By Tom Skibinski/Dave Medler
FULTON, NY – Alan Johnson first fought to fend off Brett Hearn then staved off a late race rally by Jimmy Phelps to capture his first Super DIRTcar Series victory of the season in dramatic fashion Saturday night at Fulton Speedway.
JohnsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 51st career series triumph was just his first top-five tour finish of 2009 after engine woes have curtailed every effort previous put forth by DIRTcar NortheastÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s winningest Big-Block Modified driver.
“I gotta thank Jimmy D, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s right here from Syracuse and came to see his motor run, he did a helluva job with it,” beamed Johnson, 51, who is the only driver to score at least one feature win every year since DIRTcar was established in 1976. Ã¢â‚¬ËœA.J. SlidewaysÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ has now taken 361 checkered flags since 1976, with 61 trophies earned at Fulton. “Getting the car right, the motor right, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the hard part. The driving part ainÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t so tough.”
With the final 65 laps of the Summit Auto Group 100 run straight through under green, Johnson put on a driving clinic, gliding high and diving low as he maneuvered through traffic lap after lap. Grabbing the lead from Hearn on a lap 35 restart, the Middlesex, New York veteran still had to protect his position when Phelps wrestled away the runner-spot with three to go before coming up two car-lengths short of reaching Johnson in the 43-minute main. Tim Fuller and Stewart Friesen rounded out the top-five at the Oswego County oval.
“Traffic was tough, there wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a lot of room out there,” Johnson remarked. “The track wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really any better in one place or the other so you just had to pick and choose your spots carefully. Fortunately, it all worked out. The car was good enough where I could try and take my time and stay out of trouble.”
With new track owners John and Laura Wight hosting their first Super DIRTcar Series event at Fulton, it was quite fitting that their son, Larry Wight, earned his first career Integra Shocks Fast Time award. The 16 year-old standout from Phoenix, New York circled the 3/8-mile clay oval in a record time of 16.408 sec. for an average speed of 82.277 mph to set the new track standard.
But when it came time to start the feature, Wight was mired back in the 10th starting position after the pre-race draw leaving front row partners Phelps and Johnson to duke it out for the point. Johnson out-dragged Phelps on the initial circuit and third-place starter Hearn needed seven laps to drop Phelps to third as Matt Sheppard, Billy Decker and Fuller tried to challenge from their top-five surroundings.
Tim Sears spun to the infield alone in turn three to initiate the first yellow flag on lap four, yet a second caution period on lap 18 was far more significant as contact with Phelps knocked out defending race winner Decker in a frontstretch jingle that had fingers pointing everywhere.
Hearn forged the first lead change on lap 19 just before Dave Rauscher and Mike Bowman tangled in turn one to force a third slowdown. Front-runners Hearn and Johnson swapped the lead twice more on laps 23 and 24, and with 34 in the book Alan made what amounted to the winning move as two of DIRTcar NEÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s premier drivers jockeyed both high and low.
Phelps remained solidly in the show position with 40 laps still to go, yet as the scoreboard continued to click down the Baldwinsville, New York pilot crept closer to the leaders. Hearn had also begun to cut the deficit just past the halfway point and finally disposed of the last lap car to separate himself from leader Johnson on lap 73.
Twenty-five of the original 30-car starting field remained trackside in the closing stages, allowing little room for error as the laps dwindled. Hearn moved to within six car-lengths of Johnson on lap 77 and seemingly out of nowhere, Phelps caught the top two with less than 10 laps to go to set up the closest finish of the young series.
Chipping away at the lead even faster in the waning moments, Phelps ducked under Hearn for second on lap 97, yet a final bid to snatch away certain victory from Ã¢â‚¬ËœA.J. Slideways fell two car-lengths shy as the final checkered flag unfurled.
“I had really had no idea (Brett & Jimmy) were coming,” admitted Johnson, after collecting the $6,000 top prize for his second career series triumph at Fulton. “DidnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see any flashbulbs go off so I thought I had a pretty good lead.”
“The car was good in just our second time out with this motor, but trying to pick out the right gear was a little tricky. We were close but not right where we had to be tonight. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nice to come out with a win knowing thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still some room left to get a little better,” Johnson added.
Despite the early racing incident with Decker being just that, Phelps was overly apologetic in his post-race review which marred an otherwise stellar performance steering the potent Mohawk N.E.-New England Race Fuels-Joe Gibbs Racing Oil/Troyer machine.
“First off, I have to apologize to Billy, definitely did not know he was there or I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have gone to the top,” stated Phelps, 34, who also vaulted into second-place on the points chart through five series races using his second top-five finish of the year. “It really screwed up his night.”
“We had a good car tonight, it was good in the heat and mightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve tighten it up a little too much because it took half the race to really be able to roll the corner. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re still working at it, hopefully this (2nd) is a sign of whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s to come. At least we were in the ballpark, and if anything, we got better when it counted. Really just ran out of time, so thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good thing,” figured Phelps, who ironically finished runner-up to Decker in the final overall Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar points championship last year.
Continuing to pad his points advantage with his fourth third-place finish —along with his win the night before at Ransomville Speedway— in the opening five series shows aboard the familiar Madsen Motorsports no. 20 Wentworth Custom Homes-Kruger-WLR-BPG/TEO mount, Hearn once again came close to capturing his first win at the Route 57 raceway.
“Alan is so consistent here, when I started to catch him there at the end I think I got too excited and left the door open for the 98 car,” admitted Hearn, 50, who is looking for an unprecedented seventh Mr. DIRTcar crown in Big-Block Modified competition, with his most recent worn in 2007. The Ã¢â‚¬ËœCorporate JetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ already owns the career tour mark with 101 victories registered since 1981.
