FLETCHER: Sitting Home Hoping For Some Dirt-Late-Model History
EAST LEROY, Mich.
I was sitting at home wishing I was in Arkansas to see if Jimmy Mars could do it again.
Mars, a two-time winner of Batesville Speedway’s annual Topless 100, was a heavy favorite going into this past weekend’s event. And here I was in Michigan unable to get down there and see about it.
I’d looked at the feature lineup early Saturday morning. Mars was starting somewhere in mid-pack. But that hadn’t mattered the week before at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky., where he had captured his second consecutive $50,000 victory.
He drove from 15th and won it on the last lap.
He’d won the USA Nationals at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis., the week before by making a perfectly timed and calculated move on a race track that was taking rubber and fading fast.
The Menomonie, Wis., driver can seemingly do no wrong this season.
I remember when Mars won the 1997 Dream at Eldora Speedway. Many thought it was a fluke. Maybe I was one of those. I can’t recall all of the particulars of the race, but if memory serves, most of the big guns had faltered in some form or fashion.
Mars held off Indiana veteran Steve Barnett by the slimmest of margins to win. But nobody believed him.
Mars was 25 then, and hadn’t spent too many years traveling any real distance away from Menomonie. He’d won the USA Nationals at Cedar Lake in 1996, but that was home turf. That didn’t count.
Then he won the Dream and nobody believed him.
Damn sure believe him now.
For years, Mars and his brother Chris have tinkered and modified their MasterSbilt chassis. So it was no real surprise when the pair, along with Muscatine, Iowa, driver Brian Birkhofer, went into full-fledged car building.
Especially since that seems to be the trend these days.
The Mars/Birkhofer chassis line is called MB Customs.
What is surprising is how competitive the cars really are. I’ve already forgotten many of their accomplishments from last season, but I remember Birkhofer taking the Dirt Track World Championship in Ohio, Mars winning a $20,000 race in Pennsylvania and then the pair ran one-two in a $30,000-to-win race down south. What they’ve done this year is nothing short of amazing.
Birkhofer took the $30,000-to-win Diamond Nationals in Wheatland, Mo., and followed that up with the $40,000 Show Me 100, also in Missouri. Mars won the Firecracker 100 at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa., in June.
Then August hit and Mars took Cedar Lake and Florence.
Many say it’s the first time a driver has won back-to-back $50,000 dirt- late-model races on consecutive weekends.
I don’t know about that myself, but what I do know is that out of eight big-dollar major events held so far this season, Mars and Birkhofer have five.
And I’d say look out the rest of the season because there’s five more to go.
Mars hasn’t won at Eldora since the aforementioned 1997 Dream victory, but he’ll be heavily favored for this year’s World 100 coming up in just a few short weeks. It’s the most important late-model race of any season.
Mars has shone in the 100-lap races, but he and Birkhofer have also won a slew of shorter, lesser-paying events this year.
Doesn’t seem to matter where they are or how long the race is.
As early news of the Topless 100 came in, it looked like Mars was on his way again. He very quickly moved from his 12th starting spot into the top five.
It was about three years after his Dream win when Mars began a fairly consistent regime of traveling around the country. He began picking up some decent wins that year, including his first Topless victory.
He was a regular competitor on the now-defunct Xtreme series, finishing in the top 10 in points for six-straight years.
Simply put, he was proving he could get the job done on the racetrack.
Then he decided to start building his own brand of cars.
I was sitting at home wishing I was in Arkansas. When the final news came down, Mars didn’t win. He raced consistently in the top five and finished third.
I wasn’t there, but if I was, I’m sure he would’ve smiled and told me he was pleased with that effort.
And I’d say look out the rest of the season.