Birky aims for another lucrative Lernerville win
By Kevin KovacWorld of Outlaws Late Model Series
Brian Birkhofer certainly ran great in last year's Firecracker 100 presented by GottaRace.com at Lernerville Speedway. But the defending race champion feels he can perform even better when he returns for the 2009 version of the blockbuster $30,000-to-win World of Outlaws Late Model Series event on June 26-27.
That could be bad news for the talented array of drivers hoping to unseat Birkhofer. He was already so impressive in rolling to a convincing victory in the '08 Firecracker 100, which was actually run on July 29 after rain washed out the feature-event program on its original late-June date.
“The Firecracker was one of the first big-money wins we had with our new cars,” said Birkhofer, who is in his second season campaigning M-B Customs Chassis that he built in a collaborative effort with Wisconsin driver Jimmy Mars and his crew chief brother Chris Mars. “I was just kind of getting in a rhythm of what was going on with the car when we won that race. Now, with more than a year under our belts with these cars, I feel like we're as good, or better, than we were then.
“I'll bring the same car I won with last year (to Lernerville), so I'm looking forward to getting back there.”
Birkhofer, 37, of Muscatine, Iowa, will enter this weekend's third annual Firecracker 100 as one of the hottest Dirt Late Model drivers in the country. While he's cooled off slightly in recent weeks, his '09 ledger shows five victories, 10 top-three and 12 top-five finishes in 15 starts, including three in WoO competition (a second and two thirds).
And there's simply no full-fender chauffeur who has performed better in lucrative special events over the past year than the superstar known as Birky.
Last year's Firecracker 100 triumph (worth $40,000 in honor of Lernerville's 40th racing season) was one of a series of extra-distance victories for Birkhofer, joining his scores in the '08 Diamond Nationals ($40,000) and Dirt Track World Championship at Ohio's K-C Raceway ($50,000) and this year's Diamond Nationals ($30,000) and Show-Me 100 ($40,000). He'd like to add another major score at Lernerville, a 4/10-mile oval that Birkhofer gives a high grade.
“It's definitely a place where who's leading at lap 40 isn't guaranteed of winning the race,” said Birkhofer, who started fourth in last year's Firecracker 100 but patiently ran second behind Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., until grabbing the top spot on lap 70. “It's a racy place. If you're good, put the right tires on and take care of your stuff, you can start towards the rear and win.”
Lernerville Speedway is a favorite of Birkhofer's for several other reasons, not the least of which is its location in western Pennsylvania. He's a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan, so he loves being around so many like-minded individuals. In fact, he waved a Steelers' Terrible Towel in victory lane after winning last year's Firecracker, and he recently changed the color scheme of his No. 15b machine to Steelers black-and-gold.
What's more, the fun-loving side of Birkhofer enjoys the exciting, big-race atmosphere of the Firecracker 100 weekend at Lernerville. There's so much more to the event than the thrilling on-track action — from a post-race concert after Friday night's qualifying program to a weenie roast, horseshoes tournament, on-stage driver Q&A and autograph session on Saturday afternoon.
“It's fan-friendly,” Birkhofer said. “There's great racing and that's why the crowd there is spectacular, but it's also a real fun weekend for everybody. They give you something to do after the qualifying night is over, something to let you un-stress a little bit and have some fun.”
Last year Birkhofer participated in what is becoming one of the weekend's traditions. He was one of the eight drivers who paired up with fans to compete in the Saturday-afternoon horseshoes tournament, but his performance didn't match what he did on the track.
“I tried to play,” he said, shaking his head. “Let's have a beer-drinking contest. Maybe I can do better at that.”