Radial versus The World star Marcus Birt stunned the drag racing world on Friday evening at the 17th edition of the Shakedown Nationals at the Virginia Motorsports Park, recording back-to-back 3.57-second passes that shattered both the all-time nitrous oxide and radial-tire standards and proved to everyone what tuner Steve Jackson and radial-tire promoter Donald
Long had been shouting from the rooftops for months.
On the very same stage as the world’s top nitrous oxide-assisted doorslammers, Birt’s C7 Corvette, riding on Mickey Thompson 315 drag radials, was king — and his performance on this weekend won’t soon be forgotten.
The Gray, Georgia native, with Steve Jackson, a former ADRL Pro Nitrous champion in his own right, calling the tuning shots in concert with Jeffrey Barker, recorded a 3.604-second lap at the Sweet 16 back in March, becoming the quickest nitrous car on the planet to the 1/8-mile. That run provided the trio with the confidence 3.50s — uncharted waters for any full-full-bodied car without forced induction — was a distinct reality.
“Stevie isn’t one to predict numbers publicly, bet we knew if we could get into the kind of air and track conditions that we had in Virginia that we could get it into the .50s,” Birt says.
For Jackson, who’s most recent success have come with supercharged cars of both the roots- and screw-blown variety, his partnership in Birt’s program in 2019 has proven without a shadow of a doubt (no pun intended) his versatility as a tuner.
“He’s incredible. He’ll tell me what he thinks it’s going to run within a couple of thousandths and it would just go right down through there and do exactly what he said it would.” Birt adds, “I just don’t think he’s had the equipment like he’s had with this Musi program in the past to really show what he’s capable of, but he’s awesome at what he does.”
In the third and final qualifier in Radial versus The World, Birt stormed to an historic 3.579 at 206.29 mph, sending announcers Al Tucci and Brian Lohnes, those watching in on the internet, and social media at large into pandemonium. For good measure, Birt came back to the line a couple of hours later, opposite of track owner and Pro Nitrous kingpin Tommy Franklin in the RvW versus Pro Mod: Judgement Day shootout, and laid down a quicker 3.575 at 206.10 mph.
Given the improved atmospheric conditions between the two runs, onlookers were anticipating Birt lowering his marks even further, but as he notes, “we were really working on putting a raceday tune-up in it and trying to get it down through there on that run.”
As fate would have it, Birt and Jackson entered raceday on opposing sides of the ladder and advanced all the way to the final round for what was anticipated as — and truly was — a titanic battle with history-making implications. And Jackson, one of the sport’s most stand-up racers, left nothing on the table in either lane.
“There were some people saying, ‘oh he’s going to put a .70 tuneup in it, but he isn’t like that,” Birt commented. “I knew he was going to give me a good car and we were going to race straight up. But I knew going in that Phil [Shuler] was going to tune him up and try to put a couple of numbers in his car.”
Birt, leaving nothing to chance despite his weekend-long performance edge over Jackson’s Shadow, took a shot at the tree and went red, but it was the numbers on the scoreboard that will be most remembered: in the first-ever side-by-side Radial versus The World contest in the 3.50s. Jackson defeated Birt, 3.594 at 201.67 to a quicker 3.588 at 205.19.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. It was an awesome weekend…the only thing that could’ve made it better was getting the win. But it was a really special weekend for us.”
Perhaps as impressive as the numbers is the fact that Birt’s Pat Musi-built 959-inch powerplant has been operating under Jackson’s guidance void of parts attrition.
“It hasn’t been hurting anything. We nipped a couple of plugs, but other than that, we haven’t had any issues. Eddie [Wilson] and Craig [Amerson] are my main guys working on the engine and they haven’t had to do anything because we haven’t been hurting it.”
Heading into the Shakedown — the first to be held at the Dinwiddie, Virginia facility — the conversation surrounding Birt was focused more on the trash-talk and pending contest with Pro Nitrous racer Jay Cox and less on breaking the 3.50 barrier. That grudge race never came to fruition and was largely forgotten as Birt’s Corvette burned the joint down.
Finals of RVW watching Steve Jackson Racing taking on Marcus Birt at the COMP Cams Shakedown Nationals
Posted by David Hilner on Sunday, September 22, 2019
“Jay wanted to run us but wanted me to put weight in the car to be equal with him. I’m not going to do that just because he can’t get his car lighter. There’s a reason they put featherweight jockeys on race horses,” Birt says. “I can tell you my car isn’t as light as everyone thinks it is. It’s nearly the same as Jay’s car, I just weigh a little less than he does. It’s probably within 15-pounds, maybe 20. But if someone wants to put up some money, we’ll roll it across the scales and show them.”
So, with the 3.50 barrier in the rearview mirror — a mark that slick-tire nitrous racers had stolen right out from under their noses — where do Birt and Jackson go from here?
I don’t know if it’ll go quicker at No Mercy. We’re probably going to take our Shakedown tune-up to Georgia and we’ll see how the weather plays out. But I think we’ll definitely have a shot in March [at the Sweet 16].”