2020 COVID-8 - EVENT COVERAGE, ORLANDO, FLA.
FINAL NOTEBOOK - BIRT BAGS THE PRIZE AT INAUGURAL COVID-8
BIRT IS THE WINNER - He always runs fast and has come close a few times, so it was sweet relief for Radials vs. The World veteran Marcus Birt to finally steer his Houston Auto Auction 2016 Corvette into the winner's circle.
"They say the first one is always the hardest one to win, so hopefully now it'll just start to fall into place," Birt said after defeating Shawn Ayers in the Covid 8 RVW final May 23, at Orlando Speed World Dragway.
Birt dominated the weekend, qualifying number one with a 3.57-seconds blast at 205.41 mph in the third of five qualifying rounds for the eight-car RVW field. Following him on the list were Florida's own Bryan Markiewicz, David Reese, Stevie Jackson, Jamie Hancock, Melanie Salemi, Ayers and Jeff Miller.
A 3.59 at 203.95 easily propelled Birt past Miller and his blown 'Bumblebee" Camaro in the opening round, but waiting for him in the semis was Killin' Time Racing teammate Jackson, who also calls the shots on Birt's nitrous tune-up while crew chief Billy Stocklin combines with Jackson on their screw-blown '15 Camaro.
In what turned out to be an epic race, Jackson left with a tiny one-thousandth-of-a-second advantage off the start, but a 3.60 at 205.82 gave Birt the nod an eighth mile later by just eight thousandths over Jackson's 3.60 at 210.34-mph combo.
"We should've run a little faster, but when we got back we found one of the (nitrous) bottles was real light. What had happened was a solenoid got stuck under the manifold and when it messed up it wasn't letting the nitrous get to the right side of the motor," Birt explained.
"It's a good thing we caught it (in the pits) because if we had found it after we got up there for the final there's no way we could've made the pass. That was a bullet that got dodged, for sure."
That set up the final-round pairing against Ayers in just his second race with a brand-new Bickel-built 2019 Camaro owned by NFL star Fletcher Cox, who also participates as an active crew member at the track.
A huge .144 holeshot earned the win for Ayers in round one after Markiewicz was unusually late on the tree. A quick reaction did it again for the Mississippi-based driver in the semis as a .059 advantage at the start allowed his 3.63 to get past the 3.60 posted by Salemi.
"I've been struggling with my lights, but I thought for sure I'd hit the tree on that one so we must have something else going on in the thousands of pieces we're trying to make work together here," Salemi said.
"Just the fact that we're out here is pretty amazing," she added, referring to the extensive damage to the underside of her supercharged '19 Camaro. "I have to give full props to everyone on my team. We've been working non-stop since 8 o'clock last night just trying to get everything back together and to even get as far as we did is a true testament to their effort.
In the final, Ayers again took the lead off the start with a .034 holeshot, but almost immediately lost traction while Birt set low ET for the meet with a 3.56 effort at 205.19 mph to secure the race win.
"The car is new, it's first outing was at Darlington last weekend and we made some good laps there. And then to come down here to Donald's race and make the finals? It's been a good weekend," Ayers said.
"We knew Marcus was fast, he'd been running .57s, .58s, but we really don't have any .50 tune-up yet, so we just kinda' took a shot in the dark," he admitted. "So we pretty much just broke loose right away and from then on all I saw was flames going away from me."
After a spirited victory lane celebration, Birt thanked Jackson for the tune-up and emphasized his first RVW win was the result of ongoing backing from Houston Auto Auctions, Mike Adams Towing, JB&L Auto Sales, Rock-n-Roll Sushi, 180Herbal.com, UPR Products, Pat Musi Racing Engines, Mark Micke and David Reese.
"We couldn't even be out here without the support of all those people and I'm dedicating this first win to all of them," Birt declared. "And hopefully this will be just the first time for more to come."
HOLDER SCORES VICTORY - Among multiple event winners of Duck X Productions events, Roger Holder and his twin-turboed '68 Nova undoubtedly have the greatest winning percentage. Two out of three visits have finished in the winner's circle.
