Sheppard runner-up in first Summer Nationals appearance of 2021
Keeping pace with the leader, under half the race still to go, Bobby Pierce was unsure if he and his car had enough to make the move for the lead. Until a bit of good fortune bounced his way.
Polesitter Frank Heckenast Jr. had led every lap around Beaver Dam Raceway to that point and appeared to be well on the way to his sixth career DIRTcar Summer Nationals Feature win. But an ill-timed mechanical failure soon reared its ugly head and sent him slowing into Turn 3, giving up the lead to Pierce as he brought out the yellow and took his #99jr pit-side, out of the race.
“I don’t know if I had enough to pass Heckenast,” Pierce said of the situation. “I saw something sparked out of his header right before that happened. I don’t know what happened with it, but it was probably electrical.”
Indeed, it was an electrical issue. Back in the pits, a reported battery malfunction was the culprit, explaining the loud popping noise heard from Heckenast’s car before he slowed to bring out the caution.
Now with the lead, Pierce opened up a small gap after the restart, just enough to relieve the instant pressure from behind, provided by none other than the 2013 Hell Tour champion, Brandon Sheppard.
“It’s a bit nerve-wracking when you’ve got one of the best drivers right behind you,” Pierce, the three-time tour champion from Oakwood, IL, said. “Sometimes, being in that catbird seat is better. I was kinda confused on exactly where to go on the racetrack to get the best line.”
Sheppard, of New Berlin, IL, had been lurking in the top-five throughout the race and was ready to strike when Pierce slipped up. But that moment never came. Pierce held strong in traffic and led the field back to the checkers for his 30th career Summer Nationals Feature win.
Pierce had not been to Victory Lane since the second race on the schedule at Peoria two weeks ago, and was relieved to be back on top, slowly increasing his points lead over Tanner English.
“To get the win… it’s been a while, it feels like, since the first two races. So, it feels great,” Pierce said.
In the end, it was a true heartbreaker for Heckenast, of Frankfort, IL, who ended up 18th in the final running order. The Summer Nationals veteran started off the night perfect, shattering his own track record in Qualifying by almost four-tenths, clocking in at 13.104 around the third-mile oval. A Heat Race win then set him up to redraw the pole for the Feature, where he led the first 23 laps before suffering the bitter fate.
Ashton Winger, of Hampton, GA, posted his second consecutive third-place finish with a solid charge from eighth on the starting grid. Defending Summer Nationals champion Brian Shirley drove the Bob Cullen Racing #3s to a fourth-place finish, while Kentuckian Tanner English rounded out the top-five.
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals Late Models are back in action Thursday night, July 1, with their first and only visit to the state of Iowa this season at the quarter-mile configuration of Davenport Speedway. Catch all the action live on DIRTVision presented by Drydene.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
Feature (40 Laps) 1. 32-Bobby Pierce; 2. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 3. 12-Ashton Winger; 4. 3S-Brian Shirley; 5. 81E-Tanner English; 6. 74-Mitch McGrath; 7. 48-Tim Lance; 8. 10-Paul Parker; 9. 21JR-Billy Moyer Jr; 10. 25-Jason Feger; 11. 16-Rusty Griffaw; 12. 98-Jason Rauen; 13. 10S-Taylor Scheffler; 14. 14R-Jeff Roth; 15. 14G- Joe Godsey; 16. 97-Cade Dillard; 17. 38-Thomas Hunziker; 18. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr; 19. 9-Lyle Zanker; 20. 8R-Bill Rezutek; 21. 248-Brandon Lance; 22. (DNS) 148-Tim Lance Jr.