Nathan Byrd earned a win and a podium finish last week at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Nathan Byrd earned a win and a podium finish last week at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

BYRD: Redemption In New Jersey

MILLVILLE, N.J. – This week I was back at New Jersey Motorsports Park with the Skip Barber Racing Series and man, it was quite the rollercoaster and learning experience. 

The first day was practice and qualifying and I was excited to learn the Lightning Track and see what I could do. However, whether it was overconfidence or just plain stupidity, I ended up making a few errors and rookie mistakes that put a few of my fellow Skip Barber competitors at risk and in harm’s way. 

Fortunately nobody ended up hurt, but that could’ve easily not been the case.

One of the consequences of this poor performance was my getting penalized and sent to the back of the grid for race one the next day. 

Heading into day two I was looking to begin my redemption arc. The first session of qualifying for the second race was cut short due to an on-track incident, but I managed to snag a second-place qualifying effort from it.

Race one was next and I knew I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to finish the race where I belonged, coming all the way from the back in 10th.

I proceeded to pass four cars on the first lap and during the course of the race slowly but surely worked my way up to fourth. An intense battle for third commenced on the final lap, which culminated in a drag race down the front straight out of the final corner. I came out on top, finishing on the podium by half a car length.

My redemption arc had almost been fulfilled after this clean and clinical last-to-third-place run. However, I knew I needed to finish out the day strong in order to complete my day two comeback story. I did not disappoint myself. 

Starting the race on the outside of the front row, it’s easy to lose a position or two. I was pleasantly surprised when I managed to take the lead of the race coming out of turn one. However, I was swiftly passed back several corners later by the race one winner Johnny Guindi. 

I did my best to keep up with him and challenge him, but he slowly pulled away while my third-place series arch-nemesis Jeshua Alianell slowly reeled me in. Fortunately for me, a few laps later Jeshua had a problem with his brakes and went off the track in turn seven. A caution flag waved a few laps later.

After rolling around for a few laps, the all-clear was given. Coming to the green flag on the final restart I pounced as soon as I saw the green flag begin to wave and managed to catch Guindi sleeping at the wheel, distracted by the pace car rolling into the pits. 

I popped to the outside, overtook him on the front straight going into turn one and completed the pass on the outside. An incident behind us quickly brought the caution back out and with no laps left, we were picked up by the pace car once again and I led the field to the checkered flag to finish out the race, this time in first!

A great qualifying and fortunate circumstances helped me to bring it home P1 and I can’t thank the Skip Barber Racing instructors and crew enough for all their encouragement and wisdom, pushing me to be better. I’m happy I was able to redeem myself and make them proud in the process.

Heading into Saturday’s race I was hoping to top off the week’s success with another podium or even a win in my final NEMA Midget race of the year with Bertrand Motorsports at Oswego Speedway. 

However, despite starting third after having a really strong practice where I was second fastest, I couldn’t get the job done in the 25-lap feature. I did manage to finish third in the heat race beforehand after starting third, but all it did was ensure I qualified for the handicap invert that takes place for the feature.

After having a great start where I took second immediately going into turn one, I fell back a couple of positions several laps later after pressuring and challenging for the lead.

The car started to become too loose and I was struggling to carry the entry and mid-corner speed I needed to in order to compete and make up ground on my opponents and avoid falling back any further. 

My lack of experience in the series as a whole and the track in particular rose to the surface as I fell back another two positions during the race. With a very similar setup to mine, Todd Bertrand, former NEMA midget champion and my Bertrand Motorsports teammate, was able to adapt and adjust more to the conditions we found ourselves in during the race and managed a second-place finish after starting fifth. That revealed to me that I still have a lot to learn.

As a side-note, I almost finished fifth in the race after the initial race leader had fallen off the pace dramatically. “If I had one more lap I would’ve passed him,” said every racer in the history of the world.

In the end, a sixth-place finish wasn’t what I was hoping to finish the NEMA midget season out on, but on the bright side I still learned a lot and really enjoyed getting to race at the classic and historical track that is Oswego Speedway. 

The opportunity to meet some motorsports fans and sign some autographs for them during the track’s scheduled driver autograph session was also a nice bonus. A lucky few even got to sit in the race car!

Now I’m looking forward to racing at Autobahn Country Club in the F1000 and F2000 cars this weekend.

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