Three men took three wildly different strategies to lead at various points during at Saturday night's KOMA Unwind Modified Madness Series season opener at Hickory Motor Speedway. But to quote one of those men, "I didn't come here to finish third. I came to win."
And so that man, Burt Myers, made one final strategy gamble and converted it into the victory, passing Chris Pasteryak with just five laps to go to claim his first career triumph at Hickory. Pasteryak, regretting pitting too early in the event, would finish second with Jason Myers rounding out the podium.
The last five laps were the only time Myers showed top speed all day at Hickory. Ryan Preece lived up to his "Preece Lightning" nickname by pacing practices and setting fast time in qualifying with a 14.339. But his car would never be up to snuff in the 125-lap feature, failing to lead even a single lap.
Instead, the early race hero would be Spencer Davis. At a track known for tire conversation, Davis laid the pedal to the metal and powered away to an over half-track lead. Lap 50 would see the first caution in the event for a quick spin on the frontstretch and that's when the strategy game began to jumble things up.
Davis elected to take his one allotted fresh tire at that juncture and drive as hard as possible until he could run his own pace in the lead. Pasteryak elected to take his fresh tire then and run a conservative pace to get towards the front. Myers elected to do something different and change a right rear tire while everyone was switching out their left rears and see if that would be the hot ticket to the lead.
And so for the next fifty laps, it wasn't really clear whose strategy would prevail. Davis got to the lead and held on to it while a series of crashes, including hard contact for Tom Buzze and Mike Speeney, slogged down the proceedings. But right around lap 100 things changed yet again.
A caution at that point, with twenty-five laps to go, allowed Myers to come down pit road and switch his left side tires around. Pasteryak, figuring it was time to go, got past Davis on the next restart. Pasteryak drove away from new second place man Zach Brewer, but watched in his mirror as Myers was dispensing with the other challengers.
Myers got bottled up with Brewer for a few laps, but pulled a perfect bump and run on Brewer – a move Brewer would later laugh with Myers about in Victory Lane - to take second with ten laps on the scoreboard. It then took Myers no time at all to run down Pasteryak, and scooted around the Connecticut invader on the high side in turns 1 & 2 on lap 120 to cruise to the comfortable victory.
"You know, everyone just assumes because we have racecars and we're blessed to win a lot we have plenty of money," Myers said to explain some of his early day struggles. "But you conserve where you can, especially when you run as many races as we do. So the tires we went out originally on in practice were the four fronts we had left over from Myrtle Beach [last November]. So I knew if the car was pretty good on those tires, we'd be great in the race.
It was just fine tuning from there, but we just didn't seem to have the edge we needed to get that lead. We tried with that right rear change when everyone else switched left [rears], but I knew it may hurt us in the end. I could probably have finished third, but I didn't come here to finish third. I came here to win. So I told the guys under caution 'let's come down pit road, let's switch the lefts around, and let's go from there.' I knew if it gave the car some speed again I could come back through the field. And here we stand."
Myers, who is the defending tour champion, did not make a hard commitment to running the KOMA Series again full time in 2015, but also indicated that he didn't foresee why he wouldn't.
Pasteryak, despite the obvious regret of missing out on a victory, was jovial with his second place run. It was the first ever visit to Hickory for the two-time Valenti Modified Racing Series champion.
"Five more laps," Pasteryak laughed when describing what made the difference between Myers winning the race and him. "We were so scared of having to do what happened here last year and having to make a green flag pit stop. Or something happening where we wouldn't get to put on the tires we wanted. So when that caution [on lap 50] came out, we just took our tires. I tried to save what I had best I could. If we could have waited until later to change them, I don't know what would have happened. But you know, it almost worked anyway. Second tonight is alright with me too."
Pasteryak told Speed51.com Powered by JEGS that he intends to run the VMRS tour full-time in 2015 and is also very excited about running the Tri-Track Open Modified Series in 2015. He said one of the impetuses for racing Hickory this weekend (other than it snowing back home) was that Hickory was a lot like Lee, where the Tri-Track Series starts off in a few months with the Bullring Bash. He called the Hickory race a "good test session" for that event.
Davis meanwhile could only shake his head after being bit by worn tires and falling to 9th on the final rundown. It was exactly one month before Saturday's night race when Davis dominated the Richie Evans Memorial down in New Smyrna Beach, Florida before also losing out on tire strategy.
"The whole plan was just to get to the lead," explained Davis. "I'd rather have them chase me than ride around and get caught up in something. I feel like once you get out there and can just focus on running consistent lap times, they [the rest of the field] will have to come chase you and you wind up on the better side because they have to wear stuff out not to just get lapped. And that seemed to be working with the first few cautions and when we pitted there.
But once Pasteryak got by me, with just the way he was restarting, it started to burn our rear tires off trying to keep up with him. I feel like if we had just had a long run there right when we were having to do all those restarts in a row, we would have had a chance."
Davis said he would not really have done anything differently if given the chance to do it again, though he did add he probably would have run just a touch easier as the leader to save just a little bit more rubber.
1 5 1 Burt Myers 125
2 2 5 Chris Pasteryak 125
3 6 4 Jason Myers 125
4 4 31 Zach Brewer 125
5 13 77 Gary Putnam 125
6 1 6 Ryan Preece 125
7 8 34 Josh Nichols 125
8 11 9 Bobby Sheffield 125
9 3 79 Spencer Davis 125
10 12 12 Mike Norman 124
11 9 00 Kevin Orlando 124
12 16 69 Drew Moffitt 122
13 15 22L Jimmy Wallace 120
14 10 08 Mike Speeney 101
15 14 5 Tom Buzze 100
16 17 44 Daniel Beeson 94
17 20 24 Buddy Ellis 86
18 18 16 Don Johnson 72
19 7 J2 Jeremy Mayfield 50
20 19 65 Bob Summers 2
-- Story & Photo By Tim Quievryn // Speed51 Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn