When there is a big-dollar super late model race in the Midwest, it usually means several things.
One, Brian Birkhofer — known as “Birky” in the dirt late model world — of Muscatine, Iowa, will be there.
Two, there most likely will be plenty of Birky fans in the house.
And three, Birky will be a major contender to win.
When asked about this in a telephone interview, Birkhofer’s reply was, “I try to support the bigger races. It gives me more time to prepare for the races that I do run.”
In other words, the big ones.
Last year, as the Silver Dollar Nationals approached at I-80 Speedway, the names of a number of prominent drivers were thrown out as ones to beat. Overlooked, most likely because he was off to a slow start, was Birkhofer, one of the best the business.
When the smoke cleared, Birkhofer had won both of his qualifiers, was named top qualifier and won the 80-lap feature, pocketing about $27,000. It reminded race fans once again that Birkhofer usually is able to rise to any occasion.
And do so graciously.
“I can’t thank my crew enough,” he said in victory lane after last year’s Silver Dollar Nationals win. “I want to thank the Kosiskis (owners of I-80), I think they have a jewel of a race track here. If someone doesn’t like coming here to race, they don’t know what racing is like.”
A second-generation driver, Birkhofer’s dad, Dave, was a pretty good late model chauffeur himself. Birky has shown that it runs in the family.
The younger Birkhofer’s list of major wins — he has more than 175 feature wins — includes most of the big dirt late model races in the country. At the top of the list are two World 100s, the Dirt Track World Championship, Diamond Nationals, Knoxville Late Model Nationals, Dirt Late Model National Championship, Firecracker 100, and couple of USA Nationals.
Yes, a list of just the “big” wins makes for a long list in itself.
On Friday and Saturday, the Silver Dollar Nationals at I-80 Speedway gears up for a third time, and once again Birkhofer has started slow with only two wins this season.
But as we’ve learned, don’t read too much into that.
“I like going there (I-80),” Birkhofer said. “Of course, winning last year puts a lot more pressure on me, but that’s what it’s about.”
As for the slow start, Birkhofer said it’s about the law of averages, “and we have probably not taken as many chances on tire selection as we could have.”
Tire selection can be a big part of winning or losing in dirt late model racing.
An interesting thing about the Silver Dollar Nationals is the limit on the different kind of tires that are allowed.
“I always seemed to run good on the harder tires,” Birkhofer said. He added that he planned on trying out different tires the week leading up to the Silver Dollar Nationals.
As for the level of competition this weekend?
“I think they raised the bar last year, and I think it will be just as tough as it was last year,” Birkhofer said.
Tough race. Big race. Big money. Experience tells me, don’t count out Birky.