His first time out with the car last fall in No Mercy 10 at South Georgia Motorsports Park, Holder drove to victory in the Carolina No Time class, then fell with mechanical woes in this spring's Lights Out event at SGMP, but returned to victory lane May 23, in promoter Donald "Duck" Long's Covid 8 event at Orlando Speed World Dragway.
"Yeah, it's pretty amazing," Holder said after beating Ziff Hudson in the Pro 275 final for Covid 8. "You always hope to win big races like this, but when it happens it's kind of hard to believe sometimes."
After initially having trouble hooking up to the Orlando eighth mile in Friday afternoon qualifying, Holder eventually put together an outstanding 3.85 lap at 206.89 mph to slot in behind only Mark Micke with a record-setting 3.82 that took the top spot. After 16 cars made qualifying attempts, Scotty Gaudagno rounded out the Pro 275 field with a 3.96 at 188.86 to mark the first all-three-second, eight-car field in class history.
"When we got here we put brand-new shocks on it, which probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but I think in time we needed them," Holder said.
"But we did struggle the first three rounds (of qualifying), so we were kind of behind the eight ball, then obviously we got a couple of decent passes and were able to start chipping away at it. So after getting the shocks right everything was pretty smooth. We've had to get over a lot more stuff that that before."
Raceday started with a solo 3.88 at 207.50 for Holder after seventh-place qualifier Don Burton suffered breakage in his '92 Mustang. Holder's biggest break, though, may have been Micke's first-round exit after losing traction against "Scotty G."
The semi-finals saw Hudson and his twin-turbocharged '90 Mustang take down Gaudagno with a 3.85 pass that narrowly gave him lane choice for the final over Holder, who ran 3.86 at 204.20 to beat Blake Copson in his first-ever P275 outing.
When the green light flashed for the final, a pair of identical .022 reaction times registered and both cars appeared to be glued together as they passed the starting tree. Then Hudson abruptly faded.
"In the final I was expecting another .85, .86, but right before it made the one-two shift the charge pipe for my turbos blew apart, just separated completely and left a two-inch gap between the charge pipe and the manifold," Hudson explained.
"I thought the car had just shut off, that's what it felt like, but we had lost all boost. We were side-by-side for a long ways, but as soon as it made the shift we lost all power."
Meanwhile, Holder went on to post another 3.86 at 206.42 mph to take another Duck X win home to Bakersfield, CA.
"I knew Ziff had run an .85 the run before and we had run an .86, so I figured he probably had a little more in the tank, so I gave it a little more, too, just hoping not to spin the tires," Holder said. "I didn't see him at all, so I think he had some problems at the start and I ended up getting the win. Sometimes you have to have a little luck go your way, too."
SATURDAY NOTES - MARCUS BIRT, MARK MICKE LEAD THE WAY INTO THE ELIMINATION ROUNDS AT ORLANDO
JACKSON BEHIND BIRT'S BLAST TO TOP OF RVW FIELD - The last time Marcus "The Astronaut" Birt was at a Duck X Productions event he went sailing through the air as his 2016 Corvette took flight over South Georgia Motorsports Park at Lights Out 11 early this year.
Fortunately, Birt escaped uninjured from the crash and with repairs made, he was flying again in Radials vs. the World qualifying May 22, at Orlando Speed World Dragway. However, this time his Houston Auto Auction Vette remained solidly on the track as he sped to a 3.57 number-one qualifier result for Covid 8 at 205.41 mph.
Close behind was Bryan Markiewicz at 3.58 and 205.72 mph, with David Reese (who crashed and doesn't expect to race) third with a 3.59 at 204.42 mph. Rounding out the top half of the eight-car field was Stevie Jackson with a 3.61 at 210.80 mph in his screw-blown 2016 Camaro.
Jackson also serves as tuner on Birt's Pat Musi-built, nitrous-breathing engine.
"It's hot, humid, sticky, basically Florida in May, so I called Marcus on the way down here and told him, 'This is gonna' be your race. These are conditions to run a nitrous car: hot, humid and sticky,'" Jackson said once the fifth and final RVW qualifying session was in the books.
"I don't want to say it's easy to go fast, but it should be pretty easy to go fast with a hot rod nitrous car here. It's really hard to make that nitrous car run slower than a .61 or .62; I honestly don't know how anyone can run slower than that in conditions like this."
