AIRSTRIKE: Winger Fends off Pierce at Knox County for First Career Hell Tour Win
Pierce retains points lead with runner-up finish over English in third
KNOXVILLE, IL – July 6, 2021 – He climbed out of the car in Victory Lane, enthusiastically pounding his fist and steering wheel on the roof before a packed Knox County Fair Raceway grandstands.
Finally, Ashton Winger is a DIRTcar Summer Nationals Hell Tour Feature winner for the first time in his career.
“This is my favorite win,” Winger said in Victory Lane with a big grin. “We’ve worked so hard for this. We’ve been through so much this year.”
From blowing an engine on the first lap of Qualifying in the season opener at Brownstown, to his wild flip in Qualifying at LaSalle two weeks ago, Winger and his crew really have been through a lot of uphill battles. They’ve been working tirelessly to put themselves in a position to win a race against these high-caliber drivers, and it all paid off Tuesday night.
“We’ve just been clawing all year. Clawing back, clawing back… I’ve tore up cars, I’ve been dumb. I’ve blew up motors, flipped cars, and it’s all led to this. This is so awesome,” Winger, of Hampton, GA, said.
What a place to get that first win, at one of the lesser-seen track configurations the tour visits – a big, flat half-mile. And it wasn’t just handed to him. Airforce was forced to hold off a red-hot Bobby Pierce for 30 consecutive laps, with multiple yellow flags and even a lengthy red-flag situation to do it.
His first test came at the drop of the green in getting to Turn 1 before Pierce, which he did from the outside pole. He grabbed hold of the middle groove on the track and used it to his advantage in getting a good run out of Turn 2.
Winger got to Turn 3 with a three car-length edge over Pierce. Objective complete. His next quest – just start clicking off laps.
That progress was quickly halted by a red flag for a big accident on the backstretch involving Donnie Walden, Ryan Unzicker, Rich Bell, Brandon Lance, Dean Carpenter, Brandon Carpenter, Joe Godsey and Jason Milam. Everyone walked away unharmed, but Winger was forced to sit in his car under the stoppage and think about his upcoming moves while the cleanup continued on the backstretch.
Two more cautions were dealt to Winger before the checkered flag, which he handled like a champion. Keeping it in clean air, free off traffic, until his final test in the closing laps.
With Pierce directly in the rearview, Winger got the three-to-go signal and charged into Turn 1 with Jeff Roth right in front of him, one groove lower. Roth got into Turn 1 and slid up right in front of Winger, who opted to go around on the outside, forcing Winger to slam on the brakes and make a quick turn-down underneath Roth to get by. Somehow, Pierce stayed in line behind Winger and was unable to capitalize and make the pass.
In retrospect, Winger joked that he momentarily thought he was headed for the wall and outside the fence, into the gas station chicken restaurant across the street from the track.
“Yeah I definitely thought I was gonna end up over there in that Chester’s getting a three-piece and a soda,” he said.
But instead, Winger ended up in Summer Nationals Victory Lane to collect his first $5,000 check as Summer Nationals Feature victor. Holding off the points leader to do it was no easy task, but he did just that.
“That 32 car is not easy to beat,” Winger said. “And Tanner [English] too, them guys… I wish Squirrel [Brian Shirley] and Sheppy [Brandon Sheppard] were here so we could stack up against all them guys.”
Pierce crossed in second for his sixth-straight podium finish, expanding his points lead over Tanner English, who finished third. Mitch McGrath crossed in fourth, marking his best finish of the season, while Jason Feger rounded out the top-five.
The Summer Nationals action continues Wednesday night, July 7, at Spoon River Speedway with the rainout makeup from June 24. Catch all the action live on DIRTVision presented by Drydene.