By TOM SKIBINISKI
CANANDAIGUA, NY – Open-wheel veteran Alan Johnson from Middlesex has been winning car races at the Ontario County Fairgrounds for over 40 years. His 122nd career Pepsi Big-Block Modified victory in the Geneva Club Beverage & Mountain Dew/Armed Forces Saturday Spectacular at Land Of Legends Raceway may have been the shortest after rain trimmed the feature event to 25 laps.
“Started sprinkling out there and saw him starting to push so I just had to get underneath him,” figured Johnson, in a wet winner’s circle, describing his late-race pass of Justin Wright en route to the $2,000 triumph. ‘A.J. Slideways’ shadowed Wright for a dozen laps before ducking underneath exiting turn four to complete lap 25 before a final yellow flag flew and an ensuing downpour forced track officials to call it a night.
“I kinda screwed up going into (turn) one the first time. You really gotta stay where the cars are running because they keep the track better there. Just make sure you stay in that area to have a chance to make a run,” remarked Johnson, who scored his first career win at LOLR in May of 1975 sporting a Corvair-bodied #14 and has since reached victory lane at least once every year at a dirt track around the Northeast.
Rochester’s David Ferguson added his second win in three tries in the Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint Car division while three-time and reigning points king Dave Marcuccilli (Donath Motor Worx Sportsman Modified) and four-time season champion Marc Minutolo (Big Dog Country Street Stock) each picked up their first checkered flag of 2018 before rain and windy conditions forced cancellation of the New Legends Sportsman finale
Johnson started seventh in the scheduled 35-lap Modified main and methodically worked his way forward behind early leader Eldon Payne Jr. and then Wright, who moved to the point on lap three in search of his first-ever Big-Block win at the fast Canandaigua half-miler.
Rookie Brian Boudreau slid low off the track down the back chute to incur the first caution period on lap 10, with Wright leading Johnson, Payne, Billy Dunn and Steve Paine. When mid-pack pilots Jimmy Maier and Lance Dusett made contact on the homestretch to require a second yellow, new points leader Jimmy Phelps had found his way into the front-5 for the lap 16 restart with ‘Super Matt’ Sheppard finally cracking the top-10 after starting 17th in the 22-car field.
With light raindrops beginning to fall, Sheppard continued his march to the front, getting as high as fifth before back-to-back yellow flags slowed the action. On the lap 23 restart, Sheppard and Dunn locked bumpers on the front straightaway after the leaders checked up, relegating both racers to the rear and out of contention.
Johnson took advantage of the final restart, hugging the low lane in the Mark Spoor-owned Jimmy D’s-powered no. 14J Friendly Ford-Cargill-Conley Farms/Bicknell entry and grabbing the lead as Wright drifted high between turns three and four. Sheppard came to a sudden halt under chief starter Scott Hixson’s flag stand to bring out what amounted to the final caution as the dark sky let loose and made the track unsafe for any further competition.
“Thought I was better than (Wright) at one point in the race, then we had a yellow and he started pulling away again,” noted Johnson, now 60, also a five-time points champion in Canandaigua, who was inducted into the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame last summer. “Then I was just hoping I could hold off everybody else for second at that time.”
Fast-closing Erick Rudolph mirrored Johnson’s move and secured runner-up laurels at the line while Wright settled for the show position. Phelps, Justin Haers, Max McLaughlin, last week’s winner Peter Britten, Canadian invader Ryan Arbuthnot, James Sweeting and Payne completed the final top-10.
With a season-high 31 drivers signed in to qualify, lucky 13th starting Marcuccilli survived a caution-infested Sportsman feature that was as long as the Modified main in distance yet needed 45-minutes to reward a race winner. A handful of yellows and a red flag helped dictate the final outcome as Marcuccilli sped on to a commanding straightaway victory margin after overtaking season-opening winner Matt Guererri on lap 22.
“That caution at the end was huge,” stated Marcuccilli, 41, alluding to the last yellow flag that flew on lap 22 when class rookie Jimmy Steffenhagen Jr. suffered a blown engine between turns one and two. “I wasn’t catching Matt at first but then I could see I was slowly starting to reel him in before that last yellow.”
“With the line he was running I felt I definitely had a shot as this car takes off a little better than his does. I was everywhere tonight, the infield, then smashing, it was a wild one. Still a lot of fun out there and quite an entertaining race,” said Marcuccilli, following his 22nd checkered flag in wine country.
Pole-sitter Ricky Newton led the early going before Kane Bristol slowed out of turn two to require the first caution. It was on the lap eight restart that a pair of multi-car pile-ups —involving no less than nine cars— between turns one and two forced the initial stoppage. Among the victims were A.J. Lloyd, who got turned around to initiate the incident, and Rich Vinson, who sat wedged underneath Lloyd as the crew needed 15 minutes to separate the pair.
