By JOHN DOUGLAS JR.
Another gorgeous spring afternoon greeted race fans at Utica Rome Speedway this past Sunday. With great car counts for all divisions, the fans were sure to see action all night long. As usual the weekly regulars of Utica Rome did not disappoint, with many solid, fast cars and teams making the trip to Vernon.
Heat action started off with the Pro Stock division hitting the clay first. Ed Ostrander showed early on he would have a good car, taking the win in heat number one. Heat two saw Bill Knapp’s No. 21 Ford go up in smoke ending his run for the evening. Chris Carr would eventually pick up the heat win, with Joe Palmers No.6 and Pete Stefanski’s No.2 Chevy coming across the line in a dead heat for second place. Palmer would be credited with second.
Big/Small Block Modified heats were next on the docket. Heat one saw Mike Bowman’s No.16 pick up the win over Mike Mahaney. The second heat saw non-regular, Matt Fink, pick up the win as he held off Jimmy Davis for the victory. The third and final heat of the evening for the Modifieds was jam packed with some of the biggest names in the sport duking it out for the best possible starting position in the feature. Willy Decker, the Vernon local, and former Utica Rome Track Champion held off Robbie Bellinger, Stewart Friesen, Larry Wight and Todd Burley to pick up his first heat win of 2013.
Another excellent field of Sportsman Modifieds made the journey, both near and far to “The Action Track of the East” this week heat one saw former Pro Stock winner Chad Ray start up front. Mike Stiles would spin in turns one and two bringing out the caution. Eventually Sportsman point leader Claude Hutchings Jr. would pick up the win. Heat number two saw Jack Miller take the victory with Heath Carney, and Jeremy Vunk rounding out the top three. Matt Janczuk, last year’s series Track Champion, finished fifth in the second heat.
The Pure Stock winners in their two heats were Frank Hyatt and Chris Cunningham.
After a short wait for the afternoon sun to set, feature racing action got underway with the Pro Stock division. As soon as the green flag flew Ostrander’s No.88 dropped to the bottom groove and snuck by the cars ahead to take the lead. A few rambunctious moments between Joe Palmer’s No.6 and the 55 car of Corrie Locke, ended with Locke facing backward and Palmer being sent to the rear.
After tempers settled, the green came back out and again Ostrander lead into turns one and two. Glen Forward made multiple attempts to get by Ostrander, but time after time Ostrander held him off. Finally Ostrander set sail showing his early strength in the heat was no fluke. “Eddie-O” took home his first career win at Utica Rome. Forward, Carr, Tommy Denton and Brett Belden’s No.81 rounded out the top five. A feel good win would start the night, but the Modifieds were coming up next, and the wick was about to turn up a notch.
Off the start of the Big/Small Block Modified feature, the field stampeded into turns one and two. Matt Hulsizer’s No. 55 drove deep into the corner on the top side and grabbed the lead from Darwin Greene.
As the top five cars established an early pace, the battle from sixth on back was getting tighter by the moment. Matt Sheppard and Jimmy Davis made some incredible three-wide passes in unison to move up the leaderboard on lap six. Todd Burley’s 89B had made his way to the second spot, and was working his way closer to Hulsizer’s No.55. Matt Sheppard, the third place runner, was hunting the bottom and gaining ground. By lap eleven Burley and Sheppard had both finally made their way around Hulsizer.
As the top five came off turn four Stewart Friesen made his way into the fourth place getting around Hulsizer. With no cautions to this point, Sheppard’s 9S began aggressively working the high side of turns three and four, to get around Burley. Time after time, he drove in two then three car lengths deeper than Burley. Every time, Burley would get the better grip on the low groove and out power “Super Matt” off the corner.
At the halfway mark of the thirty lap event, the top five were, Burley’s 89B, Matt Sheppard, Willy Decker, the No. 1WGC of Friesen and Pat Ward’s 42P. As the struggle continued between the top four runners, Jason Rood took his number 18J over the turns three and four burm, but was able to keep going with nothing more than a good dusting of the racing surface.
Stewart Friesen’s climb toward the top was aided when the lap vehicle of David Allen came into play. Friesen and Willy Decker would split the No. 88 and Friesen would gain the third spot. The only time the caution would fly was for the Hulsizer 55, Mike Bowman’s No. 16 and Rocky Warner’s No. 79 getting together on the backstretch. After the field was re-assembled they took the green flag with eight laps to go.
Off the final restart Friesen worked Sheppard for the number two spot but in the end couldn’t make the pass stick. The whole time though Todd Burley was hitting the cruise control as he picked up his 32nd Modified win, tying him with the late Lou Lazzaro for Feature wins at Utica Rome. The rest of the top five were, Sheppard, Friesen, Willy Decker, and Pat Ward.
During his Victory Lane interview with Dit Track Digest’s own Mike Mallett, Burley said,
“Them Small Blocks roll the bottom really well and these Big Blocks are heavy, but there was enough bite on the bottom for the Big Block to squirt off the bottom.”
I managed to talk with Burley in his pit after the win. When asked how he managed to hold off Sheppard’s continued advances he said,
“We were pretty tight for the heat race, but we freed it up a bunch for the Feature, and then just roll the bottom. I started ninth and I was running the bottom really good. I got to second on the top and felt it wasn’t that good, so I went back to the bottom.”
Burley went on to say, ” I saw Matt [Sheppard] roll up beside me three or four times getting into three…I said to myself if he wants to roll us, he can roll us, but I’m staying on the inside.”
I also managed to catch up with third place finisher, Stewart Friesen. I asked him how the top side worked and he said,
“It was good, but it was pretty burned off and pushed over the edge pretty far. If I had ten more laps, I think the middle to top would’ve come back for us. Burley was right down there and he was taking it for all it was worth. He did what he had to do to win the race.”
Sportsman Modifieds rolled out next and when they dropped the green it was all Heath Carney. After taking the lead off turn two on lap one, he never felt major pressure the rest of the way picking up a decisive victory. Second went to the 33X of Janczuck and third went to Jeremy Vunk’s 32V.
I caught up with Carney after the race. When asked how he managed to pull of such a great win he said,
“Usually when we’re here we drive the high side, and tonight I made a couple passes on the bottom and said something’s sticking down here. Then I just kinda went a little slower in and got the drive off. I gotta thank Randy (Williamson) from Bicknell, we took the car there last week and he just did wonders with it”
“It’s just fun to get in the car again.”
Rounding out the evening’s racing would be the Pure Stocks. After getting around early leader Bill Mason in his 57M, Ricky Breed’s No.5 would go unhindered the rest of the way to pick up his 2nd consecutive feature win on the 2013 season. Rounding out the top five on the night were Nate Peckham, Bill Mason, Frank Hyatt and Ron Hawker.
Next Week: May 12th Mothers Day Special- 50 Lap $5,000 to win Big/Small Block Modifieds with regular show of Sportsman, Pro Stock and Pure Stock. Gates open @ 3;30pm Racing Starts @ 6pm.