Reno Jr. Waves His “Magic” Wand Again by Elgin Traylor
It’s three in a row for Dennis Reno Jr.
All season Gary Sanford Jr. was the man to beat at Birmingham International Raceway. He had won three of the six races with the Birmingham Super Series and had not finished outside of the top five.
The running of the season ending Magic City 200 was no exception, as Sanford Jr. won the pole and led all but 20 laps of the race before very bizarre circumstances put Dennis Reno Jr. in victory lane.
“I was expecting second at best,” said Reno Jr. “We had no practice and we were really tight at the beginning of the race. You know this race track has taken a whole lot more from me then it’s given me, so I think it’s starting to us pay back.”
The breakdown went like this: Sanford Jr. saw his 15-car length lead evaporate when the caution came out on lap 191 for a spin by a lapped car. That brought second-place driver Ken McFarland right to the back bumper for the next restart. McFarland had been good on restarts, but Sanford Jr. would eventually pull away. As the cars came around the second turn, McFarland slowed and went pit side, as a flat tire ended his chances for a victory.
This moved Reno Jr. to second with Jeff Letson in third.
As the cars came to the green, Sanford Jr. did not get up to speed. Reno Jr. went high and Letson shot to the bottom. The three went three-wide halfway through the first turn with Sanford Jr. getting sandwiched out of the top spot. The caution came out for spin behind the leaders a lap later. Reno Jr. just nipped Letson to the line for the top spot. Under the yellow Sanford Jr. was on and off pit road, looking to hang on to the championship.
The race came down to Reno Jr. and Letson. As the cars went around the third turn, McFarland made a move on Letson from third after working his way back up through the field. The two made contact and went hard into the wall. A heated discussion would follow on the race track after the wreck.
With Letson wrecked, the championship went to Sanford Jr. with Reno Jr. taking the win. Rookie Josh Belter stole second, Sanford Jr. was third, McFarland limped home for fourth and Lee Hansard was fifth.
“I was just hoping he (Sanford Jr.) didn’t come up on me,” said Reno Jr. “I know the line he takes on restarts and I wanted to get up high on him and when I got by I knew I had it won. The only thing left for me to win is the Early Bird. We’ll look to do that next year, and maybe run some more at Pensacola.
Sanford Jr. was on his way to the win prior to the cautions. It turns out he ran over a break rotor when a lapped car spun.
“This was probably the best race I had ever put together for me,” said Sanford Jr. “I was just riding and counting laps when the caution came out. When we went back to green something run up under the car and cut a tire. There was nothing we could do then. But this is four championships in three years, so I can’t complain. The way the points work made it interesting. We led the most laps in four races this year that was a key to winning this championship.”
McFarland and Letson End With A Tangle
After the battle for second ended in the wall for both Jeff Letson and Ken McFarland, some fireworks began after the checkered flag flew. As McFarland came back around after the race he stopped to talk to Letson. In a scene out a Bristol night race, Letson showed his displeasure by throwing his helmet and attempting to punch at McFarland. Seeing the intensions of his competitor, McFarland sped off to avoid a further altercation.
Dennis Reno Jr. had reason to celebrate after his third win in the Birmingham Super Series. (51 Photos)
Ken McFarland (#14) and Reno Jr. (#2) pit.
“We just got took out by the guy who took us out four or five years ago,” said a heated Letson after the race. “He’ll talk to ya one time and then spin you out next lap. I got no respect for him and I got his number. “
McFarland expressed it was a late race battle that went bad.
“Either he crowded me or we got together,” said McFarland. “It’s just hard racing. I had a run on him and we got together and we both spun. When I came back around I tried to make amends with him and then he started attacking me. I sat there and took it for a second then I got out of dodge”.
The skirmish was over quickly and only the racecars suffered damage.
Car Count Fair in the Face of Other Events
Earlier in the season BIR officials decided to cancel the remaining events of the schedule, however the Magic City 200 was added back to the racing card just days before the event. Some would think that would have hurt the car count, but a fair number of 14 answered the call. It might not have been the late planning that hurt the B-I-R car count said one driver.
Both Huntsville Speedway in Alabama and Peach State Speedway in Georgia were running. Peach State drew over 40 cars while Huntsville had 22 total.
Letson Top Rookie
Jeff Letson is no rookie to racing but this was his first full season of racing at BIR. Not only did he contend for wins every week he also had a shot at the championship as well. In the end they posted four top five finishes with six runs in the top ten.
“We needed to win a race,” said Letson. “We had a flat tire while leading a race earlier in the year, it was tough because Gary (Sanford Jr.) was so good. We have been racing for few years so we really aint a rookie”.
Josh Belter Turns Some Heads
In only his third late model race Josh Belter mad a statement after running with the leaders all day long. At one point he was chasing down Gary Sanford Jr. for the lead before his tires went south on him. After a mid race brush with the wall the sea parted and they scored a second place finish a career best.
“I wasn’t even racing before this year,” said Belter. “My uncle had a street stock and asked if I wanted to race it and we started doing good, and my dad had this old late model sitting around and we decided to race it.”
When asked about the long distance he showed his true rookie form.
“My foots cramping my arm’s cramping I am just about to fall down”!
McFarland (#14) and Jeff Letson (#131) raced for a while, then had a tangle later.