BENNINGTON -- With less than five laps remaining in the final race for the Sportsman Division championship at Lebanon Valley Speedway, Bennington's Chad Pierce, who had led the points for more than three months, wasn't quite sure who was ahead -- him or challengers Kim LaVoy and Frank Harper.
Coming into the event, Pierce led the pair by eight points. With each place counting for four, if one of his challengers had won, Pierce would need a third-place finish to take the championship.
During a caution with three laps to go in the season, Pierce did some quick math and realized he'd need to move up at least one position to come away with the
"Then the leaders wrecked on the last lap," Pierce said. "It was wild how it all unfolded."
On the final circuit, Brett Haas and Ryan Darcy, racing for the win, crashed into the fourth turn wall, allowing Pierce to streak past for his second win, his 12th top 5 run in 17 starts, and a Sportsman title by 16 points over LaVoy.
"We were good all year, but sometimes you need to be lucky," Pierce said. "We didn't have any parts failures and we dodged a couple of wrecks that could have bitten us."
In 17 events, Pierce ran every lap, finishing in the top 10 every time. He'd need all those points at the end.
"It was an incredible season, the one you dream about," Pierce said. "Everything came together."
The turning point of the season came in August. Up 10 points, he started deep in the field and on the first lap, broke a rear brake line.
He came into the pits, got the part fixed while staying on the lead lap, but he restarted 18th, well behind LaVoy in sixth.
"I thought it would be a huge points swing," Pierce said. "I just tried to get the best finish I could. The crew did a great job."
He came up through the pack, passing cars left and right, eventually finishing third.
"Instead of getting down, we went from 10 up to 24 up, and I really started to think this might happen," Pierce said. "It's nerve-wracking for the crew, but for me in the cockpit, it's different. I'm focused on driving."
Pierce ascended to the top of the points standings in Week 7, holding it for the final 15 weeks. By the last race, the pressure was off.
"When I won on the last day, it was instant jubilation," said Pierce, while at his shop in Pownal. "As everything started to unfold, it was incredible ... it's neat to bring the title home to Bennington."
Many racers make the trek from the Bennington area to race at the Valley -- the Strattons and the Jelleys are just two of the famous last names -- but Pierce is the first in recent memory to win a championship at the "famous high banks."
"My father raced and he was watching in the grandstands when I won," said Pierce, who has run for a decade in the Sportsman class. "The place has a mystique to it. To compete there for a championship is pretty cool."
There is a lot of local support, too, Pierce said. He works at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in the telecommunications field and all of his co-workers were following along on a weekly basis, along with his friends, fans and his family.
He's gotten financial support from many local businesses, including Battenkill Valley Electric, Sausville Construction and Tastee-Freez.
"There's fans sometimes you didn't even know you had," Pierce said.
One of those fans -- his father, Ed, was inducted into the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame back in August.
Ed Pierce was a driver and car owner for more than three decades at the Valley.
"It was a good year for the Pierces," Chad Pierce said.