It is well known in the motorsports industry that wins and titles are accomplished off the track as much as on the track. A few success stories proved that was the case during the Southern Modified Racing Series championship night at the always competitive 3/8-mile Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, North Carolina on Saturday.
Burt Myers made his charge from mid-pack about a third of the way through the 100-lap feature, took the lead on lap 37, and never looked back the remainder of the distance. The Walnut Cove, North Carolina driver recently locked up his ninth career Bowman Gray Stadium Modified title and has turned in some strong performances since pairing up with longtime car owner Eddie Harvey on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, but victory lane had eluded him away from Winston-Salem this season.
On Saturday night, Myers combined hard work and preparation to score his first touring series win of the 2018 season.
“The rear end we had in the car earlier in the year was bent and we didn’t know it,” Myers told Speed51.com. “I took it to (fellow SMRS competitor Tom) Buzze and they put it on their jig and found out it was knocked back like a quarter of an inch, so this is the first time the car has been square. It’s a good feeling to know that our hard work paid off and got the car where it needs to be. I’ve been getting some ideas from Eddie (Harvey) and his car from running up north and some of the stuff we already had going on down here, and tonight we put it together for a good package.”
The drivers battling for the lead early on before Myers took command were the duo of championship contenders heading into the final points event of the season. Defending SMRS champion Jeremy Gerstner entered the day with a mere eight point advantage, which was immediately reduced to three upon Tim Brown setting fast time and acquiring five crucial bonus points.
Another bonus and temporary two-point lead was earned from the drop of the green flag when Brown accelerated out to the early lead. Gerstner went all out in an attempt to get back on top and made it happen by wrestling the top spot away on lap 16. Both drivers seemed to begin with identical strategies. Upon losing the lead, each backed off their earlier speed in an effort to conserve their tires for another run at the checkered flag.
The event went the first 81 circuits without a yellow flag until James Civali’s machine made impact with the turn four wall and the left rear tire flew off his Modified. During the caution period was when the strategies began to differ. Teams were not permitted to take fresh tires, but were allowed to swap tires currently on the car. Brown elected to come down pit road and swap the left front and left rear tires while Gerstner stayed out.
Over the remaining laps, changes and adjustments by others proved to be no match for Myers. It was not until the closing stages that he was assured the strategy of saving slightly in the early going would completely work out.
“I didn’t know how hard I could run,” Myers said. “An old friend of mine that passed away told me a long time ago, you can run as hard as you need to as long as you don’t slide or spin your tires, and that’s kind of what I did tonight.”
Bobby Measmer Jr. showed noticeable smoke out the headers under slower yellow flag conditions, but once the car came up to speed it was not a problem. The Concord, North Carolina resident finished a SMRS season best runner-up. Civali rallied from the back of the field with a damaged race car to finish third after a valiant effort by the Hillbilly Racing team to get their Modified repaired.
The battle most fans had their eye on though was behind the front trio. Gerstner had the track position and during the final restart Brown was unable to work by challengers Jason Myers and Brandon Ward. The fourth-place result was enough for Gerstner to secure his second consecutive SMRS title.
One decision in the middle of green flag conditions may have been the game changer for the Florida driver.
“Basically, our goal was to lead a lap to tie his pole, and if he led a lap then I was going to have to go for the most led laps,” Gerstner explained. “But then I got to thinking, if I burn my tires up I’ll be like I was at Hickory (the most recent SMRS race) and not be able to keep up with him. So once Burt got around me, I knew Tim wasn’t going to lead the laps and Burt was going to be fast and lead the most laps.
“The strategy was keep him at bay and if he goes fast I’ve got to go fast. I just waved everybody else around me, saved it, kept him behind me, and you know what, this all played out the way we wanted it to and we were good at the end.”
Gerstner added among the celebratory festivities his remembrance of someone who has played a major role in the strength of Tour-type Modified racing in his home state during Speedweeks and in return made a lasting impression with her advice for him and others as well.
“I’d like to dedicate this to a good friend of mine, Kim Brown, promoter and the main lady that took care of everything back at New Smyrna Speedway,” Gerstner mentioned. “She always told me don’t give up, you can beat these guys up north with no problem, and here we are.”
Brown fell back to seventh in the final running order, a disappointing finish to quite the impressive beginning.
“I was just trying to keep him from leading a lap for as long as I could without hurting my tires, and my dumb ass still hurt the tires,” a dejected Brown noted. “This place is so fun, but it’s so worn out. Just like I told my guys, we came in here behind in the points and we left behind in the points. It’s our own fault. That race team is awesome. They kicked our ass all year and they kicked our ass tonight, so they are the champions.”
One final effort was made with the aforementioned pit stop, but unfortunately the 10-time Bowman Gray Stadium champion will have to wait another year to secure his first touring series title. This was his fifth career runner-up championship finish away from the ¼-mile Winston Salem facility.
“We had no choice,” Brown continued, regarding swapping the tires under yellow. “A bunch of cars pitted and we had to hurry and beat them out so we didn’t get the stagger where we needed it either. Not one of our best nights, to be honest with you. I expected to come out here and run better than we did. Had a plan and it didn’t work out. We’ll work on it all winter and come back next year and try to do better.”
With Brown’s differing strategy, Gerstner knew he was not out of the water down the stretch.
“I was definitely concerned,” Gerstner indicated. “Tim had some steam in that motor today. I don’t know what he did to it, but I knew if he could get on my outside or inside he could beat me. I figured if I could keep him behind me and run the groove he would have nothing for me, but when he pitted I was worried about how the tires’ rotation would really help him, but my crew got this car set up so good.”
The Shady Grady Racing team Gerstner drives for left it in his hands on what the strategy would be heading toward the checkered, and they hinted afterward about some possible plans for 2019.
“Grady (Jeffreys) Jr., he’s an engineer and knew what the car needed from me and knows my style,” Gerstner commented. “We’ve been working together for almost four years now. I’m looking forward to next year running some Tour races with him too. We’re going to show the guys up north that we can get it done.”
A couple added incentives were announced leading into the final SMRS race of 2018. One was that anyone who competed on Saturday would receive an extra $500 in start money for the North South Shootout in less than three weeks. The other was a greater $5,000 bonus if anyone can win both the finale at Orange County Speedway and the NSS at Concord Speedway (NC).
Myers is already a two-time winner of the prestigious annual event and could very well be taking home the big paycheck in a few Saturdays; however, the Modified ace will not be planning it out any differently than before.
“Concord is one of my favorites, so I didn’t need much motivation,” Myers stated. “You go to win that North South Shootout regardless, but this whole week we’ve been talking about going down here and being eligible for that money. We had a couple goals, and we’ve got the first one accomplished. Hopefully we can go cash in on it at the Shootout.”
Race fans can find on-demand coverage of Saturday’s SMRS finale – including lap-by-lap updates, photos and more – by visiting Speed51.com’s Trackside Now.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com National Correspondent – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Southern Modified Racing Series Championship Night Results
1 1 Burt Myers 100
2 17 Bobby Measmer 100
3 79 James Civali 100
4 15 Jeremy Gerstner 100
5 4 Jason Myers 100
6 19 Brandon Ward 100
7 83 Tim Brown 100
8 97 Andy Seuss 100
9 25 John Smith 100
10 12 Mike Norman 100
11 5 Tom Buzze 82
12 7 Jon McKennedy 81