Heckenast rebounds to finish second, Babb moves 21st-to-fifth after provisional start
Four wins in nine races. Not bad for the three-time DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion Bobby Pierce, who’s off to one of the best starts to a Hell Tour campaign in his young career.
His latest trip to Victory Lane came Thursday night at Davenport Speedway, where he took his Pierce Platinum Race Car to the high side of the quarter-mile configuration and put on a clinic, crossing the stripe with a near five-second lead over Frank Heckenast Jr. and Brandon Sheppard for his 31st career Summer Nationals Feature win in back-to-back fashion.
But to get the lead, Pierce was forced to go a different route. Polesitter Tony Jackson Jr. jumped out to the lead through the middle while Pierce held off Tanner English for second in the opening laps. A quick caution restacked the field and gave Jackson the opportunity to switch to the preferred top lane, which he did and began to open up a gap.
But on Lap 12, Jackson darted to the bottom in Turn 3 and slid up to the high side at the exit of Turn 4, leaving the door wide-open for Pierce down low.
“He got a little loose off of Turn 2, and I had a pretty good run. I thought, ‘well, we’ll see if he goes to the top,’ and he did. He left the door open, I shot in there and just stayed in the gas and kinda blocked him coming off the corner,” Pierce, of Oakwood, IL, said of the move for the lead.
Now with the advantage out front and lots of room to maneuver through traffic, Pierce grabbed the lead after a second restart and checked out, weaving up to a six-second lead at one point while the rest of the field was left to duke it out behind him.
Included in that crowd was one of the fastest cars on the track in the closing stages of the race – Frank Heckenast Jr. The Summer Nationals veteran had just come off a heartbreaking end to his night on Wednesday at Beaver Dam, where a battery malfunction forced him to retire while leading. Looking for a night of redemption in the Hawkeye State, he found it, climbing back from as low as eighth at one point to finish second.
“Last night, we break the track record, win the Heat, feeling like nothing can go wrong, and then we finish 18th,” Heckenast, of Frankfort, IL, said. “Tonight, nothing went right. The car wouldn’t start before Hot Laps, barely got out for Hot Laps… Heat Race was a disaster, I don’t know what the heck was going on there, so we got put back and that cost us a lot.”
While he endured those struggles early Thursday night, Heckenast came roaring back to life in the second half of the Feature. Having faded back to eighth after the final restart on Lap 14, he gassed it up on the bottom lane and advanced six positions over the next 19 laps to take second.
“Cade [Dillard] gave me about 10 percent life on the bottom when I looked up, and he hung with them guys coming off Turn 4, and I was like, ‘wait a second, there might be something here,’” Heckenast said.
Heckenast battled with Dillard, Dennis Erb Jr, Tanner English and others in his drive to the front before meeting Jackson, who had again found his mojo on the top side and engaged in a lap-after-lap struggle with Heckenast in the final stages. Back-and-forth the two swapped spots for four laps before Heckenast took it away permanently with five laps remaining.
Looking back on the finish and the cars he passed to get there, Heckenast was quite pleased with he and his team’s effort with the big guns in the house. A grand total of 35 DIRTcar Late Models packed the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds pit area to take part in the Summer Nationals’ 21-year awaited return, and the core Illinois drivers showed their toughness right from the drop of the green.
“It was a great rebound run for us with all of these cars here,” Heckenast said. “MLRA, there’s some World of Outlaws here… it just shows that Bobby, Brandon [Sheppard], and a lot of us guys can do this deal. There’s no slouches.”
With his fourth win of the year, Pierce now has a comfortable lead in the points standings and is well on his way to the Week #3 points bonus. Although he may not be as worried about points as he has been in the past, he’ll take a check for $5,000 any day.
“For sure, it’s definitely been a good start,” Pierce said. “We haven’t really been worrying about points that much because we came into it figuring we’re not going to run it all. I’m still not going to run it all, but we’re still gonna go out there and win as many races as we can.”
Brandon Sheppard, the 2013 Summer Nationals champion from New Berlin, IL, crossed in third after a charge from 13th in the family-owned #B5 Rocket Chassis. Tony Jackson Jr. faded back to fourth before the checkers, while four-time tour champion Shannon Babb completed an amazing climb from 21st (a provisional spot) to fifth to earn the Hard Charger honors.
The Hell Tour rolls into The Dirt Oval at Route 66 for race #10 of the 2021 campaign Friday night, July 2, alongside the return of the Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals to the card. Catch all the action live on DIRTVision presented by Drydene.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
Feature (40 Laps) 1. 32-Bobby Pierce; 2. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr; 3. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 4. 56-Tony Jackson Jr; 5. 18- Shannon Babb; 6. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 7. 97-Cade Dillard; 8. 81E-Tanner English; 9. 11H-Spencer Hughes; 10. 12-Ashton Winger; 11. 25-Jason Feger; 12. 3S-Brian Shirley; 13. 48-Tim Lance; 14. 41-Jeremiah Hurst; 15. 10-Paul Parker; 16. 22-Daniel Hilsabeck; 17. 14G-Joe Godsey; 18. 29-Spencer Diercks; 19. 59-Garrett Alberson; 20. 00-Jesse Stovall; 21. 21JR-Billy Moyer Jr; 22. 16-Rusty Griffaw