LIVE UPDATES 10/10: NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week Qualifying Day
It’s Qualifying Day for the DIRTcar big-block Modified Syracuse 200 and ‘Salute to the Troops’ 358-Modified Championship 150 at the one-mile New York State Fairgrounds. Time Trials for both divisions are scheduled for this afternoon, beginning with the 358-Modifieds at 1:20 p.m. and then the big-block Modifieds at 2:45 p.m.
The top six starting spots in the Syracuse 200 and ‘Salute to the Troops’ 358-Modified Championship 150 will be locked in after today’s time trials. Results will also be used to align each division’s heat races during tomorrow’s S-T-R Trailer Repair ‘Friday Night Lights’ program.
Click the ‘Read More’ link below for live updates of the action on the ‘Moody Mile’ and other news and notes throughout the day, and check back tonight for updates from the DIRTcar 358-Modified Series ‘Hurricane 100’ at Brewerton (N.Y.) Speedway. Be sure to refresh your browser regularly to read the latest information.
On the hammer
Stewart Friesen made one spectacular lap of the one-mile New York State Fairgrounds oval on Thursday afternoon to put himself at the top of the qualifying list for the 42nd annual Syracuse 200. Then he topped that with an even faster second circuit, securing his first-ever pole position starting spot for the DIRTcar big-block Modified classic.
As one of the last drivers to hit the track during time trials, the two-time Syracuse 200 champion from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., blazed around the Moody Mile in 30.237 seconds to put a resounding exclamation point on his qualifying effort. His clocking was over seventh-tenths of a second quicker than defending Syracuse 200 winner Brett Hearn of Sussex, N.J., who will start Sunday’s $50,000-to-win event from the outside pole after turning a lap of 30.963 seconds.
Did Friesen, 30, think he could lay down a lap that was so much better than his rivals?
“Not really,” said Friesen, who won the Syracuse 200 in 2010 and ’11 but dropped out of last year’s event in his bid for a threepeat. “After we hot-lapped and had a good lap it definitely felt like a car that was capable of it, but you never know. You try to do as well as you can and see what shakes out.”
Friesen steered a brand-new Jeff Dailey & Sons-backed Teo-Pro car to his fast time honor. He earned a $1,000 check for his efforts from Pole Position Raceway.
“We made a couple adjustments after practice and (motor builder) Chuck Cici did some tuning on the engine and it worked great,” said Friesen. “It’s just a good combination and we made good adjustments. Matt (Hearn) and myself work really good together, and with Loren and the Rochinski boys…we got a good group of close friends who just are working for the same goals.
“It’s real cool to be on the pole. We’ll make a big deal of it all the way from now until Sunday. The boys work hard, so it’s something to celebrate about.”
Hearn, 55, had his Madsen Motorsports Teo-Pro car’s No. 20 at the top of the scoreboard until being knocked off by Friesen. He fell short of his first Syracuse 200 fast-time since 2002, but beginning his bid for a record seventh victory in the event from the front row left him extremely satisfied.
“The car feels very stable, it’s rolling the corner real good and it’s getting down the straightaway real good,” said Hearn, who received $1,000 for his outside-pole performance from Page Trucking. “I think we’re gonna have a way different track on Sunday than we have right now though – it widened out really good but it’s actually taking rubber in spots, which it hasn’t done in a few years – so we’re gonna have to keep an eye on the conditions and adjust to them.”
Hearn was a bit awestruck by Friesen’s sizzling circuit, however.
“That’s pretty amazing,” said Hearn, shaking his head. “I could see (the pole winner being) a couple tenths faster, but seven-tenths – that’s pretty big. That’s traction.”
Jimmy Phelps of Baldwinsville, N.Y., earned the third starting spot for the Syracuse 200 with a lap of 31.055 seconds in the HBR Racing Troyer car.
The surprise of qualifying was Jeff Rockefeller of Scotia, N.Y., whose lap of 31.101 seconds early in time trials with his Bicknell car held up to place him fourth-fastest in the final rundown. He became the rare driver to make a career-first start in the Syracuse 200 from a position in the top six.
Former Syracuse 200 winner Matt Sheppard of Waterloo, N.Y., guided Jeff Brownell Sr.’s Bicknell machine to the fifth starting spot with a lap of 31.164 seconds while Carey Terrance of Hogansburg, N.Y., locked into the headliner in sixth place with a circuit of 31.187 seconds. Terrance was the lone driver to qualify in the top six for both the Syracuse 200 and 358-Modified 150.
