DILLON, S.C. – This past week was quite the adventure.
I started out the week Wednesday with Bertrand Motorsports at the Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut, where I raced a NEMA midget for the second time after my debut at Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire.
Unfortunately this time around I didn’t get a day of testing at the track before race day like before, so I actually ended up diving head first into the 25-lap race with 12 laps around the track under my belt.
I think I handled myself pretty well considering how technical the track is. There were going to be two heat races, which would’ve helped me, but God had other plans when he decided to send some rain to the track, which forced the entire scheduled to be accelerated due to the delay.
As a result, the starting order was determined by NEMA’s handicap system and since I hadn’t been properly ranked yet, I started seventh out of nine cars. Right away I got passed and settled into eighth to try to find my groove.
It was a relatively uneventful race until the end, where I managed to make the pass for seventh on the outside on the final lap. Overall it was a good race where I tried to find the limit and get comfortable with the winged midget.
I got a brief night of rest before jumping on a flight from Connecticut to Indiana in the wee hours of the morning, where I was set to race in the USAC Silver Crown Series event at Winchester Speedway.
We barely made it to the track in time for the driver’s meeting. I was first in the qualifying order after we couldn’t get the car to fire for practice due to a fuel line issue. When qualifying was complete I was slated to start 13th out of 19 cars.
I got a decent start during the 100-lap Rich Vogler Classic. I settled in fairly quickly, but got passed early on by Kyle O’Gara. He dove deep to my inside and used the extreme banking to slow his momentum and stay out of the outside wall.
I was constantly pressuring the guys ahead of me throughout the first 50 laps trying to replicate the passing technique Kyle used on me. I was able to make one pass to get back to 13th, but could never quite fully commit to carrying the speed into the entry that I needed to in order to move further up the field.
I was continu continuing to get held up by the guys in front of me and I just couldn’t make my way around them. I was still in 13th with about 50 laps completed when a caution came out. My dad, who was on the radio with me, told me I was dropping fuel or something from the back of the car and I needed to pull into the pits.
That was the end of my race. Track officials told me to pull into the grass so I wasn’t dumping fuel on the pavement on pit road. It turns out my fuel tank was bottoming out so bad at the rear of the car that it eventually wore a hole through the tank and fuel bladder.
It was a little frustrating because I felt like I had a car capable of finishing in the top-10. It was still amazing to be able to participate in that race and I can’t thank Davey Hamilton Racing enough for making that happen.
The next day we flew from Indiana to South Carolina so we could practice the Rick Ware Racing/Thirty-Three Motorsports w/Mr. E Performance pro late model at Dillon Motor Speedway.
We had a fairly successful day of testing and on race day the car was extremely fast. On Saturday I was scheduled to race in two divisions, the Carolina Pro Late Model Series and the USAC Eastern SpeeD2 Midget class.
We were sixth fastest in the pro late model and qualified seventh, which meant I just missed the top-six invert. It was tricky due to the ongoing tire shortage, so we had to qualify and race on a right-rear tire that was a harder compound than the other three tires.
On the midget side, I got one short practice and then a session to scuff tires. I was trying to figure out how to drive the track in a midget since it was very different than how you would drive a pro late model.
I found some pace in qualifying thanks to some advice from Jessica Bean and qualified eighth. The midgets raced first, with the pro late models running second. The midget race wasn’t very eventful. I found some pace and moved up a few spots to finish sixth despite not having the setup exactly right.
When the pro late model race finally rolled around I was feeling pretty confident and I was determined to move forward and not backward like I had in the last few pro late model races.
Despite falling back a position a few laps into the race, I settled in and retook seventh about 35 laps in. For the majority of the race I slowly ran down the driver in sixth, losing some ground here and gaining some ground there.
When the caution flag waved with 11 laps left I was in prime position to make a move with the field bunched up. I got an OK restart, but quickly closed the gap to the guy in front of me in turn one. Coming out of turn two I noticed I got a good run out of the corner and had the opportunity to make a move down the backstretch on the driver in sixth.
I saw the driver I was battling get loose in the rear after tapping the wall. I was full throttle on his left-rear quarter-panel when the rear of his car wiggled into an overcorrection, snapping his rear around and turning his car down into me.
I had nowhere to go. I made immediate contact with his car and got launched when one of his left side tires made contact with my right-front tire. I skidded to a stop with my car partially on top of his. Instead of passing for sixth, I had a wrecked race car.
My crew worked hard and got me back out on track with two laps left, which allowed us to finish 13th. I was really proud of my guys for their hustle and hard work. It was hard to lose two awesome race cars in the span of four races, especially when there was nothing I could have done about it.
I know we’ll bounce back and come out even stronger the next time. In the end, I was happy with my pace and the progress I’ve been making with the team. Just an unfortunate ending to the race.
Overall it was another awesome week of racing. Four cars in three different states in five days. That’s a Byrd Racing schedule for you!