Jackson added that his biggest contribution to the pole-setting effort was "putting a big ol' set of jets in there; the pills that pay the bills to make that thing run out the back.
"You just make a little bit of a power correction to account for the DA (density altitude) being bad, it takes a little bit different ratio in rearend gear, a little bit different torque converter, but it's all just a pretty standard operating deal and then you see if it goes."
SALEMI SITS OUT LATE RVW QUALIFYING - She was leading the way after two rounds of RVW qualifying, but after a driveline failure in Q3, Melanie Salemi was forced to sit out the last two sessions on Friday night and watch her 3.61 at 207.59-mph pass gradually slip down to a sixth-place start for Covid 8 raceday at Orlando.
Salemi said her crew, led by husband Jon Salemi, suspected a front yoke failure on her 2019 Camaro's driveshaft led to the transmission tailpiece breaking and then beating up everything with the car's center tunnel.
"We're done for the night," she confirmed. "It tore things up pretty bad and they're going to have to do some welding under there, but we'll be ready for tomorrow."
REESE RUNS INTO TOP-END TROUBLE - Despite placing third for Radials vs. The World at Covid 8 with a 3.59 at 204.42 mph in Q4, veteran driver David Reese doesn't intend to compete on raceday.
At the end of his fifth qualifying attempt in Friday's action, the Temple, GA-based racer had trouble getting stopped and wound up kissing the Orlando Speed World wall with the left side of his supercharged small-block 2019 Camaro.
"We had a little issue going through the traps when I pulled the parachute handle and the handle broke," Reese explained. "Things were happening a little bit quick down there, so I eased off the brakes but I guess they had already got hot because when I eased back on them they just spun me around.
"It just bumped the wall on the left side, but it doesn't look like I'm gonna' be able to race now," he added. "It's actually not that bad; I just don't want to take a chance on doing more damage."
RECORD-SETTING PRO 275 QUALIFYING - Pro 275 qualifying for the Covid 8 event at Orlando Speed World Dragway ended with the quickest pass in class history and was punctuated throughout with stout runs and dramatic performances from several competitors.
To perhaps no one's surprise, driving Jason Carter's famous and foreboding twin-turbo '78 Malibu, Mark Micke stepped up in the sixth and final qualifying session with a record-setting 3.82 at 203.65 mph.
Micke suspects he'd already run a previous 3.82 that was negated by a track timing issue.
"Yeah, in Q4 I heard maybe a lizard ran across a beam or something, but there was some kind of timing deal that threw out that pass," he said. "So I tried to step it up for round five but it didn't go anywhere, so I went back to exactly my Q4 setup, just hit reload and it worked. Guess I should've never touched it earlier."
Micke added he enjoyed the intimate format of Covid 8 with just two classes on the grounds and less than 30 total competitors.
"But what a marathon," he said shortly after 1 a.m. "Six rounds and we would've done more if there'd been time. But it was fun and I'm looking forward to racing tomorrow. Should be a fast show."
The last-minute record run by Micke placed him at the head of the first all-three-second field for the class, anchored by a 3.96 at 188.86 mph by Scotty Guadagno in his nitrous-huffing '68 Camaro.
James Miron and his nitrous-fed '68 Camaro barely missed the cut with a career-best 3.98 at 188.15, but will lead a complete 8-car second-chance race into eliminations on Saturday evening.
LONG HAULER HAPPY SO FAR - Running in Q5 with his beautiful '68 Nova, Roger Holder of Bakersfield, CA, made the long cross-country trek worthwhile with a 3.86 pass at 205.98 to temporarily take over the P275 number-one spot in Orlando. Just a couple of pairs later, however, Blake Copson and his 2016 Vette regained the top spot with an outstanding 3.85 effort at 204.11 mph.
Regardless, Holder stepped up late Friday night in the sixth-and-final session with a 3.85 of his own to slot into second place behind Mark Micke, bumping Copson back to third by just one-thousandth of a second.
"Any chance we get to come out here we'll do it," said Holder, who won in the car's debut at Duck X Productions' No Mercy event at SGMP last fall. "It's a fairly new car, this is just our fourth race with it, so anytime we get to run with the fast guys we want to do it."
