Displayed behind Bobby Pierce, watching him talk and smile to the cameras, was his newest trophy. The Hawkeye 50 trophy – second of his career.
While the event title represents Iowan’s nickname and the number of laps around Boone Speedway, it’s also a perfect summarization of Pierce’s performance Tuesday night; 50 laps of hawk-eyed vision for grip around the 1/4-mile track.
The World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series returned to Boone Speedway for the third straight year to kick off racing in August during the Summer of Money, boasting a $15,000 payday.
Taking place two days after the Prairie Dirt Classic, where Pierce was passed late in the race by Ricky Thornton Jr. for the win and had to settle for another runner-up finish, the Hawkeye 50 was a chance for many to make up for their PDC loss. Or, for Thornton Jr., grab a second straight win with the Series – a feat he’d yet to do.
Erb, the reigning Series champion, drew the pole. Pierce, the current Series points leader, drew the outside pole.
However, when the Feature commenced, Pierce picked up where he left off in the Heat race, darting around the outside of Erb and powered ahead to the lead. Once in clean air, Pierce pulled ahead by more than a second in the first few laps.
Behind him, Thornton was showing signs of putting on another memorable march from the sixth position. He snuck to fourth on the first lap and passed English for third by Lap 12. Two laps later, he took second from Erb. But that only lasted another three laps before Erb slid back by.
Four laps later, on Lap 22, Thornton threw his #20RT into Turn 3 and slid from the bottom to the top, clearing Erb for second. From there, full force ahead to try and catch Pierce.
The seeing-red charge Thornton put in place to run down and pass Pierce for the PDC win wasn’t fully manifesting this time around. He’d close a little, then lose a little. Close a little, lose a little.
Then, Pierce about slid people off their seats as he almost slid off the track. Entering Turn 1, his car washed high, a little too high, and his right rear tire went over the berm. Dancing with the throttle and wheel, he managed to keep his car going straight and on track, but before he could regain his composure, Thornton was looking underneath him.
“I think I went in there a little too easy and I didn’t get it whipped out enough. The right rear hit that cushion and kind of set the front end over and I was going a little too fast at the time too,” Pierce said. “When it happened, I saw Ricky right here (pointing to the left side of his car) and I was like, shoot, man, he all most got into me because he had nowhere to go. From then on, I knew I had to go something different. It wasn’t going to work doing that.”
At that point, Pierce started trying every line he could think of and make up. While he was top dominate most of the race, Pierce ran the low line for a few laps. But when he did that, Thornton moved to the top and closed on Pierce each time they hit a straightaway.
That wasn’t going to work either. New idea.
Pierce began running an awkward slider line, coming into turn like he was going to run the bottom, but then let his car slide to the middle of the track. That tactic helped him find the grip Thornton didn’t have and pull away again.
“Once that lip of cushion went off the racetrack, you couldn’t get that boost anymore, so you wasted time going out there,” Pierce said. “So, I knew it was either bottom or middle. Neither of them felt good, so I was like f*** it, I’m just going to go in there. I’ve seen some guys do that in Qualifying and it works out alright. I figured it was dirty enough I could do all that again. I just cut that corner time off and just matted down the straightaways.”
His hawk-eyed observation of the surface paid off, leading Pierce to a 1.2 second victory of Thornton. It was Pierce’s second Hawkeye 50 triumph, and sixth Series win of the year. He’s also on a streak of four top-two finishes in a row with the World of Outlaws.
With roles reversed, Thornton found himself in second behind Pierce this time. He knew once Pierce found his line his car had nothing more to give.
“I felt pretty good, I knew it was going to be tough to beat Bobby off the front row,” Thornton said. “He’s really good wherever it’s dirty like this. He’s a little bit better in that condition than we are… Overall, a really good night for us. I went with a little bit of a different tire-wise than they did. Really, I didn’t want the yellow (on Lap 39). I felt like I was maintaining or maybe a tick better than he was before the yellow and then after that he was way better than I was. I think I just burned my stuff up trying to get up to him.”
After the caution on Lap 39, English took advantage of the tightened field to challenge and pass Erb for the final spot on the podium.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit since we left Kansas,” English said. “Back on the same tires and back on kind of some of the same tracks. Maybe there is something to that. Maybe that is why we run good… I wasn’t as good as I thought I needed to be tonight. I felt not very good and I was really surprised I was able to hang with them there at the end. I’m just happy to have a good finish.”
Chris Madden finished fourth and Ryan Gustin 11th, swapping them in points with Madden back up to second. However, with Pierce winning, Madden is back by 84 points. Gustin, in third is now 90 points back.
After the cameras had their time with Pierce in Victory Lane, he didn’t need be hawk-eyed or eagle-eyed to spot the two-foot-tall trophy staring at him. It said everything it needed to about his night.
If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision.
CASE Construction Equipment Late Mode Feature (50 Laps): 1. 32-Bobby Pierce; 2. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr; 3. 96V-Tanner English; 4. 44-Chris Madden; 5. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 6. 3S-Brian Shirley; 7. 97-Cade Dillard; 8. 25-Shane Clanton; 9. 18D-Daulton Wilson; 10. 30-Todd Cooney; 11. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 12. 11-Gordy Gundaker; 13. 9-Nick Hoffman; 14. B1-Brent Larson; 15. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 16. 1ST-Johnny Scott; 17. 40B-Kyle Bronson; 18. 32B-Cody Laney; 19. 14G-Trevor Gundaker; 20. 8-Kyle Strickler; 21. 25S-Chad Simpson; 22. 14W-Dustin Walker; 23. 22-Daniel Hilsabeck; 24. 32S-Chris Simpson