Leftovers: Early Bird 100's at Birmingham by Matt Kentfield and Jason Buckley
Robbins Has Up And Down Two Races, GAS Drivers Thinking Points & More
Hunter Robbins walks away from his crashed GAS car. (51 Photos)
TOUGH TWO-FOR FOR ROBBINS
Hunter Robbins tried for big things on his first weekend of racing this year. Not only did his team bring out their Georgia Asphalt Series two-barrel Pro Late Model for 100 laps of action at the Early Bird 100 at Birmingham International Speedway, they also brought out their Super Late Model for 100 more laps of action.
And, just like luck seems to go sometimes for Robbins, things were half-way good and half-way bad for the 15-year-old. Robbins was able to come home with a top-10 finish in the Super Late Model portion of the weekend, but got crashed out early in the Pro Late Model event.
“At the beginning, the car was real good,” said Robbins of the Super Late Model event. “We were just being real patient staying there following them up front. I could pull out and pass the cars in front of me if I wanted to, but I was just choosing to ride. Then all of a sudden, the right rear went away just like that. I could tell from the beginning because I couldn’t get in the gas as soon as everyone else could. Everyone else was pulling me coming off (the corners).”
Robbins finished seventh in the Super Late Model event, but didn’t have the same fortunes in the GAS event, where he came home 23rd after getting wrecked on lap five.
“We were under (Shane Nalley) and I don’t know if he got loose or something, but he got into us pretty good. It knocked the wheel out of my hands I got hit so hard. I guess that’s just how it goes. The car’s tore up pretty good.”
DAVIS NETS BEST-CAREER SLM FINISH
In the Super Late Model race, Stephen Davis started his yellow #1 machine in the third position and quickly asserted himself as a contender for the top spot. However handling issues kept him from snagging the win. Davis had to settle for second.
“It was very hard to pass,” said Davis. “We had a really good car. We had a better car than where we finished. We messed around back there and ended up burning both rear tires off. We just couldn’t get up under anybody.”
Throughout the race, Davis put on a great battle with Augie Grill on a track known for single file racing.
“Me and Augie put on a pretty good show I thought,” said Davis. “We ran side by side for a few laps, then would rest, then turn around and do it again. He wouldn’t give me none and I wouldn’t give him none. It was great hard racing. I liked it.”
Davis was able to maneuver ahead of Grill, Crossing the finish line in second position, a career best.
“I am pretty happy. That is my best finish in a Super Late Model. We had fun.”
KELLEY KICKS OFF YEAR WITH TOP-FIVE
Paul Kelley is considered one of the young stars of the Georgia Asphalt Series, but he has been racing more like a veteran in recent seasons. He did it again on Sunday evening with an impressive fifth-place run, with four more seasoned veterans finishing ahead of him.
“We’re happy,” said Kelley. “The car started out real free and it just stayed that way the whole time. We just wanted to come out of here with a top-five, and we ran there all day and we came out with a good finish. That’s a pretty good start for us.”
Kelley is out to chase the $20,000 prize for the GAS Champion at year’s end. He knows that his fifth-place run in the season-opener will go a long way towards obtaining that goal.
“It’s a big boost to the year to come out with a strong finish in the first race like this. Even if you can’t win, a top-five is still pretty good for confidence and for the points. If we keep running in the top-five like this, we’ll get the wins.”
FREDRICK MOORE DOES HIS DIRTY WORK
When defending Georgia Asphalt Series Champion Fredrick Moore started at the rear of the field in the Early Bird at BIR, everyone in the pit area knew it wasn’t going to take long for the veteran racer to work his way up to the front.
Defending GAS champ Fredrick Moore
An ill-handling car in qualifying forced him to start out back, but Moore consistently picked his way through the field, eventually coming home fourth in a hard-earned effort.
Even though 100 laps may seem like a short sprint race, Moore was plenty worn out at the checkered flag after his battle back from the rear of the field.
“It’s tough, man. You just have to drive the wheels off of it. We actually weren’t making as much progress as we wanted to at the beginning of the race, so on one of those first couple cautions we came in and made some adjustments. We had to tighten the car up. You’ve just got to go, but you’ve got to be patient too. This old track is rough on tires.”
“We put ourselves in a hole in qualifying. We tried some stuff that didn’t work. The car never was good all day yesterday. We were decent, but we were only an eighth to 10th-place car. Just for some reason when we qualified and put on stickers, it just
seemed like they didn’t give me any grip. We stayed late last night and made some changes and they really helped the car. I wish we could’ve made those changes yesterday, though.”
The 23-car field was extremely competitive, and it seemed like passing was going to be at a premium because of the equality of the equipment and the tricky racetrack. That’s why Moore put his skills as a veteran to work and harnessed his racecar until the stretch run.
“I knew when the field was so strung out a few times, that I didn’t have any cars in front of me so I wasn’t going 100-percent. I was just saving my car for when we got the next caution so I could pass a couple more and go then.”
GRILL DQ’ED AFTER THIRD-PLACE SLM RUN
The weekend at Birmingham was an up and down rollercoaster ride for Augie Grill. On Friday, Grill timed in sixth fastest, but mechanical issues caused them to make some changes before the green flag Saturday.
“We had been having some motor trouble,” said Grill. “We took the car back to the shop and we swapped out the motors.”
Augie Grill debuted a new paint scheme at BIR.
