Four drivers took a step toward Fairbury Speedway’s history books Friday night.

Bobby Pierce, Chris Madden, Ryan Gustin, and Ricky Thornton Jr. earned $5,000 World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Prairie Dirt Showdown wins, and locked themselves into the first two rows of Saturday’s Prairie Dirt Classic.

Twelve other drivers also punched their tickets into the 100-lap finale, while more than 40 others will try and earn the final spots in Saturday’s Feature through Last Chance Showdown’s and the Prairie Dirt Shootout.

Showdown 1

Series points leader Bobby Pierce’s momentum continued Friday at Fairbury, needing only four corners to take the lead in the first Prairie Dirt Showdown.

The Oakwood, IL driver, who started third, snuck past both Simpson Performance Products Quick Time Award winner Brandon Overton and defending Series champion Dennis Erb Jr. to lead Lap 1. From there, the “Smooth Operator” went untouched to earn the $5,000 prize.

Pierce, who’s never won the 100-lap finale, said he’s relieved he’s starting up front, knowing the difficulty of winning the Prairie Dirt Classic.

“We always struggle starting up front in the PDC,” Pierce said. “Every year, it’s either driver error or something goes wrong. It feels awesome to start up front. We don’t have to scratch and claw our way through the field like we normally do.

“It feels awesome. We got a lot of momentum. Fairbury’s treated me very well lately, so hopefully, we can get the job done tomorrow.”

Erb finished second and joins Pierce in the redraw. Mike Harrison finished third, and Josh Rice grabbed the final transfer spot.

Showdown 2

Like Pierce, Chris Madden led every lap of his Prairie Dirt Showdown. However, the Gray Court, SC driver, had to ace several restarts during the 25-lap event.

“Smokey” pulled away from the field each time, turning away potential challenges from Brian Shirley and Tanner English to earn his first Showdown victory.

Madden said he’s thrilled to be in the top two rows for Saturday’s Feature and looks forward to the long-distance race with $50,000 on the line.

“I think we’re pretty balanced,” Madden said. “It would take us four or five circuits to get going, so those restarts kind of hurt me there. We would build a lead and then have a caution. I think we got a pretty good hot rod right here, so maybe we can get it done in a hundred circuits tomorrow.”

Shirley crossed the second, while four-time Series champion Brandon Sheppard finished third after starting ninth. English finished fourth, earning the Showdown’s final transfer spot.

Showdown 3

Myle Moos seemed destined to score his first Prairie Dirt Showdown victory. But a caution on the final lap for Garret Alberson changed everything.

Bad luck hit the Lincoln, IL driver on the green-white-checkered restart as his right rear wheel fell off the car, ending his chances at the $5,000 prize.

That handed the lead to McKay Wenger, from Fairbury, IL, who battled with Moweaqua, IL driver Shannon Babb when the race resumed. But, like Moos, things turned sour for Wenger.

Matt Mickelson spun in front of the flag stand as the two Prairie State drivers battled for the lead. That’s when Wenger realized he had a right rear flat tire, relinquishing the lead to Babb and moving Ryan Gustin into second.

The two drivers thundered into Turns 1 and 2 on the final lap, with the “Reaper” nosing ahead down the backstretch as Babb lost momentum. That was all Gustin needed as he earned his second Prairie Dirt Showdown victory.

Ryan Gustin
Ryan Gustin goes past Wil Herrington on his way to the Prairie Dirt Showdown win/Jacy Norgaard photo

“I knew we were pretty there good early,” Gustin said. “We were running the bottom and the top; it didn’t really matter. I hate that for Myles and McKay, but that’s how it goes.

“This one is here for my guys. They’ve been working their ass off, and they have this thing pretty good. Hopefully, we can be here again Saturday.”

Wil Herrington snuck by Babb to finish second, relegating the Illinois driver to third. Cade Dillard rounded out the top four.

Showdown 4

A last lap slide-job earned Ricky Thornton Jr. his first taste of Fairbury Speedway glory in Friday’s final Prairie Dirt Showdown.

Hudson O’Neal pulled away from the field until he jumped the cushion in Turn 3, allowing Thornton to close in the final 10 laps.

The two Martinsville, IN drivers, fought wheel to wheel on the final lap as Thornton slid in front of O’Neal’s Rocket Chassis in Turn 2 to take the lead. O’Neal made one last gasp in Turn 4, sliding in front of Thornton. But Thornton’s momentum on the crossover carried him down the front stretch, reaching the checkered flag first.

