2023 Dirt Late Model Dream at Eldora Speedway

Josh Rice, Mason Zeigler Receive Good News After Collision At Eldora Dream

Josh Rice, Mason Zeigler Receive Good News After Collision At Eldora Dream

Josh Rice and Mason Zeigler collided after an extended battle during Friday's Dirt Late Model Dream preliminary feature at Eldora Speedway.

Jun 10, 2023 by Todd Turner

ROSSBURG, Ohio — They say all’s well that ends well. While you wouldn’t know it looking at the carnage in the pit areas of Dream XXIX competitors Josh Rice and Mason Zeigler in the wee hours of Saturday morning at Eldora Speedway, the outlook for both drivers appeared more hopeful 90 minutes after they clashed on the 16th lap of Friday’s second semifeature.

When the teams discovered shortly after midnight that they’d earned front-row starting spots in Saturday’s heat lineups — and that repairs could be made to their smashed-up cars — there was a lighter mood in both camps.

An hour and a half earlier, not so much. Battling for fourth place in the night’s second 25-lap semifeature won by Hudson O’Neal, Verona, Ky.’s Rice and Chalk Hill, Pa.’s Zeigler mixed it up through the race’s middle stages, trading grooves and paint around the historic half-mile oval. Zeigler gamely tried to hang onto the fourth spot while Rice, using a wall-scraping line that defied physics, threw caution to the wind in the top-five battle.

The action heightened when Zeigler drifted high on the frontstretch on the 14th lap, squeezing Rice into the concrete wall, the right side of Zeigler’s spoiler leaving a puncture in the sheetmetal directly between the numerals of Rice’s No. 11. Two laps later the battle reached a crescendo when Rice dove into turn one under Zeigler, locked up his brakes and slammed into the side of the No. 25z, sending Zeigler into a 180-degree spin and backward into the turn-two wall.

Zeigler’s brief summation: “That’s just stupid.”

Rice’s postrace admission: “It wasn’t pretty, was it?”

It turns out Zeigler also said that Rice’s move was “pretty stupid” just before turning to assess the damage on the lone Rocket Chassis the team brought to Eldora.

“How bad is it?” Zeigler cautiously asked crew chief Bryan Liverman and others huddling around the rear of his Rocket Chassis.

Rice was able to continue a few laps after the incident, but finally blew a right-rear tire and headed to the pits where “how bad is it?” was an equally reasonable question about his crunched Rocket.

It was perhaps fitting that the drivers whose haulers in the pits were parked nose-to-nose — Zeigler’s transporter nearer the frontstretch, Rice’s transporter nearer the center of the infield — ended up literally door-to-door.

The 30-year-old Zeigler wasn’t entirely clear what had transpired when he was towed back to the pits until a crewman told him what Rice had done. “Why?” Zeigler asked him.

“We got tight on the frontstretch. Apparently he felt like I squeezed him,” Zeigler told the crowd and a FloRacing audience. “At that point I didn’t realize he was there. I know I crossed him up down there, I didn’t realize he had a good run on me (exiting turn four). I felt like he did that intentionally (on lap 16), but I don’t know if he did or not. It’s pretty stupid if he did.

“It looked like his quarterpanel is crunched into the tire. He’s never going to win races like that. That’s just stupid. I don’t know what he’s thinking. Hopefully he didn’t do it intentionally, but he sure tore our stuff up.”

Fellow racer Ashton Winger came over to check on Zeigler, who didn’t pledge retaliation but hinted to Winger that he wouldn’t be doing Rice any favors.

“He is fast,” Winger told Zeigler, “but he’s got one speed.”

A moment later, after the race restarted, Rice’s flat tire forced him to the infield. He pulled into the hot pit for a fresh tire and Zeigler briefly approached for a word. He was intercepted by Josh’s older brother James Rice, who told Zeigler that contact was accidental and offered “if you need anything, let us know, seriously.”

Zeigler retreated. When Rice steered his car down the staging lane, Liverman flung a plastic Gatorade bottle at the side of the car. Instead of returning to the race, Rice elected to call it a night, quickly climbing from the seat and heading into his hauler. After a debriefing with crew members, he summarized a night that fell far short of his fourth-place finish from Thursday.

Rice took the blame for Zeigler’s demise, but pointed his finger at the Pennsylvanian, too.

“He didn’t give me any room. He was kind of driving me dirty,” Rice said. “I know he was trying to take the air off me a couple of times, and that’s understandable, that’s just an easy move up here. I tried to slide him a couple of times, then he puts me in the frontstretch wall.”

With nine laps remaining, “I was going to try and crowd him a little bit. I was going to try just take the air off his nose as much as I could, and it felt like I didn’t have a spoiler” when he entered the corner, Rice said.

“As soon as I got clear of his air, I just lost all traction. I got on the brakes — I don’t know if you could tell or not — and I hit him a ton. But I did try to miss him, but I hit him so square, there was nothing I could do. I know that wasn’t pretty and that’s not what we’re here for, but it sucks.

“I didn’t mean to do it, of course. I’m sure (Zeigler’s) car is tore up. They’ve got a right to be pissed. It is what it is.”

Rice paused. “I need a beer after that.”

Nearby, Zeigler, Liverman and crew members received assistance from racing consultant Cody Mallory and members of the Rocket Chassis house car team pitted alongside, removing the fuel cell and making repairs to get the car race-ready for Saturday.

Earlier, Liverman had predicted that “no matter what, we’re going to stay and race,” and the team was all the more eager when they received word they’d start on the pole of the sixth heat by virtue of their points earned in two nights of preliminaries. It’s a prime position because the sixth heat’s winner sits on the pole of the $129,000-to-win Dream, the weekend’s 100-lap finale.

Back over at Rice’s pit area, the driver’s original plan was to go to the team’s backup car for Saturday’s action, a move that would drop him to the rear of a heat race lineup.

But when Rice discovered he was scheduled to start on the pole of Saturday’s third heat, the crew redoubled their efforts to make repairs on his original car, rebuilding the right-rear corner that sustained extensive damage.

Rice’s considerable crew swarmed the machine, which first came to the attention of Rice’s father Jerry, a former Eldora race winner who calmly began drilling out rivets as soon as Rice pulled into the pits.

“We’ll be up all night, but we’ll be all right,” the elder Rice said, gesturing at his 23-year-old son. “As long as he gets some sleep.”