ROCKINGHAM — Justin Bauer is hoping to earn another spot at the podium this weekend for MB Drift’s Battle of Little Rock.
The third of a four-round competition for the 2022 season in the grassroots drifting series will make drivers switch from the flat, winding infield road course at Rockingham Speedway to the banked turns of the small oval track, which was built by a former owner as a replica of Martinsville Speedway.
“I’m excited to try a new layout as always,” Bauer said Wednesday evening, just days ahead of the competition.
The course layout will start drivers off about midway the track, heading toward turn 4, then have them loop around and speed into the center bank of the quarter-mile section of the track, down the backstretch before looping again just before turn 3 and heading the other way down the backstretch.
Last year’s layout took them counter clockwise around turns 4 and 3, down the backstretch and the center quarter-mile corners onto the front stretch.
Drivers qualify on solo runs and compete against each other in tandem runs — each taking turns leading and following — in an elimination bracket.
“I think the car may struggle with picking up momentum out of a couple of corners because it’s quite heavy,” Bauer said of his Ford Mustang. “But I’m just going to do my best to do the correct line and carry the speed I can through there.
“Game plan this time is to run the line and stay consistent,” he added. “Hopefully we can get that done and place well again.”
Bauer, of Durham, came in second in Round 2 and finished at the bottom of the top 10 in Round 1. His placement at July’s Hot Summer Nights propelled him to being the points leader heading into Round 3.
In that event, he was bested by 2021 season winner Joe Busam — who placed third in the inaugural Battle of Little Rock in March of last year behind Dan Selwa and winner T.J. Gutierrez.
Busam is currently 9th in points. The initial points list posted just after Round 2 had him in third, but a recalculation in early August shook things up, placing Burlington’s Brandon Goodman at third.
Goodman crashed into Bauer last month when his rear differential went out during the competition.
Dustin Walker, of Welcome in Davidson County, is second in points. Walker finished fourth in Round 1 after second-place winner Joe Love was disqualified. Drew Riggins and Ryan Duncan, who placed first and third, respectively, in Round 1, did not compete in Round 2.
MB Drift organizers say the main disadvantage for drivers at the Little Rock is the absence of covered garages — which they use at the main track — in the summer heat.
However, officials say it’s great for spectators because they can see the whole track.
Rockingham Speedway is in the process of purchasing new seating for the Little Rock in preparation of bringing more events to that track — including the weekly Carolina Slingshots series — Vice President Justin Jones previously told the RO.
The two-day event will include “fun runs” all day Saturday and the competition on Sunday. As with all open-drift days, spectators 18 or older have the opportunity for free ride-alongs.
This will be Bauer’s second time driving on Little Rock. He took a few laps around the track at the Spring Matsuri in April.
“I’m just going to go out there, make sure the car feels good, then focus on one corner at a time.”
Other photos from the 2021 season and earlier in the 2022 season are available at the RO’s Facebook page.