By TOM SKIBINSKI
CANANDAIGUA, NY – Since the dawn of the new millennium, a Modified driver had to hold residence in Waterloo to earn a seat at the head of the table for any season-ending Land Of Legends Raceway champions dinner. So it seemed.
That was until third-generation chauffer Erick Rudolph from Ransomville broke rank in truly ‘Saturday Spectacular’ fashion, stunning seven-time defending track titlist Matt Sheppard by a mere one point in the season-long chase for Canandaigua’s coveted Pepsi Big-Block Modified crown.
With the crowd buzzing and scorers tabulating in the tower, the final point standings were read over the public address system: race runner-up Rudolph 960, 7th-place finisher Sheppard 959. Oh yes, Watertown’s Billy Dunn captured his first win of the season in the 35-lap Modified main on “Championship Night” presented by ADMAR Construction Equipment & Supplies.
And that’s the way it was much of the race, just as many eyes focused on Dunn dominating the feature in front of the field as those divided between Rudolph and Sheppard as they whittled their way through the pack in search of valuable points.
“Getting the title is really more shocking after last year, we were really upset the way the car ran here,” remarked a quietly surprized Rudolph, 26, in victory lane after breaking the 18-year stranglehold of Waterloo wheelmen Steve Paine (10 titles) and Sheppard (8) at the historic Ontario County Fairgrounds half-miler. Running only three-quarters of the 2017 season at LOLR, Rudolph posted a half-dozen top-5 feature finishes to place 14th on the final points chart.
“Changed a lot of things around for this year so its really unbelievable ending up on top, especially looking at all the improvements our team had to make. Coming into tonight with double points we knew there was a realistic chance to win the title even though the odds weren’t in our favor. Matt’s been consistent up front, too. Things just happened to work out for us, its still pretty amazing,” said Rudolph, whose father Charlie captured the overall Mr. DIRT Championship in 1986 although his highest finish in Canandaigua Big-Block points was second in 1983.
With their own division titles to be determined next weekend, Matt Guererri has another upset in mind after overtaking three-time reigning points king Dave Marcuccilli with his second 25-lap Donath Motor Worx Sportsman win of the season. Darryl Ruggles (Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint), Marc Minutolo (Big Dog Country Street Stock) and Sam Hoxie (New Legends Sportsman) bolstered their own track marks in highly competitive companion classes.
The Dirt Modified Nostalgia Tour also made a return visit to LOLR with Jonathan Kuleszo from Romulus claiming the 15-lap finale. Runner-up Nathan Berry of Athens, Ont. grabbed second from Bob Johnson (Horseheads) in traffic out of the final turns to secure the 2018 Modified Nostalgia Championship while fellow Canadian Tim Hegarty (finished 13th) from Kingston, Ont. clinched the ’18 Vintage Nostalgia tour title the week prior.
Matt Larrivee from Forrest Port, N.Y. (11th) emerged as the highest finishing “vintage” machine in the 22-car feature field. Evan Reynolds (Lyn, Ont.) and Matt Barbour (Brockville, Ont.) filled out the front-five while LOLR Race Director Greg Hixson was credited with a 10th-place feature finish.
It was certainly appropriate on Big-Block Championship Night that Canandaigua’s all-time winningest Modified driver was honored in the pre-race Land of Legends Wall of Fame induction ceremony. Alan Johnson became the fourth member of an elite group, joining the late great Dutch Hoag, prolific promoter Glenn Donnelly and fan favorite Bob McCreadie in this special speedway attraction.
Surpassing veteran Will Cagle atop Canandaigua’s career win chart in 1983, ageless ‘A.J. Slideways’ is now on the brink of closing out his 45th consecutive season of auto racing. Following in the tire tracks of his father Milt Johnson, 1961 Canandaigua Sportsman points champ, the second-generation star from Middlesex continues to savor success, most recently scoring his 123rd career Big-Block Modified feature win at age 60.
Alan’s maiden trip to Canandaigua Speedway in 1974 marked just his third-ever stop at a dirt track — and it was as a driver, not a fan in the stands. Earning rookie-of-the-year accolades his inaugural season, Johnson returned aboard the home-made Ewing Corvair-bodied #14 and scored his first feature win on the fairgrounds May 3, 1975. His extraordinary streak remains unbroken today, winning at least one Modified main every year since, including victories in 28 different seasons at the hallowed Land of Legends layout.