“At one point I thought, man, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve finally got something for him at the end of this race. I tried to step it up a little bit but this is the kind of track the faster you try to go the slower you go and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s exactly what happened at the end of the race.”
Added Hearn, “This is a stretch where you gotta be consistent, if it could be in the top-three that would be awesome, especially at Ransomville and Fulton, two of the tracks that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not notoriously good at. To come in and get a first then third the last two nights is phenomenal.”
“My team is really stepping up, they love this part of the season. Last week we left (Fulton) saying we arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even close to being good enough here (finished 9th) so we went back and did some homework this week and I think it really paid off tonight,” Hearn said.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s off to Canada now for a four-day road trip to Brockville Ontario Speedway and Cornwall Motor Speedway, with Autodromes Granby and Drummond hosting the popular DIRTcar doubleheader in the province of Quebec in between. Valuable points are at stake on every front towards the overall Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Championship along with guaranteed starting berths in the prestigious Rite Aid 200 on October 11 of Super DIRT Week XXXVIII at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse and All-Star Weekend Exemption Dash at Cayuga County Fair Speedway on July 18.
In the 20 lap DIRTcar Sportsman Feature Timmy Sears led the opening 6 laps before a multi-car tangle in turn-three would slow the field down. On the restart Alan Fink using the top of the speedway would take command of the race.
Just when Fink would build a couple car length lead another quick yellow would fly. On this restart Sears got the jump on Fink retaking the top spot.
As the laps clicked off Sears built up leads of almost a full straightaway. While Sears was out front John Pietrowicz was rapidly cutting into his lead. With one lap to go Pietrowicz saw an opening under Sears as he was trying to get through lapped cars. Somehow Pietrowicz was able to find enough room between Sears and a lapped car to launch into the lead exiting turn two. Pietrowicz was able to hold on for the narrow win. Sears, Billy Clark, Sammy Reakes IV and Alan Fink rounded out the top five.
“Unbelievable season so far, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s three here,” said Pietrowicz after getting out of his Gypsum Express No.85. “The last two weeks we ripped the front end off it. We were either going to rip the front end off or get the lead. I knew if we could get back to the bottom we would have a shot at it. When you can beat that little Sears kid itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pretty good.”
Steve Crouse grabbed the lead from Dick Parkhurst on lap 6 of the 20 lap DIRTcar Street Stock feature. From there Crouse was never seriously challenged. For Crouse it was his fourth win of the year. Parkhurst, Todd Raabe, Dan Searles and Matt Henderson chased Crouse across the line.
Matthew Parkhurst led every lap of the 15-lap E&V Energy Novice Sportsman main. With his second win of the year Parkhurst now trails Jon Shumway by only sixteen points in the standings.
Bruce Unger picked up yet another win in the 25 lap Gladiator feature. Eric M Zirbel, Keith Zirbel, Jerry Herbert and Les Baker rounded out the top five.
Next Saturday July, 11th the New York Modified Midgets will visit the high banks of the Fulton Speedway. Also on the card will be the DIRTcar Sportsman, DIRTcar Street Stocks, E&V Energy Novice Sportsman, ESDCA Mod Lites, Gladiators and One On One Spectator races. Gates open at 5:00 with the first green flag set to wave at 7:00.
For more information visit www.fultonspeedway.com.. The track office number is (315)593-6531 or call the Race Line at (315) 668-RACE.
Summit Auto Group – Holiday Spectacular Results.
(Modified Super DIRTcar Series 100-laps) – Alan Johnson, Jimmy Phelps, Brett Hearn, Tim Fuller, Stewart Friesen, Frankie Caprara, Pat Ward, Willy Decker, Gary Tomkins, Ryan Phelps, Dale Planck, Justin Haers, Matt Sheppard, Michael Storms, Larry Wight, Billy Dunn, Roy Bresnahan, Jim Witko Jr., Mike Bowman, Sean Beardsley, Mike Mahaney, Chuck Bower, Rob Bellinger, Shannon Whaley, Dave Rauscher, David Hebert, Danny Johnson, Billy Decker, Tim Sears, Jeff Brownell Jr. DNQ – Kevin Bates, Tom Sears Jr., Pat O’Brien, Vinnie Vitale, Johnny Hill, Chad Phelps, Tony Steiner, Eric Fisher, Matt Fink, Simon Harvey-Perreault, Pete Taylor, Rich Scagliotta.
(DIRTcar Sportsman 20-laps) – John Pietrowicz, Timmy Sears Jr., Billy Clark, Sammy Reakes IV, Alan Fink, Jeremy Pitcher, Mike Fowler, Stewart Garrison, Mark Olmstead Jr., Jordan Bennett, Rich Townsend, Gregg Carner, Beth Schneider, Joe Gwilt, Greg Kimball, Seam McCarthy, Katelyn Kane, Daniel Sellen, Jim Spano, Chuck DeMott, Andrew Ferguson, Claude Hutchings Jr., Ben Wheeler, Jon Tesoriero, (DNS) – A.J. Kingsley, Shane Donath.
(DIRTcar Street Stocks 20-laps) – Steve Crouse, Dick Parkhurst, Todd Raabe, Dan Searles, Matt Henderson, Justin Knight, Keith Dockstader, Dan Hofmann Jr., Steve Woodworth, Pete Kowaleski, Mike Vaughn, Clayton Parkhurst, Joe Buske, Matt Barker, Joe Buske Jr., Dan Hofmann Sr., (DNS) – Chuck Cushman, Ron Gilbert.
(E&V Energy Novice Sportsman 15-laps) – Matthew Parkhurst, Jon Shumway, Mark Johnston, Dan Hill, Joe Kline, Scott Kline.
(Gladiators 25-laps) – Bruce Unger, Eric M Zirbel, Keith Zirbel, Jerry Herbert.