2024 Dirt Late Model Dream at Eldora Speedway

The Mistake That Cooked Bobby Pierce's Engine At Eldora Speedway

The Mistake That Cooked Bobby Pierce's Engine At Eldora Speedway

Bobby Pierce was leading Thursday's Dirt Late Model Dream preliminary feature at Eldora Speedway when mistake-triggered engine woes forced him out.

Jun 7, 2024 by Todd Turner

ROSSBURG, Ohio — In the immediate aftermath of Bobby Pierce’s engine expiration while dominating Thursday’s 50-lap preliminary feature for Eldora Speedway’s Dream XXX, the 27-year-old Oakwood, Ill., driver had no idea what had gone wrong. 

His crew, unfortunately, couldn’t have been surprised that Pierce’s powerplant didn’t last the distance of the $25,000-to-win event.

With Pierce’s red No. 32 already on the track for parade laps, crew members realized too late that they’d accidentally left the car’s oil cooler cover on the car’s decking, setting the stage for the engine’s demise with a mistake compounded by the failure to alert Pierce about what had transpired.

“Anything that could have happened badly — in order — happened, you know? It’s like it's just one of them deals and it sucks,” a defeated Pierce said, punctuating his final word with an expletive.

Instead of grabbing a $25,000 payday that would also put Pierce in prime position to start up front in Saturday’s $100,030-to-win Dream, the night ended with Pierce taking a financial hit while his chances for a six-figure payday dimmed significantly.

“A $46,000 motor down the tube in one race,” said his father and crew chief, Bob Pierce. “That hurts the bank account.”

The younger Pierce immediately retreated to his team’s hauler after his retirement, but later appeared alongside the team’s trailer to sign dozens of autographs and pose for pictures with young fans — though forcing a smile tough to summon after a brutal and costly disappointment.

"I was pretty mad that (the cover) got left on and mistakes happen. We're all human,” Pierce said. “So we just got to bounce back from it the best we can.”

With the blazing temperatures of an internal combustion engine, an oil cooler is required to keep the lubricant from getting too hot. The cooler built into the decking of the car to the right of the driver is often covered when trying to warm the engine, but removed before competition.

“It just got missed,” Pierce said. “You can go a couple of laps on most tracks with it. Some people qualify with it on for aerodynamics, so the deck is perfectly sealed off, but you definitely can't race a heat race or a feature with it. I just wish, too, I could have seen it. Nine times out of 10, that’s kind of one of the things, like when the warm board (covering the radiator) is taken out, I’m kind of eyeballing and making sure everything’s ready to go.”

The team’s pre-feature struggle with the engine’s idle may have preoccupied the crew, and by the time they realized the cover wasn’t removed, Pierce was making pace laps.

With the track not allowing signal sticks that limit crew communication with drivers, Pierce’s crew alerted officials of the problem and were told he’d have to start on the rear if he came in to have the cover removed. But officials said Pierce’s team never asked DIRTcar official Steve Francis to have race director Matt Curl tell Pierce via one-way radio of his predicament.

“I don't know how much emphasis there was on ‘We need it off.’ I think there was a lack of emphasis there,” Pierce said. “I guess they have some miscommunications. It's hard for them officials being on different channels and the other officials, I don't want to place the blame on them all, you know, it was our own doing.”

Had he known the circumstances, Pierce is certain of the decision he’d have made — pit to remove the cover.

"I would have went to the tail and it would’ve saved us an engine, you know?” he said.

Instead, a blissfully ignorant Pierce started fourth, overtook eventual winner Ricky Thornton Jr. for the lead on the 13th lap, and had a three-second edge when smoke signaled the end of his race after 38 laps. Pierce never saw a sensor light and didn’t notice the difficult-to-see oil temperature gauge.

“No necessary warning signs for me. The motor was running great before that, you know, and I just wanna make sure, you know, definitely not a motor problem,” Pierce said. "Just that cover, when it's left on, the oil cooler can't breathe and oil gets to cooking itself — and tears apart the insides of motor.”

After the race, his father was plotting the plan for the team’s Saturday run, which will require an engine change and overhaul of the entire oiling system.

“It cooks everything. Kills the oil pump. The oil tank's full. The oil cooler’s full. We’ve gotta change lines,” Bob said. The overheated fluid “goes through the whole oil system and locks everything up.

"It's a mess. We have to change the motor and then we got to change all the oil system. Wherever the oil goes, we got to change it all because it just bakes itself in there at 300-something degrees.”

The elder Pierce thought the engine might’ve made 40 laps — with non-terminal damage — but it lasted 38.

The younger Pierce remembers racing in Mississippi several years ago and fortunately noticing the oil cooler cover had been left on. On a hot night, the car’s warning lights appeared after just four laps and he was able to stop for an official to remove it. At Eldora, it didn’t turn out so well.

With an off-day Friday available to make the engine swap, Bob Pierce said it will take some luck to have a chance in Saturday’s 100-lapper.

“If we're lucky enough, like the year we won the World (100 in 2016), we started pretty far back and still won it,” he said. “But I think them kind of days are over. That was just kind of one of those special races that just worked our way. If that happens again, we're gonna say, ‘Thank you, Lord, that was pretty cool.’ ”