This past Sunday, while most NASCAR fans were tuned into the Cup race in Kansas, the best late model racers from across the country were gathered at Martinsville for the Bailey’s 300. It is the premier late model race in the Southeast, paying $25,000 to win and, more importantly, the coveted grandfather clock that Martinsville is famous for. Our team was there, battling it out with nearly 100 other teams to try and make the show. Unfortunately came up a little short. We were hoping for a Cinderella story, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Our team is the No. 14, JB Designs Chevrolet. It is a family run team that races around the Carolinas and chases the dream of winning races at the higher levels of local short-track racing. This year has been an exceptionally tough year. Our driver Randy Burnett’s father, Mike Burnett, passed away early in the year, a loss that really put a damper on the enthusiasm of going racing. Add to that the economic downturn and the finances for racing have been pretty scarce. As a result, we’ve only been to the track a couple of times this year.
Martinsville was always the high point of the year for Mike. He would always be talking about it, even when we were racing at other tracks. So as the time began to draw near it was obvious we had to do something to get to the track. Jeremy, our driver’s brother and the spotter, tire guy, and all around worker put his nose to the grindstone and came up with the idea of doing something similar to what Kenny Wallace did for Canada. He put out a call to all of our friends and asked for donations. Amazingly, enough money poured in to cover going to the track for the pre-race test and the race weekend. So Jeremy, with the help of some friends and others, worked with Randy and got the car ready to go. We put the names of all of the people who donated money on the hood of the car and hoped to be able to put them in the race to show our appreciation.
We went up for the pre-race test and seemed to be pretty good. They don’t use transponders during the test so it is purely based on stop watches and manual timing, but we seemed to be around eighth to 10th fastest. We headed back up for the race weekend feeling confident we could make the race and Friday did nothing but bolster that confidence. Out of the 86 or so cars that practiced we were seventh fastest. We went back on Saturday morning and did a mock qualifying run and were 17th on the charts, still looking like we’d make the top 22, the number of cars locked into the show. Unfortunately, when qualifying rolled around the track temperature had climbed and the adjustments we made for qualifying didn’t tighten the car up. Too loose, we tumbled to 62nd fastest. Needless to say, morale was not high anymore.
Sunday came and it was time to put up or shut up. They run four 25-lap heat races and take the top-five cars from each to the main event. We started 10th and slowly worked our way forward. With nine laps to go, we made a pass to move into sixth place. We were several car lengths back from fifth and really needed a caution to give us a legitimate shot at getting into the transfer spot. As the old adage goes, you want a caution but you don’t want to be the caution. On lap 7, the car we passed for sixth tried to get under us coming off the second turn and spun us around. For all intents and purposes, our dream was shattered. We came in and made an adjustment to the track bar but it was too little too late, and we weren’t able to make it back to fifth.
Racing at local short tracks isn’t the financial undertaking that Cup or Nationwide racing is, but it still takes a serious amount of money to be competitive. Through the generous donations of so many people, we were able to make it to the track and give it a go. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to land some sponsorship dollars, run a full season and be ready to make another charge at the Bailey’s 300. It will make Mike Burnett proud, that’s for sure.