Every driver has a different path to where they’re currently at when it comes to racing, and yet many are similar. A natural progression from four cylinders, to stocks or sportsman, to what top class they can afford is fairly common. What’s also common, is a home track or two in the mix where a driver can learn the opponents and the track, and learn to beat both on a somewhat regular basis.
What’s not so common, is a driver that takes a courageous step out of that progression. To move at a different pace among the divisions and forgo tracks closer to home all in the sake of tough finishes and little reward, just to learn at a more accelerated pace.
For the last few years, Shayne Pierce has been doing just that. The 25 year old Welland, Ontario native has been doing things his own way in his young career. He currently beats a path down Interstate 79 on many weekends or even central New York, to learn just a little bit more and get just a little bit better than the week before. And when he’s not got his modified on his open trailer headed to the track, he can be found at Bicknell Racing Products during a grueling work week.
“I build and hang all the bodies on the race cars. Some nights are better than others. One Monday I was there at eight am and left at ten at night because I had to finish Matt Sheppard’s car,” Pierce said in a recent interview.
“At a young age I was given the option, hockey or go karts and like any kid I picked go karts. So since I was seven years old I was racing karts. I wanted to be like Pete Bicknell because he was just so dominant in this area. Pete’s always good when I’m going someplace new. He’s always got insight on tracks and useful information. Pete sticks to himself because he’s really into the business end of it these days, but when you race have a good race against him, that’s when he really likes to talk about the racing and how the night went.”
Pierce’s progression brought him to stock cars through an unforeseen set of circumstances, it would eventually put his skills on display as he quickly adjusted to the heavy cars and became a track champion.
“After karts, I went to street stocks. I was probably fourteen at the time and my dad was involved with a couple of sportsman modified teams. A friend of ours was racing street stocks, so my dad had lent him his open trailer. The deal was he could use our open trailer all year but he had to fix the stuff that was broken on it. And so that guy went on a holiday and told my dad that he could drive his car while he was gone. Sure enough on lap four of the six lap heat race, my dad was barrel rolling down the back straight away and we were kind of forced to buy the car. So we rebuilt it and I was racing on Saturday’s and Sundays at Merrittville and Humberstone.”
After the success in the stock ranks, it was time to move on to a different level for Pierce. Some drivers care to ween themselves into full time 358 or big block modifed racing via the sportsman modified ranks. The northeast is seemingly a hotbed for the division at many tracks and they often have higher car counts than the higher echelon. It’s often a wise choice as it’s a chance to learn the different weight tolerance and get a feel for how a modified feels differently than anything else on dirt. However, Pierce took a chance on an opportunity and went straight to the top. It was a gamble to say the least, but there’s something to be said about high risk and high reward models.
“I skipped over the sportsman modifieds and went directly to the modifieds. If I had to do it over again, I probably would have cut my street stock career short a couple of years and done the sportsman modifieds. But we wanted to move up, we just couldn’t find the budget to and actually after I won the street stock title at Oshweken, somebody came to me with a full modified ride and I couldn’t say no to that. After that year we went our own way, but we were already in with both feet. We were running Merrittville in the 358 mods weekly, it’s ten minutes from my house. The competition at Merrittville is just insane. Everybody is so tight that they’re spending the extra five grand just to get a little more horsepower and that wasn’t in our best interest. We weren’t getting ahead there. And so we went down the road and ended up having a couple of motor issues. And at the end of the year when we sat down and regrouped we decided that if we were going to keep travelling, it didn’t make sense to put another small block together. My boss at Bicknell, Randy Williamson, happened to have a couple of big blocks sitting on the floor for sale so we made a deal for them.”
The move paid off, although in terms that are still being measured. Pierce has shown flashes of brilliance in the modified against stiff competition, and experienced eyes in the business have seen those flashes. He has still yet to visit victory lane, but to look over his career to this point, one can easily point to many races that he was in position to win or reach the podium only to wind up a heart break loser with mechanical gremlins or bad luck. He may be the most talented modified driver in the northeast that has yet to reach his full potential. Part of that is due to the fact that he pushes the limits of himself and his equipment with a self made schedule far from his home. His local tracks might be a more comfortable place, he knows the terrain there, but to be a great driver means getting to as many different tracks as possible in the early stages.
“I like going to New York and running with those guys. When you can run somewhere with Matt Sheppard and Billy Decker, you’re going to learn a lot. Even if you’re just running on the same surface with them you’re going to learn something. I love travelling. I went to 12 or 13 different race tracks last year and I didn’t do that the whole time I ran Merrittville. The better we run this year, the more we’re going to run. If we’re running well, you just might see us at Canandaigua some. As we go, we’ll decide just where we’re going to go. I think the visiting lots of different tracks has helped me out a crazy amount. Sticking at a home track, you’re going to learn only so much. In the case we’re at, we weren’t able to run one night a week plus specials. Now we’re running just specials, but we’re not committed to every Saturday, we’re not committed to 20 races a year. We’d rather run 20-25 anywhere we want.”
And the learning acquired from all the travelling Pierce has been undertaking extends to not only other driver’s styles, but also to his way around different tracks. He’s been able to write his own book so to speak, about the best lines at new places he’s never seen, the lines that work for him. It’s not work that lends itself to top five finishes every night, but the work he’s doing will pay dividends later on as his body of work develops. It is not an easy way to go about things, but it is the right way for Pierce.
“When I show up somewhere I’ve never been before I don’t know the line, I don’t know the fast way around the track. I’m going out there and basically creating my own line. I think it actually helps me by finding my own line. Sometimes it works and sometimes it goes horribly wrong, but I’m learning regardless.”
Perhaps lost in Pierce’s progression, is the fact that his is still a budget oriented operation. He’s been opening eyes of engaging minds for a few years now, and he’s been doing it with less support than others that have the luxury of racing at a home track. support that is sometimes hard to come by. He’d live to race full time for a living like Bicknell and Stewart Friesen both from near his home and two people he’s looked up to for years.
“In a perfect world, I’d love to race three or four times a week but it’s jut not feasible right now. If a ride ever came along that could support that, I’d love to do it. It’s been a dream watching guys like Stewart Friesen do it and knowing that he came from your backyard and to look at his accomplishments can really light a fire under you. But to do that kind of thing with my own equipment is just not possible. It can be hard going down the road for sponsors. I’ve yet to light the world on fire. And nobody wants to hand over a bunch of money locally to a guy going six hours down the road. My father and I are the only ones who work on this race car. We’re the ones that put this car together and maintain it and we show up to some big tracks with some big names at them and run competitively with just ourselves. We show up with an open trailer and do what we have to do to go out that and race. So far, that’s my biggest accomplishment. A couple of years ago, it stopped being fun, but once we went on the road, it started getting fun again.”
So take note modified fans. If you’ve not yet seen Pierce drive or heard the name, be on the lookout. He had a different approach to how to build a career, and he could very well be onto something. Odds are, you’ll be hearing about him sooner and not later.