Thursday, June 4th, 2009
Birkhofer is the favorite going into Saturday
By Mike Ernst
The closing laps of the 2008 Dirt Late Model Dream felt eerily familiar to Brian Birkhofer.
The laps in the major dirt late model event at Eldora Speedway were winding down and the Muscatine, Iowa driver was in second-place with only Scott Bloomquist ahead.
"It really did remind me of 2002 at the World 100," Birkhofer said as he prepared for the 2009 installment of the $100,000 to-win Dirt Late Model Dream earlier this week. "There were just about the same number of laps left when I moved into second-place and as the laps began to wind down I could tell I was closing in on Scott."
In September of 2002, Birkhofer made himself a household name in dirt track racing when he made a last lap, last corner pass of Bloomquist to win dirt late model racing's most prestigious race, Eldora's World 100.
Last year at The Dream, Birkhofer's late charge came up a couple of car lengths short of Bloomquist, and the Mooresburg, Tennessee veteran collected his fifth $100,000 check from Eldora.
This year, Birkhofer has been tabbed the favorite by just about everyone as the top dirt late model teams from around the country converge on the high-banked, one-half mile oval for qualifying on Friday night with heats and consolations and then the 100-lap main event on Saturday.
Birkhofer, along with 1997 Dream winner Jimmy Mars and his brother Chris, began building their own chassis' last season and after lukewarm results early in 2008, the MB Custom cars are becoming a force in the dirt late model world.
Last year, Birkhofer captured the Firecracker 100 at Lernerville Speedway in Pennsylvania and then last October won the Dirt Track World Championship at K-C Raceway outside of Chillicothe.
Already this year "Birky" has won $35,000 in Missouri capturing Lucas Oil Speedway's Diamond Nationals and followed that up with a Memorial Day weekend sweep of the $40,000 to-win Show Me 100 in West Plains, Missouri and the FedEx 50 at Tri City Raceway just outside of St. Louis.
"I ran one of last year's cars at the Diamond Nationals and then we broke out a brand new car at the Show Me," Birkhofer said. "That car was probably the best car I have ever driven."
While just about everyone else is making Birkhofer the favorite, he is not buying into it.
"There are so many good cars when you get to the big races at Eldora you really have to have a lot of things go right," Birkhofer said. "You can't get behind because it is so competitive it is hard to get caught back up."
In last year's qualifying for The Dream, Birkhofer struggled and had to start near the back of his heat race. He charged to a fourth-place finish in his heat race and then won the B-main to qualify for The Dream feature. He started near the tail end of the field but rallied for the runner-up finish.
"I think I have just out-thunk myself on Friday night's there the last couple of times," Birkhofer said. "I am going to make a couple of real small changes this year but then I am just going to leave it alone and see if that doesn't work a little better."
The major late model events, like The Dream, draw a huge number of cars to Eldora. Track officials are expecting close to 150 teams to show up and chase the top prize. The large number of combatants is intimidating to some, but not for Birkhofer, although he says you have to keep in mind the large field.
"That is just part of going to Eldora," Birkhofer said of the large counts. "But the one thing I think you have to be aware of is that if you are a couple to three tenths (of a second) off the leader, most nights that is only 5-10 spots. But at Eldora you might be behind 25-40 cars. That is a lot of cars you are going to have to pass."
While members of the media make a big deal about the Birkhofer and Bloomquist rivalry, Birkhofer says there really is not a rivalry.
"I have a hell of a lot of respect for that guy and I think he respects me," Birkhofer said. "When I first started racing he was already winning races and he was a hero to me. He has that long hair and I wanted to be a rock star so I thought he was really cool."
Even with 150 cars in the pit area, Birkhofer has a pretty good idea he will be battling Bloomquist if he is near the front late in the 100-lapper on Saturday night.
"If you think you are going to go to Eldora and win $100,000 and not have to race Scott Bloomquist to get it, you have not been paying attention," Birkhofer said.
Other favorites heading into the race include Mars, current World of Outlaw Late Model Series points leader Steve Francis, Lucas Oil Series points leader Earl Pearson Jr., Jimmy Owens, Josh Richards, Jeep Van Wormer and 2008 World 100 champ Shane Clanton.
Warm ups and qualifying for The Dream begin on Friday night at 6 p.m. Saturday night pre-race activities begin at 6:30 p.m. with the first of six heat races set to hit the track at 7 p.m.
**Fans holding tickets for the postponed Prelude to the Dream can apply the value of their ticket toward any remaining event on the 2009 Eldora Speedway schedule. The race has been rescheduled for Wednesday night, September 9th, just days prior to the World 100. Eldora officials are still trying to determine which of the 26 drivers will be able to return.