Pictured below are the top six qualifiers for the Syracuse (l-r): Carey Terrance, Brett Hearn, Matt Sheppard, Jimmy Phelps, Stewart Friesen and Jeff Rockefeller.
For full results from Syracuse 200 qualifying, click here.
Second-generation racer Ronnie Johnson of Duanesburg, N.Y., led the way in time trials for the 358-Modified 150, turning a lap of 31.754 seconds to earn the pole position in Saturday afternoon’s headliner.
The son of two-time Syracuse 200 winner Jack Johnson, Ronnie steered Alton and Carol Palmer’s Teo-Pro No. 76a to his first fast-time honor in the 358-Modified ranks at NAPA Super DIRT Week. He will make his sixth career start in the 150 hoping to better his personal-best finish of fourth, which he achieved in 2010 and ’12.
Johnson, who will celebrate his 40th birthday on Nov. 2, has a string of three consecutive top-five finishes in the 358-Modified 150 – all earned behind the wheel of equipment owned by the Palmers. He was proud to put the personable husband-and-wife team on the point for Saturday’s headliner.
“I’ve been with the Palmers probably since 2005,” said Johnson. “We got to know each other from racing at Fonda (Speedway) and we just kind of hit it off. We became good friends and our relationship has grown ever since. I’m very fortunate to be able to race for them.
Johnson knows that Alton Palmer – a successful veteran Modified racer in his own right – and his better half always provide him a competitive car to run at the Mile. Nevertheless, besting the small-block field in today’s time trials still surprised him.
“Carol and Alton put this car away to save it just for coming here,” said Johnson, whose pair of fourth-place finishes in the 358-Modified 150 sandwiched a fifth-place run in 2011. “We just run it here and we usually unload a top-10 car, but I never dreamed we’d be on the pole with it.
“I didn’t know how good we were because you’re out there by yourself. I’ve run a lot of time-trial laps and felt like that was the fastest one and I come in and I’m 10th or 12th, so you never know. But when I took the white flag lap I saw the (number) 76 up on the board so I knew we must have been pretty good.”
Rising young star Chris Raabe of Napanee, Ont., timed a career-best second at 32.236 seconds, earning the outside pole starting spot for Saturday’s 150. The two-time overall DIRTcar Sportsman champion will make his second career start in the event; he finished 29th in 2010.
Carey Terrance of Hogansburg, N.Y., was third-fastest at 32.289 seconds to earn his seventh career start in the 150 (top finish: ninth in 2012). Marc Johnson of Guilderland, N.Y., was fourth-fastest at 32.328 seconds for his fourth career start in the event (top finish: sixth in ’10); Larry Wight of Phoenix, N.Y., was fifth-fastest at 32.349 seconds (sixth career start with a top finish of fourth in ’09); and Willy Decker was the final driver to lock in to the 150 with a sixth-fastest lap of 32.464 seconds (sixth career start with a best finish of eighth in ’06).
Pictured below are the six fastest qualifiers (l-r): Willy Decker, Marc Johnson, Ronnie Johnson, Chris Raabe, Carey Terrance and Larry Wight.
For full results from 358-Modified time trials, click here.
3 p.m. – Two-time Syracuse 200 winner Stewart Friesen’s bid to add the 358-Modified 150 trophy to his list of accomplishments has already taken a difficult path. The engine in his Jeff Daley & Sons-backed small-block expired during this morning’s hot laps – and with no spare in his arsenal, he’s had to scramble to find a replacement.
Friesen secured a powerplant – albeit not in time to participate in today’s 358-Modified time trials, which are currently underway – thanks to his relationship with Capital District Modified driver Jeremy Wilder, who lives less than 10 minutes from Friesen’s new residence in Sprakers, N.Y. With Wilder not entering the NAPA Super DIRT Week activities for the first time since 2007 (he’s started the last five 358-Modified 150s with a top finish of 12th in ’08), his father, Kelly, offered Friesen the use of the Jack Boyd-built engine that was in Wilder’s car here last year.
Of course, Wilder’s engine is back in the team’s shop, so Friesen dispatched two of his crewmen – Ryan Wilder (Jeremy’s cousin) and ‘Wild Bill’ – to fetch the piece and bring it back to the Mile. Friesen, who will drive Scott Kerwin’s small-block in tonight’s DIRTcar 358-Modified Series event at Brewerton Speedway, and his team will install Wilder’s engine in their car when it arrives and start scratch in one of tomorrow night’s twin 20-lap 358-Modified heat races.
