By MIKE MALLETT
Winning on opening day is always special. It gets things started on the right foot while giving positive vibes for the rest of the season ahead.
Lance Willix now knows what that feels like. Willix, from Theresa, N.Y., was impressive Friday night while driving to the win in the 25-lap season opening event at the Can-Am Speedway. It was his second career win at the track and his first since July 31, 2020.
“Definitely the way we want to start the year off,” stated a still smiling Willix. “I’ve been kind of lazy all winter on getting stuff done. We hurried up and got it done this week. This car was a rocketship. I couldn’t get it much better than it was tonight. Dale and Brandon Planck at DIG Race Products, they give me one hell of a set of shocks. It was something we were trying tonight and it paid off.”
While marching forward, Willix used the middle when he had to, but the bottom was his preferred line. Even when traffic was battling in front of him after he got the lead, he did what he could with his Morrison powered Bicknell (slight changes from Two Brothers Racing) to utilize the inner lane on the track.
“We were really good early on down around the tires,” said the soon to be 50-year-old driver. “There was a little brown down there. Once we got to lapped traffic I had to move around a little bit. We weren’t too bad through the black. We took off from there.”
Willix started from the ninth spot alongside defending track champion Tim Fuller with perennial favorite Billy Dunn from sixth. He got away from Fuller early and found his way to Dunn late in the race after he had taken the lead from Ryan Arbuthnot. Dunn seemed to get held up a bit in traffic allowing Willix to take advantage.
“I think it was a traffic deal,” said Willix about getting the lead. “Like I said, I felt really good when I had to go out in the black. I’m always hesitant to go out there and get slipping around. Tonight it seemed to work well through the black. I felt very confident right from lap one.”
Dunn Back on Track
Billy Dunn captured last year’s season opener. That’s where the good times seemingly ended for the Watertown, N.Y., native. Dunn struggled throughout the remainder of 2023. Friday wasn’t a win, but it was still a positive for Dunn.
“We won the opener here last year and sucked the rest of the year so it was nice,” said Dunn. “I thought we were going to get it again this year, but Lance was really good on the bottom. I got to a couple of lapped cars that didn’t know where they wanted to be. I probably should have put them in their own place. It’s been a while since I’ve been the leader passing lapped cars so I guess I’m a little out of practice. Lance drove a hell of a race. I’m glad he got a win. It was a fun race.”
Dunn’s struggles last year started the second night of the season with motor woes.
“We won the opener here last year and then blew the motor at Fulton (Speedway) the next day,” he said. “We just struggled with motors and getting parts to get stuff rebuilt. We just never got anything good together. Hopefully we got our shit together this year and will be up front every week.”
Fuller Fast Out the of Gate
Fresh off a $12,000 win at Fonda Speedway last week, Tim Fuller finished up Friday with a solid podium effort. The defending champion started alongside Willix in 10th. It took a bit for his No. 19 to get rolling, but once he found his rhythm he closed in on both Willix and Dunn at the end.
“I brought them in a long way in lapped traffic there,” said Fuller of Willix and Dunn. “I think I was hitting it pretty good. They got bottled up in traffic a little bit. A caution would have been nice. Lance did a great job. That is his kind of track right on the bottom and he was stuck there. All-in-all, after starting 10th to get to third, I’ll take it.”
Can-Am Season Opener Notes:
Three heat races were run for the 29 cars in the pits. Victories were taken by Arbuthnot, Derek Webb and Taylor Caprara. All cars were put in the feature by speedway management…
Chris Raabe had a tough night breaking the front end on his No. 01 during the heat race. He returned to start the feature in the 28th starting position. He went on to finish in 18th…
Tim Sears Jr., debuted a brand new car on the night. He finished his night in seventh.