Friesen makes history as the final winner on the Historic Syracuse Mile – DTD Exclusive

By JOHN DOUGLAS

Emotions ran high Sunday as the final race event was held on the Syracuse Mile. 112 years of history came down to 200 laps and no one was expecting anything less than one final piece of history to be made. Stewart Friesen made that historic trip to victory lane, and he did it in exciting fashion.

Fans and teams alike knew the importance of this final race and as it took the green flag Larry Wight and Stewart Friesen led the way. Quickly Wight took the lead, and began to drive away in what looked to be dominant fashion. Cautions flew early and often during the event, making strategy plays all the more difficult to predict.

On lap 46 Billy Dunn took the lead spot from Wight, and just moments later Wight’s car gave out. The crew never had a chance to fix it, as Wight pulled directly behind the pit wall. The top five at lap 50 were Dunn, Pat Ward, Stewart Friesen, Billy Decker and Matt Sheppard.

Early issues for Tyler Dippel took his chances away at a Syracuse victory as his left front tire deflated. Hitting the pit lane immediately, the crew swapped out rubber for the 15 year old, who has competed for Lira Motorsports in the ARCA series on two other dirt miles this season.

Dunn continued to lead as the field spread out and tried to click off laps, but Friesen still had his eye on the top spot, taking second away from Ward on lap 56. Just two circuits later “The Buckeye Bullet” Dave Blaney made an impressive three wide pass down the front stretch to overtake both Keith Flach and Tim McCreadie mid-pack.

The caution again flew on lap 69 as Keith Flach’s machine made contact with the turn three wall. This gave the opportunity for many front runners to hit pit lane and also shuffled the field for the first time with pit strategy. As those on pit lane re-entered the speedway the new top five on lap 71 was Tim Fuller, Andy Bachetti, Brett Hearn, Ronnie Johnson and Dunn.

As caution flew for a two car tangle in turn two, there were more left front issues on the day, as Dunn, 2013 winner of the event found himself coming to pit road. The crew went to work and sent Dunn back on to the speedway without losing a lap. Dunn looked to gain an advantage from his misfortune as these cars have proven to go 114 miles on a fuel load in the past. Dunn slotted into the 28th position as the field came to the green flag again.

Fuller took the restart with Hearn hot on his heels, but Fuller began to open a lead quickly jumping to a three second advantage on the field. Just prior to half way, Sheppard made a move to surpass both Decker and R Johnson slotting himself into third place. Decker suffered the same fate as many others on the day with a left front flat bringing out the caution again.

As the caution flew for Decker, more front runners decided the time was now for pit stops. Decker made a wise decision to stay out until the pit lane opened to minimize a loss in track position. Friesen, Blaney and many others hit pit road, with Friesen’s crew making adjustments to both sides of the front end. Post pit stops the revised top five were Fuller, Hearn, Sheppard, R. Johnson and Duane Howard.

Vic Coffey, former winner of the event, took his car behind the wall during the caution period, but his Sweetener’s Plus team mate, McCreadie, had worked his way into the top ten and was trying to get to the top five.

On the restart Sheppard made a move on Hearn to grab the second position, but Hearn said not so fast, as he crossed over and re-passed Sheppard as the field hit the backstretch. Fuller continued to lead Hearn, Sheppard, Jimmy Phelps and Howard. Hearn closed in on lap 110 and gave Fuller something to worry about, but Fuller slammed the door closed.

Sadly, as caution flew for problems with Ryan Godown’s machine, Blaney took his No. 74B to the pit lane. His day, and his hopes to win at Syracuse were dashed. Fuller’s crew decided to pit his machine under this yellow but they were hindered by Blaney’s machine which sat directly behind Fuller’s pit stall. Fuller’s crew were slow on the stop, which cost him even more track position. Hearn and Dunn also took this opportunity to pit.

