BYRD: From the sea to the shining sea

MOORESVILLE, NC — It was another interesting week of Byrd-style racing.

It was a coast-to-coast trip that began at Seekonk (Massachusetts) Speedway and ended at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway. From the sea to the 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 on top. These wings greatly increase downforce and cornering ability compared to a midget without wings.

On my first outing during practice, I went out and just did a few really fast laps to get a feel for the track, which I had never driven before. It had also been a year since I’d driven any dwarves in a winged setup, so I was able to reacquaint myself with that as well.

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

Three new tires and leaving the left front tire as it is was our decision for the group classification. During qualifying I was stopped by a slower car, but I still managed to be fourth fastest on my final lap, putting in an effort of 11.584 seconds compared to 11.254 for the polesitter.

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

I gave up the inside attempt and was able to overtake on the outside, even though the car was quite loose. I ran for third place and was able to make an inside pass for position.

I finished third with a fastest lap of 11.684 seconds, which put me third fastest between the two heats.

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

Despite our qualifying speeds and the end of the heat race, the starting lineup was a random draw to see where we would start. I got number 4, so I started on the outside of the second row.

At the beginning of the race, I took the third on the outside. I tried to get to second place on the outside, but I couldn’t keep it up. The car was on the softer side with a lack of grip mid-corner and out.

The eventual winner, Avery Stoehr, passed me on the outside in a car that was a real rocket. He apparently had all the control of the world.

Beyond the middle of the race I was struggling with the car’s lack of grip and another car passed me for position on the inside that eventually finished second.

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Back in fifth place, I began to feel the effects of physical exhaustion and fatigue due to how physical it was to drive the car. A caution came out a couple of laps later and then we finished the last three laps of the race. I tried to make a move on the inside of the fourth place car a couple of laps in a row but couldn’t get it to 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 full body training the NEMA midget was conducting in Seekonk when you combine the increased natural G-forces of a NEMA car with a quarter mile bull run where you constantly turn the wheel the whole time.

Combine that with a loose car that he’s struggling with all the time with his steering, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that he was absolutely exhausted after just 29 laps.

But for the first time on the NEMA car in almost a year, I felt like I did pretty well all things considered.

It was back to Phoenix, then to LAX on Saturday to drive one of Cory Kruseman’s midget cars and 360s on dirt at Ventura Raceway. My only experience on dirt had been Kruseman’s dirt racing school and a weekend of 360 sprint car racing 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 do as many laps as possible. My second goal was not to completely embarrass myself while making my respective USAC dirt debuts in both cars.

Somehow, I managed to do both.

It was pretty hectic on the track. I jumped midget first to do some wheel packing for the track where everyone just drives around the track very slowly to pack up the recently churned and thinned mud/dirt.

Afterwards, we went into fast laps, which lasted about three laps. It didn’t give me much of a benefit, but it did help increase my comfort with the midget and helped me reacquaint myself a bit with dirt riding and the track itself.

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

Then came the Sprint car fastest laps and qualifying and I struggled with what little Sprint car dirt mojo I had. I ran a 14.142, 17th place in qualifying compared to 12.854 for the polesitter. He needed more laps to clock, so he was looking forward to the heat racing and the characteristics of both cars.

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In the first midget heat, I started seventh and finished sixth. I went from struggling at the start to running similar lap times to the drivers ahead of me. That was a nice confidence booster.

In my sprint car race, I started on pole and in the first half I kept my own race pace. In the second half of the race I struggled to get the car to do what I wanted and eventually finished sixth out of seven cars.

Next was 30 laps of hard racing in each car.

I launched into the midget feature, starting 20th out of 21 cars. My main goal was to 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 yellow flags at the beginning of the race when there was a big crash in the middle of turns one and two. I barely managed to avoid it by jumping over the inside berm and driving onto the backstretch.

After that incident the rest of the race was relatively uneventful and I was able to race forward to finish 11th, using the bottom lane to great effect to win the hard charger award for overtaking the most cars.

The sprint car show was the final race of the night. I started 17th out of 22 cars and progressed through the 30 warning-plagued laps. Once again I used the bottom lane to overtake 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, the guys would pass me under caution for seemingly no reason other than thinking they were supposed to be ahead of me.

Several times I had to reposition myself in front of them while under caution to maintain 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 magnet for a fast car because I got hit in the left rear three separate times.

The guys went crazy the whole race and I was happy to be in one piece at the end in 7th place.

I got the Hard Charger award for my second time in the land speed car.

Overall, it was a successful and satisfying week of racing, proving to myself that I am slowly but surely becoming the type of driver who can get into anything, push through and be successful and competitive.

This is what we are working to achieve here at Byrd Racing and it looks like we are achieving it.

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