On Aug. 5, the local racing community was sent into mourning when popular area veteran stock car racer Jim Pierce Sr. suddenly died from a health complication at the age of 47.
But from grief often comes inspiration. Within a few days after the untimely passing, the local racing fraternity – headed by Pierce family friend Lori Overdorf, Wyoming County International Speedway owner/promoter Jim Majchrzak, Pierce's family and others – began to plan a way to remember the fallen Pierce with racing competition that will serve as the therapy that will help the healing process continue for all.
When WCIS showcases its annual two-day "Shootout at the Bullring" season finale program this weekend, Saturday's on-track activity will be highlighted by the Jim Pierce Memorial SST Modified 100. Pierce is the 2007 WCIS SST Modified champion who has spent the last few seasons mentoring the racing careers of his two sons, Jim Jr. and Joey.
"I want to say that it was less then three days later after Jim died, I wanted to do a memorial race and I called Jim Majchrzak and asked him and it took him less than two seconds to agree to it which I was very grateful for," said Overdorf. "He's been absolutely phenomenal to work with. I can't say enough nice things to say about Jim Majchrzak.
"It's grown into a lap money program and a lot of ex-racers who where Jim's friends are coming to the race, some from out of town. Kevin Eckerich is flying home from North Carolina for it. The car, Jim's Sportsman, will be there on display. Chris Zacharias is lettering it as a replica of Jim's 2007 championship car. Neal Dietz Jr., is putting a new body on the car for us. We have a lot of special things planned. I'm using this event as a way to honor my late friend. There will also be a balloon launch and the family including Jim Sr.'s wife Pam will be involved Saturday."
Majchrzak is ready to give the Pierce family their special day this weekend.
"First off, Jim (Sr.) was my friend," Majchrzak said. "That's the biggest thing. Jim was our champion back in 2007. I don't believe he ever gave the race track officials a hard time. He was friendly to everybody. He was always in a good mood even if he banged it up. It's just a shame that his life ended because we lost a good person. I think what saddens me the most to tell you the truth is knowing the relationship between myself and my son Daniel (Majchrzak) when it comes to racing, and he had two boys that he enjoyed the sport with. That's the hardest thing about this is that he left us when his sons were still growing and that's unfortunate.
"Lori was a better friend to Jim Sr. by all means than myself and when she called and made the suggestion that we have the memorial to me instantly it wasn't event a question of can we do it. It was a matter of yes we will do it. Jim Sr. had a history at Wyoming County that included being a champion through the weekly SST Modifieds. He also raced SST Modifieds with us when we had the SST tour."
Overdorf's friendship with Pierce went back more than a decade.
"I met Jim in 2002 when it was my second year working at Lancaster Speedway," Overdorf said. "I interviewed him for a driver profile story for the track program. We just became fast friends. We've been friends for over 15 years so all those years I was at Lancaster he traveled around a lot with the SST series and then he went to Wyoming County in 2007 and won the championship there. But we always stayed in touch and then when his son started racing I was able to come and spectate as a fan so we were always great friends.
"Jim Sr. had put his own racing on hold to help his son Jim Jr., in the 4-Cylinders when he started two years ago at Wyoming County. Before that Jim Jr., had raced Go-Karts at Bliss Speedway for years before moving up to 4-Cylinders when he was old enough. Jim Sr., put a lot of time and effort into the car. They had success with the 4-Cylinders and the goal was to eventually put Jim Jr., into the SST Sportsman. He was helping Joey too."
It has been a hard last few months for Jim Jr., 17, a senior at Niagara-Wheatfield, but he too is looking forward to Saturday's day of remembrance.
"It's awesome," Pierce Jr. said of the local auto racing community's response. "I would never have thought that it would be anything like that. Everybody's just been so helpful and so great about it. I started going to the races when I was six weeks old. My racing started when I was about six years old. My dad bought a Go-Kart and he started me off in the Go-Karts at Bliss. I did that for a couple years then he asked me 'do you really want to keep doing this?' I just loved it ever since I started and of course I was going to continue doing it."
Jim Jr. won numerous races at Bliss. He then transferred to the 4-Cylinders at WCIS in 2015 winning two races that year and another four in 2016. Jim Jr. ran a Street Stock at Lancaster much of this season, but since his father's death, Jim Jr., has competed in a couple of 4-Cylinder races at Lancaster. He will race in the 4-Cylinders this weekend at WCIS. Joey, 14, also drove in the Go-Karts at Bliss and is just beginning his stock car career in a 4-Cylinders.
Jim Sr. is also survived by a stepdaughter, Stephanie Smithmeyer, 29.
Majchrzak noted that among those working on this weekend's event are Dakota Packman (WCIS public relations director) and Chris Zacharias, who are "putting efforts in to make this thing as memorable as we can."
"We will be racing all weekend including the $10,000-to-win American Modified 100 on Sunday and I've got a 3,700 seat grandstand that I'd love to fill so hopefully everyone comes out," Majchrzak said.
WCIS hosts racing Saturday for the Pierce Memorial 100, the NYSS Sandra Vogler Memorial 51, the 4-Cylinder 40, 6-Cylinder 20 and Vintage Late Models at 2 p.m. In addition to the American Modified 100, Sunday's 2 p.m. competition also includes the WCIS Super Stock 50, INEX Legends 30 and CAMS Vintage Modifieds.
Drag Racing World Champions
Empire Dragway competitors Paige Montgomery of Alden, Junior Dragster and Pete D'Agnolo of Rochester, Super Stock have emerged as 2017 IHRA World Champions.