Friesen has started the 358-Modified 150 six times since 2004. He’s finished second twice, in 2007 and ’11.
2:15 p.m. – Want to know everybody who has signed in for NAPA Super DIRT Week competition so far? Then click the following link to go directly to the entry lists for all four divisions, which are current as of this afternoon. Click here for NAPA Super DIRT Week entry lists.
Big news for 2014
1:55 p.m. – The annual NAPA Super DIRT Week Media Conference recognized event sponsors and provided press members an opportunity to interview top Syracuse 200 contenders Billy Decker (whose Gypsum Racing car sports NAPA sponsorship for the week) and Billy Dunn, but it will mostly be remembered for the 2014 DIRTcar Northeast news that was released by the organization’s Director of Series & Sanctioning Joe Skotnicki.
Sitting in front of the assembled media on a director’s chair alongside announcer Shane Andrews, Skotnicki announced the expanded 2014 Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modified schedule that currently shows 20 points races at 18 different tracks. (Four non-points races on Feb. 19-22 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., will start the tour’s season.) Several new additions dot the schedule, including Fulton (N.Y.) Speedway (April 26); Utica-Rome Speedway in Vernon, N.Y. (June 25); Big Diamond Raceway in Minersville, Pa. (July 15); Glen Ridge Speedway in Fultonville, N.Y. (July 16); and Weedsport (N.Y.) Speedway (Aug. 7).
In addition, Skotnicki confirmed that new Glen Ridge promoter Mike Sowle will make the Capital District a Sunday-night DIRTcar-sanctioned oval in 2014 and John Wight will bring Brewerton (N.Y.) Speedway back into the DIRTcar Big-Block Modified fold for Friday-night action next season.
2014 Super DIRTcar Big-Block Modified Series Schedule (subject to change)
Wed-Feb. 19 – Volusia Speedway Park/Barberville, FL (30 laps-N/P)
Thurs-Feb. 20 – Volusia Speedway Park/Barberville, FL (30 laps-N/P)
Fri-Feb. 20 – Volusia Speedway Park/Barberville, FL (30 laps-N/P)
Sat-Feb. 21 – Volusia Speedway Park/Barberville, FL (50 laps-N/P)
Sat-April 26 – Fulton (NY) Speedway (100 laps)
Tues-June 17 – New Egypt (NJ) Speedway (60 laps – raindate June 18)
Wed-June 25 – Utica-Rome Speedway/Vernon, NY (100 laps)
Sun-June 29 – Cornwall (ONT) Motor Speedway (100 laps)
Thurs-July 3 – Rolling Wheels Raceway Park/Elbridge, NY
Tues-July 8 – Albany-Saratoga Speedway/Malta, NY (100 laps – raindate July 29)
Tues-July 15 – Big Diamond Raceway/Minersville, PA (75 laps)
Wed-July 16 – Glen Ridge Motorsports Park/Fultonville, NY (100 laps – raindate July 30)
Mon-July 21 – Autodrome Granby/Granby, QUE (100 laps)
Tues-July 22 – Autodrome Drummond/Drummondville, QUE (100 laps)
Mon-Aug 4 – Merrittville Speedway/Thorold, ONT (100 laps)
Thurs-Aug 7 – Weedsport (NY) Speedway (100 laps – Hall of Fame event w/induction on Wed., Aug 6)
Thurs-Aug 14 – Lebanon Valley Speedway/W. Lebanon, NY (100 laps)
Sat-Sept 6 – Autodrome Granby/Granby, QUE (100 laps)
Sat-Sept 13 – Mohawk International Raceway/Akwesasne, NY (100 laps)
Sun-Oct 12 – New York State Fairgrounds/Syracuse, NY (200 laps – NAPA Super DIRT Week)
Sun-Oct 19 – Brockville Ontario Speedway (100 laps – DIRTcar Fall Nationals)
Sun-Oct 26 – Orange County Fair Speedway (200 laps – Eastern States 200)
Thurs-Nov 6 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte/Concord, NC (Qualifying – World Finals)
Fri-Nov 7 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte/Concord, NC (40 laps – World Finals)
Sat – Nov 8 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte/Concord, NC (40 laps – World Finals)
11:55 a.m. – So much for Jimmy Blewett getting a lot of track time during practice.