SULLIVAN NEW P275 SPEED KING - In the fifth round of Pro 275 qualifying, Indiana's Craig Sullivan stormed to a 3.89 at 211.33 mph to establish a new class speed record that also boosted him from seventh to fifth place overall. In the sixth and final session, though, Sullivan improved by five thousandths to another 3.89 that left him sixth for raceday.
"We made a change at Darlington last week to a smaller engine and obviously we're onto something good with that," Sullivan said of the twin-turboed Sonny's 526 Hemi riding up front in Mark Woodruff's C6 Corvette.
"Between the equipment that Mark provides and the tuning capabilities that Jamie Miller brings we've got some big mile an hour right now," Sullivan added. "it's responded to everything we've done and now we just have to figure out how to get a little better ET."
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - IT'S A QUARANTINE BREAKER FIT FOR A DUCK
COVID 8 Q&A WITH DONALD 'DUCK' LONG - CP.com: So Donald, why are we here? What's the reason for the hastily created Covid 8 race?
Duck: Well, basically we had a lot of people out there, sponsors, engine builders, transmission shops, all kinds of parts manufacturers, and they needed cars going down the race track. Obviously if nobody's racing, nobody's breaking parts, nobody's needing to buy any parts.
And I think everybody wants to get back to some normalcy, you know, in the world is what's going on. So we don't want everybody to sit around for too many months, you know, with no racing at all. So it was that deal.
And we had, James Lawrence from Speed Video, who had reached out and said, 'Hey, you know, I can put in some money to help this deal out,' because he needs to be able to put some shows on, you know, to be able to have something to film for people to see.
So that's why we decided to come out and make a small deal, but something where we had the baddest of the bad here and something where the fans could attend, too.
CP.com: How difficult is scheduling a race like this on short order?
Duck: Well, something like this, it comes together pretty quick. I mean you have to work fast to get the track. And at the time we decided to do it everybody was locked down, so we didn't really have any conflict with any dates at the time. We were good to go.
But then there was some back and forth with Keith Berry because we didn't know for sure if he was going to be able to do his Wooostock race or not--that he was fortunate enough to get in last weekend in Darlington--and we were also trying to work our way around the Huntsville deal with their Radial Fest. But even after we did that, I guess they didn't have any dates left and had to go back on top of us.
We try to stay away from everybody because we want to give the racers the most amount of races for them to go to out there. So we tried to make it to where you would have Radial Fest, then you would have Wooostock, and then you would have the Covid 8. And also this weekend we have Keith Haney with his Mid-West Pro Mod deal, so this was not exactly what we wanted, but obviously the way everything's working out that's what we had to do.
CP.com: Duck X Productions is known for providing some unique trophies, so what's on the line for Covid 8?
Duck: Well, Stephanie (Wisnieske-Long), she's in charge of all that and she came up with the idea of Captain America shields for the winners, you know, the whole shield yourself from Covid 19 deal. So she decided that we were going with the shields no matter if I wanted to or not, but I really think they're a great idea.
She had to go to four different places to get these shields made up the right way because we always want to have something that can be remembered. They have the Covid 8 insignia and the logos on them, really neat stuff, but it was like everything was still really cutting it close. Like the hats actually showed up from Jessica Sexton to the track yesterday. Some stickers and stuff showed up yesterday or the day before, too, and I was still getting stuff done this morning.
CP.com: What made you decide to hold the Covid 8 event in Orlando?
Duck: Well, Ozzy (Moya, Orlando Speed World owner) of course was like, just pick whatever date you want and we'll make it work. So obviously that was awesome. And then Jeff Miles came in so we've got a great track prep crew here. And I wanted to kind of get out here and let these guys do some more racing here in Orlando because we're going to be moving the Sweet 16 race to here for next year.
CP.com: What about Lights Out and No Mercy? Are those events moving from South Georgia Motorsports Park, too?
Duck: No, Lights Out and No Mercy are both staying there. And the Sweet 16 this year was postponed so we'll run it at South Georgia this year, too. It's gonna' be a kind of a deal where we're hoping to move Sweet 16 4.0 to Orlando at the end of January next year, and then a month later we would be back at South Georgia for Lights Out 12.