Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – The underlying story about Mr. DIRT Track USA at Lebanon Valley Saturday was the reason the for the first caution on lap 77.
That was because pole sitter and early race leader Peter Britten exploded his right rear tire. Did the Australian competitor push too much in the early stages?
“We tried tonight,” Britten said. “We were probably too good too early on in the race. It was either not quite the right tire choice or the right set up but those are the breaks.”
Britten was another who chose the D400 hard compound versus the harder D500 extra hard. The 21a took off like a shot early on in the race but just couldn’t sustain the pace of the event. He had fallen to the back half of the top five when the tire finally let go.
“We’ve run both compounds here at the Valley,” he said. “This race has been won on both too I believe but this was the choice we made and it just didn’t work out for us.”
Firing from the number one position, it’s a fine line to determine how hard is too hard to push early on, and that’s exactly what Britten had to wrestle with on this night.
“You have to do it that way early because you don’t know who’s right there with you or who’s coming,” he said. “I was trying not to get my car sideways and keep it pretty smooth but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Unlike regular series starter Dave Farney who shows the distance for the top five drivers from one spot to the next, Saturday’s chief flagger Rodney Rescott didn’t do that, which might have aided Britten’s race strategy.
“The flagger didn’t give any gap signals tonight,” he said. “If I was getting those, I might have been able to slow down for a little bit and save the tire some. Either way, at the end of the day, we just weren’t quite good enough, but it was fun.”
While he didn’t get the result he was, one of the big stories on the night was the final race as a full-time driver by Brian Berger.
However, if you’re writing that story, the fact that Berger’s stepping out of the driver seat wouldn’t be the lead. The headline would be that the Castleton, NY veteran had an amazing Phaze3 Racing machine underneath him in the feature.
While standing around his Bicknell after the 100-lapper was complete, you couldn’t wipe the smile off Brian’s face, and with good reason. His car was fast.
“I honestly think we were on our way to a top three finish,” Berger said. “Who can say they passed both Mat Williamson and Matt Sheppard in one night on the race track?”
Those passes weren’t just because of mistakes by those drivers. Berger’s #60 was marching towards the front from his tenth starting spot and looked to be one of the best cars on the track.
“This thing was great tonight,” he said. “I mean, how awesome would it have been if I had been able to get on the podium tonight? Peter (Britten) had his misfortune and I had no where to go which sucks but those things happen.”
When Britten’s tire let go on lap 77, Berger was right there, with no where to go, and got collected. He came to pit road to have his crew check things over, but returned to the fray, ultimately coming back through to finish 13th on the night.
However, it’s a ‘what could have been’ type night for Berger
“Even though the car’s got some dent and isn’t too pretty right now, we finished all 100 laps,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do and my guys gave me an amazing car. This was so much fun tonight.”
Book-ending the top 10 on the night was King of Spring 100 winner LJ Lombardo. Coming from deep on the starting grid, Lombardo had to work and work and work to get to tenth at the end of the night.
“Man, I’m exhausted but we’ll take it,” Lombardo said. “Believe it or not, my tire still looks brand new. We ran a D500 but I could have run a D400 easily.”
How was Lombardo able to save his tire so much while others were blistering or chunking rubber off of theirs?
“Every bit of the tread was still there,” he said. “We prepped the tire just enough, kind of like we did for the race here in the beginning of the year that we won. We did the same thing and our car was set up the same way.”
What was the difference this time?
“I think it was all about starting spot and track position,” he said. “I think if you look at the lap times, we weren’t far off. We just started too far to the back. This was a race of attrition and that’s how it always is here. You get guys who set their car up to drive off the right here and they’ll go forward but burn their tire up. It’s a happy medium you have to find sometimes.”
Even with his win in the first Super DIRTcar Series race early in the year, the 2022 season hasn’t been kind to Lombardo and the Paul Wehnau Snap-On Tools team. However, an 18th to tenth run on Saturday was a great way to cap off the season on the high banks as the team looks to several fall events.
“We had a sour two months or so here this year,” he said. “It was so bad so to get a good finish tonight, Paul (Wehnau) deserves this one. A top 10 with a few more bucks in the bank so we can come back and run the Small Block here next week and then get ready for Super DIRT Week at Oswego.”