A hard working race car driver who believes in a team effort is running in overdrive to make up for early-season trouble.
Max Harder, 27, of Blue Springs, Neb., is making strong run in the NASCAR Finalist Division II points standings despite some adversity. He competes each Saturday at Junction Motor Speedway, a .375-mile dirt oval in McCool Junction, Neb., where he leads the B-Modified division points standings, and expects to return to full time Sunday night racing at I-80 Speedway, a .400-mile dirt track in Greenwood, Neb.
Harder stands fourth in the NASCAR Finalist Division II dirt points standings, with four wins, nine top fives and 11 top 10s in 12 starts. Jim Hendricks Jr., who races at I-80 Speedway, leads the current Division II points standings with two wins, nine top fives 14 top 10s in 16 starts. Hendricks has 362 points, while Harder has 300.
Each track in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series designates its top division as its Feature Division, and assigns its remaining divisions a designation of II, III, IV or V. The Finalist Program was established this season to recognize the drivers in those latter divisions.
The other three dirt leaders are Division III, Brad Derry, I-80 Speedway; Division IV, Joe Baker, I-80 Speedway; and Division V, Andy Wilkerson, I-80 Speedway.
Leading the support divisions at NASCAR paved tracks include Division II, Tyler Church, Hickory Motor Speedway; Division III, Brent Kane, Raceway Park in Shakopee, Minn.; Division IV, Danny Field, Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl; and Division V, Doug Schmitz, Raceway Park.
The new NASCAR Finalist national recognition program focuses on the divisions outside of the Feature Division at each NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track. Points are kept separately for dirt and asphalt tracks. A NASCAR-licensed driver’s best 14 finishes are counted toward their final points total for the year.
“I bought my first-ever brand new race this year, and had 12 races on it, and totaled it the second night I raced it at I-80 Speedway,” Harder said. “After that, we missed one night and borrowed a car to race another night before we got another new car.”
Frame damage brought the need for a brand new Jet chassis, although his Schmidt Machine-built 355 cid engine and many components were undamaged and transferred to the newest car.
Harder’s car, and that of track and Division II points rival Steve Swarthout, share the same race shop owned by Brent Schalke, who also fields a B-Modified from there. Swarthout owns a two-car trailer that transports his and Harder’s cars to the track. All three drivers have also competed at I-80 Speedway this year. Both tracks are within 90 minutes of the group’s Blue Springs race shop, which is also open to other drivers when their cars need some extra attention or help.
“There’s no shortage of work there,” Harder said. “We’re out there every single night. There’s a lot of midnight oil burned. There’s always something to work on.”
The B-Modified division is new to Junction Motor Speedway, which is what brought Harder to that track this year. The cars have been a longtime regular at I-80. Dirt Late Models are the featured division at both tracks.
“With the division being new at Junction, the field of cars is still building. People are just getting into it,” Harder said. “We’ve still got some damn good drivers around here.”
Despite his early season misfortune at I-80, Harder has one win there and four more at Junction. He plans to compete regularly at both tracks for the balance of the season.
Harder, a heating and air conditioning technician, began his racing career as a crew man for others in his teens. He began driving race cars in earnest about 10 years ago in a Bomber-type car that competed in novelty races at his area tracks.
“I fell in love with racing and haven’t stopped,” Harder said.
He moved through Hobby Stocks before moving to the open wheel B-Modified division.
“Even if I wasn’t driving, I’d still be going to the races,” Harder said. “Sometimes it’s nice just to go watch a race.”
Harder’s car sponsors include Jet Racing, Twin Rivers Chrysler Jeep Dodge and Harms Construction. The crew includes his mom Deb, sister Jamie, girlfriend Andrea, Aaron Litte, Justin Hippin, Kelly Harms and crew chief Russell Harms.
The NASCAR Finalist points structure is the same as the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Feature Division at each track. The feature winner receives two points for every car in the feature up to 20. Second place receives two fewer points and that distribution continues through the field. Race winners receive five additional bonus points. For example, if there were 20 cars in the feature, the winner would receive 45 points, second gets 38 and third 36. If there are 15 cars the winner receives 35 points, second gets 28 and third 26.
At season’s end, the top driver in each of the four asphalt and four dirt NASCAR divisions will receive invitations to the 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet Friday, Dec. 10 at the Crown Ballroom at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., where they will be recognized.