It’s Thornton’s first Prairie Dirt Showdown win, as he puts himself in position for another potential $50,000 victory.

Ricky Thornton Jr. and Hudson O'Neal
Ricky Thornton Jr. and Hudson O’Neal battle for the lead in their Prairie Dirt Showdown/Jacy Norgaard photo

“With about 10 to go, I watched [O’Neal] about flip in Turn 3,” Thornton said. “I figured if I slowed down and saved my left rear for the end, I could try to make a run at him. Really, I didn’t think I was going to get to him, but he really struggled to get by that one lap car.

“Everything just worked out for us. It was elbows up, but it was pretty fun. I feel like I always suck here early in the night, and tonight we kind of turned it around. It was a really good night for us.”

O’Neal settled for second, while Chris Ferguson and Mike Mataragas grabbed the final two transfer spots.

UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws CASE Late Models return to Fairbury Speedway on Saturday for the 100-lap, $50,000-to-win Prairie Dirt Classic. Last Chances Showdowns will set the rest of the field, along with Prairie Dirt Shootout, where the winner can take home $3,500 or start the CASE Construction Equipment Feature.

If you can’t make it to the event, watch live on DIRTVision – available either online or through the DIRTVision App.

CASE No.1 Engine Oil™ Heat Race #1 (25 Laps): 1. 32-Bobby Pierce[3]; 2. 28-Dennis Erb Jr[2]; 3. 33-Mike Harrison[7]; 4. 11R-Josh Rice[4]; 5. 25F-Jason Feger[5]; 6. 12-Doug Drown[6]; 7. 32S-Chris Simpson[12]; 8. 8S-Kyle Strickler[10]; 9. 1ST-Johnny Scott[14]; 10. 38-Thomas Hunziker[15]; 11. 6M-Dona Marcoullier[11]; 12. 30-Todd Cooney[8]; 13. T2-Todd Bennett[16]; 14. 5-Brandon Overton[1]; 15. 7-Drake Troutman[13]; 16. 99-Jeff Larson[9]

Showdown Feature 2 (25 Laps): 1. 44-Chris Madden[1]; 2. 3S-Brian Shirley[2]; 3. B5-Brandon Sheppard[9]; 4. 96V-Tanner English[3]; 5. 9-Nick Hoffman[7]; 6. B1-Brent Larson[12]; 7. 26H-Kyle Hammer[6]; 8. 24-Ryan Unzicker[8]; 9. J12-Jason Wagner[11]; 10. 15-Justin Duty[15]; 11. 31-Kye Blight[14]; 12. 27-Michael Lake[13]; 13. 14W-Dustin Walker[16]; 14. 9Z-Lyle Zanker[4]; 15. 11-Gordy Gundaker[10]; 16. 66C-Matt Cosner[5]

Showdown Feature 3 (25 Laps): 1. 19R-Ryan Gustin[6]; 2. 19M-Wil Herrington[3]; 3. 18B-Shannon Babb[5]; 4. 97-Cade Dillard[8]; 5. 18D-Daulton Wilson[11]; 6. 25-Shane Clanton[4]; 7. 81-Jason Riggs[12]; 8. 33H-Bill Hough[16]; 9. 3-Dale Markham[13]; 10. 42-Mckay Wenger[2]; 11. 2M-Matt Mickelson[15]; 12. 84-Myles Moos[1]; 13. 00-Richie Stephens[10]; 14. 58-Garrett Alberson[9]; 15. B12-Kevin Weaver[7]; 16. 10-Paul Parker[14]

Showdown Feature 4 (25 Laps): 1. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr[4]; 2. 1-Hudson O’Neal[2]; 3. 22-Chris Ferguson[5]; 4. 1M-Mike Mataragas[3]; 5. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr[1]; 6. 1T-Tyler Erb[6]; 7. 18-Chase Junghans[10]; 8. 14G-Trevor Gundaker[7]; 9. 157-Mike Marlar[8]; 10. 40B-Kyle Bronson[11]; 11. 89-Mike Spatola[9]; 12. 10S-Scott Schmitt[13]; 13. 130-Chase Osterhoff[12]; 14. Z61-Alex Wilson[14]; 15. 79W-Greg Wagner[15]