By MIKE MALLETT
Jimmy Phelps got his season back on track Friday night at the Brewerton Speedway. The Baldwinsville, N.Y., driver scored his first win of 2013 in dominating fashion. Phelps started on the outside of the front row and dominated the 35-lap event by winning by almost a full straightaway.
“This place is tough but starting up front allows you to not only keep your stuff fresh toward the end of the race and it allows you to move around and search the track without a lot of pressure,” said Phelps. “It can be tough to do that sometimes because you are scared to death that you are in the wrong lane all the time. I guess if there is a silver lining after last week’s let down this is it. Next week will be tougher. I don’t know if we had a car that could win from the back but I know we had a good enough car to run toward the front so I’ll take it.”
Phelps had mechanical problems one week earlier and as a result he had his best starting position in over a year. He reported that his best starting position last season was a 14th place start. He took full advantage of that premium starting spot.
“You have to take advantage after we dug a hole last week,” said Phelps. “We knew we had a decent car and that was one thing coming out of last week. We were fairly decent for six to eight laps but we didn’t get a whole feature under our belt. We came into this event behind the Eight Ball not knowing what the car will do. We won the championship with one win and that is how hard it is to get to the front here. When you get a shot at it you got to go.”
It looks like for the moment Phelps will remain a weekly regular at the Brewerton Speedway and more than likely go for the championship.
“We plan on being here until something causes us not to have fun,” stated Phelps. “As long as we are having fun and staying competitive we will keep coming here. And if we are here we are going to take a shot at. Basically we just want to win races and go from there.”
Phelps backed up his win on Friday night with a third place effort at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. He was missing something as he couldn’t grip the track like he needed to.
“I felt like we were in the hunt,” said Phelps. “It’s frustrating because we were there but we weren’t good enough to make it happen. Billy (Dunn) was awfully fast. I knew if I slowed down Matt (Sheppard) was going to go by and he did. At the end of the day we aren’t that far off but we have room for improvement.”
As Phelps stated, Dunn was the man to beat on Saturday night at Canandaigua. Dunn started on the inside of the second row and worked over Vinnie Vitale and then held off the challenges Matt Sheppard in the final laps.
“It’s good to get one early in year,” stated Dunn. “We got one early last year too and it took us until mid-summer to get another one. To pick one up early in the year is a good confidence booster. It gets the monkey off our back. It proved we have a pretty good piece if we don’t screw it up.”
Instead of over thinking things Saturday night, Dunn decided to go back to what worked in the past. It was the right decision as Sheppard stayed with him briefly before Dunn ultimately opened up a half-straightaway lead.
“It proves to us that we are doing the right thing and racing at the right places,” commented Dunn. “Sooner or later if you run with these guys enough it makes you better. We were really knocking on door last year until the middle of summer we started trying some things and we got off track a bit. This year we got a few new frames and we went back to basics. We worked with Scott Keyser from Integra on a shock program and that helped a lot. We went back to what worked last year and it seems to work.”
While competing weekly at Canandaigua on Saturday night, Dunn will continue to drive for the Ladouceur family as he hopes to earn another championship on Friday night’s at the Mohawk International Raceway. He’ll also compete in some of the 358 Super DIRTcar series events when possible.
In 2012 Dunn won the championship by five points over Chris Raabe even though he missed a race early in the season. He was quick to credit his Saturday night competition for the success at Mohawk.
“Racing here on Saturday’s helps when I go up there,” said Dunn. “When you race against these guys every week you learn that if you make one mistake that is the race. It really shows up there. It is nothing against those guys up there, they are some of the best Small Block competition around. Running against guys that do this for a living really cuts your teeth good and gives you an idea about what’s going on.”
Brewerton Speedway Notes: Tom Sears Jr., was impressive in his second place run. Sears started eighth in the feature and powered forward. He had an intense battle with several drivers en route to the second place finish. Sears is using a different front end design than everyone else in hopes of finding something to give him an advantage.
“We have a torsion bar front end on the car just to see how it goes,” stated Sears. “Some people say it will work and some people say it won’t. We’ll see how it goes. So far we haven’t been bad. We’ve had a tenth and a now it second. I don’t consider it to be that bad because we don’t race here all the time. It is supposed to be better when it gets slippery and stuff so we’ll see.”
Willy Decker finished third. Decker was one of the quickest cars at the end of the race. He needed a late race caution in order to challenge for a top two spot.
“I needed a caution,” commented Decker. “I’m happy we went forward for once. I don’t know if we had anything for Jimmy (Phelps) but a caution would have been nice. I was just as good as Sears, I got to him but when you get to him trying to pass is another thing.”
Larry Wight ended up in fourth in his LJL Racing No. 99L. Wight was strong early in the feature but lost ground late in the race.
“I was too good early,” stated Wight. “The car fell off at the end. I was afraid to tighten it up too much because the track had so much bite. It ended up going away at the end.”
Matt Hulsizer made one mistake during the feature when he left the top side of the speedway. It cost him a couple of positions as he ended up in fifth.
“I was trying to get under Tommy (Sears) in turns three and four,” said Hulsizer. “I should have followed him around the outside. I wanted to get him in lapped traffic. When I moved down Willy (Decker) and Larry (Wight) got be me on the outside and it is tough to get them back with only a few laps to go.”
Canandaigua Motorsports Park: Sheppard searched and searched in the final ten laps to find something to catch up to Dunn as he led the way. As a result he lost a lot of ground and he settled for second.
“I started moving around looking for something,” said Sheppard. “I think we (Dunn) were about the same, maybe he was touch better. He pulled away when I started searching. He would have been tough to pass. I would have needed some help with lapped traffic.”
Vinnie Vitale finished fourth giving him two top four finishes in the last two weeks. Vitale had a third on opening night and he now has a fourth. He attributed some of success to the fact that he has been driving a Sprint Car as it then slows everything down for him in the Modified.
He searched around trying to hold onto the lead before Dunn ultimately got by him in traffic on Saturday night.
“I was leading the race and didn’t know where the track was better,” said Vitale. “You got to go with your own instinct. The car was good where I had it but they were better where they were. I switched when he (Dunn) got by me and that was better. But at that point I was just holding on to see where I was going to end up.”
Chad Homan ended up finishing sixth in the final tally. Homan now has a couple of top 15 finishes at CMP and he was very good on this night.
“We were a little down after last week when we started on the pole and ended up 11th,” said Homan. “ERD has given us an awesome engine. It was the first time we saw the black and slick track. We got some work to do to handle all the power he is giving us. We are making some strides and I’m really optimistic about this year.”
He credited a trip to Utica-Rome Speedway the prior Sunday with helping him get a handle on the slicker racing surface.