During the past five decades, Alan has amassed over 550 feature wins at nearly 40 racing arenas in seven states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. His winningest seasons in wine country came in 1981 (10) and 1982 (12), although five track point championships at the fairgrounds were garnered in 1977, 1980, 1983, 1984 and 1988. Of his 57 wins in Super DIRT Series competition, seven have come at Canandaigua where he recorded his first tour triumph in 1976.
Double points were on the line for Big-Block title contenders in the final ‘Saturday Spectacular’ of the month with a 2018 champion waiting to be crowned. After the completion of qualifying heats, Jimmy Phelps was knocked out of the mix pitting Sheppard and Rudolph in a head-to-head battle for supremacy.
Rising star James Sweeting took command from his pole-position start before Dunn moved to the point for good on lap seven in his Finger Lakes-powered no. 3RS Transport Sales & Service-Number One Speedway/Bicknell mount. Rudolph began ninth and had cracked the front-five by lap 10 while 12th-starting Sheppard had improved just one spot the first third of the race.
With 15 laps to go Rudolph rode fourth and Sheppard sat eighth, with either racer needing to advance one more position to wear the crown. ‘Super Matt’ slid into seventh by lap 30 to retake the points lead, yet with with chief starter Scott Hixson set to unfurl the white flag signaling one more lap, the ‘Ransomville Rocket’ blasted his way into second aboard the potent no. 25 Opti-Coat-Blue Cross/Blue Shield-Mohawk Northeast/Bicknell ride to give him just enough for his first career Big-Block track championship.
“With the new (track) management, we weren’t really sure what to expect here. Started out the season just shaking down the equipment since Canandaigua opened before a lot of other tracks,” divulged Rudolph, a two-time winner this year at LOLR with 12 top-5 finishes in 16 point races. “Really loved the way things shaped up around here, can see all the improvements just walking around, so we decided to call this our Saturday night home and we were able to have a real consistent year. Always ran near the front and got a couple wins, really happy with the car and this title is a testament to my team and all their hard work.”
“I would say weekly competition-wise this place is probably the best there is for modifieds in the Northeast. Don’t see any reason why we won’t call Land of Legends home next year. The track has been super racey all season. It changes a little bit from week to week so that keeps things fresh and interesting which makes us better. But no matter what the outcome, the (track) staff and crew did a great job here all season, glad we were able to keep coming back,” Rudolph added.
For Sheppard, who matched Justin Haers’ points total last summer before ultimately collecting the Canandaigua title in a tie-breaker using a division-high eight wins, track conditions didn’t complement his set-up from lap one.
“Just weren’t that good tonight,” stated Sheppard, who ended the season with another division-best five feature wins. “When you’re the points leader you can only lose in these double-point shows. With the track conditions completely different than last week, we just never had a car good enough.”
Dunn was solid from the start, salvaging second in his nine-car heat before improving one position in the feature rundown.
“Finally hit it just right tonight, been really close a lot of times coming in,” noted Dunn, 34, following his eighth career Big-Block win at LOLR, his first registered in 2014. The north country regular maintained fourth in the final standings on the heels of his eighth top-5 feature finish of the year. “Everytime we tried to make (car) a little better we’d dial ourselves right out. Kinda took our best guess with everything tonight and took advantage of a good starting spot. This was a long time coming.”
Sweeting settled for a season-best third-place tally ahead of Phelps and his HBR Racing teammate Max McLaughlin, both taking down a feature win during their ’18 campaign in Canandaigua.
Just two weeks ago, Guererri trailed six-time race winner Marcuccilli by nearly 40 points. With the final double-points event hanging in the balance, the Waterloo pilot has rallied to top the standings, 805-801, heading into next Saturday’s Sportsman showdown.
“Didn’t think I was gonna ever win again,” figured Guererri, 28, who won the past two LOLR season-openers yet finished sixth in last year’s points race. “Won the first one last season and sucked the rest of the year. Won the first race again and this time we’ve been consistent all year and tonight got another win to back it up.”
Outside pole-sitter Trevor Years paced the 24-car field for the opening six circuits before Eric Williams ducked underneath as the leaders exited turn one. Guererri started seventh in his no. 12G Tradition Automotive Group-Product 9-Mohawk Northeast/Bicknell entry and forged the final lead change going around Williams rounding turn four.
