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07/24 2015

Ryan: Don’t know Christopher Bell and Bobby Pierce yet? You will

Nate Ryan

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 1-800-CAR-CASH Mud Summer Classic at Eldora SpeedwayNASCAR Camping World Truck Series 1-800-CAR-CASH Mud Summer Classic at Eldora Speedway

ROSSBURG, Ohio – Just a couple of kids playing in the dirt.

That was the simplest way to describe the spectacle that unfolded in the third annual Mud Summer Classic at Eldora Speedway, where Christopher Bell, 20, won by outdueling Bobby Pierce, 18.

It hardly would do justice to what the top two finishers in Tony Stewart’s rapidly emerging dirt-track classic accomplished Wednesday night – and the unbelievable ways in which they did it.

This was a spectacular coming-out party for two stellar prospects who might have been well-known to dirt-track fans but virtually unknown in NASCAR circles.

They now are on everybody’s radar after delivering a scintillating show on the half-mile oval that is known for producing what Stewart calls “defining moments.”

Those seemed innumerable Wednesday night.

Pierce, who hadn’t raced a NASCAR truck before qualifying on the pole position Wednesday, slammed into the concrete so many times, the rear end of his No. 63 Chevrolet was being held together by pins and tethers – just as he’d expected it would be after taking his cue from watching Kyle Larson nearly win last year with a style just as brutish.

“It was awesome,” said Pierce, a dirt Late Model ace from tiny Oakwood, Ill. “I know a lot of people were telling me before the race, I was going to be the Kyle Larson. Beating down the wall is something I’m pretty good at. I didn’t want to be the guy in second, but Bell did a great job of doing everything right to win the race.”

Bell, a USAC open-wheel prodigy who scored his first Camping World Truck Series victory in only his third career start, drove his No. 54 Toyota into the wall about a half-dozen times in wrestling leading the final eight laps.

“This is just unbelievable,” Bell said. “It’s pretty cool that a couple of dirt guys can run 1-2.”

It’s pretty unbelievable, actually.

In a field filled with the likes of NASCAR veterans such as Ken Schrader, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Matt Crafton and Brad Keselowski, Bell and Pierce combined to lead 145 of 154 laps.

How unexpected was Bell’s win? The Norman, Okla., native didn’t know he would be racing until a week earlier – and he doesn’t have another truck event scheduled this year.

“Whatever opportunities come my way, I’d be thrilled to take advantage of them,” said Bell, who raced for Kyle Busch Motorsports with sponsorship from Toyota (whose motorsports executives have been staunch supporters). “I never would have thought I’d get the opportunity to do it.”

The NASCAR future is just as uncertain for Pierce, who just recently began running on asphalt in the hopes of jump-starting a stock-car career.

He already seems on the right track considering he posted a career-best finish for team owner Mike Mittler, who had only one top 10 in 212 previous starts of fielding trucks for a roster that includes Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray before they became Sprint Cup winners.

“Almost any racer who gets this far always has (NASCAR) in the back of their mind,” Pierce said. “Racing dirt late models has been my life, but if it comes to it, NASCAR is definitely something that I’d look to go forward to.”

“You’re perfectly fine to stay here,” Eldora general manager Roger Slack playfully interrupted.

Too late.