Second at Hickory in Fourth Asphalt Start

by Justin Epley, The News Herald

Bobby Pierce was thrust into the spotlight a month ago with an eye-opening run in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. In what was his first series start, Pierce, an 18-year-old from Oakwood, Ill., proceeded to win the pole, lead 39 laps and finish second after a spirited late-race duel with eventual winner Christopher Bell, a fellow teenager with dirt experience. While Pierce's Eldora success may have been a surprise for fans in the NASCAR asphalt community, dirt racing fans expected it. Known as the "Smooth Operator," Pierce is a dirt phenom, racking up feature late model wins across the midwest and scored the 2014 UMP DIRTcar Racing championship. But it was the way Pierce performed — turning smooth laps and keeping the truck damage free until taking some rear end damage late in the going — and the team with which he did it — that impressed so many at Eldora.

Pierce strapped in to the No. 63 Chevrolet for Mittler Brothers Racing. Owner Mike Mittler has fielded trucks in the NCWTS since its inception in 1995, giving drivers like Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Regan Smith and Justin Allgaier opportunities. Pierce might just be the next notable name on that list. "To race with the Mittler Brothers — it's really cool," said Pierce. "You know, Mike's a great guy. He's had a lot of racers come up through their racing careers with him. And it's kind of cool just to race with him." In 200-plus starts, however, the Mittler team had never scored a pole or a top five finish. Pierce was happy to be a part of changing that statistic "He was so happy that I got the pole for him," added Pierce. "To finish as good as we did — it was awesome. Going into the race, I was just hoping for a good top five. To lead a lot of laps and finish second — it was awesome. "Heck, I think Carl Edwards got them …their best finish (eighth at Kansas Speedway in 2002), so Mike was ecstatic for sure," said Pierce. A family connection brought Pierce and the No. 63 team together. Sponsors like RPM Services LLC, Allgayer Inc. and Champion Spark Plugs made the dream happen for the underdog team.

On Saturday, however, Pierce was tackling a new challenge — driving an asphalt late model at Hickory Motor Speedway. Making just his fourth start on a paved track (after Memphis Motorsports Park, New Smyrna Speedway and Slinger Super Speedway), Pierce was signed to drive the No. 88 Speedco Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports. The deal came together through business connections with Speedco and family friendships between Pierce and L.W. Miller, Earnhardt's brother-in-law who helps oversee the JRM late model program. "L.W. talked to Dale and Dale thought it was going to be a good idea," said Pierce. "So it's cool how a lot of people came together and here we are." Pierce said he was excited to be racing at HMS, one of the oldest short tracks in the country. The track champions list includes legends like Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett and Harry Gant. "I've heard about Hickory even before I knew I was going to race here," said Pierce. "I've seen videos of it before. It's really neat because it's an old track. It's been around a long time. "So there's plenty of guys who have raced here who have made a name for themselves," Pierce said. It's a fun track, too."

In qualifying at HMS, Pierce put his car on the outside pole just behind Josh Berry — the normal driver of the No. 88. Pierce slipped to third at the start of the race when Landon Huffman maneuvered past, but Pierce was smooth and consistent after that. He kept the No. 88 in third for the duration of the 100-lap event, withstanding pressure from HMS veteran Dexter Canipe Jr. "It's a lot different than dirt," remarked Pierce after the race. "There's always a lot of bad habits you've got to throw out the window when you race asphalt. "This was awesome," said Pierce. "I'm completely satisfied with third place. Landon and Josh are great drivers. Just finishing behind them was pretty cool. It was just really exciting." After post-race inspection was completed, the winner was disqualified moving Bobby up to second.

Pierce said before the race that he hopes to continue making starts on asphalt tracks. That may include some more starts with the Mittler Brothers truck team later in the year. "I'm hoping to race at Martinsville," Pierce said. "We'll see if we can get some more sponsorship help. That's kind of why I'm (racing at Hickory) — just to get some more asphalt experience. "So hopefully we can do Martinsville in the truck," Pierce added. "Probably with the Mittler Brothers. I mean I know we're looking at Phoenix and … maybe another one. We've just kind of got to wait and see how many things come together." -- Aug 15