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20RT IN 2023: Thornton Jr. Caps World Finals with Second-Straight Win, Pierce Celebrates Championship
CONCORD, NC (Nov. 4, 2023) – Ricky Thornton Jr. has had an unforgettable year – one he made sure he and the SSI Motorsports team will never forget, going back-to-back to cap the 2023 World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series season Saturday night at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.
Thornton’s 33rd overall Feature win on the national dirt Late Model scene this year was one of his most impressive, wheeling the Dyno One, Longhorn/Clements No. 20RT from 10th on the starting grid up to the lead in 27 laps to bank the $25,000 grand prize in the World of Outlaws World Finals finale.
Race after race, track after track, big payday after big payday, Thornton and the SSI Motorsports team have dominated 2023. But as they closed out the season with Thornton’s fourth career World of Outlaws victory and third this year, surely, they’ve had a moment to let all their accomplishments soak in, right?
“Definitely not,” Thornton said. “My guys bust their butts. You figure every down day is a day you’re not getting better.”
One thing Thornton got much better at over the four-day race weekend – far more than any other driver – was getting around on the high side. Early on in the 50-lap main event, Thornton began ripping the top line around the 4/10-mile, red clay oval and worked his way up to third by Lap 17.
“I started losing track of the guys on the bottom,” Thornton said. “I’m like, ‘You know what, the top looks pretty good.’ I could see [Brandon] Sheppard running up there and figured if I was gonna have a shot to win it, I just gotta go now.”
Soon, Thornton had closed in on the rear bumper of Chris Madden and dove underneath him in a bid for second going into Turn 3 on Lap 24. He slid up in front of Madden out of Turn 4 to seal the pass and immediately set his sights on leader Cade Dillard, who was less than a second ahead.
In only three laps, Thornton reeled Dillard in and put the same move on him as he did for Madden with a deep dive down low going into Turn 3, then sliding back up in front of him out of Turn 4 to take the lead.
Now with the lead, it seemed like nothing could slow Thornton’s pace – not even the race’s only caution flag with 33 laps complete. He and Madden broke away from the field on the ensuing restart and battled side-by-side for the top spot briefly, but Thornton was too quick.
By this time, Mike Marlar had climbed back up into the top three, getting by Dale McDowell for third on Lap 37. After catching his rear bumper, Marlar as well dove underneath Madden in Turn 3 to grab second out of Turn 4.
He closed slightly in the final laps, but Marlar came up one spot short of his third career win at Charlotte. Madden hung on for third while McDowell and Garrett Smith completed the top five.
Crossing the line behind Smith in sixth was Bobby Pierce, who had drove up from 11th on the starting grid and was later crowned with his first dirt Late Model national championship in his first season aboard the World of Outlaws tour.
Pierce, the second-generation racer from Oakwood, IL, had mathematically clinched the points title Wednesday after taking the green flag in Qualifying, which put him more at ease racing against 74 other cars throughout the weekend.
“This has been a great weekend for us, just learning this track,” Pierce said. “But I definitely wouldn’t have liked to head into this deal with a tight point battle. We were very relaxed.”
At 26 years old, Pierce already solidified himself as an undeniable talent several years ago with his abundance of DIRTcar Late Model national points titles, DIRTcar Summer Nationals titles and several marquee event wins at the national level – most notably his win in the 2016 World 100 at Eldora Speedway at the age of 18.
Now, he’s a national Late Model series champion. But even with all of those accomplishments as such a young age, he said he’s nowhere close to being done.
“It’s definitely an uplifting thing to know,” Pierce said. “I’ve got a lot more years to go – just a lot more years to learn. Heck, a lot of times, you don’t figure things out ‘til late in your life. I feel like, especially this weekend, taught me there’s lot I have to learn still.
“We’re gonna come back next year, try to get another one. See how many of these we can get.”
While the points championship stayed locked-up over the weekend, the battle for fourth and several thousands of dollars in points fund checks was settled.
Kyle Bronson came into the weekend holding the fourth spot and retained it with a 10th-place finish in Saturday’s Feature. 2023 Germfree Rookie of the Year Nick Hoffman finished seventh Saturday and advanced two spots in points up to fifth.
While Brian Shirley’s ran 22nd Saturday, he did retain sixth place in points after jumping up one spot earlier in the week, and Ryan Gustin fell two points positions after taking a DNF Saturday. Dennis Erb Jr. jumped up one spot in points to eighth, while Tanner English rolled back to ninth after a trying weekend of no finishes better than 20th.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
CASE Construction Equipment Feature (50 Laps): 1. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr; 2. 157-Mike Marlar; 3. 44-Chris Madden; 4. 17M-Dale McDowell; 5. 10-Garrett Smith; 6. 32-Bobby Pierce; 7. 9-Nick Hoffman; 8. 97-Cade Dillard; 9. 20-Jimmy Owens; 10. 40B-Kyle Bronson; 11. 49-Jonathan Davenport; 12. 18D-Daulton Wilson; 13. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 14. 16-Ben Watkins; 15. 0-Scott Bloomquist; 16. 79-Donald McIntosh; 17. 39-Tim McCreadie; 18. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 19. 1T-Tyler Erb; 20. 96V-Tanner English; 21. 25-Shane Clanton; 22. 8-Brian Shirley; 23. 93-Carson Ferguson; 24. 76-Brandon Overton; 25. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 26. 57-Zack Mitchell; 27. 22-Chris Ferguson; 28. B1-Brent Larson
RTJ AT CLT: Thornton Jr. Passes Madden to Win World Finals Friday at Charlotte
CONCORD, NC (Nov. 3, 2023) – Prior to this week, Ricky Thornton Jr. hadn’t raced at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in nine years. But on Friday night, he drove around it like it was his home track, scoring his first career World of Outlaws World Finals Feature win and the $15,000 grand prize.