Back under green flag conditions 12th starting Guererri was riding the rim all the way around, knocking off his closest competition until blasting by Newton on lap 10. At the halfway mark Newton ran second followed by Troy Sperring and Jeff Davoli with Nick Guererri and Marcuccilli dicing for a front-5 spot..
Following a pair of brief slowdowns, a rare red flag waved on lap 14 when a second multi-car melee unfolded in turn one. Paul Guererri was squeezed up by Nick Guererri entering the first corner then got wide and contact from the onrushing pack sent Tim Baker’s Honeoye Auto Parts mount spiraling in the air performing a perfect pirouette. No injuries were reported despite heavy damage to Bakers #9 Bicknell.
Matt Guererri sped out to a seemingly comfortable lead with 10 laps to go ahead of Sperring and Newton although a suddenly rejuvenated Marcuccilli in his blue Page Trucking-All Star Contractors-Mohawk Northeast/Bicknell machine was on the move. The Montezuma racer drove past Newton then went around Speering out of turn four to steal second with a half-dozen laps still remaining.
When Steffenhagen coasted to a stop with three laps left, Guererri’s lead vanished and the slowdown put Marcuccilli on his bumper for the final restart. Marcuccilli wasted little time exhibiting his strength, sizing up Guererri low in turns one and two before forging the final lead change as the pair exited turn four.
“Its pretty big to finally win one. The last two races we were really struggling here, just running terrible. We obviously figured out what our probem was and got it together now,” added Marcuccilli, who began the night fourth on the points chart while Matt Guererri still tops the standings after week three.
Sperring posted a career-best third-place finish ahead of first-time visitor Tyler Thompson, who was involved in the lap eight crash, and Newton while last week’s winner Steve Gray, who was also stranded sideways in the same lap eight accident, recovered to cross the line sixth.
Ferguson was just as convincing in his drive from 10th starting position to repeat in the 305 Sprint ranks, although again it was the female flash Alysha Bay chasing the leader across the stripe to author another dramatic finish.
“I saw her with one lap to go, she stuck her nose down but I still tried to run my own line and fortunately it was enough,” said Ferguson, 28, after edging Bay by a car-length to register career win number 15 at the Land of Legends. “I was running as hard as I could knowing she thrives off the bottom groove. I just stayed with what was working best.”
All-time LOLR sprint car winner Darryl Ruggles stormed from sixth to first on the opening circuit before the winged machine of Eric Kurtz overturned exiting the third corner to force out the yellow lights on lap two. Ferguson was ready on the restart, darting into third then sliding past Erik Karlsen for second on lap three.
The mounts of Aaron Jacobus (high turn 3) and Levi Arthur (low turn 4) came to a halt on lap nine to require a second yellow flag and in a thrilling three-wide maneuver on the restart Ferguson hauled past Ruggles then held off Bay to grab the top spot. Another caution for Arthur in turn four provided a second chance for Ruggles on lap 12 yet Bay saw another opening and dropped her dad to third the next time around.
The last third of the 20-lap A-Main was run non-stop with Ferguson following his preferred line up high and Bay the bottom-feeder making tracks down low. A final slide by Bay coming out of turn fell just a few feet short, giving points leader Ferguson a second checkered flag aboard his #45 Speedy’s Cleaners-KCC Carpentry/Helix ride and Bay a second straight runner-up tally.
“We struggled in practice and then the heat, expecting more bite but the track was dry and slick, really hard to read in the early going,” divulged Ferguson, 28, after finishing a distant fourth in his qualifying heat before making some needed adjustments. “The top line hadn’t come in yet during the heat so we had to tighten things up.”
“Its a new car with a new set-up so we’re still figuring things out. The competition is much better out here this year as well, meaning the handicapping system used doesn’t necessarily start the slower cars up front anymore. You need to pick your spots and be more precise and know it will take a little longer to get to the front,” Ferguson noted.
Ruggles finished third followed by Johnny Kolosek while Dan Bennett rounded out the top-five.
Following two consecutive runner-up finishes to kick off the 2018 campaign, second-generation stock car standout Minutolo left little room for improvement. Yet third time was a charm for the three-time LOLR Pure Stock high-point man as he charged past pole-sitter Jason Quigley the second trip around then staved off every challenge from current points leader Adam DePuy to capture the 15-lap Big Dog Country Street Stock feature.
“For awhile it was kind of my house here so when you’re getting your tail whipped its a hard pill to swallow,” said Minutolo, 26, who owns upwards of 50 checkered flags at the fairgrounds in Street Stock and Pure Stock divisions combined, his first win scored in 2007. “Had a few good runs, can’t complain about 2nd-place usually but damn, you want to win too. Glad we’re finally able to get it done tonight.”
