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Thornton Jr. Scores Thunderous Prairie Dirt Classic Win, Earns $62,000

Ricky Thornton Jr.

Ricky Thornton Jr.

Mike Harrison

Mike Harrison

Harrison Survives Multiple Duels for Third Prairie Dirt Classic Modified Win

Results | Story by Mike Warren | Pictures by Rocky Ragusa & HighSide Race Shots

thorntonRicky Thornton Jr. has found his way to Victory Lane in almost every way this year. But the 33rd Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury Speedway presented a new challenge. After a broken crank trigger almost ended his night on Lap 81, he stormed from sixth to first in six laps, passing Bobby Pierce with 13 laps to go en route to the $50,000 World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models Feature win – plus $12,000 in lap money ($62,000 overall on Saturday).

Outside pole-sitter Ryan Gustin took the early lead in the 100-lap crown jewel, sliding in front of Pierce as they reached Turn 2. The Marshalltown, IA driver’s lead wouldn’t last long, though, as Pierce thundered past him in Turn 4 to grab the lead on Lap 5. Thornton was behind the two drivers in third when the first caution came out on Lap 8 for debris in Turn 2. On the next restart, Thornton used the outside lane to get around Gustin and take over second. Several cautions allowed Pierce, from Oakwood, IL, to stay in clean air for the first 50 laps. But as the race hit its halfway point, the “Smooth Operator” found himself in lap traffic, allowing Thornton and Gustin to close in.

pierce thornton 1“RTJ” and Gustin traded second again in traffic until the #20RT pulled away on Lap 53 with his sights set on Pierce. That’s when Thornton, who was running the middle lane, switched to the top. Thornton rode the cushion, quickly closing on Pierce as the leader tried to find a line to stay ahead. He made his first challenge for the lead on Lap 62, sliding him in Turns 1 and 2. But Pierce’s momentum was too strong as he kept his Longhorn Chassis ahead. Eventually, Thornton’s perseverance paid off, crossing Pierce over in Turn 4 and taking the lead for the first time on Lap 72. However, eight laps later, the race almost slipped away. As he entered Turn 3 on Lap 81, Thornton said he broke a crank trigger. That led to him slowing on the front stretch with cars going by and bringing out the caution. However, power returned as the caution came out, allowing him to continue but found himself restarting sixth.

With 19 laps to go, his quest for $50,000 appeared to be over. But Thornton had other ideas. He quickly returned to the cushion, needing one lap to return to the top five. Then on Lap 87, he dove to the middle, splitting Gustin and Hudson O’Neal in Turns 1 and 2. By the time they hit the backstretch, Thornton had cleared them both, sliding in front of O’Neal in Turn 4 and readying himself for another shot at Pierce. On Lap 88, like his pass for the lead earlier in the race, Thornton nosed ahead of Pierce in Turn 4 to retake the lead. But a bobble on the cushion by Thornton in Turns 1 and 2 allowed Pierce to retake the lead on the backstretch.

pierce thornton 2With another crossover in Turns 3 and 4, Thornton powered past the #32 for good, leading the final 13 laps to score the win, and earned his total of $62,000 by leading 24 laps. Thornton said he used his adversity as motivation in the final 20 laps. “We broke a crank trigger there in Turn 3, and I’m freaking flipping switches and everything else, and finally, it came back to me,” Thornton said. “I didn’t think I was that far back, but I used it as motivation. After that, I said screw it. I was either going to win or tip it over.”

While Thornton has scored multiple wins paying $50,000 or more in 2023, it’s his first crown jewel victory with the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models. He thanked his crew in Victory Lane and said they make it easy for him to drive every night. “We’ve got a good enough car where I don’t have to ride hard the whole time,” Thornton said. “Bobby was really good there, but once we got to traffic, I felt like I was better. I just knew once we got to traffic and had a really long run, I’d have a shot, and it worked out for us.”

Pierce finished second, falling one spot short for the second time in three years. Despite his runner-up finish, he knew what it meant for the chase for the World of Outlaws title. “We’re happy with it,” Pierce said. “We couldn’t get through the corners like [Thornton] did. I wasn’t going to cowboy up and do that with points on the line. I’m leading these points, so I have to focus on that. “He was getting down those straightaways better than I did too. So, if I would’ve pushed the issue, I don’t think I would’ve had anything for him. He was getting down the straightaways really good. He’s a heck of a wheelman, so congratulations to him on the win.” Despite a second-place finish, Pierce earned $57,000 after leading 74 laps. He also extended his points lead over to 68 over Gustin, who finished third.

gustinIt’s Gustin’s second straight top-five in the event after finishing fifth in 2022. “It’s definitely not what we wanted, but we’ll take it,” Gustin said. “I felt like I got going on the bottom and they kept knocking the tires back out on the yellows. That definitely didn’t help us. I kind of wanted to go up top there, but I went up there one lap and bounced real bad, and I knew we needed to finish for this point deal.” Sheppard also snuck by O’Neal on the final lap to finish fourth, while O’Neal rounded out the top five.