Sheppard assumed the lead over Phelps on the restart, with J.R. Heffner, Frank Cozze and Rick Laubach in tow. Just as Cozze and Laubach surpassed Heffner’s machine, Dunn’s No. 49 slowed bringing out the yellow again. This time rubber wasn’t the issue but brakes. The crew reported the front brake pads had worn completely out.

Sheppard dominated the next 50 laps of the event with Phelps, Cozze, Heffner and new top five runner Mat Williamson dicing for position behind. Friesen made his presence known, as he began to pick cars off one at a time, making quick work of Tremont. Williamson meanwhile, grabbed fourth place from Heffner and was looking strong.

Just as quickly as he gained it, Williamson lost fourth position as a hard charging Hearn was making his move to the front. After another quick caution period the field took the green with just 49 laps to go. Hearn quickly disposed of Cozze for third place as Friesen moved to fifth around Williamson.

With 45 to go Friesen was marching through the field as he picked off Cozze for fourth. If any of the heavy-hitters had anything left, they were using it now to make their final charge to the front. It was go time at the mile. Williamson would not be one to make a charge as his car slowed in turns one and two with rear end issues. Thee caution flew again and now Sheppard had worries about fuel.

Another spat of cautions clicked a few laps off the board and as the green flew with 39 laps to go, Friesen moved to the outside of Hearn but Rich Scagliotta looped his machine in front of the starters stand. The restart gave Friesen the golden opportunity he needed as he swung to the outside of Hearn taking over the second position.

The caution flew once again with just over 30 to go with R. Johnson’s No. 2RJ coming to rest in turns one and two. The green flag flew with Sheppard again taking the advantage over Friesen and Phelps. Friesen closed quickly on Sheppard and as they headed down the backstretch and into turn three with just 27 circuits of the famed Moody Mile remaining, Friesen went to the high side and powered around Sheppard, who now had to conserve fuel.

Phelps, Sheppard and Tremont took their machines three wide into turns one and two, with Phelps the victor in the battle for second, with Tremont and Sheppard following. One final caution flew for a car into the wall and on the restart Tremont looked for second place, but Phelps slammed the door shut. Just a couple circuits later, Tremont did get by Phelps picking up second position. Sheppard had issues with his No. 999 throwback machine and was out of contention for the win late in the running.

Tremont closed multiple times on Friesen trying to burn the final drops of VP racing Fuel out of his fuel cell.  Tremont pushed with every last ounce of his talent to close in, but Friesen held him off.

Friesen pulled away from the competition, and with a heavy right foot, went on to take the victory in the final Syracuse 200 to be held on the historic Syracuse Mile. Tremont came home second, with Phelps, Hearn, Decker,Dunn, Laubach, McCreadie, Cozze and Ward completing the top ten finishers.

“We tried to go into conserve mode. The cautions just played out. I know there can’t be much left but whatever it was, it was enough.” Friesen said of the historic win. “It’s unbelievable. Just to be here was an awesome accomplishment, let alone to be in the race. It’s a career moment for me.”

Tremont was happy with a second place in the final race at the mile.

“We’ve got a great team, and that showed tonight. With the effort they put in, all year actually, we’ve got a great car, with 18 wins on the season. It’s one of my better years in quite a while.

Tremont also spoke about losing the mile to new development. “There’s a lot of history and and prestige and it takes a while to build that back up no matter where they go with it.”

Phelps settled for third, but was proud of the effort his HBR team put forward.

“We just needed to be a little tighter there at the end. I don’t even want to say tighter, we really needed more forward grip. When we got light on fuel we just really struggled to get off of turn two. That’s where we had been making up all our ground all day, but when the fuel load finally came off we were just a little too free coming off of two. In three and four we were okay but we had to really protect and it was hard to carry a lot of speed off the turn.”

This ends a chapter of racing history that can never be replaced. The Moody Mile has been host to auto racing in some form or another for 112 years, with the last 44 being under the umbrella of the best big-block Dirt Modified drivers to ever strap in behind the wheel. The history and memories can not be replaced, but new history will begin to form, when the 45th edition of Super DIRT Week rolls in to a new venue.