Season of Firsts Continues with Initial Lucas Oil Late Model Main Event
Mifflin, PA – Aug 30, 2021
by Addicted2Dirt PR & Media Management
feature photo credit: Brian Rhoad/WRT Speedwerx
Austin Berry Racing’s goal for the week sounded simple enough: Make at least one Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series (LOLMDS) main event during the 3-day Rumble by the River event. It sounds simple, until you consider you’re going to be competing with many of the best super late model drivers in the country, plus the best in your region, for half as many starting spots as there are teams entered to compete.
None of that mattered when Berry and his team unloaded the Tire Mart, Berry’s Siding & Seamless Gutter, Locust Hill Custom Butcher Shop, Addicted2DirtPR.com, Nathan Berry Beef Farm, A&C Racing Engines, JDS Racing, Ontime Body & Graphic, Swift Springs, Penske Racing Shocks, Hoosier Tire Mid-Atlantic, VP Racing Fuels, Rocket Chassis XR1 in the hot Thursday afternoon sun at Port Royal Speedway. They had been competitive everywhere they went since early June. They had momentum and their confidence was high.
Night 1 – Thursday 8/26: 44 cars, Qualifying 2nd, Heat 5th, B-main 2nd, A-main 25th
A field of 44 tough teams signed in to take their best shot at the $10,000 top prize Thursday night. Austin Berry was the 17th of 22 cars in Group A to go under the clock for qualifying and he promptly posted a blistering 18.958 second lap, placing him second only to 3-time series champion Jonathan Davenport by a mere 0.079 seconds.
The stellar qualifying effort not only handed Berry the pole for the second heat race, but it had long time series announcer, James Essex, talking about Berry several times throughout the night on the MavTVplus broadcast, including a shout out to Tire Mart in Harrisburg, PA who had come on board as a partner with Berry for the 3-race series and a few other races to finish out the season.
The top four finishers from each heat race transfer directly to the feature event. Mike Marlar got the jump on Berry on the opening lap, but the one-time Port Royal feature winner challenged Marlar for the lead repeatedly during the first half of the 8-lap heat race. Eventually Jason Covert battled by Berry to claim the runner up spot. A late caution erased Berry’s comfortable margin and forced a restart with one lap remaining. The final lap was the one Berry wished he could take back. A slight slip off turn two cost him 3rd and a bobble at the other end of the track cost him the final transfer position.
Austin had one more shot at the main event, so there was no time to dwell on what had happened. He would have to finish in the top three of the first B-main, so the team went right to work to be ready for that opportunity. After starting on the outside of the front row, Berry found himself precariously riding in 3rd, clinging to the final transfer spot for the first half of the 10-lap race. The caution lights flashed on before lap six could be completed, forcing a mid-race restart. This time, Berry made the restart work to his advantage. He blasted around the high side to reclaim 2nd. He never relinquished the spot and claimed a spot in the starting lineup for his first career LOLMDS feature event.
Berry lined up 19th for the 30-lap night one finale but found himself sliding backwards early in the event. The adjustments the team had made, with hopes of being able to race forward through the dirty air the comes with racing from the back in heavy traffic, did not work quite as they had hoped. The result was a 25th place finish but it was hardly a night ABR would call disappointing. The team goal for the week had already been achieved on the first night.
Night 2 – Friday 8/27: 46 cars, Qualifying 18th, Heat 10th, B-main 12th
The forecast looked a bit daunting for Friday’s show at “The Speed Palace” but while other area tracks were forced to cancel due to rain, Port Royal Speedway seemed to have a way to hide from Mother Nature. Another stellar field, this time 46 strong, rolled their machines onto the Pennsylvania clay to go after the $12,000 winner’s share.
Austin Berry found himself in Group B qualifying on this night, once again going out late in the set. This time however, he was unable to find the speed necessary to move toward the top of the chart. Berry’s fastest lap was only good enough for 18th in his group. It was going to be a tough hill to climb from there.
Berry started 9th in the fourth heat and was not able to make any progress. The team struggled to find grip on a racing surface that had changed quite a bit from the previous night.
You can only play the hand you are dealt. Might as well make every lap count. Knowing they would have to start deep in the field in their B-main, from which only the top three finishers would advance, Berry and team decided to use the opportunity to test some changes. They could still consider the night productive if they could learn something that would help them the next night. Berry ultimately finished 12th in the B-main and missed the show, but hopefully the payoff would come the following night.
Night 3 – Saturday 8/28: Rain
The ABR crew spent a lot of hours in the hot midday sun applying the lessons learned, preparing their No.86 for the third consecutive and final night of LOLMDS competition. Unfortunately, not long after driver registration opened for the night, the skies opened up.
The amount of rain that fell over the course of an hour was more than the series and the speedway could overcome, especially so close to the start of the program. It was especially disappointing to Berry, who had just signed in and drew a low pill that would have put him in a great spot for the night. He was hoping to rebound from Friday’s outcome but did not get the chance.
“Successfully humbling“, Berry responded when asked to sum up his weekend. They are two words that say a lot and represent what this sport is to drivers and teams on a regular basis.
“This was the first time I felt like we were actually prepared to come to this show and have a real chance to make some noise, which we did the first night“, Berry shared. “We still need to get better at bridging that gap when the track is going through its transition. Overall, I will take the weekend. We made one show and missed one, but we got some attention. I was on the verge of getting my team and our sponsors some limelight and show that with continued improvement, our little local team can run with those guys“.
Austin and the team will return to Port Royal Speedway for the Juniata County Fair opener on Saturday night, September 4th. The ULMS-sanctioned Butch Renninger Memorial will pay $6333 to the winner in honor of Renninger, who was a devoted part of the speedway for many years and who’s number 33 competed there for many years.
Special thanks to TIRE MART for their support during the Lucas Oil event!
You can also learn more about Tire Mart and their partnership with ABR here:
AUSTIN BERRY RACING
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