SYRACUSE, NY – Oct. 6, 2012 – By Kevin Kovac/DIRTcar Racing P.R. – Tim McCreadie can finally call himself a winner at the New York State Fairgrounds.
Erasing a frustrating history of near-misses and bad breaks during NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week, McCreadie inherited the lead when Brett Hearn ran out of fuel with two laps remaining and held on to capture Saturday’s Gander Mountain 358-Modified Championship 150.
McCreadie, 38, of Watertown, N.Y., was clearly overjoyed after scoring a $20,000 triumph at the historic one-mile oval where his father, ‘Barefoot’ Bob McCreadie, won the prestigious big-block Modified VP Small Engine Fuels 200 in 1986. He celebrated by doing doughnuts on the homestretch with his 4-Star Racing Teo-Pro car, pounding on the machine’s roof and posing for pictures on the winner’s stage with a large contingent of friends and family members, including his two-year-old son, Gavin, and legendary father.
“It’s awesome,” McCreadie said when asked to describe what a victory at the Syracuse Mile meant to him. “I can’t believe we did it. I know it’s only the small-block race, but this is an unbelievable feeling for me. I can say it’s probably the most emotional and excited and happy that I’ve ever been in a race car.”
Sharing the post-race fun with his dad added even more significance to McCreadie’s milestone.
“He wasn’t gonna come today, but I told him, ‘You gotta come back here,’” said McCreadie. “And he said, ‘Why’s that?’ I said, ‘Well, if we ever get lucky enough to get on that stage…’ He said he didn’t care all that much about being on that stage, but it was awesome when he did come up there (for a photo with Tim and Tim’s younger brother Jordan).
“I was here on stage with him as a little kid (in ’86), and I told him and all them guys from my dad’s crew – ‘Scratch, Huey (Naylor) – who still help me, ‘It’s been a long damn time since we’ve been standing here on this stage. We might not ever get here again, but we did it once and they can’t take that away from us.’”
A regular on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series who enters selected Modified events with Vinnie Salerno’s 4-Star team, McCreadie broke through at the ‘Moody Mile’ after a combined 20 winless starts in the big-block and 358-Modified headliners of NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week. He entered this year’s extravaganza having completed the distance in the Gander Mountain 358-Modified 150 just twice in eight appearances (second in 2010, third in ’11) and reached the finish of the VP Small Engine Fuels 200 two times in 12 starts (second place in 2009, 14th in ’11).
Good fortune finally shined on McCreadie in Syracuse start No. 21. After Hearn handed him the top spot, a lap-149 caution flag dulled the last-ditch bid of McCreadie’s fellow Watertown, N.Y., native, Billy Dunn, allowing the popular driver known as ‘T-Mac’ to pull away during a green-white-checkered finish and defeat Dunn by 1.027 seconds.
Tim Fuller, who led laps 14-41 before pitting, finished more than three seconds behind McCreadie in third place, giving well-acquainted racers from Watertown a sweep of the race’s podium positions. Ronnie Johnson of Duanesburg, N.Y. – the son of two-time VP Small Engine Fuels 200 winner ‘Jumpin’ Jack Johnson – finished fourth driving Alton Palmer’s small-block and 22-year-old Mat Williamson of St. Catharines, Ont., recovered from a flat tire on lap 38 to place a career-best fifth in the Gander Mountain 150.
McCreadie, who started fourth, put himself into position to take advantage of Hearn’s tough luck shortly after making his mandatory pit stop on lap 42. He was the third car out of the pits behind front-row starters Billy Decker of Unadilla, N.Y., and Danny Johnson of Rochester, N.Y., but shortly after a lap-46 restart McCreadie slipped by both Decker and Johnson in traffic and was up to fifth when a caution flag flew on lap 52.
“When I saw Danny and Billy going at it I thought, ‘Oh my God, this could be my day,’” said McCreadie. “When they got together in (turns) one and two and they both slid out of that little bit of traction, it seemed like the breaks were starting to go our way.”
McCreadie reached second with a lap-99 pass of Oneida, N.Y.’s Willy Decker and began his pursuit of Sussex, N.J.’s Hearn, who assumed command on lap 55 when Dunn pitted. Hearn made his way to the front from the 40th starting spot – after dropping out of a heat on Friday he claimed the last spot in the 150 thanks to preferred-starter status he earned with a DIRTcar 358-Modified Series win on Thursday night at Rolling Wheels Raceway Park – by pitting on lap three and gambling that he could go the rest of the distance on fuel.
