Nathan Byrd raced a NEMA midget for Bertrand Motorsports at Star Speedway. (Byrd Racing photo)

BYRD: From Coast To Coast

MONTEREY, Calif. — It was a coast-to-coast weekend of racing as we started off at Star Speedway in Epping, N.H., before traveling to California to race the picturesque WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

At Star Speedway I raced a NEMA midget and a NEMA Lite midget for Bertrand Motorsports.

At Laguna, it was the NASA 6.5-hour endurance race with Ageless Bio Racing’s NP01 prototype.

Saturday began in the NEMA Lite machine on the quarter-mile paved oval at Star Speedway. It was another car and track I had never raced before, which is always a bit of a challenge but a very fun to experience.

The priorities were to learn the track and learn the car, while providing feedback on the car’s setup to improve it for the heat race and feature. With some consistent experimentation with the racing line and a few hard laps, we got a solid baseline of experience.

That helped me get up to speed in the NEMA midget and get some laps at speed, because the first practice helped me get familiar with the track. Following a short break before final practice started, I went back out in both the Lite and NEMA cars before the 10-lap heat races.

Both cars had substantially improved setups.

In the Lite, I felt much faster than in the first practice and in the NEMA midget I felt like I was just carving through the corners with very little effort. I was feeling pretty good heading into the heat races.

The first heat race was in the Lite car. Starting last out of the six cars in my heat, I passed two cars and finished fourth. In the NEMA midget I started and finished third in my heat.

Before each feature, we changed the car setup to match the track conditions from what I noticed in the heat races.

The first feature was the 35-lap NEMA Lite race. I started 13th in an 18-car field. That’s because it was my first race in the series, which comes with a starting position handicap.

I was able to move up in the race, though. The car started off a little loose and eventually went tight, so I did my best to adjust for it through my driving as well as with the in-car adjustment I have that allows me to adjust the left-rear shock.

I made up seven positions and finished sixth. That was a very satisfying result for my NEMA Lite debut.

The NEMA midget race was next. I started fifth, but with only 30 laps in the race, I had to move forward quickly. A caution on the first lap slowed the charge to the front. It was back to fifth and another caution happened on the first lap. Finally, we restarted the race, but I got a terrible start.

I was in eighth place and was mildly annoyed that I had two great starts that didn’t matter because of the cautions.

Nonetheless, I put my head down and focused forward, managing to pick off a couple cars to get me back up to sixth. 

I attempted a pass on the car in front of me on the inside of turn three. But we ended up making contact and both spun out.

I was sixth with three laps to go and decided to finish in that position without making any risky and regrettable moves. I was happy that both cars and myself came out of the two races in one piece.

We packed up our stuff and made the trip to California.

It was my second time at Laguna Seca (the track where I started my car career in the Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series ran by the Lucas Oil School of Racing) and my fifth time racing an NP01 prototype this year.

When I went out for practice, the track was still damp in some corners as it hadn’t fully dried from the prior night’s rainfall. I didn’t feel quite comfortable with the slicks on to start pushing the car’s limits, so I settled to just getting a good feel for the track and turned over the car to one of my co-drivers, Jarret Voorhies.

I had raced with Voorhies earlier this year at Daytona in the Racer Motors NP01.

He got about eight laps into his practice run before the car lost power on track.

It was a problem the team had encountered in the past and thought was fixed. The good news is there was a temporary solution to the problem, which was to power cycle the car by turning the master switch off and back on.

We had to make random power cuts and slowdowns from vehicles on track are the furthest thing from predictable.

The 6.5-hour race started an hour later with Voorhies experiencing a couple of power cuts during the pace laps before the race. He stayed out to start the race and was able to get a few laps in before the power cuts became bad enough that he had to come into the pits.

It was a six-and-a-half-hour-long struggle fest. The team made a fix, sent the car out and came back empty-handed with the same result. The car spent around three hours either in the pits or in the garage in the paddock undergoing repairs.

Eventually, with about three hours left in the race, a fix that we had sent out the third driver of the car, Owen McCallister, with seemed to be working and showed promise to potentially take us to the end of the race.

I got in the car and within 10 green-flag laps, I experienced the problem myself and had to do the power reset to keep going while on track. I came back to the pits and tried another long-shot fix. I got another 10 or so laps before the power cut hit again and came into the paddock garage so they could try their final fix of the day and send Jarret back out with it.

Long story short, the final fix ended up failing and the car did not take the checkered flag.

I got about 20 flying green flag laps around the track, but the laps I did get gave me some good experience and were beneficial. Managing traffic was a fun challenge to figure out and being forced to drive around what was a significant tightness in the car’s setup was also a good challenge.

I got faster as I got more laps and eventually came down to competitive lap times for the car, which was something I could take some solace in.

Not every race weekend goes exactly according to plan, and that’s racing. I’m just grateful to have been blessed with the opportunity to race as much as I do, which makes these sorts of days sting way less than they otherwise would.

All in all, it was a solid weekend of racing, and I can’t wait to continue my racing adventures next weekend where I’ll be racing on dirt once again at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway.