Utica-Rome race report 2001-05-13

VERNON, NY - Danny Johnson from Rochester took the lead from Steve Paine on lap 16 and dominated the 102-lap opening race of the Sunoco Race Fuels 358-Modified Super DIRT Series Sunday night at the Utica-Rome Speedway. Johnson, who started ninth,...

VERNON, NY - Danny Johnson from Rochester took the lead from Steve Paine on lap 16 and dominated the 102-lap opening race of the Sunoco Race Fuels 358-Modified Super DIRT Series Sunday night at the Utica-Rome Speedway. Johnson, who started ninth, was never seriously challenged for the $3,000 victory in the Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes sponsored main event.

Track regular Tim Clemons of Gloversville took advantage of Willy Decker's second broken axle of the night with just two laps to go to win the 30-lap Dig Safely New York Sportsman Super DIRT Series event.

In 358-Modified time trials, 18-year old rookie sensation Matt Sheppard of Waterloo set the fast time of 20.167, an average of 71.404 miles per hour around the fast Utica-Rome 4/10-mile oval. The rest of the top ten after taking time were Tim Fuller, Ron Holmes, Todd Burley, Mike Romano, Vic Coffey, Steve Paine, Jeff Trombley, Pete Bicknell, and Mike Hulsizer.


Danny Johnson after his NICE N' EASY GROCERY SHOPPES 100-lap win in the Sunoco Race Fuels 358-Modified Super DIRT Series opener at Utica-Rome Speedway. Photo: John Clifford

By virtue of a redraw, track regular Mike Hulsizer and invader Steve Paine led the 32-car starting grid down to the green flag from Starter Chip Burdick, with Paine taking the early lead. Mike Romano settled into second, Matt Sheppard in third, and Pete Bicknell in fourth. By the fifth circuit, Danny Johnson was on the move, as he moved towards the top five, taking over fourth from Bicknell on lap 8. Johnson's No. 27j was hooked up as he reeled in Sheppard and took over the third by the tenth circuit. By this time, Romano caught Paine, but Johnson was all over Romano. Johnson thew his car into turn one on lap 13, and went underneath to take over second from Romano. There was no stopping Johnson as he went right to work with Paine, with Danny running the bottom and Paine rim riding up high. After a furious side by side battle, Johnson took the lead on lap 16.

On a restart on lap 19, Sheppard went from fourth to second in just one corner, passing his boss and mentor Paine as well as Bicknell. Todd Burley thew himself into the mix after a lap 20 restart, taking over second from Sheppard, who fell back several spots. Paine and Burley battled it out for second, but Burley held on to the spot after several hair raising side by side laps. Just as this was going on, Vic Coffey appeared in the top five, coming all the way from the thirtieth starting position. Coffey was simply flying on the fast Utica-Rome oval as his teammate Danny Johnson continued to lead the 100-lap affair.

A lap 34 restart saw a three car, three wide battle for second between Paine, Burley, and Coffey, with Coffey grabbing the runner up spot by lap 40, when third place driver Burley broke and pulled pitside in a tough break.

At the halfway point, Johnson held a comfortable margin over Sweetener's Plus teammate Coffey, followed by Bicknell, Paine, Tim Fuller, Sheppard, Romano, Brett Hearn, and Alan Johnson.

On lap 59, second place runner Vic Coffey slowed with a flat tire on his No. 32c, ending his tremendous run. He returned to the track one lap down, and finished in seventeenth position. By lap 63, a three wide battle for fourth began, with Romano, Fuller, and Sheppard, with Romano taking over the spot. Seven laps later, a very quiet Brett Hearn moved into the top five, sending Sheppard back to sixth as Johnson opened up a huge lead. Hearn moved into fourth, and caught Paine as the two drivers battled for third. With ten circuits to go, Johnson was leading, followed by Bicknell, Paine, Hearn, and Fuller.

The battle for third raged on with Paine and Hearn, with Hearn taking over the spot on lap 93. However, with just two laps to go, Alex Hoag slowed on the frontstretch, causing the final yellow of the event and setting up a green, white, checker situation, pushing the event to over the scheduled 100-laps. On the restart, Fuller took over fourth and Hearn fell to fifth. At the checkers on lap 102, Johnson crossed the line in first, followed by Bicknell, Paine, Fuller, Hearn, Sheppard, Alan Johnson, Romano, Pat Ward, and Frank Caprara.

In victory lane, a very happy Danny Johnson commented, "This was a great night, no doubt. We had a great car tonight and the crew was great as well. You really don't know what will happen with these soft tires, and we were just glad to get up front early."

The win for Johnson in the Super DIRT Series opener was his fifth career victory at Utica-Rome, and third Super DIRT Series victory in three years at the track. Just last year, Johnson used a victory in the same race at Utica-Rome on the way to eight consecutive Super DIRT Series victories plus the Mr. DIRT 358-Modified championship. Could this be the beginning of another hot year for "The Doctor"?

Thirteen cautions slowed the event for 24 laps, mostly with minor jingles, mechanical problems, and flat tires. The Super DIRT Week Syracuse Sunoco/A-Plus qualifying spot went to race winner Johnson, while the BERT Hard Charger award went to Vic Coffey.

The five 358-Modified heats went to Sheppard, Paine, Holmes, Bicknell, and Romano, while Paul Jensen, Roger Phelps, and J.J. Michaels copped the consis.

Ryan Odasz and Joe Beyea bought the 30-lap Dig Safely New York Sportsman Super DIRT Series event down to the green, with Beyea taking the early lead. However, rim riding from the thirty-first (and last) starting position was track regular Willy Decker, who quickly moved into the top ten by the tenth circuit. Decker kept his charge to the front, and took over fifth on the lap 7 restart as he kept moving towards the front. Justin Haers took over the top spot on lap 8, but spun out on his own in turn four on lap ten, giving the lead away to Tim Clemons, last week's season opener feature winner. Clemons led, but Decker quickly took over second and was right on the back bumper of Clemons, as the next few laps clicked by.

At the halfway point, the top five was Clemons, Decker, Beyea, Jim Spano, and Tom Juhl. Utica-Rome race fans were then treated to an entertaining duel for the lead with Decker and Clemons as the two raced all out for the top spot. However, Decker worked underneath and took the lead from Clemons on lap 22, opening a huge lead. It look as though Decker had the race locked up, until a restart with two laps to go when he broke an axle coming off of four to the green. It was an unfortunate break for the popular local driver, coming from dead last to the lead in the tough event. Earlier in the evening, Decker broke an axle in the heat race, forcing him to run the consi and eventually take a provisional to start the event. Clemons then held on for the victory, his second in two weeks at the track. Second was Joe Beyea, followed by Tom Juhl, Ryan Odasz, David VanHorn, Justin Haers, Karl Comfort, Bill Trexler, Steve Gray, and Jim Spano.

"I think Willy broke an axle," said Clemons in victory lane. "I don't think we had anything for him and I feel bad for him, he was definitely tough tonight. You lose and win some this way."

With his victory, Clemons will represent Utica-Rome at the Syracuse Mile on Tuesday July 3 during the Syracuse 'Firecracker' Sportsman special as the qualifier from Utica-Rome.

Eleven cautions slowed the event, the most serious incident when Tony Ross spun on the backstretch in front of traffic. Eldon Payne and several other cars collected him, but everyone was able to continue with only minor damage.

Sportsman heat wins went to Odasz, Beyea, Haers, and Clemons, while the consis went to Jamie Christian, Paul Carey, and Sparky Lowe.

Coming up next Sunday at the Utica-Rome Speedway will be a regular program of DIRT 358-Modifieds, DIRT Sportsman, DIRT Pro Stocks, Pure Stocks and Slingshots. The gates will open at 4pm, with racing taking the green at 6pm. For more information, contact the speedway office at (315) 829-4557 or log onto www.newuticaromespeedway.com.

Notes - A capacity crowd was on hand for the Mother's Day special, with the first 200 mothers passing through the gates receiving a free carnation courtesy of speedway management on the beautiful but chilly night. 50 Modifieds and 53 Sportsman filled the Utica-Rome pit area with 103 cars on the first night the new AMB electronic scoring system was used. Track regulars J.J. Michaels and Ron Holmes, favorites to run well in the 100-lap event, both had their troubles, falling out after the lap 40 mark. Legend Jack Johnson ran very well in the heat, but problems with the water pump on his No. 12a before the feature caused him to pull in only after one lap of competition. The highest finishing Utica-Rome track regular was Paul Jensen of Edmeston, who finished a solid twelfth.

-URS-

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Series Stock car
Drivers Brett Hearn