Brandon Pierce came into his rookie season at South Boston Speedway with a few basic goals: get a feel for the car, finish races and finish as many laps as possible.
With three races remaining in the season, the 20-year-old Late Model driver has left those goals in his dust and has set a few more lofty ones.
“Our season’s expectations are already achieved. Now a podium finish or a win would be something extra special,” said Pierce.
A year ago Pierce was running dirt go-karts around the southeast, something he had done since he was “10 or 11 years old” with pretty good success. But by the end of the 2015 kart season, a new plan was being hatched.
“We felt it was time to move up and give it a shot. We have been blessed this year,” said Pierce, a student at Guilford Technical Community College.
Pierce and his family built an alliance with Nelson Motorsports and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Timothy Peters for the 2016 season at South Boston Speedway. Nelson Motorsports fields the cars for Pierce. Peters, a longtime family friend, serves as a mentor.
Everyone involved knew there was going to be a huge learning curve for the young driver. Before last spring he had never driven a full-bodied stock car. “The biggest difference has been the horsepower and the size and weight of the cars,” Pierce said of his move to NASCAR Late Models.
The first part of the season was a true learning experience. He broke into the top 15 only once in the first four races, then missed two races after heavily damaging his car. Shortly after returning to the track after the car was repaired, things begin to turn around. He scored his first top 10 followed by an 11th-place finish.
And then, like a switch being turned on, Pierce was running with the lead cars, rolling up top five after top five.
“Right before the race on July 1st we went and tested and hit on something. The car has always been there. Timothy and those guys have always given me beyond an exceptional piece,” said Pierce. ‘We tested all day that day. They kept adjusting and adjusting and I was learning what was loose and what was tight.
“We hit on something that day and it gave me confidence. We had a top-five finish in the July 1st race and we’ve been on a tear ever since.”
Since that 200-lapper Pierce hasn’t finished out of the top 10 and has put up five top-five finishes. Those finishes have put him solidly in contention for the Late Model Stock Car Division rookie-of-the-year award.
“Rookie of the Year would be huge,” said Pierce, who has sponsorship help from Thunder Road Harley Davidson, Discount Oil Company, autosbynelson.com, Reactor Watches, Liquid Performance and Goodwrench. “Coming into the year our goal was to get a feel for the car, finish races, and finish all the laps. Once we did that we moved it up to finish on the lead lap, then top 15 and top 10. Top five never came into the picture.”
Racing returns to South Boston Speedway Saturday with the 7 p.m. running of the “Italian Delight Family Restaurant Presents Frutopia Not Just Frozen Yogurt” NASCAR Late Model 100 racing program.
A 100-lap race for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Car Division competitors will headline the five-race card. Also on the night’s schedule are a 50-lap Limited Sportsman Division race, a 30-lap race for the Budweiser Pure Stock Division, a 15-lap race for the Budweiser Hornets Division and a 25-lap race for the regional touring Southern Ground Pounders series.
Grandstand gates open at 5:30 p.m., qualifying starts at 6 p.m. and the first race gets the green flag at 7 p.m.