By the time Marcus Birt reached the final round late on Saturday at Orlando Speed World Dragway, he felt confident something special was about to happen.
It took finally breaking through and beating tuner, teammate and now friend — terms Birt would have never envisioned just two years ago – Stevie “Fast” Jackson in the semifinals at the COVID-8, giving Birt one last boost heading Into the final round.
He came through there, too, running an incredible 3.565-seconds at 205.19 mph in his nitrous-powered ’16 Houston Auto Auction Corvette to beat Shawn Ayers in the final round and finally claim his long-awaited first Radial vs. the World victory.
“This win is definitely one of the highlights of my career,” Birt said. “Outrunning Stevie was the shit because he’s so damn good. He’s the best in the world and I’ve never seen anybody like him. It was really special. Everything just sort of came together.”
Speaking of coming together, that includes the relationship with Birt and Jackson. Once fierce rivals, Jackson is now Birt’s tuner and close friend, which is vastly different from how they thought of each other just a couple years ago.
“Two years ago, Stevie and I wanted to try and kill each other at the track,” Birt said with a laugh. “Now we’re good buddies and still racing competitively against each other. If you would have told me a few years ago we would be racing together, I would have laughed at you.”
Birt’s still laughing, only now it’s because he’s enjoying himself so much.
The COVID-8 victory is the culmination of an incredible trajectory in Birt’s nitrous Corvette, which instantly became a record-setter the moment he paired up with Jackson.
It’s set the RvW world on fire, making class-best nitrous runs, setting records and advancing to a number of finals. Most of the time Jackson has been waiting at the end, and Birt has just missed out on that elusive RvW win.
Birt, though, felt like it was just a matter of time heading into the race.
Following going airborne at Lights Out 11, his car was repaired unbelievably quick by Reese Brothers Racecars and it was immediately back in top form.
Birt impressed last week at Woostock before weather halted the race, and heading to Orlando, Birt felt like he was simply picking up where he left off.
“It’s like this car never missed a beat,” Birt said. “To have that incident in south Georgia, get it fixed and go right back to what it was running, it was pretty incredible. Going down (to Orlando), we just wanted to keep everything the same. If I didn’t do anything stupid, I figured we would be in good shape.”
Everyone was on their game at the COVID-8, as Birt qualified No. 1 with a blistering 3.578 at 205.41 in his Musi Racing Engines-powered Corvette.
He barley left the 3.50s from there, blowing past Jeff Miller in the opening round with a 3.59 at 203.95. That set up the marquee matchup with Jackson and, once again, the duo didn’t disappoint.
Birt and Jackson treated everyone to another side-by-side thriller, with Birt going 3.600 at 205.82 to eke past Jackson’s 3.609 at 210.34.
“I was more nervous with Stevie (than the final). When I outran him, I felt pretty good,” Birt said. “I just let the car do the work and I just hang on for the ride. We both ran 3.60 and I was close to the wall, so I didn’t see who won. It was close and it was a good drag race. We always seem to put on a show when we race.”
They had an issue with a nitrous solenoid during the run, but it was just enough to hold off Jackson. They got the issue corrected in the final against Ayers, delivering the best run of the weekend to win the eight-car shootout in emphatic fashion.
Getting that win brought a huge sigh of relief for Birt, and like usual, he wasn’t about to take much credit.
“The car is just running flawless. It’s running so well and I know I have a fast hot rod,” Birt said. “Stevie, Phil (Shuler), Jeffrey Barker, my guys, everybody puts their head in this. Pat (Musi’s) motor deal is top of the damn food chain. It’s all just a hell of a deal. They’ve all given me a car to win and it’s up to me not to mess it up. It’s pretty incredible what this has turned into.”