By KEN BRUCE
SWEDESBORO, NJ – It was the perfect storm on Tuesday night at Bridgeport Speedway for the Super Dirt Series 60 lap “Friends of Mike” finale. A beautiful sunny spring day greeted the overwhelming number of fans that attended the event which featured the cars and stars of the dirt modified’s premier racing series. It was the first appearance for the series at the South Jersey oval in 12 years and the night didn’t disappoint.
In a field of drivers that included, among others, multi-time Super DIRTcar Series champions Matt Sheppard, Brett Hearn and Billy Decker not to mention NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular and two-time winner at Bridgeport already this season Stewart Friesen, it was track regular and defending track champion Ryan Watt who stole the show and raced under starter Dave Farney’s checkered flag to take the biggest win of his career.
Watt out of Boyertown, Pa., had wanted to win a Super DIRTcar Series race badly. Watt has won numerous big events in his career but a win on the SDS was the one thing on his bucket list that he hadn’t been able to accomplish up until now. It was last year, with the blessings of car owners Ronnie and Fay Roberts, that Watt had started to branch out and take his show on the road with the SDS as he joined the tour for events in Eldora (OH), Sharon (OH) and for the World Finals in Charlotte (NC). Watt had no problems qualifying with the big boys and had a runner-up finish to Jimmy Phelps at Sharon Speedway.
Talking with Watt in his trailer after the big victory, I asked him about what it’s like to win in the Super Dirt Series.
“Man, this feels great. I grew up watching these guys, watching this series and not competing in it. I never dreamed I would be able to run big-block cars weekly let alone being able to pick up a win against these guys. Coming into tonight we weren’t sure what set-up we should use with the Hoosiers tires on this Bicknell car. We were back and forth at the shop yesterday trying to decide what to do set-up wise and even when we got down tonight I thought about changing things but we didn’t and it was fast right out of the box in warmups. To win against these guys is awesome. I got to run against a few of them last Friday up in Brewerton but they were all here today”
Starting the feature from the eighth position Watt had a little trouble on the initial start slipping back to the tenth spot. From there he immediately started charging to the front. Using the inside groove instead of his patented high line, Watt steadily moved through the field and was up to second when leader Rick Laubach blew a left rear tire on lap ten handing the lead over to Watt.
“The car worked so good on the bottom there was really no reason for me to go up there unless I had to pass somebody or on a restart,” Explained Watt on his using the inside line. “I tried to stay off the top so I wouldn’t blister a tire or something worse. Everywhere we’ve had this Bicknell car it has been good. We got a second with it at Georgetown the first time out, it ran good here earlier in the year and we blew a tire and we had it down at Delaware and hurt the motor. Those were the only three times we ran the car and it was fast each time. After we hurt the motor we just let it sit and Enders called last week and said the engine was done so we put it in and here we are.”
Once in front the only obstacles Watt had to deal with were the numerous restarts and a little bit of lapped traffic late in the race after the track had started to take on rubber making passing a little more difficult.
Watt shed some light on why getting around the lapped cars late in the race was a difficult task, especially the 98H of Jimmy Phelps.
“The track became a little rubbered up there towards the end and I had a hard time getting around Phelps there. He was holding me up and I lost a lot of ground there. I gave him a shot in the bumper going into the corner on one lap there but he didn’t move. I know they were giving him the mover over flag but that didn’t help. Finally, I was able to get by him.”
Any win is a confidence booster for the team, but a win against the best in the business can do wonders for a team and for the #14W bunch it could be just that as the summer schedule starts to ramp up and they plan to take on the SDS again down the road.
“This definitely gets the crew all pumped up for sure and keep them going. We’ve had some good runs but haven’t been able to put it all together until tonight. We’re planning on hitting Eldora again this year along with Sharon and maybe Lernerville on the way home. I have to check the schedule to see what other SDS races we might be able to get to. Maybe Five Mile Point as long as it doesn’t interfere with our normal race schedule.”
