The first full season of the revived SMART Modified Tour saw a familiar face hoist the championship trophy at the end of Saturday’s feature at Hickory Motor Speedway.
A winless but consistent season from 10-time Bowman Gray Stadium champion Burt Myers was enough for him to edge out John Smith and Brian Loftin for the title; his second across the two iterations of the SMART Modified Tour.
Myers was thrilled to outduel many of his familiar Bowman Gray competitors across the regular season but also considered the opportunity to race in the SMART Modified Tour a privilege following its 16-year hiatus.
“This was one I had marked at the beginning of the year,” Myers said. “I was around back in the old days of the SMART Tour and was fortunate enough to win the championship back in 2002. To see what’s transpired in the tour this year has been amazing and it’s an honor to be the champion.”
YOUR 2021 SMART MODIFIED TOUR CHAMPION, BURT MYERS!!!! pic.twitter.com/IkUi6i4Rbp
— @SMARTMods_ (@SMARTMods_) October 10, 2021
Winning the SMART Modified Tour title was something that proved to be a lot more challenging for Myers than he originally anticipated when the 2021 season began.
Eight different drivers brought home checkered flags during the year. Among them included 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ryan Preece and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte, who joined Brandon Ward and Matt Hirschman as the only two-time winners in the series with victories at Dillon Motor Speedway and Carteret County Speedway.
With a deep field of competitors to deal with every single weekend, Myers knew that the margin of error would be very small towards being a factor in the SMART Modified Tour championship hunt.
It took four consecutive Top 5s to close out the 2021 season for Myers to overcome a mid-season slump and add another accomplishment to his prestigious resume.
“Halfway through this year, I didn’t think [a title] would be possible,” Myers said. “Everything started off very strong but the middle of the year was awful. Not winning a race this year kind of stings a little bit as well. At the same time, our consistency and hard work paid off at the end of the day.”
For Myers, claiming the SMART Modified Tour title eased the pain of narrowly missing out on his record-setting 11th championship at Bowman Gray this year.
Myers controlled his own destiny in the track’s season-finale until contact between him and Brandon Ward triggered an incident that saw Ward chase down and run into Myers’ car under caution.
The damage Myers received from Ward hindered the performance of his Modified and caused him to lose several crucial positions in the closing laps, which allowed his long-time rival in Tim Brown to earn the distinction as Bowman Gray’s first 11-time champion.
“I really feel like that [Bowman Gray] should have been our championship too,” Myers said. “With Bowman Gray, it is what it is. Some things went on that night that were definitely unnecessary but we moved past it and put our focus on the SMART championship so we could everything possible to at least get that one.”
Myers had no issues in sharing the track with Ward in three SMART Modified Tour races, adding that his presence alongside many renowned competitors like Brown, Preece, Loftin and Smith helped the series find a definitive identity in its revival.
The series attracted an average of 19 cars across its first 11 races with fields featuring an even mixture of new faces and drivers that populated the original version of the SMART Modified Tour.
Along with attracting quality competitors and a plethora of fans, Myers said that other elements like a diverse schedule and bonus payouts for stage winners have contributed to the series’ burgeoning popularity in the southeast after just one year.
All of these positive these developments have convinced Myers to put together another full-time campaign in the SMART Modified Tour, which he believes will continue to thrive and expand under the guidance of director Chris Williams.
“Defending the title is my goal,” Myers said. “Only good things are coming and I think things will get bigger and better for next year. Chris Williams understands the entertainment value and the racer’s mentality. He’s put the two together to create a perfect storm and everything is going to get better from here.”
Two more non-points events remain for Myers in the Modified portions of the Rodney Cook Classic at Ace Speedway and the South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway.
Myers is determined to finally check off a SMART Modified Tour victory in both of those events so he can build momentum ahead of his pursuit for a second consecutive title.