But 38 races later, those expectations didn’t matter as The Oakwood, IL driver etched his name in Series history by winning his first championship.
Despite 14 wins, 25 top fives, and 32 top 10s, it wasn’t easy for the “Smooth Operator.” After the season’s first weekend at Volusia Speedway Park, he wasn’t sure winning a title was possible. However, he proved that theory wrong as fortune went in his favor by Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals.
“It’s been a long year,” Pierce said. “It started a little rocky. We came off the first two races with DNFs, and we were like, man, it’s going to be tough to come back. But we came back, won the first race out, and from then on, we got off going pretty well.”
His first win of 2023 came at the perfect time, passing Brandon Overton on the final lap to kickstart his run toward a championship. From there, he chipped away at Chris Madden’s points lead until he reached the top during World of Outlaws Heartland Speedweek at Off-Road Speedway in June.
That’s when Pierce’s dominant stretch began. Twelve of his 14 Feature wins came during a 20-race stretch from Off-Road to Fairbury in October. It’s a stretch where he only finished outside the top 10 once—an 11th at River Cities Speedway.
Pierce said a crucial part of his success was the will to get better, racing against stout competition every night with the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models.
“I can’t thank all the competitors enough,” Pierce said. “Especially the ones that kept the energy going all year. They make me better. Every time I get to go up against these guys like Sheppard and Madden, they make me race better. They make us work for it.”
However, the stout competition wasn’t the only factor leading to a championship. Pierce’s ability to adapt to tracks he’s never been to also played a key role. One race that comes to mind was the Alabama Gang 100 at Talladega Short Track—a race he was leading before a broken wheel and brake failure sidelined him with 18 laps to go.
He saw those opportunities as a learning curve and another way to improve.
“You try to prepare the best you can and watch some videos, but at the end of the day, before you get out there you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Pierce said. “Every day is a new task. You’ve got to Qualify, start your day there, and see what happens. We were up in New York and North Dakota, places I’d never been. It’s very fun to get out and about because it makes you better as a driver and team. You learn a lot of things.
“I think the more we get out and race these racetracks, the bigger my little sandbox gets.”
As consistent as Pierce was behind the wheel of his Longhorn Chassis, he knows he can’t do it alone. After raising the trophy at Charlotte, he quickly dedicated the 2023 season to his dad Bob.
“He’s 71 years old, going on 72, and he gets up and down the road working on the car like a young guy,” Pierce said. “He keeps going, and we keep each other going, so that’s awesome. He’s been there my whole life, supporting me every step of the way.
“My mom as well. They’ve been to every single race. They drive the t-shirt trailer to every track, and I couldn’t be where I am without their awesome help. And he’s made me who I am today.”
Bob received the 2023 Crew Chief of the Year award, an accolade he can add to his trophy case to accompany his Hall of Fame driving career. He was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2003 and has won several marquee events nationwide, including five Prairie Dirt Classic’s and the North-South 100.
Now, he’s traveling to every World of Outlaws race with Bobby. And while he’s thankful to be there helping Bobby, he quickly gives his son credit for many of the decisions made throughout the season.
“My son made me look good a lot of times,” Bob Pierce said. “Being on the World of Outlaws for the first year is pretty cool. Going up and down the road with a lot of miles has been pretty fun for an old guy like me. I keep this thing going because I love racing.”
Bobby and his dad also credited crew members Zach Huston and Austin Hemmen, who battled through the team’s adversity.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Pierce said. “We changed an engine during Hot Laps at Sharon, and that took like 30 minutes and was like the quickest engine change we’ve ever done. Our crew was fixing stuff when we broke down on the road. All the hard work. All the late nights. They don’t get the credit they deserve, for sure.
“Flat tires. This and that. You have to fight through it, and you can’t have DNFs. You have to be consistent, and I felt like we were very consistent, but we were also winning races, so that was phenomenal.”
“Zach and Austin should be the Crew Chief on this deal,” Bob Pierce said. They work hard, and I bitch and raise hell and start all kinds of trouble. I’m just a grumpy old man. But we keep this thing rolling.”
As the championship starts to sink in for Pierce, he understands how successful his year has been and how hard it is to get to that point. He’ll look back on it with a smile while using it as fuel for the future.
“It was a monumental year,” Pierce said. “Thirty-four wins, you’re not going to have that every year, so you soak it in. There’s a lot of effort in the shop. We don’t get a lot of turnaround time. You try your best with the time you’ve got, and we’ll just keep trying to do our best.”
Despite a year of unknowns and adversity, Pierce exceeded expectations in his first year with the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models. However, he knows he’s raised the bar higher for himself in 2024 and hopes to be in the same spot this time next year.”
“Hopefully next year we’ll end up here again. I know next year they’re going to be gunning for me. Hopefully, we’ll get off to a better start at Volusia.”
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