LUCKY PAUCH FINISHES SECOND ON WRONG TIRE
Billy Pauch Sr., of Frenchtown, N.J., ran a very strong race to finish in the runner-up spot. Pauch gave it all could restart after restart but he didn’t quite have enough to get by the winner Watt. Pauch was able to get up even with Watt on one restart. He just didn’t have the bite he needed coming off the corner to propel himself into the lead.
Afterwards Pauch discovered he had the wrong tire on for the feature and was lucky to even finish where he did.
Pauch explained he problem. “I had this tire grooved up aggressively for the time trial and the heat and honestly forgot to change it before the feature. So it didn’t have much tread to start with and I figured I wouldn’t have much left to finish. But honestly, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”
On one of the many restarts Pauch was able to get alongside of Watt. He was close to making pass. He didn’t have enough in his car to finish off the move.
“Yeah, we made a run at it there but there wasn’t much left at the top and the track started to take rubber down low. I thought about giving it one last hooray there on the last restart but the bottom was so good with the rubber that I figured I could get hung up there and it could get really ugly. So, I said to myself I like Ryan (Watt) and let’s just finish and go away with a second.”
ANOTHER STRONG EFFORT FOR FRIESEN AT BRIDGEPORT
Coming into to tonight’s show Stewart Friesen was a perfect two-for-two at the big 5/8’s mile oval in 2017 having won the Doug Hoffman 60 Over memorial race along the STSS South Jersey Shootout and had to be considered the favorite going into tonight’s show.
Although the Sprakers, NY driver gave it all he had, Friesen had to settle for a podium finish on the night.
“We had a decent run, this Halmar team is good. Congratulation to Watty, he was due to win a big one at his home track for sure and he had it going tonight. We were close. We got rolling right there at the beginning then we got a little tight and slid back a few spots and then we were able to battle back up for a third-place finish. This place is tricky, it’s always a little bit different. The outside was a little greasy tonight so you had to be careful. I was able to roll around Williams there and then Kressley but once the track started to take rubber it was game over. It was a great show and I am happy to finish third.”
I asked Friesen his thoughts on having the Super Dirt Series back down here at Bridgeport.
“It was a neat show and there was a lot of talent and a lot of wins in the field tonight. It was probably the most talented field we’ll see on the series all year long. Like I said it was a great show and the crowd was unbelievable. I wish the New York boys would venture down here a little more, they don’t know what their missing. It’s a great place to race for sure.”
47 big-block Modifieds were on hand for the show. Fast time of the night was Frank Cozze in the Huttig #35. Heat winners were Frank Cozze, Billy Pauch Jr, Ryan Watt, Rick Laubach and Billy Decker with Ryan Anderson and Bob Sarkisian the winners of the two last chance qualifiers…
Not making the field and receiving provisional starting spots were Jimmy Phelps, Billy Whittaker, Max McLaughlin, Brandon Walters, Rich Scagliotta and Keith Flach…
Defending Super DIRTcar Series champion Matt Sheppard had a rough night being involved in a couple of wrecks and even had a helmet issue. Sheppard battled through it all and still managed a fifth place finish…
Ryan Godown and Jimmy Horton had an incident in heat #3 which resulted in Horton heading to the pits with a flat tire and Godown being sent to the rear for rough driving. Neither driver was able to qualify in their heat or consi resulting in DNQ’s for both…
Motor problems continue to plague Brett Kressley this season. After running in the top five for most of the race Kressley ended having more motor troubles with less the an ten to go resulting in another disappointing night for the your driver…
Max McLaughlin was running away with his heat race when the motor went up in smoke on the last lap forcing the team to unload their backup car for the consi…
After success of last night’s show, I really hope Bridgeport Speedway and the Super Dirt Series can get together and bring this show back again in 2018…
As always, I can reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @dirtracefan25 for any questions or comments.