Super DIRT Week News & Notes
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Thursday qualifying saw fast timers Stewart Friesen and Ronnie Johnson, who battle each other weekly at the Albany-Saratoga and Fonda Speedways, share similar highs and lows.
Friesen blew his new small-block engine during hot laps, then went out and claimed the pole by a substantial margin with his big block entry. Johnson, son of two-time Syracuse winner “Jumpin’ Jack” Johnson, took the pole for the 358 modified race, then grenaded an engine just as he took the green flag for his big-block time-trial run. Both spent Friday morning installing substitute powerplants.
• Another Johnson, longtime modified hero Danny, was the talk of Syracuse Friday morning after winning Thursday night’s small-block feature at Brewerton Speedway from the tail of the field.
After dropping like a rock in his heat and finishing in the next to last qualifying spot in his consi, Johnson drove from 26th to victory. Nobody doubts “The Doctor’s” talent, but his short-track mount is obviously a low-dollar deal far overshadowed by the majority of his competition.
• Yet another Johnson, Marc, impressed everyone by putting his Troyer into the top six in qualifying for the 358 modified race, using a homebuilt engine assembled by his father. That is another rarity in today’s racing game.
• Billy Decker, who almost always qualifies in the top six in both modified divisions, is the standard others are measured by at Syracuse. He had the line of the day at the media luncheon, saying, “I’m off the pace and not comfortable in the big block and comfortable but slow in the small block.”
He was right, as he failed to “lock in” in either set of time trials.
Decker’s struggle got worse Friday night, as his big block first started skipping in practice, then detonated while he was running second in his qualifier. Nobody could recall the “Franklin Flyer” ever running the Sunday consi, but that’s where he ended up. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Friesen, rapidly becoming the one others measure themselves against at Syracuse rather than Decker, easily won his big-block qualifier after dashing from last to the top three in his small-block heat after an engine swap.
• Our informal Hampton Inn breakfast room survey found unanimous agreement that Friday night’s show started too late, had too much in it and ended way too late. Most outspoken was a Bethelem, Pa., fan, who also happens to be USAC star Brian Clausen’s uncle.
He hasn’t missed a race at Syracuse in decades but says he won’t be back due to “poor racing” and the lateness of Friday’s final checkered flag. As a deadline newspaper reporter, we agree that the time factor was a killer, as for the first time ever we did not get all the races into our Schenectady Daily Gazette report.
• The track surface drew many complaints Saturday with the track back to “one groove” that discouraged passing except on restarts and when you were way faster than the car you were working on.
Sunday was much the same, with even the fastest leaders having to struggle to lap the backmarkers. Vinny Vitale, who got in the 200 by winning the “Win and You’re In” race at Rolling Wheels Raceway Park, started last and proved an obstacle for the lead pack on a number of occasions.
But it wasn’t Vitale, it was the surface and he just happened to be the first car the leaders got to.
• How much Syracuse experience is enough? Nobody knows for sure but 2013 marked Brett Hearn’s 36th year of competition and he says he is still learning.
• Fast-timer Ronnie Johnson looked to have Saturday’s 358 feature, in hand but a simple problem led to his demise. First his radio connection came unplugged, then he got stemmed in the left front tire when Billy Dunn made an inside dive on him and Johnson’s spotter had no way to tell him what was happening. A couple laps later the tire disintegrated and Johnson was done.
• Billy Dunn’s improbable Sunday triumph came in a Bicknell chassis with fire by Finger Lakes Automotive. The win marked his first-ever big block Series triumph after knocking on the door all summer. Dunn is yet another of the amazing talents to come out of the Watertown, N.Y., area, among them Bob and Tim McCreadie and Tim Fuller.
• For many crews, Sunday became a foot race as they ran down the pit road to push their stalled car the length of the huge pit road to reach their pit stall and much needed gasoline.
The new “cautions don’t count after lap 175” rule sparked much talk beforehand and will certainly lead to rethought strategies next year as a half dozen top teams ran dry and lost substantial paydays after weeks of hard work preparing for DIRTcar’s premier event.
The late-race restart crash that brought a red flag and leader Tim McCreadie’s demise with a flat right-rear tire was nasty. Ronnie Johnson, Andy Bachetti, Donnie Corellis and others were caught up in it, then Peter Britten hit flat out and flew through the air as he spun around, drawing repeated gasps from the crowd as the wreck was replayed a few times on the Jumbotron.
• Pennsylvania short-track star Duane Howard’s inspiring run to fifth in the Albert No. 3a was tempered by news that his longstanding ride from Chad Sinon’s stable was going away due to a major slump in Sinon’s business contracts. (See Separate Story Here)
Chatter immediately stated as to where the immensely talented shoe would turn up in 2014.
• Friesen, who has become one of the sport’s top talents, thrilled Sunday’s crowd with repeated outside dives on leader Tim McCeadie into turn one in the late stages of Sunday’s 200. He had used similar unmatched moves to get to the front of both his Friday night heat and Saturday’s small-block race but Sunday’s surface, which saw the No. 44 kick out clouds of talcum powder like dust when the Canadian got out of the groove, kept him from putting McCreadie away. The track crew swept the outside during every yellow flag, but to no avail.