Tires, Luck and a Water Bottle Help McFarland Earn Early Bird 125 Victory by Jason Buckley
Low Car Count Didn't Dampen Excitement at Birmingham International Raceway
In the 2008 version of the Early Bird, 25 more laps were added onto the distance of the race. Tires were once again the focal point of the event, but this time it was tire strategy, a late debris caution and a tire going flat on a competitor’s car that put McFarland in victory lane in a dramatic finish.
A total of 13 cars took the green flag in the 125-lap race as many of last year’s racers, like Johnny Brazier and Augie Grill, were no where to be found. McFarland started on the pole position and took the lead early, but faded back due to handling issues. Before the halfway mark he took advantage of a caution to make adjustments to his car. His run back up through the field was impressive, making many think he bolted on his allotted tires for the race.
“We were off in the beginning of the race and we knew it,” said McFarland. “We were tight. We gave up a few spot there, then came in and made some adjustments. We didn’t take tires that first pit stop. When we went back out we were good so I knew we made the right adjustments.”
Ken McFarland celebrated in victory lane this year at the Early Bird. (51 Photos)
The story of the 2007 Early Bird Super Late Model event at Birmingham International Raceway (AL) was tires, or more to the point, a tire. Ken McFarland dominated the race and looked to be the one taking the checkered flag until he ran over something on the track, popping a tire and sending him spinning out of contention. Jeff Fultz took advantage of the mishap to take the victory in the 100-lap event.
Meanwhile, up front Dennis “Tink” Reno, Jr. paced the field. It didn’t take long for McFarland to run back up to second behind Reno, Jr. as the two logged laps in front of the field.
“I kept pressuring him (Reno, Jr.) pretty hard because I didn’t know if we were going to go green the whole way,” explained McFarland. “I saw the guys with tires were coming so I just tried to get as much space as I could on them.”
The race looked like it was going to be a battle between the two until a late caution with less than 25 laps remaining flew for a water bottle on the track in the turn one groove. The majority of the drivers had not taken their rules-allotted tires yet, which allowed them to come down pit road for fresh rubber. Still though, whose water bottle was it?
Dennis "Tink" Reno,Jr. came up short of winning the Early Bird feature. (51 Photos)
“It wasn’t mine. I think Tink threw it out,” said McFarland in a joking fashion. “No, I shouldn’t say that. I don’t know where it came from. I still have mine.”
Reno denied it was his as he didn’t need want the caution to fly.
“I think Ken threw it out and Josh (Hamner) too,” said Reno with a smile. “I think they were passing it back and forth between them. Mine is still in my car and it is blue. That was a red one. Whoever is missing a red water bottle that is theirs.
“I regret pitting. I should have just stayed out there. I don’t know. It just wasn’t my day.”
Josh Hamner, who benefited from the late caution, denied the water bottle was his as well.
“You can take a picture of mine (water bottle). It is still in there,” said Hamner. “We needed something. I was running out of stuff to throw. I didn’t want to throw my water bottle because I might have gotten thirsty there the last 10 laps.”
While all three drivers had a laugh after the race about the mysterious water bottle incident, the caution was pivotal in the outcome of the race. Gary Nix, who took tires earlier, lead the field down to the green flag, but was a sitting duck as the scramble for the top spot ensued. Hamner followed McFarland by Nix as the two drove on to the checkered flag one-two.
“We went right back out and were following someone that had already got tires, so I knew we were going to be good,” said McFarland. “I was running the car pretty hard there since Josh was right there. It was an awesome race car.”
Last year, fate kept McFarland out of victory lane. This year, fate might have put him there. While he celebrated by doing doughnuts in the football field that will be torn out next week at Birmingham to make room for a new pit road, Hamner sat at the finish line, crossing the line second, but with a flat right rear tire.
“It was just a big fight,” said Hamner. “It always is when you have such a short amount of time to race with new tires. Everyone raced hard and clean. It ended up being a good finish.
“I am not sure what happened with the tire there. That could have kept us out of victory lane, but second place is not bad when you consider we came in with that right rear tire flat.”
Fate is an interesting thing, and while McFarland wasn’t smiling at Hamner’s trouble, he was smiling at his victory in the 2008 Early Bird 125.
Josh Hamner's flat tire kept him from contending for the win. (51 Photos)
“I hate it for him (Hamner),” explained McFarland. “I am sorry he had a flat. We lead fifty-some laps last year and crashed it. I hate it for him on a personal level, but on a racing level today was my day.”
EARLY BIRD 125 RESULTS
1) #14 Ken McFarland
2) #38 Josh Hamner
3) #x2 Dennis Reno, Jr.
4) #4 Chris Whorton
5) #3 Chris Serio
6) #41 Gary Nix
7) #49 Jeff Fultz
8) #145 Billy Melvin
9) #89 Lee Hansard
10) #11 Clint Folsom
11) #91 Heath Hindman
12) #82 Donnie Wilson
13) #29 Andy Antinoro