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HEDGER: Wrapping Up Super DIRT Week

Brett Hearn (center) shared the VP Small Engine Fuels 200 podium with Matt Sheppard (right) and Jimmy Phelps. (Dave Dalesandro/MSI Photo)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – When patches of blue appeared over Syracuse Sunday morning and the sun shone brightly during hot laps, many who heard weatherman Wayne Mahar’s Sunday forecast at Thursday’s media luncheon thought he blew the call.

Just as his long range outline stated, showers moved in during the afternoon, followed by the predicted heavy rain. By the time everyone left, a small boat could have been floated in the huge puddle where infield traffic crossed over the track.

- We apologize for a typo Sunday night that said 200 winner Brett Hearn had become the oldest winner, surpassing Frank Cozze who had won it at age 44. He was, of course, 54 when he went to Victory Lane.

- Cozze had a tough week, starting out as crew chief for longtime friend Mike Perrotte, then jumping into the driver’s seat when Perrotte missed a step on the ladder and fell from his trailer liftgate. He suffered a broken wrist, broken ribs and a head injury and spent Friday night and most of Saturday in the hospital before being released and heading home to Plattsburgh.

Then, to add insult to injury, Cozze was caught up in someone else’s crash in Sunday’s Last Chance race, sending the Adirondack Auto entry home nearly as beaten up as Perrotte.

- Another former winner, Richie Tobias, fared only slightly better. He tagged the Last Chance in a strange car after not being there all week, then was added to the field as a former winner after not qualifying. He ended up 41st. But at least fans got to recall his memorable charges thorough the consi field in past years, running a groove or two higher than anyone else dared.

- Speaking of running the outside, eastern New Yorker Rocky Warner electrified the crowd by running around the extreme outside to move from 11th to the lead in the Sportsman feature, bringing cries from the crowd that ranged from “Is that Tobias?” and “Who knew Syracuse could have an outside?” to observations that his nickname, “Rocky the Flying Squirrel,” was certainly appropriate.

- Even before it rained again, water that had run to the inside of the track and the mud it generated kept getting thrown out onto the racing surface as drivers looking for an advantage hugged the inside. That in turn pretty much killed the normal inside groove and everyone was running higher than usual.

- Many of Saturday’s small block drivers tipped that they couldn’t see much early on when dust hung in the air, then found visibility even worse when darkness approached in the waning laps.

Many said they could have run much faster but didn’t, fearing for their safety. But the best line of the day came from Bobby Varin, who wrecked hard on the initial start amidst a first turn duststorm.

“I could see the bumper of the car in front of me at first, then I lost that too. About the time I hit him, somebody hit me in the rear and I went about eight feet up in the air. I could see great up there but I didn’t stay there long!”

- To their credit, the track crew worked hard but had a tall mountain to climb with a surface that had sat for an entire year, then got hit by horrible weather conditions all week.

- We were asked about the late Chris Economaki dozens of times through the week and many had stories and memories of something he’d written or said on TV to share. The work “giant” certainly applies to his status in the racing community.

- On a brighter note, participants, officials and media members were thrilled to have the “Queen of Syracuse,” Jean Lynch, back on duty in the infield office. Still using a walker on rough ground since her car crash on the way home from Knoxville a year ago, Jean was as cheery as ever and obviously happy to be back with “her people.”

- While it was noted at the media lunch that the management of the State Fair has been great to work with and that each year they continue to make improvements to the widespread facility, a number of people pointed out to us that the huge grandstand has accumulated enough dirt in the cracks of the cement that weeds and grass are growing there and some of the metal steps are rotting through.

- Ace announcer Joe Marotta brought it to everyone’s attention that the grandstand made its debut the year that Billy Osmun won, 1974, though younger fans and racers think it’s been there forever. We recall the wooden stands used previously and hope the state can dig up a few dollars to maintain the current facility, a monumental improvement over the “old days.”

- Tim Frost, publisher of the National Speedway Directory, was on hand enjoying both the action and telling people about Syracuse receiving the NSD award for best special event at the 2012 Promoter’s Workshop. Tim has agreed to fund the trophies for our annual SuperFans contest again, so start getting your logs ready to send us as soon as your season closes out. The address is [email protected]

- Race director Joe Skotnicki and his crew had to wait for the track crew to get the speedway ready but once that was accomplished, they ran things off very efficiently and without the scoring and lineup problems of 2011. Syracuse is unlike any other event but the officials have a good handle on it now and the transformation from the Glenn Donnelly years is officially over.

- Finally, if anyone noticed a bright light in the sky over Syracuse Sunday night, it was not electrical but the reflection of Brett Hearn’s smile. After nearly two decades since his last win punctuated by bad luck and mechanical failures, he prevailed once again and the joy was evident.

But for a gallon of gas or less, he would have won both the big block and small block races convincingly. The only smile that was close to Hearn’s in brightness was that of his car owner, Guy Madsen, who had also reached a long sought goal.

Posted by on Oct 8 2012 Filed under Columns, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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