrist of Highland, Ill., and Daryn Klein of Fairview Heights, Ill., to win his fourth UMP DIRTcar Summernationals race of the season Saturday night at Highland Speedway.
Battling the two local stars on their home turf, the third-starting Pierce muscled his way into the lead just past the halfway mark of the 50-lapper and went on to win his second tour event in three days.
Pierce beat Timothy Culp of Prattsville, Ark., to the finish line by 2.345 seconds, earning a $10,000 payday on a night when close-quarters racing was a necessity. Zobrist, who led early before giving way to Klein, finished third, while sixth-starting Gordy Gundaker of St. Charles, Mo., finished fourth. After leading a dozen laps in first half of the race, Klein slipped to fifth.
“Before the race I was talking to my dad and my crew guys and I was like, ‘I’m just gonna go out there and beat the wall down every lap.’ And they’re like, ‘No no, just (Ryan) Unzicker it.’ So I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll just Unzicker that bottom line,’” said Pierce. “There for awhile I wasn’t sure that we were gonna be able to get through there. But they kinda fanned out a little bit and went to the middle, just barely left a little door open and I snuck under there to try to really pinch it off the corners and get that traction and luckily we ended up doing it.
“The car was awesome tonight and we’ve been working really hard. We’re always really good on these small tracks, so hopefully we can just keep it up.”
Pierce battled both Zobrist and Klein early in the main event, working the bottom side of the quarter-mile fairgrounds oval with unfettered determination. The three ran three-wide lap after lap before Pierce watched the two local standouts ease away.
Rolling on the top, scraping the wall with each circuit, Klein took the lead on lap six. Zobrist, in the middle grove, powered by on lap nine. By lap 11, Culp had joined the fray.
Four laps later Klein and Zobrist were dead even again. On the next lap Klein forged his way back to the front and abandoned the high side. Diving to the bottom after making the pass for the lead, Klein paced the next 11 laps.
Then Pierce began to reassert himself again. He slipped by Zobrist for second on lap 27 and wasted no time attacking Klein. On the next lap, Pierce muscled his way into the lead. Bouncing off of Klein as they exited turn four, Pierce immediately began to pull away.
“I have to give a big shout out to those guys for racing me clean,” said Pierce. “We were all just side-by-side on this really tight track. You come off these corners and that wall’s just peaking out at you wanting to grab you so. There for awhile we were running three wide off the corner. It’s a lot a fun racing with Daryn and Zobrist and Culp so I can’t wait to watch the video.”
Culp worked his way into second on lap 31, but couldn’t close the gap on the leader.
“I knew we had a good car there. We were just biding our time waiting on the track to widen out a little it,” said Culp. “It was a real good race. Them guys were three wide right in front of me for, I don’t know, 20 or 30 laps it seemed like. Then me and Bobby kinda snuck by ‘em.”
Culp’s last shot came on lap 43 when the race’s only caution flag waved. A spin in turn two that collected both Tim Manville and Billy Laycock slowed the action and gave Culp an opportunity to steal a win. But the clear track worked in Pierce’s favor instead and the series points leader rode away to his 22nd career Summernationals victory.
“I think me and Bobby had pretty equal cars. He wasn’t really leaving me and I wasn’t really gaining on him,” Culp said. “Congrats to them guys. They work hard at this deal. I just glad we could finally get a good run in the Summernationals. It’s seemed like I’ve had a monkey on my back at this thing the last couple of years. Second’s not what we want, but it’s a step in the right direction for us.”
Notes: The win was Pierce’s first Hell Tour victory at Highland. … Pierce’s 22nd career Summernationals win moved him into a tie with three-time series champion Dennis Erb Jr., for sixth on the all-time win list. He’s one win away from tying Rick Aukland of Fargo, N.D., for fifth. … The race winner’s only scare came when he caught the slower car of Eric Cooley of Fulton, Miss. The two made contact as Cooley went into the infield, but Pierce motored on. … With one race remaining in Midwest Week, the Hell Tour’s weekly points race, Pierce moved into the lead with Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., not far behind. Midwest Week, with a $5,000 points fund sponsored by Petroff Towing, ends with Sunday’s race at Kickapoo Speedway in Danville, Ill. Brandon Sheppard led the weekly points entering Highland but was not in attendance. … Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., who has already missed two series races, was not at Highland. … Culp said before Saturday’s feature that he didn’t plan to go to Kickapoo, instead opting to head back to Arkansas. … Zobrist, Highland’s defending track champion, currently leads the track’s points race.
FEATURE RESULTS: 1. Bobby Pierce; 2. Timothy Culp; 3. Chad Zobrist; 4. Gordy Gundaker; 5. Daryn Klein; 6. Billy Moyer; 7. Billy Moyer Jr.; 8. Devin Gilpin; 9. Jason Feger; 10. Brent Larson; 11. Rick Salter; 12. Michael Kloos; 13. Shannon Babb; 14. Billy Laycock; 15. Bob Gardner; 16. Dustin Nobbe; 17. Rusty Griffaw; 18. Paul Stubber; 19. Tim Manville; 20. Eric Cooley; 21. Rodney Melvin; 22. Jason Zobrist.