“I’ve only been here two other times – 2010 and 2014 – and I think out of those six nights, I only made one show,” Thornton said. “We did a lot better this year.”
Over 30 Feature wins in 2023 has dubbed the Arizona native one of the most dominant dirt Late Model drivers in the nation. He and the team at SSI Motorsports faced one of the biggest and most competitive fields they’d seen all year with 74 World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models in the pits, on a track they’d yet to race together at.
But that didn’t scare Thornton at all. He embraced the bright spotlight.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Thornton said. “There’s a lot of people in attendance, and it’s one of the biggest races of the year.”
Of those 74 entrants, his biggest challenge in the Feature was one of the best red-clay oval racers in the Southeast – Chris Madden. The South Carolina racer took the lead from the pole at the drop of the green and paced the field in the opening laps while Dale McDowell and Thornton followed.
A caution flag on Lap 10 restacked the field for what was the race’s only restart. Thornton devised his plan to get around McDowell under the yellow and quickly sprang into action.
“I just kinda Hail-Mary’d the top in Turns 1-2 and was able to get back to second,” Thornton said. “I was able to get back down in front of Dale and just kinda blocked him for a few laps until I got my stuff going again.”
Now with only Madden in front of him, Thornton tightened his grip on the steering wheel and began to close the gap.
Madden crossed the line at the halfway point with a line of lapped traffic in front of him. He entered low in Turn 1 behind the first lapped car but drifted up off the bottom lane at the exit of Turn 2, opening the door for Thornton right behind him to slip by underneath.
“I was just trying to negotiate lapped traffic there and I rolled out to the outside, and [Thornton] filled the hole,” Madden said. “I really wasn’t tight enough to be where I needed to be. Sometimes, it’s hard to lead in this lapped traffic in the conditions that we’re in here.”
They drag raced down the backstretch, but Thornton had the speed and the preferred line on the bottom as he rounded Turns 3-4 and took the lead on Lap 19.
“The more my car stayed the same, the more [Madden’s] kinda slowed down,” Thornton said. “He got to traffic, made one little mistake and slid off the bottom. I knew I had to go for it then.”
Thornton maintained the advantage over Madden as the laps wound-down under five-to-go and encountered some lapped traffic of his own in front of him – a cause for a bit of concern in the final laps.
“I was just worried we’d get too close, and we’d have a freight train with five or six of us,” Thornton said. “Usually, that’s when the guy in second can try and move around and find a way to get around you.”
That guy in second was Madden, who did move off the bottom once more in Turn 2 on Lap 33 in a last-chance attempt to get back by Thornton. But instead, the car behind him took the open door underneath him once again.
McDowell had been patiently waiting in tow for a mistake from Madden and took advantage of it by slipping by him on the bottom and into second place off of Turn 2.
“I felt like I may could have done something in Turns 3-4, so I was gonna try to ease out there and see if we could do it in 1-2, and I lost a spot there,” Madden said.
McDowell hung on to finish second for his second top-five finish, while Madden came home third – his second podium of the week.
The 2023 World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series campaign comes to a close in the World Finals finale Saturday, Nov. 4 at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. A 50-lap, $25,000-to-win main event will headline the event, racing alongside the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars and Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
CASE Construction Equipment Feature (35 Laps): 1. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr; 2. 17M-Dale McDowell; 3. 44-Chris Madden; 4. 39-Tim McCreadie; 5. 8-Brian Shirley; 6. 157-Mike Marlar; 7. 0-Scott Bloomquist; 8. 10-Garrett Smith; 9. 97-Cade Dillard; 10. 18D-Daulton Wilson; 11. 32-Bobby Pierce; 12. 1-Hudson O'Neal; 13. 20-Jimmy Owens; 14. 9-Nick Hoffman; 15. 93-Carson Ferguson; 16. 19M-Spencer Hughes; 17. 22-Chris Ferguson; 18. 76-Brandon Overton; 19. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 20. 40B-Kyle Bronson; 21. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 22. 25-Shane Clanton; 23. B1-Brent Larson; 24. 49-Jonathan Davenport; 25. 96V-Tanner English; 26. 174-Ethan Dotson; 27. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 28. 7T-Drake Troutman