Nick Cooper and Jeff Lawrence made contact with the outside turn four cement retaining wall to incur the lone yellow flag on lap 20. Guererri’s big lead suddenly evaporated yet back under green he showed no signs of slowing down as the final margin of victory was a healthy half-straightaway under the checkers. Brother Nick Guererri, Ricky Newton and uncle Paul Guererri also worked their way past Williams as did Marcuccilli, who waited until the final lap to reach the front-five.
“We’ve been working hard all year, last couple weeks we’ve been trying different stuff but nothing really worked,” added Guererri, now a six-time Sportsman winner at LOLR. “Really owe this one to Matt (Sheppard) and Randy (Kisacky, Sheppard’s crew chief), they’ve put in countless hours trying to get this car better. Matt and I have a bet every week on who finishes higher, last week he won so I had a Dave Marcuccilli t-shirt. This time all bets were off, nobody wanted any bad luck.”
With points fluctuating during recent weeks in the Big-Block and Sportsman divisions, Ruggles has remained a constant atop the MEM 305 Sprint standings throughout the summer. His neon ‘safety’ yellow #48jr. Willmes Enterprises-VanBortel Trucking/Eagle has become a fixture in victory lane as the Hopewell wingman has not lost an A-main since finishing second to teenager Jake Karklin on July 14.
“Since we pulled this (car) out of the cobwebs its been on fire,” beamed Ruggles, 52, following his sixth straight triumph to raise his season count to eight and career-leading track total to 35. “We haven’t changed anything on it, literally I think we’ve had the same tires on six weeks in a row. Its an old car with an old motor, this thing just runs great.”
Young gun Johnny Kolosek shot out from his start on the point before Ruggles chased him down the third time around in the headline 20-lapper. Ironically, it was Ruggles’ daughter Alysha Bay that brought out the only caution on lap 10 when the rear-end of her ‘hotter than pink’ #48A sprinter actually broke in half forcing a slowdown at the midway mark.
Ruggles was back on the pedal under green, seemingly in full control after building a 10 car-length advantage by lap 15. Running the high line while Ruggles clung to the low side, Kolosek caught the leader in the final turn, with less than 10-feet separating the lead pair as the checkered flag flew. Tyler Cartier, Dan Bennett and Erik Karlsen completed the top-five.
“I don’t know, it was pretty crazy tonight on the start,” added Ruggles, who expects to compete Wednesday when the touring Patriot 360 Sprints take center stage at the speedway in the final mid-week special. “I went to the outside and everybody else slowed down. At that point I didn’t know for sure if the green was even out. But the cars kept going and so did I.”
Just one week after leading nearly all but the final circuit, Minutolo completed all 15 laps Saturday enroute to career win number 57 at the fairgrounds. His fifth triumph of 2018 at the fairgrounds came mostly unchallenged after LOLR points leader Adam DePuy suffered a broken driveshaft and rear gear issues after the transmission expired just three laps into the main event.
“We’ve been through hell this year so this (win) feels really good,” said Minutolo, 26, after taking the checkered flag three-quarters of a straightaway ahead of runner-up Brad Steinruck. Todd Hayward, Parker Smith and Carl Johnson settled into front-five slots at the stripe.
“My dad put this motor together after I blew it up a couple weeks ago at Genesee (Speedway). The Barron family came through in the clutch and loaned me a motor, had a win and a couple seconds with it. Blew a coil last week while leading and that was kind of a sore spot, so bouncing back to get a victory is awesome. We just come here and try to put on a show and get some victories, and here we are again.”
Three yellow flags over the opening three circuits kept the full-fender feature at a snail’s pace as Minutolo (started 5th) and DePuy (began 7th) made their way to the front after the first lap was finally scored. Once DePuy dropped out in the early going, the #25B Tradition Automotive Group-Big Mike’s Auto/Chevrolet Camaro was in prime position to remain out front the entire distance.
Mirroring Minutolo’s green-to-checkers run in the Street Stock ranks, Hoxie held the lead for the duration to capture his fourth 10-lap New Legends feature victory.
“Just set out to get laps and learn, done a ton more than I ever thought I’d do this year,” said Hoxie, who has started all but one of the 13 entry level Sportsman division races held at LOLR this season. Have to thank Barber’s Automotive for helping us just get parts, and Bliss Int’l Speedway, that’s where it all started.”
