Bowman Gray Stadium started its 63rd season of competition on Saturday and its opening night featured the heart-pacing, temper-raising, bumper-pounding action that the 20,000 who showed up to the track expecting. But the rough racing style of the Winston-Salem, North Carolina track turned out to be perfect feel-good medicine for Burt Myers, who took the lead with 25 laps to go in the 200-lap Modified Division GMAC Insurance 200 and went on to record a popular victory.
It was Myers’ first major victory in any form of racing in 2011 and it came in his first start back in his familiar black-and-orange #1 Modified after suffering three cracked ribs and a punctured lung in a violent Supermodified crash at Ace Speedway (NC) on April 15. It also marked a fine start to his Bowman Gray title defense as Myers looks to add a fifth GMAC Insurance track Modified championship.
In Victory Lane it was clearly a meaningful triumph for Myers, who pointed towards the heavens while exiting the race car and immediately told the largely pro-Myers crowd he was grateful to the Lord that he was still just physically able to be there that evening. Wearing his trademark grin, Myers was clearly a man just happy to be able to race.
Yet racing to victory didn’t seem a possibility for most of the night for Myers. He qualified fourth on Friday night while Tim Brown, looking to extend his Stadium record with a ninth track title in 2011, won the pole with a lap of 13.257 seconds that edged out Lee Jeffreys. At the initial get-go, it seemed to be Brown’s or Jeffreys’ race to win as Myers settled into fifth or sixth.
Those two swapped the lead on multiple restarts early in the event, including one after a wild crash on the front stretch between Kevin Powell and Brent Elliott that saw Elliott’s Modified come to rest on top of the outside guardrail entering turn one. Elliott was uninjured.
A new face suddenly entered the picture around lap 40 as Brian Loftin, who had been using the “choice” restart line rule to zoom around the outside of the drivers in the preferred lower groove. Loftin moved into second when a caution flew on the forty-first circuit and on the ensuing restart powered away from Lee Jeffreys.
Loftin’s run to the front served as a welcome sight for all followers of Modified racing. In March, Loftin lost his wife, Melissa, in an automobile accident only a few miles down the road from the family’s house. Loftin had not raced competitively since, but his familiar cherry red #23 showed up at the garage Friday and Loftin time trialed in seventh. On its roof, in place of the normal white lettered #23, fans instead saw the “In Memory of Melissa Loftin” logo that incorporates her memory with the team logo and colors.
Between heart and a good-handling racecar, Loftin managed to hold onto the lead for well over the next 100 laps, including an unusually long green-flag stretch that saw the field race until the three-quarter distance without a caution. During that entire run Loftin, Jeffreys, Brown and John Smith ran within about one to two seconds, but none were really able to put a move on each other. Loftin’s car seemed to be getting tight in the center of the corner, but clearly had the field covered in corner exit.
While the caution that ended that green-flag streak bunched the field back together to the fans’ delight, it also served as a welcome break for Burt Myers. Burt and his brother Jason had never quite been able to make a run in the first 140 laps and decided that then was the time to try to make a trip to the pits. After grabbing some fresh rubber and adjustments, both came out near the back of the top 10.
On the ensuing restart, Lee Jeffreys tried his hand at getting around Loftin on the outside to no avail. A few laps later, John Smith lined up on the outside. That didn’t work out for Smith in the worst way, as contact between Smith and Loftin sent Smith’s car spinning into the infield along with a few others. While fans were busy voicing their varying opinions about that incident, Burt Myers slipped through the fracas and suddenly found himself in third.
Myers would be the next to try passing Loftin to the right on a restart. It did not work on the first try, but Myers kept the gap with Loftin very tight during the next 10-lap green flag run and when the proceeding caution and ensuing restart came about, Myers hung on Loftin’s door panel. After three laps of thrilling side-by-side action, Myers took the lead with 25 laps to go and would not relinquish it.
The race, in typical Bowman Gray style, certainly did not go caution free to the end as a number of incidents closed out the two hundred laps, including one that saw Brad Robbins’ #48 machine wind up on top the front end of Kevin Powell’s #04. While Myers never seemed to be in serious jeopardy on the restarts, Jonathan Brown took the most advantage of the late-race rash of yellows and moved into second in time for a green-white-checkered.
On the final two lap dash, though, no one was a match for Burt Myers as he claimed his 45th career Bowman Gray feature event victory. Brown hung on for second while Loftin still had much to be proud about with his third place run. John Smith recovered to fourth from his late-race spin and Jeffreys finished a solid night in fifth. Tim Brown, polesitter, was 11th after fading from the top-five late and being looping his machine off turn four coming to take the checkers.
In Victory Lane, Myers indicated the decision to come in with 50 laps to go was definitely the difference in his run to the front.
“We came in and put tires on,” said Myers of his race-changing decision. “I told the guys, ‘I’m fast, but help me out. We’re going to go back to about ninth. We got a long way to go.’”
With the fresh rubber and adjustments secured, Myers apparently found a rhythm and went with it.
“My ribs were still a bit sore, but you don’t think about it when you’re out there racing.”
After the race, Speed51 got a quick word in with Brian Loftin’s team, who indicated that they aren’t sure if they will be doing anything beyond Bowman Gray for the rest of 2011 but that they will certainly be giving it their all to win the track championship in Melissa’s memory. Loftin has never won the Bowman Gray track title but was the runner-up in 2010, finishing just twenty-four markers back of Myers.
In the other major race of the night, Luke Fleming led most of the way in the Sportsman Series race and claimed the victory. Bowman Gray returns to action next Saturday with a pair of 25-lap modified races headlining the action.
2011 GMAC Insurance 200
Bowman Gray Stadium
April 30, 2011 11Burt Myers 253Jonathan Brown 323Brian Loftin 425John Smith 577Lee Jeffreys 650Michael Clifton 781Austin Pack 813Chris Fleming 95Randy Butner 104Jason Myers 1183Tim Brown 1227Jeremy Stoltz 13659Danny Bohn 1475Robert Jeffreys 1504Kevin Powell 1648Brad Robbins 176Kevin Wilson 1869Junior Miller 1928Joseph Brown 2012Mike Norman 2171Dean Ward 2272Brent Elliott 237Bobby Reed 2466Ronnie Clifton