Nathan Byrd made his endurance racing debut last weekend at Road Atlanta.
Nathan Byrd made his endurance racing debut last weekend at Road Atlanta.

BYRD: Endurance Racing Debut

BRASELTON, Ga. – I’ve been saying recently that I would like more adversity in my life, to make things more interesting, crazy and fun. 

Well, that’s exactly what happened at Road Atlanta as I made my endurance racing debut with the World Racing League.

I was scheduled to practice and qualify in both Jonathan Newcombe Racing cars on Friday and race both the No. 178 and No. 13 on Saturday and Sunday, netting me four races for the weekend.

However, we all know that plans and racing don’t typically get along very well.

Friday started out with some troubles. My primary car, the No. 178 Honda Civic SI, was experiencing some electrical issues that kept us from getting a qualifying session in, so for my first qualifying session on Friday I got the chance to learn the No. 13 car and ended up setting its qualifying time for Saturday’s nine-hour race. 

Later in the day, I got another chance to hop in the car and this is when adversity hit us head on.

During this second run, when I tried upshifting to fourth gear, it typically took me on average  of two to three tries to get the car in gear. This killed my momentum and took a few tenths off my lap every time it happened. It was fairly frustrating because by the time my stint was over, I thought I was going crazy and that maybe the problem was in my head. 

I battled these thoughts by reminding myself that I was shifting perfectly fine in my first session in the car and unless I ran out of talent and suddenly forgot how to shift, it probably wasn’t in my head. My theory was confirmed when one of my teammates went out and experienced the same problem.

We finished out the practice day with a nice qualifying position for the No. 13 car, fifth of 12 cars in our class. We even managed to solve the No. 178’s electrical problems and Jonathan qualified us seventh during the final qualifying session.

During Saturday’s nine-hour endurance race, adversity came at us again. 

My day started in the No. 178 car for the first stint of the day, which I didn’t get a chance to test the day before since it was having electrical problems. And, unfortunately, it didn’t start off too hot when I encountered an electrical issue on the first of the two pace laps before the race started. 

I somehow managed to get the car refired after the entire field passed me. I ran hard to catch up to the back of the pack just before the green flag. I was last among a field of 65 cars.

Despite not having run any laps in the car, I settled in and moved up a few positions in our class before I encountered a fuel issue that starved the engine of power and cost me a couple of laps. I finished my 93-minute stint without incident and swapped the car over to our next driver.

I used this break between stints to refresh and regenerate and get cooled down as fast as possible. 

After all, we were driving in very hot and humid conditions for extended periods of time. I also had to be ready at any point to hop in a car if needed. I even bought a Coolshirt which connects to an ice chest, which circulates cold water around your torso to help bring your core temperature down. 

Unfortunately, I had to use it sparingly while in the car, otherwise I’d run out of cold too early and potentially get overheated later on in the run. This ended up not being an issue for me after I hopped into the No. 13 car because a couple laps into the stint, I encountered a transmission issue that kept me from getting the car in third, fourth or fifth gear. This forced me to the pits, so we could attempt to replace the transmission.

Despite the fact the No. 13 car had in all likelihood been taken out of the race, we were still going strong in the No. 178, which I was going to get my third and final stint of the day in. The car seemed to only be encountering electrical power issues at the time but its gearbox also failed while my teammate Carson Ware was at the wheel. 

That ended the No. 178’s race. Luckily, after I had already left the track for the day, the hard-working guys at JNR managed to get a used transmission swapped into the No. 13 car with about four laps to go in the race.

This didn’t do anything for our result, but it provided an opportunity to test the car before the race on Sunday.

Instead of having two cars to race on Sunday, we were left with just the one, the No. 13 car. 

However, at this point we knew that if we experienced zero mechanical issues during Sunday’s race and the transmission lasted all seven hours, then we would be in a very good position to bring the car home for a podium finish.

My race started in the second stint after about an hour had passed. I smoothly swapped in during the driver change and pitstop and proceeded to get to work. During my stint it started drizzling and running the normal dry line around the track became an issue. 

Over the course of the run, I managed to get the fastest laps of the race for the car while dealing with the on-and-off drizzle. I got in the car at around 8:50 a.m. and finished my stint at 10 a.m. because the race officials had to pause the race for a 10 a.m. to noon “quiet time,” which I can only assume is city or county mandated. 

I debriefed with my teammates and the crew about the car and then changed out of my racing gear to cool down, rest and refuel, knowing I had a long time until I was going to be back in the car. 

Carson resumed the race for us and not long into his stint adversity struck with a clean one-two combo breaker as Carson lost brake pressure and ended up having to pit. We quickly swapped out the braking system, which didn’t take us very long at all. 

This unfortunately put us so far back it would’ve taken multiple race-ending mechanical failures from the guys in front in order for us to finish on the podium. Nonetheless, Carson went back out and finished his stint. Then, I hopped back into the car to drive another 75 minutes. 

I didn’t exactly start my final stint of the weekend off the way I wanted when during my first or second lap, a lower-class car missed the braking zone leaving me nowhere to go. That resulted in unavoidable front-to-rear contact. 

Granted, if I was more conservative and assumed he was going to make a mistake, then the relatively heavy contact could have been avoided by me preemptively slowing up more. At this point, I still didn’t really know which cars needed to be avoided and which cars I could race with, so I erred on the side of “my competitors know what they’re doing.” 

I was sorely mistaken as this incident may have been the reason I had to go back to the pits a few laps later because the car was experiencing reduced engine power. We got that fixed and the right-front damage to the car duct taped the best as we could. 

I went back out to complete the stint and had a strong finish with some nice passes and racing. Two of my teammates, Max Theurer and Jonathan Newcombe, finished the race and brought the car to the checkered flag in fourth place, which was pretty good considering the adversity and mechanical issues we faced.

It was a nice cherry on the top of another good learning experience.

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