Story By: RICH WATTS / AUSTIN BERRY RACING – PORT ROYAL, PA – Austin Berry didn’t load up at the end of Port Royal Speedway’s Opening Day event with the exact finish he knew his car was capable of, but overall, he picked up where he left off at the end of last season; running near the front and being in contention for podium finishes against a strong field of contenders.
Over two hours before they would be able to fire the engine, the Austin Berry Racing team unloaded and revealed their winter-long labor of love, their Pancreatic Cancer Awareness car, which blends the purple associated with many causes that battle the deadly cancer, with Berry’s traditional yellow and black No.86.
Berry flies the purple colors every five years in honor of his biggest fan, his grandfather, who lost his life to the disease 15 years ago. In the near future, the team plans to announce more details about the fundraising and awareness efforts they will carry out during the 2023 season.
“I’m excited to be doing this again to honor my grandfather and raise awareness about the disease that took him from us and has affected so many people we know.”, Berry shared. “The car looks great too. P3 Graphix really nailed the design.“
“We want to raise money for the cause, but my primary goal this year is to spread awareness and focus on the people it has affected.”, Berry said.
“I would love to have all the black space on our car filled with the personalized decals by the end of the year.“
Berry was referring to the Pancreatic Cancer Awareness decals the team will be selling that fans can personalize with a note in honor or memory of a loved one, or just a general note of support and encouragement to those affected.
“I also want to let everyone know we are working on t-shirt deal. It is in the works, and we hope to have the new shirts for this campaign and our season within the next month or so.”, Berry said.
100% of the funds raised from the team’s campaign will be donated to PanCan.org to help find a means of early detection.
A stout field of 31 super late models was on hand for Sunday’s lid-lifter at The Speed Palace. Top names like Greg Satterlee, Trever Feathers, Rick Eckert, Ross Robinson, Jeff Rine and Gary Stuhler were among the many quality teams signed in.
The opening day format called for four 8-lap heat races, which were lined up by a random pill draw. The top five finishers from each transferred directly to the feature event, but only the top three would participate in the invert redraw.
Berry lined up 6th in the first heat race of the afternoon in his The Tire Mart Tire Pros of Harrisburg, Juniata Veterinary Clinic, Berry’s Siding & Seamless Gutter, SRI Performance, VP Racing Fuels, JDS Racing, Locust Hill Custom Butcher Shop, Nathan Berry Beef Farm, Addicted2DirtPR.com, A&C Racing Engines, GO Lithium, Valvoline Pro-V Racing, Super Clean, Rocket Chassis No.86.
The Mifflin, PA native wasted no time charging toward the front from the drop of the green. Running 3rd after one lap, Berry continued his surge into the runner up spot on the following lap. He closed the gap a little on leader Justin Weaver but ran out of time and rode home 2nd.
The invert redraw would invert either 3, 6, 9 or 12 cars for the starting lineup in the 25-lap $4,000 to win main event. Unfortunately, it was a worst case result for Berry when the #12 pill turned up, landing him 8th on the starting grid.
In the early going, it didn’t appear the starting spot would hold Berry back. He quickly moved into 6th on the opening lap, then continued to move forward by running a lane above his competition.
Berry’s Rocket XR1 looked like a rocket. By the second circuit he was riding in 4th and challenging for more.
Soon after Berry started to notice something amiss. He was down on power, but the engine wasn’t showing signs of distress, so he worked to battle through it.
Berry held on to a top five spot through lap twenty, but then some of those veterans managed to finally reel him in and get by. Berry slid to a 10th place finish over the final four laps.
“I’m not dissatisfied, just disappointed. Feel like we let a top five slip through our fingers.“, Berry commented.
Although the core program is the same, Berry and his team had made a number of changes to their program during the offseason. Plus, they made the decision to start 2023 on the new Hoosier tires so they could start learning how their car would react and making the necessary adjustments to find speed.
“We had a lot of speed today, so we are really happy about that, especially given the changes we have made and the switch to the new Hoosier tires.”, Berry said.
Discussing his troubles in the final stages of the race, Berry stated “It ran fine in hot laps, the heats and at the start of the feature, but then the motor just went a little flat. We are pretty sure we have an electrical issue that caused it. We will be digging into that at the shop. The motor is fine.”
“We got through day unscathed, so it’s not a bad way to start the year. We were capable of running 3rd to 5th with the motor at full song the whole way. We will get that figured out. I’m excited to keep racing. The car feels like it did at the end of last year, so given all the changes, that’s a win in my book.“, Berry concluded.
The next race for Berry and the team will be the March 25th ULMS event at Port Royal Speedway.
In the meantime, they are planning to test at either Selinsgrove Speedway or Hagerstown Speedway to make sure they have resolved their electrical issues.