CONCORD, N.C. — When Bobby Pierce Jr. grabbed hold of a quarter midget for the first time at age four, he quickly found out it was nothing like skating his toy cars across the Vermilion County Speedway grandstands.
It is a story the 19-year-old can laugh about now, and that is just what he did when he told it. But, to his credit, taking the step was big for a four-year-old.
The excitement only lasted one day. The throttle got the best of him, and he drove the car right into the side of his father’s pickup truck.
He called it quits at that point. It was a scary yet humbling experience. But there was still something so intriguing about racing to him. Maybe it was because of his lustrous bloodline, or the simple fact that he had been around racing since birth. Being the typical curious kid, he still wanted to find out why it interested him so much, though it scared him.
Despite that fear, the rising Oakwood, Ill. star rocketed forward quickly, eventually becoming the youngest driver ever (at 18 years old) to win the DIRTcar Summer Nationals title when he accomplished the feat in 2015. Beyond that, he also joined his father Bob Pierce in becoming the first father-son duo to win Summer Nationals titles.
“I never thought I’d be doing it this young,” said Pierce Jr., who started racing late models at 13. “Now that I think about it, 13 [years-old] racing these things is pretty crazy. I always wanted to compete on this level. I just wasn’t sure how soon I’d be doing it.”
One year after the pickup truck mishap, he gave that quarter midget another go. This time Pierce Jr. was on a closed course at Vermilion. He managed to steer away from any trouble, but similar to his first experience, the adrenaline was frightening.
Mind you, his quarter midget lacked a part others like it had — a restrictor plate. His was a “full-bore, wide-open” one. No holds barred.
He learned throttle control — the reason why he has gained the nickname the “Smooth Operator” now. Pierce Jr. ended up racing quarter midgets for almost three years until switching to four-cylinder modifieds in 2008. The following year Pierce Jr. made the switch to late models, claiming the track championship at Vermilion in the crate division. He hopped into a dirt super late model in 2010.
The true test in super late models is the competition, though he is a back-to-back DIRTcar Late Model National Champion. Despite having grasped throttle control, he said it is difficult being “silky smooth” when the rest of the field puts the pedal to the metal.
“It’s either all you got or you might as well not be doing it at all,” Pierce said. “The competition is just so stiff [at this level]. But with my dad’s experience, it really helps me a lot … with him building the cars and everything. We’ve had a lot of good times over the years.”