Race Weekend Central

This Weekend in Dirt: Bobby Pierce Tops Fairbury, Chase Johnson Acts a Fool Out West

Dirt Racing’s Winning Moment: Bobby Pierce kept Daulton Wilson at bay on a green-white-checkered restart to score the $30,000 win in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series’ debut at Fairbury American Legion Speedway in Illinois Saturday night (May 13).

Pierce’s victory came in a raucous short-track race that sent the series’ points into a complete tailspin, with four of the top-five drivers all running into serious trouble on the track. When the dust settled, it was none other than full-time debutant Brandon Overton leading the points, courtesy of a fourth-place finish that also the Georgian land hard charger of the race honors.

2023 LUCAS OIL LATE MODELS AT FAIRBURY RACE RESULTS

Dirt Racing’s Dramatic Moment: The moment of the weekend came during an earlier battle for the race lead at Fairbury. As Dennis Erb Jr. was running his traditional “catfish” low line, Hudson O’Neal made an ill-advised move for the race lead entering turn 1 and absolutely doored Erb, collecting Shannon Babb in the process.

DirtonDirt‘s crew reported post-race that Erb was understandably upset about the incident, and to his credit O’Neal did take full responsibility for the incident. What’s more, karma caught up with the driver of the Rocket house car in the closing laps.

What Dirt Racing Fans’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning

I slept better Saturday night knowing O’Neal didn’t win at Fairbury. I expected the hottest driver in super late model racing to be contrite for his mistake and he was, but it would have been too much to see him score a trophy after taking arguably the strongest car in the race out so belligerently.

Brad Sweet won the only World of Outlaws race at Williams Grove Speedway Friday after the Morgan Cup was rained out Saturday and he noticed something that I did as well … he wasn’t booed at all despite scoring a dominant win in the heart of Pennsylvania Posse country. Yes, that was possibly the product of a disappointing race at the Grove that never saw the track widen out for a competitive feature the way it has in earlier season races, so it may have been as simple as a big crowd heading home.

But there’s two other possibilities here, and I’m honestly not sure which one is the most accurate. One, maybe Sweet is someone sprint car racing on the whole has a proper level of respect for. Not just because of his accomplishments on the racetrack (winning four consecutive Outlaw titles is no small feat) but also because his efforts promoting the High Limit Racing Series is arguably the biggest (positive) disruption sprint car racing has seen in recent memory.

Or, could it be the Jimmie Johnson effect? Sweet has won four straight titles and the way things are going a fifth is a very likely possibility, with Sweet now tied for the series lead in wins and retaking the points lead thanks to Carson Macedo’s recent troubles. Sweet is a dominant driver that deserves the success he’s earned, but even in a sport used to dominant streaks predictability isn’t a great thing for race fans.

We’ve already talked about how chaotic the Lucas Oil late model tour found their first visit to Fairbury, but a story that needs to get more press this week is about how Overton is leading the national touring series points in his first attempt on the tour full time. For a driver that’s had a penchant in recent years for racing close to home to run top five at a treacherous bullring like Fairbury is nothing to scoff at. Overton’s not officially declared to be going for the Lucas title per his own website, but the way he’s running it’d be foolish not to keep going. As if there was any doubt “Big Sexy” is for real.

The fledgling Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series continues to prove its viability in a crowded Southern late model scene, drawing arguably the strongest regional field of super late models anywhere in Dixie despite going up against the Southern All-Stars, the Ultimate Southeast tour and the opening weekly night for the super late model class at Volunteer Speedway in Tennessee.

If there was one complaint I had about their Saturday program, it was the commentators sounding a bit like robots. Despite calling a race at Magnolia that involved the race leader spinning himself out and a nasty barrel-rolling late model, the call sounded like a baseball game.

On that note, I truly am rooting for Volunteer Speedway’s weekly racing program to succeed. It’s difficult as hell to run super late models as a weekly class anywhere, which is a detriment to the entirety of dirt racing, and after the track’s temporary closure last year following the Kyle Larson Late Model Challenge meant that hard decisions needed to be made re: finances. The folks at Volunteer stepped up, putting up $3,000-to-win as a standard super late model purse and also took a hard step of upping grandstand ticket prices to match needed revenues.

See also
Dirty (Half) Dozen: Volunteer Speedway Goes From Flo to Closed After Kyle Larson Late Model Challenge

Having said all of that, the pieces were in place for a successful opening Saturday, with more than 120 cars showing up, including more than 20 supers. But all of the car count and money in the world can’t fix the damage of an inefficient show, and that’s reportedly what happened, as multiple Facebook posts indicate the track’s first feature didn’t hit the track until 11:30 p.m. local time. That’s absurd for any racing program, much less one that had six classes on the ticket.

Better news out of the state of Tennessee though is the apparent return of a LONG dormant track. Last competitive in 2003, progress is being made in restoring the Big South Fork Speedway, with the racing surface again visible. The way Volunteer read, maybe Big South Fork will open before Volunteer’s weekly show finishes.

Dirt Racing’s Hero of the Weekend

Josh Putnam won Saturday’s Hunt the Front race at Magnolia on a track surface so rough that the feature length was cut from 50 to 25 laps and less than half the field was running at the finish. Putnam spent his victory lane interview talking about his deliberate efforts behind the wheel to keep the drive-line in his car despite the bumpy surface, and those efforts were absolutely needed given the track conditions. A well-earned win.

Former USAC standout Chris Windom has spent the last two seasons in relative obscurity learning how to run winged sprint cars and this weekend on the All-Star Circuit of Champions tour showed just how much progress he’s made. Consecutive runner-up finishes at Jacksonville and Wilmot Friday and Saturday were convincing.

Dirt Racing’s Victim of the Weekend

Being at the top of the LOLMDS standings was kryptonite at Fairbury Saturday. As discussed previously, former points leader O’Neal left a trail of destruction all over the quarter-mile. Jonathan Davenport parked a handful of laps in after suffering body damage during the race’s first caution flag.

Defending series champion Tim McCreadie was a non-factor, spending as much time in the work area as racing en route to finishing outside the top 15. And Ricky Thornton Jr. saw a hard charge from 23rd to fifth evaporate when he overdrove turn 4 and pounded the wall in the closing laps.

Despite being on as small a track as contest 410 sprint cars, Zach Hampton still managed to go into low-Earth orbit at Jacksonville in Illinois Friday. Hampton was uninjured.

Speaking of Hampton, his tweet regarding the Cole Macedo/Chase Johnson dustup at Kings Speedway in California Friday night was dead on. It’s hard to come off the bad guy after getting literally dumped in a sprint car race, but Johnson found a way, taking advantage of his opponent being strapped into a crushed racecar to confront him. Hang in your head in shame No. 24 (the replay can be found starting at 11:25 in the video below).

Magnolia Motor Speedway in Mississippi saw two massive incidents of note. First, as mentioned, race leader Wil Herrington spun himself from the race lead inside of 10 laps to go after a bump in turn 1 sent his nose into the berm, turning his machine into a 360. 

Payton Freeman had an even worse night, going for a violent tumble in turn 1 that sheered one of the vehicle’s wheels off. Freeman was uninjured (and credit to the HTF camera crew for quickly cutting away during the incident).

Up Next: Frontstretch will be back Tuesday morning (May 16) with coverage of the rained-out Lucas Oil program at Farmer City Raceway in Illinois and IMCA racing from Stuart. Coverage can be found on Flo Racing and IMCA TV, respectively.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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