Serio is "The Show" in the Super Series at Birmingham by Bob Dillner
19-Cars Put On a Heck of a Show in Second-Ever Series Race
Sometimes a short track race can be a lot like High School. You know, when the gossip world dominated your life and the hot topics around the high school hallways spread like wildfires. Well, when you walked into the pits at the historic Birmingham Int’l Raceway on Saturday there was a buzz in the air that brought you back to your teenage years. You see, the Birmingham Super Series is new, but in only its second-ever race, a couple of invaders had shown up to the track to attempt to steal the show.
The talk around the infield of the 5/8’s of a mile track was about three so-called outlaws. The man who crossed the finish line first in last year’s Snowball Derby, Johnny Brazier, was there to supposedly stomp on the regulars. People also whispered about how fast the black-and-blue 38 of Josh Hamner (a former Birmy Pro Late Model dominator and now up-and-coming Super Late Model star) was in practice. And others would simply whisk their neck toward the burgundy number-3 car of Chris Serio in the pit area as if to say, ‘Look out for him.’
As the night unraveled, so did a couple of the guys everyone was worried about. Hamner developed engine troubles in practice and Brazier would do the same in the race. At the same time, the track folk’s fear about those guys was realized as Serio was “The Show.” He marched from 13th to take the lead on lap-69 from early race dominator Jeff Leston. With the exception of restarts, Serio was never challenged again in the 100-lap race.
“I was trying to set a pace without really working the tires and the car,” Leston would later say while looking at Serio in victory lane. “I told them I was about 90% and I figured I’d save some of the right rear cause I knew Johnny Brazier would be coming. He had some problems, but I wasn’t expecting these guys.”
You know what they said about expecting the unexpected. Well, Serio, who was a pre-race favorite, and 59-year-old Larry Speakman were those guys. In fact, during a restart with a dozen laps to go it got interesting in turn number-two.
“I didn’t know we was three-wide; I was on the high side,” said Speakman, who wound up second as a result of that restart. “They bogged down and they gave me the high side and I just took it. I thought they was going to come up on me, so I just goosed it a little and got beside them so they wouldn’t wipe me out. That was pretty exciting for a minute.”
“I was better on the bottom when my tires cooled off and I think he (Serio) knew that so he came down and blocked me,” explained Leston, who ended up second after his right front tire began fading late in the race. “He was doing what he was supposed to do and I kinda got into him a little bit. I didn’t mean to. Then I lost my momentum and that’s what lost me second.”
“Trying to go for the win, that’s all,” said Serio in BIR’s victory lane. “I had to do what I had to do cause it took me a while to get up to speed after restarts. It was wild, but I wanted this win bad.”
The desire to win had run deep in Serio’s soul ever since he and the entire short track community lost a competitor, a future star and a friend last October.
“I’m really glad I finally got one because my good friend Charlie Bradberry (former Super Late Model driver) died last year and I never got a win for him, so this is for Charlie,” said an emotional Serio. “This thing was so good; it was like he was riding in the passenger seat helping me get this win tonight.”
The new Birmingham Super Series allows several different car/engine combinations in a Late Model style format. There were a bunch of ‘built’ two-barrel engines and some crate-motors with different carburetor combinations (350cfm for GM and 500cfm for Ford), but Serio won with a machine that wasn’t built specifically for this style of racing. He brought his Super Late Model car with a 9:1, 18-degree engine and plopped a two-barrel carb on it. To add to his challenge was a tranny that was meant for a pure-bred Super Late Model.
“It was killing me on restarts cause the car would just bog down,” added Serio. “And I’ve never
run this tire (American Racer) before so you had to wait a little while and build (air pressure) back up. I had to protect the bottom and hold them off down there and then I could get back up to speed and we’d be fine after about three laps.
“Whew, it was tough. And of all places to have to come up from the back of the pack, it’s really tough here. What made it easy on me tonight is that the top (groove) got pretty greasy. Luckily I could work the bottom. You had to make the moves early before the tires went away. Then you had to ride and just let them come back to ya. It didn’t make it easy on me. It’s hot and I’m wore out, but it feels a little better when you win.
“IDIOT LIGHT” FOR BRAZIER
Johnny Brazier was the man everyone had their eyes on. And that focus was intensified after he won the pole for the 100-lap race by over a tenth of a second.
Brazier ran second, then third, then fourth, but appeared to be starting to make his move back to the front when he saw “The Light.”
“The big red light come on, the idiot light they call it; driver needs to come in and I did,” said Brazier, who said the oil pump belt came off of his red-71. “The car was way too free and I was just biding my time just trying to save my tires to make a run at the end. We were just getting ready to see if we had anything; we’ll never know now.”
Johnny Brazier was the man everyone was talking about in practice. (51 Photos)
Serio was all smiles in victory lane.
FRONT-ROW NOT LUCKY FOR ANYONE
Brazier won the pole, but after the role of the dice, he started the race on the outside pole. We all know now what happened to him, but the front row was not a good place for anyone on Saturday. Dennis Reno Jr. qualified second (he bragged he wasn't going to lift in the corners during qualifying, but couldn't make it happen) and started on the pole, but right from the get-go, the youngster was battling his car the entire way.
