To say Tom Berry Jr. wasn't really reaching for the stars would be to understate the case.
Berry, who clinched his first Dakota Classic Modified Tour on Thursday at Dacotah Speedway, had a modest goal at the outset of the six-stop tour.
"My main thing was to win a tour race," said Berry, a 24-year-old who moved to Newburg from Medford, Ore., by way of Iowa a little over a year ago.
Berry won the tour championship with consistency. He claimed the modified feature in the tour opener on July 6 at Jamestown, pocketing $2,400 in the process. Then he finished second to Ricky Thornton Jr. at Minot and Estevan, Saskatchewan to main his lead in the tour point standings.
A rainout at Williston allowed an off day before Berry ran eighth in the modified feature at Southwest Speedway at Dickinson on Wednesday. Thornton won at Dickinson to shave Berry's lead to 14 points, 151-137.
With a 14-point edge, Berry knew he didn't have to win on Thursday at Mandan, and he planned accordingly.
"I wanted to make the show (the modified feature) and have a decent finish," he said.
Berry said he was confident he'd run well at Dacotah Speedway.
"I run here weekly, and I figured I'd do well in Mandan," he said.
He finished second behind Jeff Taylor in his heat race to qualify for the modified feature.
Even then, with a 14-point lead and one race remaining, Berry said he couldn't relax. In racing, he pointed out, trouble is never more than a second away.
"The pressure is never off," he observed. "... The main thing is the sheet metal and the tires."
Berry said his biggest concern in the feature was to remain cognizant of Thornton's status.
"By hanging in the top five I knew Ricky wasn't gaining on me," he said.
Berry placed fifth in the modified feature, 3.14 seconds off the pace of feature winner Hunter Marriott. Thornton was the eighth driver to take the checkered flag, 8.4 seconds behind Marriott.
Marriott began the tour in search of a fourth straight championship. However, while Berry was winning at Jamestown, Marriott and Thornton failed to finish due to vehicle problems.
"Ricky and Marriott had bad first nights. ... I was really satisfied with our consistency -- no DNFs. We didn't get torn up once," Berry pointed out.
Berry said winning the DCMT is a landmark in his racing career, allowing him to cross one item off his to-do list.
"This was definitely a list-checker. It hasn't really set in yet," he noted.
Thornton, who claimed the tour championship in 2015, got only half a loaf this year. He won six features in five nights of racing, but claimed just the IMCA stock car championship. He placed second in Thursday's feature to push his point total to 198, six points better than runner-up Dalton Flory.
In the stock car final, Thorton fought his way through four yellow flags to maintain the lead thorough 24 laps. He wasn't able to withstand a last-lap challenge by Dalton Flory, however. Flory's desperate surge produced a victory, by a mere 45 one-thousandths of a second.
Thornton said the stock car championship was rewarding, but it wasn't what he had in mind when he signed onto the tour.
"We came here to win," he emphasized.
However, his first tour stock car championship provided some solace.
"That was super-cool, considering this is the second year I've run a stock car. I've only got 20-some races in," he noted.
Even though Thornton didn't get the grand prize, he certainly made the trip from Iowa worth his while. Between the two tours, he pocketed $9,600 in first-place money, $7,200 of that on the modified tour.
"We're definitely ahead of the game for the week," he observed. "I race for a living, so a week like this is a bonus."
Thornton said he wasn't about to throw in the towel after things went awry with his modified car the first night of racing in Jamestown. He was grounded by a bent front-end tire rod on the first lap of the modified feature.
"We knew we had a really good car. Coming back and winning three (features) was huge," he said.
While Thornton doesn't look at losing as a positive outcome, he said he had to tip his hat to Berry.
"We're pretty good friends, so I'm happy he won," he said. "We'll settle for second."
Both drivers said remaining in Mandan for Friday's Corral Sales Legendary 50, with it's $10,004 payoff was a given.
"Oh, yeah. That's the main goal -- to win tomorrow. The week isn't over," Berry said.
Thornton is the only driver to win the Legendary 50. He won the inaugural event in 2016, sat through a rainout in 2017 and won again in 2018.