Hoxie put his double-zero Bicknell car out front at the drop of the green and held off a late rally from runner-up Adam Haddow, who caused a caution after looping in turn three trying to avoid contact underneath leader Hoxie on lap two. Dwight Nichols, three-time winner Tyler Vinson and Kirk Karlsen in his debut filled out the front-five.
The 55th season of oval track activity at the Ontario County Fairgrounds concludes over the next seven days with two big shows taking center stage. Lake Beverage backs the Patriot Sprint Tour / GRIT Sportsman Series doubleheader on Wed., Aug. 29, along with the conclusion of the DIRTcar Sportsman Series program postponed due to rain on June 23. Sprinters will be competing in round #4 of the inaugural Land of Legends 360 Sprint Car Classic with area wingman Chuck Hebing (178 pts) battling Frenchman Steve Poirier (174) and Central New Yorker Jason Barney (169) for the coveted crown.
Double points are awarded to Sportsman, 305 Sprint and Street Stock drivers in the ‘Saturday Spectacular’ Season Championship Night finale presented by Filer’s Powersports and American Equipment on Sept. 1 when all three division champs are recognized. An “open” engine allowance is in effect for the Modifieds ($2,000-to-win, non-points) while the New Legends Sportsman class comprises the five-star curtain-closer with qualifying action getting underway at 7 p.m.
Check out the current point standings as well as all the track news online by visiting www.LandOfLegendsRaceway.com. Advance sale tickets remain 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 – August 25, 2018
ADMAR Construction Equipment & Supplies Saturday Spectacular
Modified Season Championship Night
Pepsi Big-Block Modified(DOUBLE POINTS)
*Feature (35 laps): 1. 3rs-Billy Dunn ($2,000), 2. 25-Erick Rudolph, 3. 11j-James Sweeting, 4. 98h-Jimmy Phelps, 5. 6h-Max McLaughlin, 6. 3-Justin Haers, 7. 9s-Matt Sheppard, 8. 23-Kyle Coffey, 9. 19w-Justin Wright, 10. 22g-Gil Tegg Jr., 11. 14j-Alan Johnson, 12. 77-Lance Dusett, 13. 12-Brian Sage, 14. 7x-Steve Paine, 15. 31m-Jimmy Maier, 16. 5-Tom Keyes, 17. 22-Jeff Daugherty.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Sweeting, Paine, Haers, Tegg, Rudolph, Johnson, Sage, Wright, Daugherty.
#2: Dusett, Dunn, Coffey, Sheppard, Phelps, McLaughlin, Maier, Keyes.
2018 Track Champion: Erick Rudolph
Donath Motor Worx Sportsman Modified
*Feature (25 laps): 1. 12g-Matt Guererri, 2. 25g-Nick Guererri, 3. 11n-Ricky Newton, 4. 7-Paul Guererri, 5. m1-Dave Marcuccilli, 6. 21x-Eric Williams, 7. 20x-Kevin Ridley, 8. 29g-Steve Gray, 9. 3m-Mike Stanton Jr., 10. 2-Loren Lincoln, 11. 31-Kane Bristol, 12. 2k-Anthony Kimble, 13. 1-Billy Paine, 14. 9-Tim Baker, 15. 13t-Trevor Years, 16. 1f-A.J. Lloyd , 17. c21-Jeff Davoli, 18. 90-Nathan Peckham, 19. 77-Benny Karlsen, 20. 01-Doug Smith, 21. 8-Joe Cook, 22. 50-Tim Downs, 23. 35-Nick Cooper, 24. 1L-Jeff Lawrence.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Bristol, Baker, Lincoln, Marcuccilli, Cooper, Kimble, Downs, Davoli(DNS).
#2: Williams, P.Guererri, Newton, Years, N.Guererri, Stanton, Karlsen, Cook.
#3: M.Guererri, Paine, Lloyd(DSQ), Ridley, Gray, Peckham, Smith, Lawrence.
Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint
*Feature (20 laps): 1. 48jr.-Darryl Ruggles, 2. 26j-Johnny Kolosek, 3. 23-Tyler Cartier, 4. X-Dan Bennett, 5. 66-Erik Karlsen, 6. 75-Brandyn Griffin, 7. 38-Jason Whipple, 8. 99j-Aaron Jacobus, 9. 99-Andy Jacobus, 10. 48a-Alysha Bay,11. 8g-Bobby Gardner, 4-Tim Smith(DNS).
