BYRD: Opportunity For Improvement – SPEED SPORT

Nathan Byrd raced a sprint and a midget car at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. (Byrd Racing photo)

INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to auto racing, no single city in the entire world showcases the sport better than Indianapolis and its surrounding communities.

If there is a big race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, then expect plenty of action at nearby Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in Clermont.

That was the case this past weekend as IndyCar and NASCAR held its annual tripleheader at the race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It included the NTT IndyCar Series Gallagher Grand Prix on Saturday early afternoon, followed by the NASCAR Xfinity Series Saturday later in the day.

The NASCAR Cup Series raced on Sunday.

But 7.1 miles to the west on US 136 is Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park and that’s where I spent my weekend in front of some of the best grass-roots racing fans in the United States. There is also a great track up Interstate 69 in Anderson, Ind., that is just as deeply steeped in history. Anderson Speedway lies 50.7 miles from the main gate of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With the “Big Boys” of racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was time for drivers who dream of racing there to show what we can do on two historic short tracks.

I raced at two different tracks in three different cars, including the Focus midget and sprint car at Anderson Speedway. I competed in the Focus midget both Friday and Saturday and the sprint car on Saturday.

Then on Monday night, I ran the sprint car and midget at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.

On Friday, I was only four-tenths off the pole during qualifying for the first of two 50-lap focus midget races. My fastest time was 12.644 seconds on the quarter-mile oval.

My main goal was to move forward while keeping the car in one piece because there was another 50 laps the next day. We were also looking to free up the setup of what proved to be a tight race car.

I had a pretty bad start but managed to hold my position. Just four laps into the race, a caution flag waved. I got a better restart but ended up getting passed on the outside and dropped back to 10th place. I stuck with the guys in front of me until the car in eighth hit the brakes too hard into turn one, giving me the opportunity to dive to the inside.

I finished sixth with a car that ended up being too loose.

My goal for the Focus midget on Saturday was to qualify better so I could be included in the mandatory top-six invert. If I could do that, I could potentially finish on the podium.

Saturday was a pretty good day of racing, all things considered. On top of racing the Focus midget, I was also scheduled to race the sprint car for the first time at Anderson with Davey Hamilton Racing.

Going back and forth between the Focus Midget and the sprint car was somewhat of a challenge.

Unfortunately, the power steering went out in the sprint car in the first practice and made it awkward to turn the wheel. I didn’t want to end up in the wall, so I decided to pull into the infield and get the car fixed for second practice.

The team didn’t find any issues with the power steering but realized they hadn’t changed the caster of the car from what we ran at IRP a few weeks before. Caster determines the ease of turning the wheel of a car, because its main goal is to keep the car going straight. By reducing the caster setting, the wheel became easier to turn and in second practice I was able to make some progress.

Unfortunately, with only five or so laps of practice heading into qualifying, I was not in the best position to automatically qualify for the 100-lap feature which was only running 22 of the 25 cars entered for the race.

The rules had the top 16 qualifiers automatically advancing and then running a 15-lap B main to qualify another four cars. For the final two spots they were going to put through the last two guys into the feature based off points accumulated in the 500 Sprint Car Tour series this season.

Unfortunately, I didn’t fall into any of those categories. I missed making the 100-lap feature by one spot.

However, I was able to race the B main. I ran the third fastest lap out of everyone, a lap time that would’ve easily been competitive enough to run the race.

For the 50-lap Focus midget race, I qualified seventh, just missing out by six-hundredths on the top invert, which would’ve been awesome to make. Nevertheless, I still raced my way up to fifth with a less-than-optimal setup while running the fastest laps during the last 20 laps of the race.

On Monday, I practiced the midget and sprint car at IRP.

Practice went decent in both cars, but we were struggling with the car setup, especially in the sprint car. We were also unfortunately unable to get the new tires for the sprint car scrubbed in before practice ended because they shorted us on practice time in the second session.

I went out and qualified the sprint car first, only managing 19th. The car was super loose and I couldn’t really do any better with the setup. I went out to qualify the midget and as soon as I got hard on the throttle on the exit of turn two onto the back straight, the car broke. It was a catastrophic failure of the entire drive shaft system that started with the u-joint breaking.

I’m glad my feet and ankles didn’t get hurt and I think it’s a miracle that they didn’t. I raced the sprint car not long afterwards. In the sprint car race, I drove well. I passed five guys for position on track which was awesome for getting experience at such a difficult track.

Despite a car that was not optimal, I finished 14th and moved forward in the race.

In the end, it was a good weekend of racing and despite the setbacks from not making the Anderson sprint C-feature and not being able to race the midget at IRP, I felt like my driving improved massively.

I just wish I had more opportunity to showcase that improvement with more race laps.

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