A week ago, Marcus Birt made a triumphant return after his wild airborne incident at Lights Out 11. Tonight, the Radial vs. the World standout known as “The Axeman” hopes to finish the job.
Birt looked as strong as ever last weekend at Woostock, advancing to the semifinals in his nitrous-powered ’16 Corvette before weather conditions halted the completion of the radial class. But it gave Birt plenty of confidence heading into this weekend’s COVID-8 at Orlando Speed World Dragway, where he once again rocketed to the top.
Birt made a class-best pass of 3.578-seconds at 205.41 mph on Friday, furthering last week’s momentum and putting him on a good track heading into Saturday’s eliminations for the special eight-car shootout.
“We were all really excited after last week. We came out already running good and we just need to keep the momentum up,” Birt said. “There’s eight badass cars and we’re all capable of running in the middle 3.50s. At Woostock, everything came together perfectly.
“The car ran well, my lights were good. I felt there was no way the race wasn’t ours as long as I didn’t do anything dumb. I felt we were going to win that race, 100 percent. I think if everything goes well (Saturday) and I don’t do anything dumb, we should be there. The car’s fast, everyone’s working well and making good decisions, and I’m driving decent.”
It’s an impressive return to competition for Birt after the insane turn of events at Lights Out. During qualifying, Birt went airborne — and then some — crashing hard back to the ground, ending what appeared to be a strong chance to challenge eventual winner Stevie “Fast” Jackson, who also tunes Birt’s Corvette.
It left Birt understandably crestfallen and unsure when he would return, but that question was quickly answered. The car was sent to Reese Brothers Racecars and the turnaround time was nothing short of incredible.
“David did a hell of a job. The car ran perfect (at Woostock). I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Birt said. “Everything on the car is new, it’s got new wires and it’s right back to where we were at by the fourth pass. It shows you they know what the hell they’re doing.”
Photo by Chris Sears
Birt admitted to being a little worried about getting back behind the wheel after a ride as violent and spectacular as that was in Valdosta.
But seeing how the car responded, Birt was good to go during a test session at Carolina Dragway, and was back into the 3.50s in race conditions at Woostock.
“I just kind of put it behind me,” Birt said. “Getting back behind the wheel, that was a big thing. I went back to my normal thing and didn’t really think about it.
“David and his guys, they stepped up and worked their butts off on this deal. It’s flawless. It ran exactly what it should. They worked around the clock on this thing, and every step of the way he told me what was going on.”
That gave Birt assurance and the test session only added to his confidence. For a car that had performed at a world-record pace — and certainly the best among any RvW nitrous-powered car – Birt was hopeful he could get back to that level soon.
As it turned out, it took one race and he’s only backed it up thus far in Orlando. Teams got a handful of qualifying passes on Friday, and Birt shot to the top with his blast of 3.578.
Bryan Markiewicz and Reese were the only two others to reach the 3.50s on Friday, going 3.589 and 3.592, respectively, but Melanie Salemi and Jackson were both close. The rest of the eight-car qualifying field is filled with standouts, meaning a win won’t come easy, but Birt is ready for tonight’s excitement.
“You definitely are going to have to be dead on with every pass,” Birt said. “Everybody’s going to be hauling ass and everyone there is a good driver. Plus, it’s only three rounds so you’re going to have to be on top of things. I just hope we’re the last one and the perfect scenario of me and Stevie at the end.”