By ED TURNER
For the Potomac News
& Manassas Journal Messenger
Mike Bryant is still looking for his first victory in Legends at Old Dominion Speedway. Bryant, who holds the track record with 28 wins in Mini Stocks, was used to winning regularly in that division before he switched to Legends.
Last year, he came close to winning several races in his new division. In one race near the end of the season, Bryant led with two to go but spun out because of an oil slick in turn four. It was Bryant’s most frustrating race in the division yet.
However, Bryant, who won two Legends road course races at Summit Point last year, is not concerned that he hasn’t won more since he started racing Legends full time in 2002.
”It isn’t really bothering me,” he said. ”I wish I had done better. But I know I will do better eventually. My day is coming.”
Bryant, who is eighth in points at ODS, has had a mediocre season, he says. But he has run several strong races this year. He grabbed a second in the season opener. And he was moving into third with six to go in his last race when a lap car wrecked him and Bryant finished 18th. In the previous race, he spun out several times, finishing 17th.
”I haven’t been finishing well anywhere,” said Bryant, who ran seventh recently at Southside.
Bryant is hoping that this Saturday’s 65-lap Legends shootout at ODS will turn his season around. He has mixed feelings about his most recent race at ODS. On one hand, he was frustrated at being wrecked when he was running well. On the other, he was pleased with how competitive the car was.
Even though Bryant finished second in the first race of the year, he didn’t like the car’s setup. He said the car threw him around. Bryant has changed the setup now to where he likes it and the car has been handling very well.
”I can drive the car pretty smooth now,” he said. ”If I stay out of trouble, I think I’ll be in contention this week.”
Bryant said that the Legends class is much more competitive than Mini Stocks were. In that division, he spent plenty of money on the car to be competitive.
”I either won or broke,” he said. ”With the Legends cars, everybody’s on an equal base. So it’s up to the driver because there’s not too much difference between the cars — although setups make a difference.”
Bryant acknowledges that there are strong competitors in Legends as well. Roger Austin Jr., the points leader, is racing his third year in the division and competed in go-kart for years.
”I think that’s helped him out a lot, to be smooth,” Bryant said. Bryant expects there will be 10 drivers in the division next year who can win, including former Mini Stock champion Sean Dawson.
”Everybody’s catching up,” Bryant said.
Bryant had his most satisfying race in the division last season in the first road course he ran. He won that contest at Summit Point. Bryant races road courses with his brother-in-law Rick Bowman and Dave Kontney. All three drivers work on their cars together.
”Anytime we go to a road course race, we have a chance to win,” said Bryant, who beat out Bowman for a win at Summit Point last season. Bowman, however, came back and won the next day. The three friends race in different classes — pro, semi-pro and masters.
Bryant plans on sticking with the Legends division. He said he enjoys racing Legends so much that he has no plans to race anything else.
”They’re cheap, they’re reasonable and they’re fun,” he said. ”And you can race them about anywhere.”
Last summer, he raced in the summer shootout at Charlotte, N.C., where some 300 Legends cars showed up. He said every class had its own race because there were so many contenders.
Bryant said that Legends are the first wave of the new racing styles. Because they are economical, easy to maintain and set up, they are becoming more popular. And fans like them, too, because Legends often put on the best show of the night. Legends cars, however, are tough to drive. They’re squirrelly, said Bryant. In fact, if a driver stomps on the gas, he is almost certain to spin out. The cars have to be driven with finesse.
Bryant said it takes practice before a Legends driver can be competitive. But he pointed out that Legends drivers develop enough skill driving their cars that they can drive just about any race car. Stock cars, for example, are much more stable.
Bryant is encouraged by the way his car handled in the last race at ODS. He’s hoping that the car runs as well as it did in that race but with more luck tomorrow. With five Legends races left at the track this season, he’s also hopeful that in one of them, he’ll drive to Victory Lane.