But Hearn’s roll of the dice fell short. His Madsen Motorsports car slowed, starved for gas, exiting turn two on lap 148 and his bid for a fourth career 358-Modified victory at NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week was done.
McCreadie steered his mount by Hearn on the backstretch, but he lost some of his momentum when Hearn slowed in front of him. That allowed Dunn, a rising 28-year-old making his first career start in the Gander Mountain 150, to get a run on McCreadie through turns three and four.
“Everybody knew he might be light (on fuel),” McCreadie said of Hearn. “It’s the drama of this place. I knew we had to push Brett (because of the fuel situation), and (on lap 148) he didn’t get into (turns) one and two hard so I was like, ‘Whoa, this is weird. He kind of rolled in easy.’ Then he kind of wiggled, and I thought, ‘S—, he’s out of gas.’
“At that point I was almost into the back of him, so I was like, ‘What do I do?’ When I eased out and went around (on the backstretch), I immediately snapped sideways and spun the tires. Then I just screamed on the radio, ‘Where’s Billy (Dunn)? Where’s Billy?’ A lap before they said (the gap) was like 15 cars, and now they said three, so I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ When I went into three they said, ‘One,’ and then Billy went right on the outside of me – and on this racetrack, it’s not like the old days where you could just move up if that happened. The way it is now, with them slick and icy spots all over the place, you can’t just turn right and do that to block somebody.
“In my mind that’s better racing, but it’s nerve-racking in a situation like that when you’re leading. The yellow (flag on lap 149 for Willy Decker’s stopped car) probably helped us because it kept (Dunn) from getting a big shot. He was gonna take a shot down (in turn one) because I think he carried more speed down the straightaway.”
With darkness descending on the mile, McCreadie let it all hang out on the final restart. Dunn never got close enough to offer a challenge over the last two circuits.
“I just ran as hard as I could,” said McCreadie. “That was all I had. I’m just glad there were only two laps left.”
Dunn, who led laps 42-54, was a gracious runner-up. His $10,000 payday was the biggest of his career.
“I was hoping for maybe a few more cautions there at the end to get a few more laps (beyond 150),” said Dunn, who was, of course, named the Rookie of the Race. “I know I had a little more gas than the rest of them.
“But I’m real happy for Timmy, and to see Timmy Fuller finish third – three guys from Watertown finishing one-two-three is pretty awesome.”
Matt Billings of Brockville, Ont., placed sixth for his third top-10 finish in as many Gander Mountain 150 starts. Matt Sheppard of Waterloo, N.Y., climbed back to seventh at the finish after pitting on lap 66, while 37th-starter Dale Planck of Homer, N.Y., virtually assured himself of winning the 2012 DIRTcar 358-Modified Series championship with an eighth-place finish. Planck’s car owner, Carey Terrance of Hogansburg, N.Y., finished ninth and Stewart Friesen of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., rounded out the top 10.
Billy Decker’s bid to extend his record of four consecutive and six overall Gander Mountain 150 victories ended when he retired with mechanical trouble on lap 138 while running third. He led laps 1-13.
Danny Johnson also relinquished a potential top-five finish late in the distance when he ran out of fuel on lap 127.
The race was slowed by 10 caution flags for 43 laps. The most serious accidents were an opening-lap homestretch tangle involving Bobby Varin of Sharon Springs, N.Y., Tony Steiner of Lafayette, N.Y., and Tim Hindley of Monticello, N.Y., and the lap-127 pounding of the turn-three wall by Tim Sears Jr. of Clay, N.Y. No injuries were reported.
A 358-Modified Non-Qualifiers’ Race was scheduled to be run on Saturday, but rain that drenched the speedway overnight and didn’t end until about 11 a.m. caused a delay in the start of the program and prompted officials to cancel the extra event to save time. The balance of the field was set using the 13th-15th-place finishers in Friday’s heats, DIRTcar 358-Modified Series points provisionals and Gander Mountain 150 preferred starters.
NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week XLI concludes on Sunday (Oct. 7) with the running of the $50,000-to-win big-block Modified VP Small Engine Fuels 200. Also on Sunday’s card is the Sportsman-Modified Championship 30, which was postponed from Saturday due to time constraints, and the Pro Stock Championship 25.
For the latest news and updates about NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week and DIRTcar Racing, visit www.SuperDirtWeekOnline.com, “like” the Super DIRT Week and DIRTcar Racing Facebook pages or follow the Twitter feeds @SuperDIRTWeek and @DIRTcarNE.