The Big Dog finale actually kicked off the feature race portion of the LOLR program and fifth starting Minutolo showed his intentions early. At the drop of the green in a three-wide tactic the Newark native ducked under both Quigley and his front row partner Mike Welch but a quick yellow afforded Quigley the point and a second chance.
Minutolo remained on course and with two laps scored he was back out front. And recouping from a valve cover/gasket issue in his heat race that placed him 12th on the 14-car starting grid, two-time ’18 winner DePuy barreled into second after just four laps to put the top point-earners one-two on the scoresheet.
“Just try to keep your composure, guess that part comes with experience,” said Minutolo, revealing his thoughts knowing DePuy was hot on his trail and hungry for a third successive win to begin the season. “You know the guy is there, saw him on that last double-file restart, so just try to keep my cool and lock this (car) down to the bottom … block, block, block and get her done.”
DePuy had plenty of chances to catch the sleek no 25B Tradition Automotive Group-Butch’s Body Shop-Big Mike’s Auto/Chevrolet Camaro, but Minutolo was strong off the corners and maintained a solid advantage throughout. A pair of slowdowns for Jason Doty (lap 5) and Shawn Lloyd (lap 12), and even a red flag on lap seven when Marcus Springer flipped over a sideways Bryan Faulkner mount out of turn one, kept DePuy on Minutolo’s bumper but at the line three car-lengths was the difference.
“(DePuy) pulled me the past two weeks, he sacrificed a little speed going in (turn) to get it coming off. I just tried to be patient and gain speed in the right places, don’t drive over my head,” added Minutolo, a two-time winner last season looking to improve from third-place in the final 2017 point standings.
Jon & Shannon Ellsworth present the “Daryl & Erik Ellsworth Memorial” in the ‘Saturday Spectacular’ on May 26, with the first of five CRSA touring events headlining Land of Legends Raceway’s holiday special. A full show of Pepsi Big-Block Modfied, Donath Motor Worx Sportsman, Big Dog Country Street Stock and New Legends Sportsman racing fills the card along with a New 2 U Rescue Dogs Benefit and Legends Inductee Night #1. Practice begins at 6 o’clock and qualifying action gets underway at 7 p.m. Pit gates open at 4:00 and grandstand seating starts at 5 p.m.
Raceway On Airways
Land of Legends Raceway will be showcased in the Empire State when the recent May 5 Patriot Sprint Tour event is aired on CW-23 in Buffalo at 2 p.m. on Sat., June 16, CBS-5 in Syracuse at 7:30 a.m. on Sun., June 17 and on CW-16 in Rochester at 10:30 a.m. on Sun., June 17. The hour-long production is part of ‘Speedway Showcase’ hosted by Rich Vleck with race analysis provided by Doug Elkins and pit reporting from Paul Szmal.
As the first full month of racing continues at LOLR, be sure to follow the point standings and breaking news online by visiting www.LandOfLegendsRaceway.com. Advance sale tickets are also available for purchase online throughout the upcoming months. Log into the website (LandOfLegendsRaceway.com), hit the red “Buy Tickets” button on the homepage, then make a selection from the list of dates & events highlighted.
Land of Legends Raceway is located at the Ontario County Fairgrounds, east of the city on Town Line Road (County Road 10), with easy access off either Exit 43 (Manchester, Route 21 South) or Exit 44 (Farmington, Route 332 South) of the New York State Thruway, just ½-hour southeast of Rochester.
Land of Legends Raceway Event Summary – May 19, 2018
Armed Forces Saturday Spectacular
Geneva Club Beverage & Mountain Dew present
Pepsi Big-Block Modified
*Feature (25 laps): 1. 14j-Alan Johnson($2,000), 2. 25-Erick Rudolph, 3. 19w-Justin Wright, 4. 98h-Jimmy Phelps, 5. 3-Justin Haers, 6. 6h-Max McLaughlin, 7. 21a-Peter Britten., 8. r70-Ryan Arbuthnot, 9. 11j-James Sweeting, 10. 28p-Eldon Payne Jr., 11. 21p-Derrick Podsiadlo, 12. 31m-Jimmy Maier, 13. 22g-Gil Tegg Jr., 14. 22-Jeff Daugherty, 15. 63-Adam Roberts, 16. 23-Kyle Coffey, 17. 9s-Matt Sheppard, 18. 12-Brian Sage, 19. 3rs-Billy Dunn, 20. 7x-Steve Paine, 21. 77-Lance Dusett, 22. 174-Brian Boudreau.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Maier, Payne, Wright, Rudolph, McLaughlin, Sweeting, Boudreau.
#2: Dusett, Coffey, Dunn, Johnson, Phelps, Sheppard, Daugherty, Roberts.
#3: Paine, Haers, Britten, Podsiadlo, Arbuthnot, Tegg, Sage.
