Race Weekend Central

This Weekend in Dirt: Ricky Thornton Jr. Stomps Lucas Field, Bobby Pierce Drops Hell Tour Jaws

Dirt Racing’s Winning Moment: Ricky Thornton Jr.’s career season continued Saturday night (June 17), as he extended his Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points lead by blowing past Chris Ferguson en route to a $50,000 win in the Mountain Moonshine Classic at Smoky Mountain Speedway.

Thornton, who has been the most consistently fast super late model driver in America through 2023, kept last week’s Eldora Dream winner Jonathan Davenport at bay in the early laps before settling into a rhythm, one that allowed him to overtake polesitter Ferguson on lap 26 of the 60-lap feature.


Dirt Racing’s Dramatic Moment: Friday’s World of Outlaws feature at Beaver Dam Raceway in Wisconsin will go down as a wire-to-wire win for polesitter Giovanni Scelzi, but that didn’t stop David Gravel from making it interesting after the leaders took the white-flag lap.

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

I hope the race teams realized all the savings on wear and tear they were hoping to based on Smoky Mountain Speedway turning itself from a 0.4 to a 0.375-mile oval, because Lord knows the on-track product didn’t improve from the much-ballyhooed reconfiguration. Let’s start with Friday night, when the track conditions were so bad that the the LOLMDS actually scrapped heat races and went straight into preliminary features.

Now Saturday, the track was markedly improved, but Saturday’s show was a nothing-burger in a 2023 that has been an embarrassment of riches for super late model racing. A dominant Thornton was just that again, with Hudson O’Neal and Davenport forces in the top five as well. No surprises, no real drama, just Mc-late model race. Despite a $50,000 payday, this one couldn’t hold a candle to the Hell Tour this weekend.

And let’s talk about said Hell Tour for a minute. First, I’m not one just to bitch for bitching’s sake, so when I saw I found the race at Smoky Mountain a bore, what do I want to see? More races like Saturday’s DIRTcar feature at Fairbury will do just fine, thanks.

Two takeaways from said race at FALS Saturday. First, the finish may not have been as good as other Race of the Year contenders thus far in 2023, but watching Bobby Pierce mercilessly slice through lapped traffic en route to victory was as powerhouse a display of driving as late model racing has seen in recent memory. 

And second, thank God Pierce is off the Hell Tour full time this year, instead racing nationally with the World of Outlaws. Because after watching the beatdown he put on the field at both Tri-City and FALS this weekend, I get the impression he’d turn the Summer Nationals into a snooze-fest the way Nick Hoffman has done with the modifieds in recent years. 

Watching the Short Track Super Series race at Devil’s Bowl in Vermont on Sunday, I was stumped trying to solve a riddle – which was rougher, the track surface or the interstates that have to be traveled in New England to get to the track?

Rico Abreu was a case study worth observing Friday night at Eldora Speedway, racing with the All-Star Circuit of Champions. Fast all night long and in prime position to win Friday’s feature before cutting a tire while running out front, Abreu made reference throughout the evening about his team essentially using the race as a test for next month’s Eldora Million. So many storylines to unpack here, and one that perfectly encapsulates the risk vs. reward of running an outlaw schedule as opposed to following a national tour.

The perks? Abreu, already one of the fastest sprint cars on any tour anywhere in America, got a full night of “practice” under real race conditions for the richest sprint car race in history. Even before showing speed at Eldora this weekend, Abreu was going to enter next month’s Million as a favorite.

The risks? Well, they were on display Friday at Eldora. Despite all the speed and laps led at Eldora, Abreu ended up winning nothing Friday, with a cut tire ruining his night and leaving Sam Hafertepe Jr. to run off with the trophy and check. That risk will remain in effect for the Million next month … a season worth of speed and prep could fall victim to a cut tire, a rut, a fluke of any kind.

He may not be a World of Outlaws regular, but Abreu is certainly leading the outlaw life with this approach.

Lastly, a debate worth weighing on sparked at 81 Speedway in Kansas Saturday night, with the track falling victim to a sudden hailstorm in the middle of competition that left both participants and spectators vulnerable to very severe weather.

Posted by 81 Speedway on Saturday, June 17, 2023

There were several comments posted to the 81 Speedway Friends Facebook page that inquired as to whether the track had an evacuation plan, with one going as far as to suggest the track needed to adopt a NASCAR-esque lightning detection protocol.

Folks, these may be great ideas on paper, but the reality is these type of suggestions will bankrupt any racetrack out there without the resources of an Eldora or a Knoxville. It’s not asking too much of a racetrack to ensure there’s a proper catchfence, that the grandstands are secure enough not to put a foot through, that the concession stand is sanitary, etc. To expect a track to play nanny in predicting the weather is.

I’ve written back even in my NASCAR days about this … personal responsibility and situational awareness do not become someone else’s problem upon purchase of a ticket.

Dirt Racing’s Heroes of the Weekend

Pierce. See above. It took me until around lunchtime Sunday to get my jaw off the floor after watching his charge to win at Fairbury.

Modified drivers proving competent behind the wheels of a late model can’t be a surprise anymore given Thornton’s success this year, but that didn’t make Mike Harrison’s run in the Hell Tour late model feature at Tri-City any less impressive Friday. The longtime modified stalwart turned a transfer from a B-main into a top-10 finish by night’s end, a run made all the more impressive by how fast that field was; with 55 cars, it was arguably the most competitive field to make anywhere in dirt racing this weekend.

Dirt Racing’s Victim of the Weekend

Travis Hery left Eldora Speedway in an ambulance Friday night after a nasty crash in the Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series feature. Fortunately, despite some soreness Hery was released without serious injury.

Update on Travis Hery. He’s a little sore this morning and they were looking to get a car together for tonight, but may…

Posted by Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series on Saturday, June 17, 2023

Rico wasn’t the only driver to find tire trouble cost him a race win this weekend. Justin Peck saw a shot at his first sprint car victory since February disappear inside of five laps to go at Portsmouth Raceway Park Saturday night when he suffered a flat in an epic battle with Abreu and Brent Marks.

Mat Williamson had about as cruel an exit as one can have in the STSS feature at Devil’s Bowl, forced to pull over and exit his car in obvious pain after being pegged by a broken driveshaft. Williamson did not require immediate treatment and was able to leave the track without the help of medical personnel.

Up Next: Frontstretch will be back Friday morning (June 23) with coverage of the opening two nights of the World of Outlaws Huset’s High Banks Nationals. Coverage can be found on DirtVision.

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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