BANNER, Ill. — Not only was Bobby Pierce winless in UMP DIRTcar Summernationals action at Spoon River Speedway entering Thursday’s event, the Oakwood, Ill., driver had a bit of a raw memory from his 2014 series event at the 3/8-mile oval.
Starting sixth three years ago, Pierce’s No. 32 clipped an infield tire barrier in turn four on the original start, forcing him out of the race as the last-place finisher.
Pierce pushed that mistake — and five other series losses at Spoon River — into the far recesses of his memory by leading the final 21 laps of Thursday’s 40-lap feature that paid $5,000 and improved his chances of a third straight Summernationals title.
“We’ve been close a couple of times (at Spoon River),” said Pierce, who previously had two top-five finishes including a third-place run last year. “I think three years ago I knocked the left-front off before I took the green … so to get the win here tonight feels awesome.”
Starting sixth again, Pierce got rolling on the high side before the halfway point, grabbing the runner-up spot on the 17th lap and then sweeping around race-long leader Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., on the 20th lap.
From there, only a lap-30 caution for slowing polesitter Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., slowed Pierce as he pulled away to win by four seconds and unofficially regain the points lead from six-time series champion Billy Moyer, who finished sixth.
Erb, the winner of last year’s series stop at Spoon River, settled for second with 12th-starting Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., rallying to finish third. Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, was fourth and 16th-starting Billy Drake of Bloomington, Ill., rounded out the top five finishers.
“That was a lot of fun. This is probably one of my favorite Summernationals wins,” Pierce said, thanking his family and crew. “There was a lot of competition here tonight. The track was excellent. You could really go on the bottom or the top.”
“Erb, he’s one of the best on the bottom, and to pass him for the lead, and come up through that field … there was a lot of tough competition here tonight … a lot of good cars, so to win this race feels really good. The motor kind of had a little weird sound to it at the end, so I hope it’s all right.”
Erb, who got the jump on Shirley at the outset to take command, stayed in control on the low side through the first half of the race, avoiding a near collision with the slower car of Paul Stubber when Jay Sparks abruptly pulled off the track in turn one on lap 15.
Within a few laps, Pierce was sizing Erb up, blowing around him exiting turn two and pulling ahead on the backstretch.
The heavily watered surface, a few afternoon sprinkles and humid conditions allowed racing all over the track, meaning Erb’s low-groove choice was vulnerable.
“It was a little different here tonight. There was a little bit more moisture to start with, and they had a big cushion around the top tonight, so that gave them another lane up there,” Erb said. “We started up front and won our heat, to come home second tonight, I’m happy with that.”
The caution with 10 laps remaining didn’t give Erb much hope.
“(Pierce) was real good around the top,” Erb said. “Probably the only chance I had getting around him was if he pushed or something up over the cushion, but he was doing a real good job up around there — and there was no way I was going to get any higher to pass him.”
Feature notes: The feature started about 8:35 p.m. with the checkers falling about 8:50, an early night that will benefit series regulars with lots of miles ahead in coming days and weeks. … Runner-up Dennis Erb Jr. was back in the Midwest after visiting Stuckey Enterprises in Shreveport, La., to pick up a new Black Diamond Chassis (he fielded an older car at Spoon River). … Matt Furman spun into the infield on the second lap but no caution flew and he returned to action. … Heat winner Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., held the third spot early but faded to finish 10th, the last car on the lead lap.