Donath Motor Worx Sportsman Modified
*Feature (25 laps): 1. m1-Dave Marcuccilli, 2. 12g-Matt Guererri, 3. 7s-Troy Sperring, 4. 98t-Tyler Thompson, 5. 11n-Ricky Newton, 6. 29g-Steve Gray, 7. 67g-Eric Giguere, 8. 20x-Kevin Ridley, 9. 17s-Steve Cheesman, 10. 25g-Nick Guererri, 11. c21-Jeff Davoli, 12. 50-Tim Downs, 13. 06w-Dorian Wahdan, 14. 2j-Jimmy Steffenhagen Jr., 15. 2-Loren Lincoln, 16. 21x-Eric Williams, 17. 7-Paul Guererri, 18. 9-Tim Baker, 19. 7j-J.T. Sperring, 20. 1f-A.J. Lloyd, 21. 93-Rich Vinson, 22. 2k-Anthony Kimball, 23. 75-A.J. Custodi, 24. 31-Kane Bristol.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Marcuccilli, M.Guererri, Davoli, Lloyd, Giguere, E.Martin, Cheesman, Downs.
#2: T.Sperring, Lincoln, Williams, Kimball, Wahdan, Custodi, Karlsen, Lawrence.
#3: Newton, Bristol, Ridley, Baker, Thompson, Steffenhagen, Peckham, Smith.
#4: Gray, N.Guererri, P.Guererri, Vinson, J.T. Sperring, Years, D.Martin.
Consolation (10 laps)
#1: Custodi, Cheesman, Downs, Steffenhagen, Nathan Peckham, Dalton Martin, Trevor Years, Benny Karlsen, Kelly Smith, Jeff Lawrence, Eric Martin.
Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint
*Feature (20 laps): 1. 45-David Ferguson, 2. 48a-Alysha Bay, 3. 48jr.-Darryl Ruggles, 4. 26j-Johnny Kolosek, 5. X-Dan Bennett, 6. 19j-Mike Jackson, 7. 75-Brandyn Griffin, 8. 23-Tyler Cartier, 9. 74-Eric Kurtz, 10. 18c-Dan Craun,11. 66-Erik Karlsen, 12. 65-Levi Arthur, 13. 99-Andy Jacobus, 121-Steve Glover(DNS).
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Jackson, Bay, Griffin, Ferguson, Craun, Jacobus, Arthur.
#2: Ruggles, Kolosek, Karslen, Bennett, Cartier, Kurtz, Glover.
Big Dog Country Street Stock
*Feature (15 laps): 1. 25b-Marc Minutolo, 2. 99-Adam DePuy, 3. 74d-Dennis Cummings, 4. 8-Mike Welch, 5. 34q-Jason Quigley, 6. 55p-Blane Smith, 7. 86L-Shawn Lloyd, 8. 36s-Seth Steele, 9. 4j-Jason Doty, 10. 83-Bryan Faulkner, 11. 24j-Marcus Springer, 12. 74-Ronald “Bundy” Metcalf, 13. 58d-Nick Dandino, 14. 02-Brad Steinruck.
Heats (6 laps)
#1: Minutolo, Welch, Cummings, Lloyd, Smith, Dandino, Bundy.
#2: Faulkner, Doty, Springer, Quigley, Steele, DePuy, Steinruck.
New Legends Sportsman
*Feature (12 laps): Cancelled due to rain.
Entries: 00-Sam Hoxie, 06w-Ace Wahdan, 1-Billy Paine, 35-Nick Cooper, 93-Tyler Vinson.
NEXT EVENT: Saturday Spectacular, May 26 @ 7pm; Jon & Shannon Ellsworth present “Daryl & Erik Ellsworth Memorial” CRSA Sprint/Big-Block Modified/Sportsman/Street Stock plus New Legends Sportsman with New 2 U Rescue Dogs Benefit and Legends Inductee Night #1.
Track Instant Info
Land of Legends Raceway is proud to salute several sponsors and corporate partners that continue to help bring its fans the best Saturday night racing show in the Northeast. Listed alphabetically are division sponsors Big Dog Country 103.5FM Radio, Donath Motor Worx, Mike Emhof Motorsports, Pepsi/Geneva Club Beverage; event sponsors Admar Construction Equipment & Supply Company, A-Verdi Storage Containers, Daldry Canvas, Geneva Club Beverage/Mountain Dew, Honeoye Auto Parts/Auto Value, L&L Transmission & Towing, Phelps Cement Products, Pilat Graphic Design, Proctor Enterprises, Product 9, Tradition Automotive Group; promotional partners Champion Power Equipment, D.C. Rauscher Inc., Dig Safely New York 811, Hoosier Racing Tire, Ontario County Fairboard, Sherwin-Williams Paint Stores, Star Headlight & Lantern Co., VP Racing Fuels.