The New Jersey driver and at least a half-dozen crewmen are currently working feverishly on Blewett’s car, which was damaged in a hot-lap incident. The machine’s left-arm torsion broke as he entered turn three, sending him into the inside berm and then the outside wall.
Blewett and Co. have already put in a new front axle and are toiling on several other parts of the car, including the rear end. The right-front portion of the new car’s frame is also slightly bent, but it appears they should be able to have the mount ready for time trials this afternoon.
Looking for speed
11:45 a.m. – As the morning practice session nears its conclusion (on-track action will cease at 12 noon for the annual NAPA Super DIRT Week Media Day Press Conference in the infield media center), Matt Sheppard sits atop the big-block Modified speed chart with a lap of 30.761 seconds. Tim Fuller is second-fastest at 30.841 seconds, followed by Justin Haers (31.159), Stewart Friesen (31.272) and Tim McCreadie (31.406).
Stewart Friesen, meanwhile, has turned the fastest 358-Modified lap so far at 32.315 seconds, topping Ronnie Johnson (32.689) and Billy Decker (33.047).
Happy he didn’t need a doctor
11:30 a.m. – Danny Johnson is thanking his lucky stars that he’s able to walk around the New York State Fairgrounds this week, let alone compete in the NAPA Super DIRT Week activities.
On Tuesday night at Rolling Wheels Raceway Park, Johnson was involved in a grinding wreck late in the Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modified ‘Stars & Stripes 100.’ After breaking a wheel at high speed halfway down the homestretch, Johnson’s Mike Petruska-owned Atlas Paving No. 66 began to roll and was t-boned hard at virtually full speed by Keith Flach. Many witnesses said it was one of the loudest car-to-car impacts they had ever heard – and Johnson called it one of the hardest hits he’s ever experienced in over three decades behind the wheel.
“The headers were bent up over the air cleaner,” Johnson said of the damage done to his machine. “The car was pretty much demolished. They left a pile of it over there.”
After finishing second in last night’s DIRTcar 358-Modified Series 75 at Weedsport (N.Y.) Speedway, Johnson looked back on the crash again. Neither Johnson nor Flach suffered anything more severe than soreness from the accident.
“We’re fortunate I didn’t get hurt,” said Johnson, who is running another Atlas Paving mount in this week’s big-block action at the Mile. “That’s one thing I don’t wanna do is get hurt in a race car.”
That was quick
11:15 a.m. – It appears that New Jersey’s Neal Williams has claimed the dubious honor of being the first victim of a blown engine at Syracuse during NAPA Super DIRT Week 2013.
Just minutes into today’s practice, the powerplant in Williams’s 358-Modified let loose. He said he had turned just five laps before the malfunction sent him limping to his pit stall.
“It’s a shame,” said Williams, who won the DIRTcar Sportsman Championship 30 during NAPA Super DIRT Week 2011 and finished 18th in his 358-Modified 150 debut last year. “We just got the motor back after having it refreshened after last year’s race. Something just let go.”
Williams, who drives a car fielded by New Egypt (N.J.) Speedway owner Fred Vahlsing, quickly arranged for a wrecker to visit his pit area so his team could make an engine change before this afternoon’s 358-Modified time trials. (That’s his steaming engine below.) He said he will have to use the Saturday-night small-block motor he uses at New Egypt – a good piece, but one that’s not tuned for fuel mileage like the expired engine.
10:40 a.m. – One driver anxious to get as many laps in around the ‘Moody Mile’ as possible is Jimmy Blewett, a 32-year-old asphalt Modified specialist from Howell Twp., N.J., who is still in the process of adjusting to dirt-track racing.
This year marks Blewett’s third attempt at NAPA Super DIRT Week in the 358-Modified division. He failed to qualify in 2011 and finished 28th in last year’s 150-miler.
Considering Blewett broke through this season to win features on dirt for the first time – at both of his home-state tracks, Bridgeport Speedway and New Egypt Speedway – he’s bringing plenty of confidence to Syracuse. But he’s still very much in the middle of the learning process.
“It’s coming,” Blewett said of his dirt-tracking skills. “I just need to run on dirt more.”
Blewett is looking to make that happen in 2014. He said he has all of his family’s asphalt Modified equipment for sale so he can concentrate on dirt racing next season; he’ll only run on pavement next year if he finds a ride for selected events.
Here we go
10:25 a.m. – The first big-block Modified practice session of NAPA Super DIRT Week 2013 has begun. DIRTcar officials plan to hot-lap the big-blocks until 11 a.m. before sending 358-Modifieds onto the speedway.