CONCORD, N.C. - 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 Late Model Series season Saturday night at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, North Carolina.
Thornton’s 33rd overall feature win on the national Dirt Late Model scene this year was one of his most impressive, driving 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.
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 Chickamauga, Georgia’s 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, with McDowell in fourth, and Garrett Smith in fifth.
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, Illinois, 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.”
For more information on the World of Outlaws CASE Late Model Series, visit WorldofOutlaws.com.
World of Outlaws CASE Late Model Series
The Dirt Track at Charlotte – Concord, NC
Race Results – November 4, 2023
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