On a night honoring one of his former sponsors, Mike Marlar pulled off an epic climb Friday at Ponderosa Speedway.
The 2018 World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series champion thrilled the record-setting crowd, driving from 22nd to first, passing Bobby Pierce with five laps to go to win the Johnny Mulligan Classic.
Chris Madden, the pole sitter, led the first seven laps of the 50-lap battle before Pierce took the lead on Lap 8. But as the Oakwood, IL driver pulled away from “Smokey,” Marlar ascended from his 22nd starting position.
When the race’s first caution fell for Shane Clanton on Lap 25, Marlar had already gained 13 spots, and his rise to the top had only just begun.
The Winfield, TN driver moved up five more spots by the completion of Lap 31, leaving only three more obstacles—Madden, Brandon Sheppard, and Pierce.
He only needed three laps to pass the first test, sliding Madden in Turns 3 and 4 to take over third on Lap 34. Marlar stayed there for 10 laps before a caution for debris on Lap 44 set up the final stage of his climb.
When the race resumed, Marlar used the same move to pass Sheppard as he did Madden, sliding his way to second with six laps to go. That left Pierce as the obstacle between him and the checkered flag.
Marlar only needed one more lap to catch the “Smooth Operator,” pulling even with him on the backstretch, hoping to use that same slide job for a third time. But he didn’t need to. He kept his momentum rolling on the bottom, passing Pierce as they exited Turn 4.
From there, Marlar led the final five laps to score his second Series win of 2023, kicking off the Summer of Money for the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models with a $15,000 triumph.
It’s a win that has special meaning for Marlar, honoring a man who helped his racing program in the past.
“Johnny Mulligan Plumbing was one of my sponsors,” Marlar said. “It’s one of the reasons I came to this race tonight. To win a race in his memory and with his family and my friends, and the way it all happened. Doing all that, it’s just amazing. It was just an amazing night. God’s sure been good to me today.”
While Marlar needed to pass 21 cars to earn his 15th career World of Outlaws victory, his pass for the win came easier than expected. He said he knew exactly what to do once he saw Pierce’s tire.
“[Pierce] hit the yuke tire off of [Turn] 2,” Marlar said. “When I went down in three, I was going to slide him, but I knew it was going to be too tight. I was going to be patient and not fully slide him. I was going to just slide to his door on exit.
“But when I looked over, I saw that he had a bunch of glaze or oil or something on his tire. And I guess it was that plastic off his nose. So, his nose was down on his tire, and he couldn’t turn in that corner. I was able to slip in front of him, and I was good.”
Pierce settled for second, narrowly missing out on his sixth World of Outlaws win of the season. The current Series points leader said he didn’t realize how good Marlar was until he saw his Longhorn Chassis go by him.
“I saw on the restart the 157 was on the board, and I knew he’d been having a heck of a night and struggling,” Pierce said. “So, I knew he must’ve been fast, and I knew Brandon was right there the whole time. But until he passed me, I wasn’t really sure how fast [Marlar] was.
“I made a costly mistake and hit that tire. I think he was going to pass me either way, but I’m really glad we finished second. If a caution would’ve came out, a restart would’ve been tough. He just did everything right.”
With his second-place finish, Pierce extended his points lead to 56 over Madden, who finished fourth.
Sheppard, the four-time Series champion, crossed the line third—his second straight podium finish. The New Berlin, IL driver said he fought the handling of his car all night and couldn’t do what he wanted in the corners.
“We were just too tight all night,” Sheppard said. “I just couldn’t turn down the hill coming off the corner. I had to make it more of a circle than what I needed to. That was making me kill some speed, especially in [Turns] 1 and 2. All in all, it was a pretty good night. It’s kind of one of those nights you take third and move on.”
UP NEXT: The Summer of Money continues for the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models as they make their lone Indiana stop at Brownstown Speedway on Saturday, July 15, for the Hoosier Dirt Classic—another $15,000-to-win battle.
CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Feature (50 Laps): 1. 157-Mike Marlar; 2. 32-Bobby Pierce; 3. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 4. 44-Chris Madden; 5. 96V-Tanner English; 6. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 7. 97C-Michael Chilton; 8. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 9. D8-Dustin Linville; 10. 9-Nick Hoffman; 11. 11-Gordy Gundaker; 12. 1ST-Johnny Scott; 13. 16-Justin Rattliff; 14. 3S-Brian Shirley; 15. 2S-Stormy Scott; 16. 97-Cade Dillard; 17. 40B-Kyle Bronson; 18. 25-Shane Clanton; 19. B1-Brent Larson; 20. 54-David Breazeale; 21. 30-Todd Cooney; 22. 14W-Dustin Walker; 23. 15-James Rice; 24. 13W-David Webb; 25. 10-Joseph Joiner Fox Factory Hard Charger: Mike Marlar [+21]