By JOHN DOUGLAS
After missing much of the middle part of the 2013 season due to Mother Nature, the fans of Utica-Rome have been treated to two mid-week shows, and two twin feature nights in the past two weeks. Wednesday night’s Race of Champions Twin 50′s continued the jam packed late season schedule.
Dave Lape and Jerry Cook joined the crowd on Wednesday night as they were honored for their 50 plus years in motorsports. An extra special celebration of their careers capped off pre-race ceremonies, with Doug Zupan, Track Historian, introducing Lape and Billy Wimble introducing “Cookie”, and Cook’s famous No.38 being retired from action at the speedway.
After getting the command to fire engines from the legends themselves, the field for the first of two Twin 50 lap affairs took the green flag. Mike Mahaney’s No. 4 machine took the early advantage off the start. Rick Laubach, the second place runner, had the likes of Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen to deal with early on. By lap three Friesen had dispatched of Laubach and set sail towards Mahaney’s machine.
Laubach’s downward trend continued as both Sheppard and Jimmy Davis would get by into turn one, relegating Laubach back to fifth. Moments later on lap ten, Vic Coffey, Late Model regular, spun down the frontstretch and contacted the outside retaining wall. Coffey walked away unhurt, but his evening was done.
After another quick caution, that saw both Billy Decker and Davis suffer mechanical woes, the field charged into turn one. Mahaney’s lead off the restart would be short lived, as on lap sixteen, Friesen would put his 1WGC ahead to take the top spot.
Mahaney’s challenge for the lead looked to be over, as Sheppard snuck by to take over the second position. Inside twenty laps to go, Larry Wight and Ronnie Johnson made their presence felt in the top five as they worked their way past Mahaney for the third and fourth position.
In the end Friesen would barely hold off Sheppard for the first feature win. After hitting the scales I spoke with Friesen and asked what he would need for feature number two.
He replied, “We’ll just make some adjustments, clean off the tires. We’re a little bit tight so we’ll go from there.”
I also talked with Matt Sheppard about what he needed to get by Friesen.
He said, “I ran a Small Block tonight, and it wasn’t as good as it needed to be in the first race. I think we were really good at the end of the race but it was too late.”
He added,” I think it would’ve been interesting if a caution had come out with ten to go, I think they would’ve seen a pretty good race.”
I had the honor before the first Modified feature began of talking briefly with Cook. Cook, a former competitor at Utica Rome in the asphalt era, became six-time NASCAR National Modified Champion and is now NASCAR’s Competition Administrator.
I asked Cook what it felt like being back at Utica Rome.
He said, “This is home, we raced here every Sunday, to come back here after all these years and be recognized for our accomplishments is about as good as it gets.”
I also asked Cook what he thought of the Vernon facility since its transition to dirt racing.
Cook stated, “Gene Cole has done a great job of keep this all together.”
The 602 Crate Sportsman of the RoC dirt series also had a 30 lap feature on Wednesday night in which Dave Marcuccelli held off Matt Janczuk and Rocky Warner to pick up the $1,000 top prize.
I spoke with Marcucelli at the post race inspection area.
I asked how he kept the car up front all night long.
He said, “The heads up start was key, not having to work my way up through you know. The track was slippery top to bottom. I just ran the middle and the bottom a little for lap traffic.”
Modified feature number two saw a twelve car invert from the first feature’s finishing order, putting both Sheppard and Friesen deep in the field. The initial green saw Laubach pull out to a hefty lead over the snarling pack behind.
By lap ten Danny Johnson had wrestled the lead away from Laubach and began to pull away.
Two laps later on lap 13 Pat Ward’s No. 42p and Jimmy Phelps would move to the second and third positions getting around Laubach.
On the fifteenth circuit Matt Sheppard made his presence felt taking the fourth spot and closing in quickly for a top three battle. Brett Hearn, whose night was not going well to say the least, pulled off the racing surface on lap seventeen ending his run early.
As the field hit halfway in the second fifty lap affair, Johnson still led Ward by a sizable margin. Sheppard was still holding fourth, but after nearly a full normal Sunday feature, Friesen had only worked up to the eighth position.
Ward’s strong second place run would come to a finish on lap 38 as his car slowed on the back stretch. Ten laps later Mike Bowman who’s strong fifth place run had impressed many, slowed on the backstretch and caused a one lap dash for the cash.
Johnson would hold off Phelps, Sheppard, Mahaney and Tim McCreadie for the second $5,000 payday.
I spoke with Danny Johnson, asking how it felt to pick up the win.
He said, “Great, we haven’t had the best of seasons, so to get a win feels great, it was nerve racking worrying about everyone behind us.”
I also asked about changes he made between features.
He replied, “We didn’t change much between features, the car felt good. Starting up front helped us.”
Next Sunday Aug. 25th-Regular Show of Modifieds, Sportsman, Pro/Pure Stock.
Gates Open at 3:30pm Racing begins at 6pm.