Grill was able to quickly wheel his car up into the top four positions on the track. After a hard side-by-side battle with Stephen Davis, he settled into third position.
“We ended up just a bit too free the whole race,” said Grill. “I think I burned my right rear tire a little quicker than the #1 (Davis) and (Jeff) Fultz. So, I will take third for the first race of the year.”
Unfortunately for Grill, he was not able to keep the third place finish as officials disqualified his car in post race inspection.
“When we got to tech and pulled the hood off, they (the officials) saw that we didn’t have the same carburetor on the car that we had on there before,” he explained.
“We said, ‘yeah, we changed motors last night.’ They said, ‘then you’re disqualified.’ I said, ‘why?’ They told me that we couldn’t do that.
“So many things were going on and we were so busy putting the new motor in that we never even thought of telling them that we changed motors. It’s not in the rulebook that we couldn’t change motors or anything. We probably should’ve said something, but if it’s not in the rulebook – if they even have a rulebook - but that’s how it goes.”
SERIO STRONG EARLY, FADES LATE
A poor qualifying effort for the Super Late Model race by Chris Serio didn’t shake his determination to rise to the top. Starting 12th on the field, Serio quickly weaved his way through the field. By midway, he was already to fifth position, working on Josh Hamner for fourth.
Chris Serio turned some heads at BIR
“The car was real good,” said Serio. “We had a little push at the beginning in the center and we were a little loose off. But it came to me about halfway.”
Serio’s strong run hit the wall late in the race, fading to a 10th place finish.
“We got into the wall here a little bit in three and four,” Serio explained. “It started pushing the right front. I am not sure if we cut a tire down or had a slow leak or what but it started getting tighter and tighter. I thought we had a run at the leaders, but when that happened I had to back up.
“We were having a blast getting around those cars, but you have to be there for the last 30 laps.”
A WHOLE NEW BIR FOR GARMON
The GAS drivers had their hands full with Birmingham International Raceway on Sunday. Only a limited amount of drivers had ever been on the racetrack before, so the track that can give any racer a fit was even more of a headache for the young BIR rookies.
That is why it seems fair to reason that Jimmy Garmon would be up front in the Early Bird. The veteran short tracker had run BIR before in his years of Super Late Model racing, which was part of the reason why he fast all weekend long and was the only driver who had anything for Russell Fleeman in the 100-lap feature.
Even though Garmon had laps on BIR before, the more-powerful Super Late Models had a little bit more help in the traction department that made his GAS machine a whole new ballgame at BIR on Sunday in his second-place effort.
“The last time I ran here, it was in a Super Late Model with soaked tires,” said Garmon. “That was the thing to do then with those cars. That’s what everyone did. Today, the track, tightened up like I thought it would. But if I could’ve freed my car up more, then I think we would’ve been okay if we could come back.”
Because BIR is a tough, old place, a tough, old racer like Garmon feels right at home there.
“I like this race track. I like it, honestly, because you can move your car around. You can find a way to race here and pass. It’s fast and it may be a little treacherous, but it’s still fun to me.
“I promise you, the first 50 laps, I don’t know about everyone else, but we were just saving the tires. Then when the scoreboard flipped to lap 51, I picked it up a little bit. Then with about 15 to go, that was it. That was all it had.”
BRAZIER’S PLAN RUNS OUT OF TIME
Johnny Brazier started the 100-lap race with a plan – that was to let everyone else use up their equipment first, then he could make a run for the win. His plan didn’t go quite the way he wanted it though and he finished fourth.
“We just missed the setup a little bit,” said Brazier.
“We were a little too tight at the start and dropped back too far. The game plan was to save the tires early but we ran out of time. The car was as good as anybody else’s out there at the end but we were too far back.
“We went into this race with a plan but had to adjust it because the car was so tight. With green flag laps it started freeing up, but we used up a lot of right rear tire trying to get back by good cars.”
Even though the finish wasn’t quite what he wanted, Brazier was still pleased with the outcome.
“Overall it was a good day. All the fenders are on it. We will take it home and get ready for Opp (The Rattler event this coming weekend).”
SENTER NURSES HOME A DECENT FINISH
For all the high hopes that Joey Senter brought into the GAS season-opening event at BIR, his raceday seemed to be over practically before it even started. On a lap-five restart, Senter was involved in a melee in which several mid-pack cars stacked up coming to the green. The front end of Senter’s car was completely pushed in after contact with the wall.
Senter brought the car to the attention of the #12 team, who immediately went to work sawing off body panels and securing front-end parts. Senter’s machine, albeit in a lesser form than in which it started, limped around the track for the remainder of the race. The team’s hard work and never-give-up attitude earned them a respectable finish of 13th on a day that could’ve been much worse.
“We came off four there on the restart and some of them got all jacked up,” said Senter. “We were almost all the way through it when someone got in the wall and hit my right rear. That sent us into the wall. There wasn’t anything I could do.
“If we weren’t points racing, I definitely wouldn’t have kept going. But we’re going to point race this year and we just tried to get all we could. A couple people fell out of the race after we came back out, so we were able to pick up a few more spots before it was over. There’s some tough competition out there this year, so every point’s going to count and it’s going to come down to the wire. We’ll just go to Pensacola and try to win that one.”
Joey Senter did the best he could with a damaged nose on Sunday at Birmingham.