Harrison Survives Multiple Duels for Third Prairie Dirt Classic Win

Results | Story by Nick Graziano | Pictures by Jacy Norgaard

harrison mdStanding atop the roof of his DIRTcar UMP Modified, Mike Harrison’s cheers were drowned by the emphatic celebration resonating from a sea of fans encompassing Fairbury Speedway. Helping bring the DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals 2023 season to an epic conclusion, Harrison fended off a series of onslaught attacks to score his third Prairie Dirt Classic victory (2017, 2018, 2023) in Fairbury, IL Saturday night. “It’s pretty important,” said Harrison, of Highland, IL, about winning his third Prairie Dirt Classic in his home state. “Every win here at Fairbury is special, just because of the atmosphere. Especially the PDC here, to do it in front of this many fans. Ultimately, that’s who we do it for.”

Harrison started off the weekend as the fastest driver, setting Quick Time Friday night. Then, he went on to win one of the four Showdown Features to lock himself into Saturday’s 40-lap, $5,000-to-win, Feature and the redraw. Drivers in the first four rows drew for their starting position, leading to Nick Allen on the pole, Charlie Mefford second, Mason Duncan third, Ethan Dotson fourth, Michael Ledford fifth, Harrison sixth, Drake Troutman seventh and Trent Young eighth.

When the Feature commenced, Allen held the lead on the start while Medford had to battle with Dotson for second. The #00 of Dotson was a force in the early laps, taking second on Lap 3 and then the lead on Lap 5. However, the next lap, Dotson jumped the cushion and slammed his right rear into the Turn 4 wall. Fortunately, for him, the first caution of the race came out at the same time, allowing him to regroup. Able to continue, Dotson led the field back to green but soon found himself in a fierce battle with Harrison, who was making a steady climb from his sixth starting position. The veteran slid his car ahead of Dotson and rocketed ahead once he found grip in the top lane. After Dotson lost the lead, he continued to fall, losing second to Allen. Another caution fell on Lap 12, helping put Allen on the back of Harrison’s bumper. However, Allen’s hopes of dethroning Harrison ended on the restart after he jumped the cushion and slowed. His downfall led to Mefford getting his shot at Harrison.

Mefford gave Harrison his first scare, running side by side with the veteran for multiple laps, nosing ahead at times. But another caution killed his battle. Then, when the race resumed, Ledford bested Mefford on the restart and took his turn at trying to run down Harrison. The 18-year-old – looking for his first PDC crown – gave Harrison another fight, running side by side with Harrison’s #24H, lap after lap. However, another caution plagued Ledford’s chances. When the race resumed, Harrison made consistent laps around the top, leaving Ledford to duel with Kyle Steffens for second. The two went back and forth for multiple laps with Steffens eventually securing the spot.

After a caution on Lap 25, Michael Long made his presence known – on a charge from his 19th starting position. Ripping the top, he went from fifth to third on the restart and then ran down Steffens to take second on Lap 31. Three more cautions hindered Long’s chances of trying to build enough of a run to challenge Harrison before the checkered flag, forcing him to settle for second. However, after racing from 19th to second in the Last Chance Showdown to transfer into the Feature, and then go from 19th to second in the main event, he’s still leaving satisfied. “The beginning of the night, I thought my chances were way slim,” Long said. “In the Feature, I knew we always have a good car here when the Feature time rolls around, to just be patient on that cushion. I was really good on the bottom and was able to work my way up through there and had a few cautions where I gained spots on most of the cautions, and everything worked out and got to second with 10 to go. “I needed just a long green flag, I think, to have something for [Harrison]. I was just a little bit too tight on the restarts. All in all, I can’t complain about this at all. I need to go buy a lottery ticket.”

steffens nicely mdSteffens also had a good showing, finishing third after starting 14th. “We kind of just bought our time and raced our way through,” Steffens said. “Put ourselves in position. We were second for a long time. The top just got so gnarly, and my car was too soft in the right rear. We kind of had to roll the middle to the top and we ended up P3. It’s our best PDC yet. I’m really thankful.”

Tyler Nicely, who was crowned the 2023 DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals on Friday, finished fourth. Dotson rounded out the top five.

In Victory Lane, climbing out of his car to a roar of cheers, Harrison had the checkered flag in one hand and his third Prairie Dirt Classic trophy in the other. And while he scored the win with more than a second lead, Harrison wasn’t sure he was going to make it to the end. “I got something broke in the back end,” Harrison said. “My god, that was a handful of laps… I seen the 18 (of Long) on the board. Michael Long, he’s a fierce competitor just like I am. He’ll do whatever it takes to get it done on that cushion. I knew that I couldn’t screw up. I knew I had to be spot on and make the right decisions. “When you have these guys throwing everything at you, you can’t back off and just ride. You have to go to get a little gap to where you can make the laps you think you need to make… It’s always fun coming here and winning, especially at the Prairie Dirt Classic in front of these fans. It’s quite an accomplishment.”

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