By BILL FOLEY
Well, the evolution from big-blocks to small-blocks has commenced not only for the Fulton Speedway, but also Utica-Rome Speedway.
This has been a long discussed situation that was brought about by the inflationary costs of big-block Mods.
Walking the pits for the past couple of years there was always discussion of what could be done. Drivers and car owners had ideas how to lessen the costs, but those folks who spend the money to go racing aren’t usually included in the decision making process.
So for better or worse the two tracks move toward 2018 going in an entirely different direction. There won’t be any phase out of big-blocks it will simply be all or none with any legal dirt small-block.
Immediately after the “not best kept secret” announcement Dirt Track Digest started to reach out to various teams. Several responded while others either did not see the message or simply don’t want to comment at this time.
The biggest problem doesn’t involve the well financed teams, but smaller teams who have worked for years to put their big block programs in shape to compete on a regular basis. Those teams have used up their money and many don’t appear ready to hang up the big blocks to go small block racing (as they assume the purses will be smaller).
To say there are “mixed emotions” would be an understatement.
Chad Phelps, who has become a consistent top ten runner, owns two cars and everything else to support it. Due to job commitments he races strictly at Fulton and Brewerton. Once in a while he travels, but time is tough for him.
He now has just Brewerton to race at.
When asked about the shift he simply stated, “It sucks,” he admitted. “I have a lot to figure out for the 2018 season.”
However, he’s building confidence at running with the best in the big-blocks.
This season he did have teammate Andy Noto at his disposal at the King of Dirt show at Utica-Rome so there is a small-block possibly available.
Meanwhile, Robbie Bellinger lost too many big-block motors this year and this past weekend at Weedsport put a small-block in it for the Super DIRTcar Show.
His wife Beth, also a big-block Mod driver at Utica-Rome, said, “We purchased small-block motors this past weekend after we heard it was a definite for 2018. We plan to run them during the Super DIRT Week 358 satellite shows. Rob ran his at Weedsport and did pretty well as he was up to 11th from 22nd before the right rear shock mount busted on lap 98.”
Continuing she said, “We will probably try to run Fulton and Utica and see how it works out. I purchased a small-block from Erik Rudolph and Rob bought one from Bill Shea that Willy Decker ran at Syracuse with.”
Meanwhile, LJL crew chief Scott Jeffrey’s said of the move, “No decisions have been made yet” in regards to the 99L and 42p running small block motors in 2018.
Billy Whittaker leases his equipment from LJL and he stated, “That’s the question. To be honest with you I am really not sure what we are going to do. I still think the jury’s out on the W-16 motor.”
Many would have thought Alan Johnson’s team would jump at the small block plan, but car owner Mark Spoor noted, “We would not run Fulton and will run Canandaigua (with a big-block) on Saturday. There is a small chance for Utica, but doubt it. Bill and Kim are great folks, but it’s a long drive on Sunday for my guys. If they lower purses definitely not and I really want to race at some track that have some tech.”
For some teams the change just wouldn’t be feasible.
Second year big-block driver Andrew Ferguson said, “Just spent all of mine and my dad’s savings on a big-block to get an 18 degree engine because that’s what you need to be more competitive. Then they switch to 358. Just bad timing. I could’ve funded a 358 myself years ago and saved myself a lot of time and money, but I guess that’s how it works.”
Continuing he said, “I think the small-block deal is going to be good for racing. The writing is on the wall. For me I guess I will have to do a little more traveling to run as much, but I guess it can only make me better to see other tracks.”
Chris Hile and his wife Katelyn have put together a two car big-block team and when asked what they would do Chris said, “Not really too sure yet. Just a bummer as it has taken us years to get our big-block program up to snuff and now I’m a bit lost in what the future looks like.”
Continuing he explained, “I’m not really ready to run one night a week. As of now it looks like I’ll be going to Brewerton and Canandaigua. It’s a bummer, purses are going to be cut for the 358 class and I’m afraid because I don’t think any of your big names are going to want to race for a price cut.”
Claude Hutchings has been caught between a rock and a hard place for the past few years as now his second consecutive class has been eliminated.
His son, Claude Jr., ran Open Sportsman and with few cars the Utica-Rome management dropped the class and many merged, though underpowered, with the big-blocks this year. While several of the former Open drivers didn’t purchase a big-block Claude did.
The older Hutchings said, “I am gonna have to let this 358 deal sink in for a few weeks. In my opinion it was a mistake to stop the Open Sportsman. The switch cost us money. Now they drop what we are geared up for. Open motors were cheaper because you don’t need all the special lightweight stuff.”
Ryan Jordan found a new Saturday night home at Fulton this past season as he wanted to improve his racing against high caliber drivers.
The former small block drive made the shift and he said of the shift to 358’s at Fulton,
“That’s going to be a very tough conversation that my dad and I are going to have to have. We put everything we had into this big-block operation to come up there and run and we don’t have a dirt legal 358 or the finances to buy another motor at this time. I have no clue of what we will do. Brewerton is a strong possibility.”
Joe August Jr., who for years has been running a motor built by his dad, is disappointed in the move as he explained, “It kind of puts a hurt on us as we finally got a good big-block motor. It’s hard for us to make Friday’s and now we have no Saturday night track so I’m not sure right now what we are going to do.”
The decision, in part, came because of the sudden growth of Crate Sportsman. Making the step from Sportsman to big-blocks was nearly impossible. Costs were just too high. So it was hoped that some of the highly competitive Sportsman teams would make the shift.
Apparently this desire has paid some early dividends.
There is no doubt that Ron Davis III, Tyler Trump and others would like to make the move to another division, but simply couldn’t afford it.
Tom Trump, Tyler’s dad, said, “Yes, we are going to try to move up next year.”
Meanwhile, Davis, track champ at Fulton and Brewerton might also be making the move.
His dad said, “Definitely gets us out of Sportsman. It definitely helps us and other low buck Sportsman teams. You know as well as I do that there are no big-block teams (forming) any more, but this might bring some sponsors out because it’s not ridiculous to get into it anymore.”
Ronnie III has had some small-block experience this year running for Joe Abass and it was noted, “Joe is a real good guy and the car Ronnie is using now is only for the big races this year and next if we want it. I want to put some feelers out and see what happens” in regards to moving to 358’s.
Jason Simmons, whose son Tyler Thompson, has competed in Sportsmen races throughout New York State this season said of the 358 move, “Yes, I think I will end up going in that direction in the off-season.”
Recently, Rocky Warner has been testing the waters in a small-block.
Bob Henry has also expressed an interest in returning to racing and indicated that he has the equipment to return to the speedway.
Former Utica-Rome Open driver Randy Shantel appears to be ready to compete on a regular basis and indicated he agreed with the decision.
The 2018 season will be a new frontier at Fulton and Utica-Rome.