“I was ‘Loose-boy,’ that’s it,” said Reno with a chuckle after a fourth place finish. “I changed the rear-end in this car and I think we got one of those goofy ones in there. I’m not making excuses though, we just wasn’t good enough. To finish fourth with as bad as were was is pretty good.”
HAMNER RIDES TO A TOP-10
After an engine issue was discovered at the end of practice, the Josh Hamner team had conceded the night. Their plan was to start the race, collect a $150 and park the car.
Things didn’t go according to plan for the now 20-year-old racer and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Alabaman finished 8th after basically cruising around the track the entire distance.
“We really do have a problem with out motor,” said Hamner. “I got to a point where I said, ‘Dad, if it blows it blows; I’m not coming in; I wanna race.’ I wish we would have bought four tires for it and qualified it; I think I might have been alight.
“And that goes to show you that horsepower isn’t everything cause 90% of those guys were slipping and sliding out there. I also had 100-laps on those tires before the race even started, so all in all it was ok. I didn’t have a lot of fun tonight, but to come out of here with a top-10 finish is not bad.”
NO TWO-IN-A-ROW FOR SANFORD
Gary Sanford Jr. won the inaugural event for the Birmingham Super Series and was strong in practice, but another victory was just not in the cards. Sanford finished fifth.
“No two in a row,” said Sanford, who is second in BSS points. “We kinda shot ourselves in the foot. We were too good the first race and I thought we could get a little bit better. I took off and it was too loose, so I came in a made a few adjustments and it got tight. But then we found out we got a slow leak on the right rear the whole race. Evidently that was our whole problem and we just didn’t catch it."
By our calculations, Jeff Leston, who has been runner-up in each of the first two events, is the BSS point leader.
10th GRADER PASSES TEST AT BIRMY
Chase Oliver may only be 15-years-old, but the high school sophomore took Birmingham Int’l Raceway for the very first time on Saturday night – and it came in a Late Model.
Oliver has scored a couple top-five finishes this year in Late Model competition at the quarter-mile Huntsville Speedway (AL), but this was his first foray into the “big-track world.”
“Huntsville you pretty much just drive the car,” said Oliver, who finished outside the top-10. “It’s a lot faster reaction, but there was a lot more fatigue here. This is a real tough racetrack. Everybody has told me how hard it is to drive and that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to come and race here.
“My car wasn’t handling very good in the race. It wasn’t as hard in practice and qualifying as it was in the race, especially about 60-laps into the race. I couldn’t even touch the gas until I had her pointed straight.”
Chase Oliver lost a little bit of his body at BIR, but he learned a bunch in the process.
ALMOST NEEDED MOORE
Larry Speakman was good enough for a second place run, but he was also lucky too. The bottom bolt in the trailing-arm backed out during the race and was about to fall out when the team pulled into BSS post-race tech. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky AND good.
WHO HAD WHAT?
We already told you what type of machine Serio was wheeling at Birmy; here’s what the rest of the top-five had:
2) Larry Speakman – Built 2-barrel engine
3) Jeff Leston – Built 2-barrel engine
4) Dennis Reno Jr. – McGunegill Ford Engine
5) Gary Sanford Jr. – GM Crate Engine
TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD
Ask anyone around the pits at Birmingham and they’ll tell ya Billy Melvin is one bad-to-the-bone dude. The track regular hauled four racecars to the track on Saturday and walked away with two wins.
Melvin himself won the Modified main event while his other car in that division scored a top-five finish. His son, Charlie, won the Mini-Stock race – not bad for a 10-year-old. Dad also competed in the Late Model race, but dropped out early with a broken rear-end.
FAMILIES THAT RACE TOGETHER STAY TOGETHER
Justin Cruise showed up late, but was able to compete in his bright red number-45 in the BSS (crashed in the main event). After finding out the BSS didn’t have a full-field, Justin’s cousin, Pat Cruise, showed up after qualifying, bolted on four new American Racer tires and competed as well.
The back of Billy Melvin's car shows he's not a man to be messed with at Birmy.
When asking about the last name connection when Pat first showed up at the track, I was also told that they were also related to the driver of the bright yellow number-29, Andy Antorino, who dropped out of the Late Model race on lap 87. Earlier in the day, Antorino had the throttle stick in his car during qualifying.
CREWMEMBER INJURED DURING PRACTICE
Sometimes you need to be careful about what you say at a racetrack. You hear people say, “Hey, break a leg” all the time. Chris Serio was able to live up to that saying in the race, but unfortunately it also hit home in a literal sense for him in the pit area. Serio was pulling into the pits during practice when he clipped a crewmember from Scott Dunn’s team. The medics arrived on the seen and we were told later in the night that the crewmember had broken his leg due to the contact.
BETTER SHOWING THAN THE FIRST TIME AROUND
The brand new Birmingham Super Series enjoyed a much better car count than the inaugural event in March. 19 cars filled the pits on Saturday, up from 12 the first time around and the race was a "dandy." Serio's march to the front was entertaining for the 300-or-so folks (estimate) who came out on a beautiful Alabama evening.
Johnny Brazier, Josh Hamner and Chris Serio do not plan to run the entire series.