PEORIA, IL – Inside, outside, through the middle… lapped traffic was everywhere as the leaders battled back-and-forth through the pack at Peoria Speedway Wednesday night.
Bobby Pierce was clawing his way through the slower cars in his way each and every corner as he chased down race leader Ryan Unzicker in the caution-free, 40-lap event. He started on the pole, right to the inside of Unzicker, but it took him 32 laps to catch and pass the MB Customs #24.
And finally, he did. Ripping the top lane like he’s so often found doing, Pierce caught a small pause in traffic and used it to its full potential, making the move around Unzicker as he drove away into more traffic for his 29th career Hell Tour Feature win.
Even the biggest Pierce fans know his favorite lane is all the way up by the wall, sometimes scraping the paint off of it. But he almost had to be convinced to try it this time.
“My dad kinda gave me the idea,” Pierce told DIRTVision pit reporter Georgia Henneberry in Victory Lane. “He showed me with the sticks there to possibly try it out. I wasn’t gonna ride in second – I was gonna end up trying it.”
Pierce, of Oakwood, IL, did ride in second for the better part of the race, watching outside polesitter Unzicker step out to a small lead in the opening laps. Once he reached the rear of the field, the battle was on, and his competition wasn’t going to let him by easy.
“Ryan was doing a good job – I could tell he was watching his guys too. Any time I got some momentum on the top, he would move up to the middle and block a little bit. I think his tires went away a little bit. Luckily it stayed green for a long time and we were able to pull it off,” Pierce said.
Unzicker, of El Paso, IL, favored the bottom lane for most of the race until Pierce began showing him a wheel lap-after-lap. Unzicker appeared to have a better drive on corner exit, which pulled him past Pierce several times down the straightways.
That was, until Pierce went back to the top and found the break he needed from the heavy traffic to zoom past him and swipe the spot away permanently – but not before executing one of the boldest, full-send passes all race as he dove into Turn 3 on Lap 25. Unzicker slid back underneath him to regain the spot out of Turn 4, bringing the full Peoria crowd to the edge of their seats.
“Hopefully I raced him clean. He left the door open and I decided to shoot in there after I gave him a little love tap and let him know I was there,” Pierce said.
Defending Summer Nationals champion Brian Shirley had the best seat in the house for this lap-after-lap battle and decided to take advantage of it himself on Lap 34 – getting by Unzicker on the top side with just six laps remaining. Tanner English and Devin Moran had been locked in a battle of their own for several laps and were both in hot pursuit of Shirley but came up just short in the top-five.
This made it back-to-back Feature wins in two nights for the three-time Hell Tour champion, this time driving a different car, more geared towards the tighter, bullring-style tracks like Peoria. It ended up working out in his favor, making him $5,000 richer and breaking the tie between he and fellow three-time tour champ Scott Bloomquist for fourth on the all-time wins list.
The Hell Tour action continues Thursday night at the Kankakee County Speedway in Kankakee, IL, for Round #3 of the 2021 campaign. Join us at the track or watch live on DIRTVision pres. by Drydene.
Feature (40 Laps) 1. 32-Bobby Pierce; 2. 3S-Brian Shirley; 3. 24-Ryan Unzicker; 4. 81E-Tanner English; 5. 9-Devin Moran; 6. 25- Jason Feger; 7. 12-Ashton Winger; 8. 38J-Jake Little; 9. 10-Paul Parker; 10. 21B-Rich Bell; 11. 21JR-Billy Moyer Jr; 12. 14G-Joe Godsey; 13. B12-Kevin Weaver; 14. 18-Jeffrey Ledford; 15. 4G-Bob Gardner; 16. 1W-Donny Walden; 17. 74-Mitch McGrath; 18. T2-Todd Bennett; 19. 16-Rusty Griffaw; 20. 35-Austin Simpson; 21. 48-Tim Lance; 22. 51-Dean Carpenter