SRX Berlin – Pre-race Notes

Three up.
Three down. 

They call this the stretch run for the Camping World SRX Series as the stars and cars roll into Marne Michigan’s Berlin Raceway for Thursday Night Thunder at 9 p.m. on ESPN.  

Berlin is such a unique tack. It has no backstretch wall. It’s effectively round. There is not a considerable amount of banking. The surface is best described as aged or with character.  There is a tremendous amount of tire fall off. 

These are all characteristics loved by hardcore racers and the Camping World SRX Series is bringing the most hardcore of drivers to Berlin Raceway as the latest grassroots showcase  

“I really like going to all these different short tracks across America, getting some recognition to some of these great venues that put on some great racing, they put on some great shows and have been around for a long time,” Busch said. “You know, the crowd shows up, Stafford’s been big and I know Berlin is huge. 

“All the people up there in Michigan love their racing, I’ve been up at Berlin, I’ve raced there a few times, so I’m fortunate enough to have seen that firsthand.” 

Busch is no stranger to Berlin having raced a variety of cars at the venerable legendary 7/16th bullring, including an American Speed Association start in 2002, a Benson Speed Equipment Outlaw Late Model, and a Super Late Model under the Kyle Busch Motorsports banner over the past decade and a half. 

Now comes the return of Busch against a stacked field of legends.  

CAMPING WORLD SRX BERLIN ENTRY LIST 

06 – Helio Castroneves
1 – Marco Andretti
4 – Kevin Harvick
5 – Hailie Deegan
6 – Brad Keselowski
9 – Kasey Kahne
10 – Johnny Benson Jr
14 – Tony Stewart
18 – Bobby Labonte
39 – Ryan Newman
51 – Kyle Busch
52 – Ken Schrader 

TIRES, TIRES, TIRES 

Like Busch, Bobby Labonte is no stranger to Berlin Raceway either.  

In fact, 7 of the 12 drivers set to race on Thursday night have competed at Berlin before. When asked what Labonte remembers about Berlin, he remembers fondly the layout and the falloff, even back then. 

“It’s a great little short track with a lot of Late Model history,” Labonte said. “In the early 2000’s, I raced Randy Sweet’s Outlaw Late Model at Berlin. I remember Randy saying to me, ‘Don’t hit the Turn 3 tires.’ I remember seeing someone hit those tires the night before, and wow.” 

In comparison, Labonte said that the tire give at Berlin is similar to Darlington or North Wilkesboro. 

Bubba Pollard, a former Camping World SRX competitor at Five Flags Speedway and a multi-time winner at Berlin Raceway, echoed those sentiments.  

“These SRX guys aren’t used to tracks where you have to keep the throttle down,” Pollard said. “Sure, Berlin has a unique line and you have to save your tires, but patience will be key.” 

Berlin Raceway Super Late Model champion and the winner of the marquee Battle at Berlin last year, Evan Shotko, offered the same advice.  

“This may sound like a given, but you have to race smart,” Shotko said. “Think ahead, let someone pass you and let them go. Let them burn up their tires and catch them later in the race. At Berlin, it’s important to race your own race.” 

In preparation for Thursday’s race, Camping World SRX tested at Berlin Raceway before the start to the 2023 season where league Donald Hawk said that tire fall off was significant and one of the big takeaways to the session. Across the board, Busch, Labonte, Pollard and Shotko were in agreement that keeping your tires under you will be key to competing for the checkered flag at the end of the race. 

BENSON SET FOR SRX DEBUT 

On adding Johnny Benson to the field, SRX CEO Donald Hawk said the decision was a no-brainer.  

“It was pretty easy actually, Johnny and Berlin just go together,” Hawk said. “Like Kyle (Busch), the guy just knows his way around this place. Johnny is a good get for us. It’s kind of a throwback for this place, he’s a hometown hero. And one of the best car dealers in the country, Berger Chevrolet coming on board has brought back a blast from my past. Schrader and I used to go there with Earnhardt for personal appearances, and Johnny Benson would be there.” 

It all lined up with perfection for the 1989 Berlin Raceway Track Champion to compete in the empty SRX ride. Busch is looking forward to sharing a track with him again too. 

“I’ve had a cool relationship with JB over the years,” Busch said. “I’ve raced his Late Model cars here at Berlin years ago. And those Outlaw cars, again, they don’t have spotters, they don’t have mirrors, nothing. 

“So you’re kind of reliant on yourself and doing what you know how to do. So this is going to be familiar territory for Johnny, a familiar racetrack as well for him. So, it’ll be cool to get him behind the wheel of an SRX car and I’m looking forward to sharing that front row.” 

The first heat race will begin with both Busch and Benson sharing the front row. Shotko says Benson will be hard to beat if he gets clean air. 

“Benson knows the track well, knows the surface, he has more experience at Berlin than the rest of the field,” Shotko said. “He knows what the tire falloff is going to be like. He’s going to be a contender for sure.” 

Labonte said this is a throwback to the past two seasons when each track had a local ringer. 

“JB is kind of like a local ringer, we’ve raced against locals before, so we’re not going to count him out,” Labonte said. “We’re just going to give him no practice.” 

That was a joke, of course.  

Each of the 12 drivers will get five laps of practice prior to the heat races, so the heats are as important and will act as a de facto practice session for the scheduled 75 lap main event. 

Championship Standings 

  1. Ryan Newman – 105
  2. Marco Andretti – 84 (-21)
  3. Tony Stewart – 81 (-24)
  4. Brad Keselowski – 72 (-33)
  5. Paul Tracy – 72 (-33)
  6. Bobby Labonte – 72 (-33)
  7. Ken Schrader – 65 (-40)
  8. Hailie Deegan – 61 (-44)

SRX Racing PR