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Kolosek, Karlsen, Griffin, Ar.Jacobus, Gardner, Smith(DNS).
#2: Cartier, Bay, Bennett, Whipple, Ruggles, An.Jacobus.
Big Dog Country Street Stock
*Feature (15 laps): 1. 25b-Marc Minutolo, 2. 02-Brad Steinruck, 3. 57j-Todd Hayward, 4. 55p-Parker Smith, 5. 37x-Carl Johnson, 6. 4j-Jason Doty, 7. 30-Steve Pesarek, 8. 58d-Darren Phippen, 9. 69r-Carl Whittaker, 10. 34q-Jason Quigley, 11. 99-Adam DePuy, 12. 86L-Blane Smith, 13. 74-Ronald “Bundy” Metcalf.
Heats (6 laps)
#1: Minutolo, DePuy, Doty, Johnson, Pesarek, P.Smith, Whittaker.
#2: Hayward, Quigley, B.Smith, Steinruck, Metcalf, Phippen.
New Legends Sportsman
*Feature (10 laps): 1. 00-Sam Hoxie, 2. 2h-Adam Haddow, 3. 14n-Dwight Nichols, 4. 93-Tyler Vinson, 5. 77-Kirk Karlsen, 6. 50-Timmy Borden Jr., 4-Eric Years(DNS).
Dirt Modified Nostalgia Tour
*Feature (15 laps): 1. 55-Jonathan Kuleszo, 2. 14b-Nathan Berry, 3. 21-Bob Johnson, 4. 13-Evan Reynolds, 5. 37-Matt Barbour, 6. 5-Mark Schenck, 7. b3-Steve Billings, 8. 2s-John Stanley, 9. 46-Karl Weichenthal, 10. 18-Greg Hixson, 11. 22-Matt Larrivee, 12. 36-Roy Rinnie, 13. 4-Tim Hegarty, 14. 42-Pat Charland, 15. 51-Bill Profeta, 16. 19-Megan Ciglich, 17. 00-Darrell Wilson, 18. 72-Jeff Mitchell, 19. 91-Richard Taggert, 20. 17-Michele Kuleszo, 21. 88-Brad Litzenberger, 22. 1-Ed Lawrence.
Heats (6 laps)
#1 Modified: Johnson, Stanley, Berry, Reynolds, Barbour, Ciglich.
#2 Modified: J.Kuleszo, Schenk, Billings, Hixson, Weichenthal, Charland, Rinnie.
#3 Vintage: Larrivee, Mitchell, Wilson, Taggart, M.Kuleszo, Litzenberger, Profota, Hegarty, Lawrence.
2018 Modified Nostalgia Champion: Nathan Berry.
2018 Vintage Nostalgia Champion: Tim Hegarty.
NEXT EVENTS: Wednesday, August 29 @ 7pm; Lake Beverage presents Land of Legends 360 Sprint Classic Series Race #4 Patriot Sprint Tour and GRIT Sportsman plus DIRTcar Sportsman Series (make-up feature from June 23).
Saturday Spectacular, September 1 @ 7pm; Filer’s Powersports and American Equipment present Season Championship Night Big-Block Modified(non-points)/Sportsman(double points)/305 Sprint(double points)/Street Stock(double points) plus New Legends Sportsman with Crosswinds Sharing & Caring Benefit.
Track Instant Info
Along with recognizing its weekly 50/50 raffle fund beneficiaries, 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, Pampered Parents, Phelps Cement Products, Pilat Graphic Design, Proctor Enterprises, Product 9, Red Osier Restaurant, 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 and charitable beneficiaries 4-H Club, American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, Autism Up of Rochester, Camp Good Days, Canandaigua Emergency Squad, Care Net, Colony Caregivers–Cats, Crosswinds Sharing & Caring, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter 4 of the Finger Lakes, Embrace Your Sisters–Cancer, Friendship House (Middlesex NY), Hearts for Heroes, Justin Vecchiolo Scholarship, Miss Lizzie Deville & CNY RockaBetties, New 2 U Rescue Dogs, Oasis Adaptive Sports, Safe Harbors, The Spot, Wings For Cystic Fibrosis, Youth Baseball, Youth Football.