Story By: JORDAN DELUCIA / DIRTCAR – ROSSBURG, OH – The Land of Lincoln had a night at Eldora Speedway.
Illinois racing favorites Bobby Pierce and Brian Shirley were triumphant in their respective World 100 preliminary Feature events Friday night – Pierce for the fourth time in his career and Shirley for the first.
The multi-time DIRTcar Late Model national champions bagged a couple $12,000 checks for their efforts and a maximum 300 points in the Every Lap Matters format, which, in part, determines Saturday’s Heat Race lineups before the $53,000-to-win main event.
Group A Prelim Feature – Bobby Pierce
While he had to come from sixth to win on Thursday, Pierce afforded himself a spot on the outside front row for the drop of the green on Friday. The 26-year-old from Oakwood, IL, took the lead on the opening lap but quickly encountered resistance from behind.
Thursday night Feature winner Hudson O’Neal ran Pierce down inside the first five laps and threw a big slide job on him entering Turn 1, completing the pass out of Turn 2 and driving off with the lead on Lap 5.
“He was right on me [the lap before],” Pierce said. “I felt like I was kinda holding him up, honestly.
“I didn’t expect that. It was all-of-a-sudden, and then I shot up [the track] to try to get the cushion and get some run on him, but I pushed and had to lift out of it.”
A restart slightly before the halfway point restacked the field and put Pierce on O’Neal’s bumper. O’Neal took off with the lead again, but only briefly. He went into Turn 1 at speed after completing Lap 12, but suddenly slowed and veered up the track toward the outside wall, bringing out the caution.
The Rocket1 Racing machine had blown a right-front tire. O’Neal came to the work area to change it, and did return for the restart, but was only able to get back to 13th by the checkered.
Now armed with the lead and a fast car underneath him, Pierce led the rest of the way unchallenged for his fourth World 100 prelim Feature win.
“Hudson – he was getting through them corners pretty well; he was a little better than us,” Pierce said. “We had the luck on our side, for sure. We just happened to be that car that was there in the right place.”
Group B Prelim Feature – Brian Shirley
Fifteen-plus years of chasing Eldora crown jewel Feature wins, but no big trophies for Brian Shirley. That drought ended Friday night, when the four-time DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion finally broke through to Victory Lane in dramatic fashion.
Shirley, 42, of Chatham, IL, took the lead from outside polesitter Ricky Thornton Jr. on Lap 2 and paced the field around through Lap 14, when the race’s final caution flag was displayed. Shirley got a solid restart, but Thornton did not go away.
After winding up the momentum on the top side, Thornton pulled the trigger on Lap 19 with a big slide job on Shirley in Turns 1-2 and made it stick, securing the lead down the backstretch. He kept the lead in-tact through Lap 23, but coming to the white flag with lapped traffic directly in his path, Thornton’s gap shrank to nothing with Shirley pedaling hard behind him.
“I wasn’t for sure, but I saw that [Thornton] didn’t go to the top of [the lapped cars], so I knew he was gonna get slowed down,” Shirley said. “I felt like I knew how much better I was on that bottom.”
Shirley used his bottom-groove momentum to drag race Thornton down the backstretch and pulled even with him getting into Turn 3. Thornton slid up to the top while Shirley stuck to the bottom with a lapped car right in front of him. The two drag raced to the line, and in a photo finish, Shirley had inched ahead of Thornton by .057 seconds to win the race and his first career Eldora crown jewel Feature of any kind.
“I thought that lapped car was gonna be in the way because of how much speed I was getting off the corner,” Shirley said. “I just said we gotta try and get as close as we can to that lapped car without wrecking him, and then when I looked up to that board and saw that we were in first, I was just in shock. Couldn’t believe it.”
Reflecting on all his years of taking bi-annual trips to Rossburg, OH, for Eldora’s biggest events and coming up empty handed for so long, Shirley thanks and points to his crew members at Bob Cullen Racing who worked so hard to be the difference he needed to finally break through to the iconic Victory Lane stage for the first time in his career.
“It’s a little bit of relief for all the hard work,” Shirley said. “People don’t see… there’s three of us. Me, Devin and Aaron – we work just as hard as anybody else. I’m not saying we’re any better or any less than anybody. But I promise you, as far as effort, our effort goes in just as hard as anybody.”
The 53rd running of the World 100 reaches its boiling point Saturday, Sept. 9, when the DIRTcar Late Models take on the half-mile one final time in 2023, fighting for the iconic globe trophy and a shot at the $53,000 grand prize. Heat Races and Last Chance Showdowns will take the final cars into the lineup before the 100-lap main event goes green.
Feature – Group A (25 Laps): 1. 32-Bobby Pierce; 2. 22-Chris Ferguson; 3. 99-Devin Moran; 4. 1W-Daulton Wilson; 5. 46-Earl Pearson Jr; 6. 18-Shannon Babb; 7. 9-Nick Hoffman; 8. 58-Garrett Alberson; 9. 10-Joseph Joiner; 10. 1T-Tyler Erb; 11. 25Z-Mason Zeigler; 12. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 13. 1-Hudson O’Neal; 14. 17M-Dale McDowell; 15. 49-Jonathan Davenport; 16. 111-Steven Roberts; 17. 12-Jason Jameson; 18. 25B-Mike Benedum; 19. 11H-Spencer Hughes; 20. 22S-Gregg Satterlee; 21. 42-Matt Sheppard; 22. 4G-Kody Evans; 23. 3-Austin Neely; 24. 39-Tim McCreadie
Feature – Group B (25 Laps): 1. 8S-Brian Shirley; 2. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr; 3. 87-Chris Madden; 4. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 5. 2S-Stormy Scott; 6. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 7. 25-Shane Clanton; 8. 88-Trent Ivey; 9. 157-Mike Marlar; 10. 25F-Jason Feger; 11. 79-Donald McIntosh; 12. 10S-Garrett Smith; 13. 4-Brandon Overton; 14. 7R-Kent Robinson; 15. S21-Seth Daniels; 16. 22R-Will Roland; 17. 20TC-Tristan Chamberlain; 18. 187-David McCoy; 19. 214-Haiden Cowan; 20. 24D-Michael Brown; 21. 6-Tyler Nicely; 22. 5-Ross Bailes; 23. 1N-Casey Noonan; 24. 40B-Kyle Bronson