By Richie Murray
Speedway, Indiana (January 2, 2020)………For David Byrne, 2019 was a season of promise that saw him display the championship and race-winning potential that he has been building toward since becoming a full-time competitor with the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series in 2016.
For Byrne, 2019 was also a season that saw a number of coulda, shoulda moments for wins and a position in the championship race that managed to slip through his grip. However, success was still plentiful for Byrne and crew with a career-best third place finish in the standings at season’s end.
In 2020, Byrne and crew aim to up their game once more, although Byrne felt the team took a small step backwards in terms of speed on the pavement side of things last year. With a step up in their dirt program, they are bound and determined to get the pavement part of the deal up to snuff and compete for a title with the likes of Kody Swanson and Justin Grant who occupied the top two spots in the series in each of the past two years.
“I actually thought we were down a little bit on speed on pavement which is why we’re building a brand-new car and everything for next year,” Byrne explained. “I thought we exceeded expectations on the dirt, except for Eldora. I would grade us a B for the season overall.”
The team plans to keep last year’s primary pavement car as a spare, and put a newer, lighter Beast chassis with newer parts, plus the same popular Pancho Carter/Steve Stapp throwback color scheme and the same goals.
“If we’re not battling for the championship this year, it would be a bit of a disappointment,” Byrne stated. “Obviously, running stronger on the half-mile dirt tracks would be great and we’re right there on the dirt miles. We just maybe need a little more experience and more patience on that.”
Byrne’s start to the 2019 season had its share of challenges. He led 20 laps in the opener at Memphis and was at the front before a power steering failure dropped him to 10th, a similar issue that reared its ugly head while running second later in August at the Salem high banks.
Following up Memphis was a 19th on the pavement of Toledo following late-race engine woes which saw him running as high as third two-thirds of the way in. From there, the team dug in and performed strong on what had previously served as their Achilles Heel – the dirt.
Byrne qualified for the outside of row three and ran in the top-five for the first 95 laps of the Hoosier Hundred on the Indiana State Fairgrounds dirt mile, dropping back to a still-solid 7th at race’s end. The following night on pavement, it was a 6th at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis and a 7th three weeks later on the half-mile dirt oval of Williams Grove.
A late June stop at Wisconsin’s Madison International Speedway provided Byrne his lone shot to compete in front of his home crowd. Byrne shined in his best result of the year, a front row start, 12 laps led and a 3rd place finish in which he performed in front of an impressive throng of supporters, and where the series returns in 2020, on Friday, June 19.
“It means a lot to do well there,” Byrne admitted. “I think we had 60 people up there this year, so it’s always nice because you talk about all these good things you’re doing and how great you did, and finally, people can lay eyes on how good you are how steep the competition is.”
The second of Byrne’s two top-fives came at Salem where he was in contention throughout despite a power steering fault late in the game. Another top-ten start and a seventh-place finish came to Byrne on the magic mile of the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds dirt track. He rounded out the pavement portion of the schedule at LOR in September with a 6th, the place where he retains fond memories of a last lap, last corner pass to win at during July of 2014.
Byrne, admittedly, struggled at Eldora in the season finale on the half-mile, high-banked dirt oval where he started 13th and finished 15th in the 27-car field.
At the end of the campaign, Byrne and crew had plenty to reminisce fondly over. The Shullsburg, Wisc. native’s eighth season of USAC Silver Crown competition was his best overall, a season in which he churned out a stretch of seven consecutive top-seven finishes throughout the spring and summer months en route to a career-best third-place overall standing in the final points.
That achievement put Byrne up on the stage for USAC’s Night of Champions in December of 2019 for the first-time, an experience in which he relishes, never forgetting just how far he’s come since making his first USAC appearance, in a midget, at the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway in 2002.
“It was pretty awesome,” Byrne exclaimed. “I didn’t know what the length of the speeches consisted of because I had never even been to (the USAC banquet) before. For myself, my family and the race team, before (crew chief “Chuy” Sandberg) and even with Chuy, I think we had been to something like ten Night Before the 500s and never even made the race. To get third in the Silver Crown points, I think it’s my family’s will and persistence and getting with somebody of Chuy’s caliber that’s stuck with us for this many years. It’s finally kind of taken this long to click.”
Byrne and company will open the 2020 USAC Silver Crown Champ Car season with the series’ debut at Tennessee’s Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway on Sunday afternoon, May 3.