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Nathan Byrd sits behind the wheel of the No. 47 sprint car at Ventura Raceway. (Byrd Racing photo)

BYRD: From Sea To Shining Sea

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — It was another interesting week of racing the Byrd way.

It was a coast-to-coast trip that began at Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway and ended at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway. From sea to shining sea.

Seekonk Speedway is a quarter-mile paved oval and I raced a NEMA midget with Bertrand Motorsports.

NEMA midgets are essentially midgets with wings attached to the top of them. These wings greatly increase downforce and cornering ability compared to a non-winged midget.

My first time out during practice I went out and only got a few very quick laps to get a feel for the track, which I had never driven before. It had also been a year since I had driven any midget in a winged configuration, so I was able to get reacquainted with that, too.

The car felt loose, and we figured it was the super-worn, left-rear tire holding the car back. 

Three new tires while leaving the left-front tire as-is was our decision for group qualifying. During qualifying I got held up by a slower car, but still managed to go fourth fastest on my final lap, with an 11.584-second effort compared to the polesitter’s 11.254. 

In order to preserve the new tires for the feature, we put the rear tires from practice back on the car for the heat race. I started fourth in the heat and was immediately passed for position on the outside as I was trying to make a pass on the inside.

I gave up the inside attempt and was able to pass on the outside, despite the car being fairly loose. I ran down the third place and was able to make an inside pass for the position.

I finished third with an 11.684-second fast lap, which put me third fastest between the two heats.

New tires were put back on for the feature and we didn’t make any changes to the car. It was in a safe position with the setup just in case the track went loose or tight.

Despite our qualifying speeds and heat race finish, the starting lineup was a random draw out of a hat to see where we would start. I pulled No. 4, so I started on the outside the second row.

At the start of the race, I took third around the outside. I tried to get up to second place on the outside but couldn’t make it stick. The car was on the looser side with lack of grip in the mid-corner and exit.

Eventual winner Avery Stoehr passed me on the outside with a car that was an absolute rocket ship. It seemingly had all the grip in the world.

Well over the halfway point of the race, I was struggling with the car’s lack of grip and got passed for position on the inside by another car that eventually finished second.

Back in fifth place, I began to feel the effects of physical exhaustion and fatigue because of how physical the car was to drive. A caution came out a couple laps later and then we finished the final three laps of the race. I tried making a move on the inside of fourth place car a couple laps in a row but just couldn’t make it stick and had to settle for fifth.

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

It was amazing how much of a full body workout running the NEMA midget at Seekonk was when you combine the natural increased G-Forces of a NEMA car with a quarter-mile bullring track where you are constantly turning the steering wheel the whole time.

Combine that with a loose car that you’re fighting the whole time with your steering, it really should have been no surprise that I would be absolutely exhausted after a mere 29 laps.

But for my first time back in the NEMA car after almost a whole year though, I felt like I did pretty well all things considered.

It was back home to Phoenix, then off to LAX on Saturday to drive one of Cory Kruseman’s midgets and 360 sprint cars on dirt at Ventura Raceway. My only experience on dirt had been Kruseman’s dirt racing school and one 360 sprint car race weekend at Ventura Raceway.

This would be my second time racing on dirt in the sprint car and my first time on dirt in a midget.

My first goal was to keep both cars in one piece, that way I could get as many laps as possible. My second goal was to not completely embarrass myself while I made my respective USAC dirt debuts in both cars.

Somehow, I managed to do both.

It was pretty hectic at the track. I hopped into the midget first to do some wheel-packing for the track where everyone just drives around the track very slowly in order to pack in the recently churned and watered-down mud/dirt as much.

Afterward, we went into hot laps, which were about three laps long. It didn’t provide me very much benefit, but it did help to increase my comfort with the midget and help refamiliarize myself a bit with dirt driving and the track itself.

I qualified 20th out of 23 cars with a time of 13.966 seconds, compared to the polesitter’s 12.417.

Sprint car hot laps and qualifying came next and I struggled with what little sprint car dirt mojo I had. I ran a 14.142, 17th-place qualifying compared to the polesitter’s 12.854. I needed more laps to get dialed in, which is why I was looking forward to the heat races and features for both cars.

In the first midget heat, I started seventh and finished sixth. I went from struggling in the beginning to running similar lap times as the drivers in front of me. That was a nice little confidence booster.

In my sprint car heat, I started on the pole and in the first half was holding my own on race pace. The second half of the race, I struggled to get the car to do what I wanted it to do and I ultimately finished sixth out of seven cars.

Next was 30 laps of hard racing in each car.

I rolled out for the midget feature, starting 20th out of 21 cars. My main goal was to just keep the car in one piece and finish all the laps. That’s what I was able to do.

I caused one of the two cautions at the start of the race when there was a big pile-up in the middle of turns one and two. I barely managed to avoid it by hopping up over the inside berm and driving onto the back straight.

After that incident it was relatively smooth sailing the rest of the race and I was able to race forward to finish 11th, using the bottom lane to great effect to earn the hard charger award for passing the most cars.

The sprint car feature was the final race of the night. I started 17th out of 22 cars and made progress throughout the caution-riddled 30-lap feature. I once again used the bottom lane to pass multiple cars over the course of the race.

It was annoying though because every time a caution came out in the first two-thirds of the race, guys would pass me under caution for seemingly no reason other than they thought they were supposed to be ahead of me.

Multiple times I had to reposition myself ahead of them while under caution in order to keep the position I had rightfully earned.

There were also many incidents and close calls during the race.

My left-rear tire seemed to be a sprint car magnet because I got hit in the left rear three separate times.

Guys were driving crazy the whole race and I was just glad to be in one piece by the end of it in seventh place.

I got the Hard Charger Award for my second time out in the sprint car on dirt.

Overall, it was a successful and satisfying week of racing, proving to myself that I’m slowly but surely becoming the kind of driver that can get in anything, move forward and be successful and competitive.

This is what we’re working to achieve over here at Byrd Racing and it seems like we’re getting it done.

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