All it takes is the ability, luck, good equipment and the chance to race at a variety of tracks and a person can claim national recognition.
For one Spokane Miniature Motorsports Racing Association driver, that formula led to a West Coast championship and rookie of the year honor.
Joe Bird battled Nicole Behar throughout the season at Stateline Speedway for wins in the MMRA Baby Grand division, with both drivers capturing several checkered flags. Each also ventured away from home to earn national points. When the dust settled, Bird won the Western honors while Behar picked up the Stateline championship.
After cutting their teeth at Sunset Speedway’s clay oval in Airway Heights, Behar is already running double-duty with a Fever 4 car in her stable while Bird is preparing to advance divisions in 2012.
Both belong to families with deep roots in the Inland Northwest. Behar’s father, Mike, is a past Inland Northwest Super Stock Association champion, while Bird’s uncle is renowned engine builder Jeff Bird.
Bird is ready to make the jump and is already working toward 2012.
“Next season we plan to move up to the next level,” he said. “This winter we’re considering (purchasing) a late model with plans to run a class of some sort, whether it be ICAR or INSSA. We’re waiting to see the schedules for each class and determine what we’ll do at that point.”
Having roots in the Northwest Modified Series may also open doors in that division, Bird said.
“There is the possibility of going racing in the Northwest Modified Series (where his uncle has multiple race wins) and still run our Baby Grand when we can next season,” he said. “We’re still deciding our plans for next season, but one thing we do know is that wherever we end up I am going to run for a championship in that division.”
Racing Sunset Speedway’s ultracompetitive dirt track may be a key to driver ability, as both drivers were victorious at the Airway Heights facility before moving to Stateline and beyond. For Bird, the challenges of racing dirt helped to prepare him for Baby Grand competition.
“Racing on dirt for seven years gave me a lot of experiences and knowledge of how to race,” he said. “It taught me how far I could push a car and when to make good decisions. This year I have been able to put the car in places I need to and avoid things on the track that all came from those dirt track experiences.”
Baby Grand drivers know of Behar and Bird’s prowess, but the class will also advance third-generation driver Colton Schultz to the big cars in 2012 and was the launching point for NASCAR K&N West 2012 Rookie of the Year candidate Cameron Hayley.
For information on Baby Grand racing in the Pacific Northwest, call Custom Welding, an authorized MMRA dealer, at 535-0664.
One last race
Northwest late model drivers prepare this weekend for one more big-money race on the 2011 schedule before putting their cars into hibernation. This weekend’s Yakima Speedway Fall Classic will see three of the Inland Empire’s best young drivers take on the region’s best while one local driver ventures to Northern California for his first attempt to win Shasta Speedway’s Fall Classic.
David Garber’s trials and tribulations in recent weeks have been well-documented. Coming off a strong top-10 run behind the wheel of the Dan Yonke-owned Pontiac, Garber heads to Shasta Speedway for the Win River 125 after many years of trying. The Spokane native has planned the trip many times, but he hadn’t seen it come to fruition until this weekend.
Based on his nine lives of racing in September – the driver of the No. 93 Pend Oreille Mechanical Grand Prix has overcome two incidents that nearly destroyed two separate race cars – the Shasta Speedway faithful may be in for a treat as bouncing back to form seems to be the path Garber is on with one race left in his season.
In Yakima, all eyes will be on two of the youngest drivers to win late model touring championships in region history, Blake Williams and Braeden Havens, and the inaugural winner of the Spokane 200, Shelby Thompson, who will be out to win his second late model start in the last three weeks.
Fans can follow all four drivers’ progress through Yakima Speedway and Shasta’s websites. Yakima’s address is yakimaspeedway.us while Shasta results can be found at shastaracewaypark.net.