VERNON, NY- Coming into the Tracey Road Equipment/ Gates Cole Insurance Advance Auto Parts Super DIRT Series event at Utica-Rome Speedway on Thursday July 31, Sussex NJ driver Brett Hearn was still looking for his first tour win of the 2003 season.
VERNON, NY- Coming into the Tracey Road Equipment/ Gates Cole Insurance Advance Auto Parts Super DIRT Series event at Utica-Rome Speedway on Thursday July 31, Sussex NJ driver Brett Hearn was still looking for his first tour win of the 2003 season. With some bold moves early in the event, a little luck, and an uncanny ability to miss some early race mishaps, Hearn was able to end his series winless streak that dated back to last year's Eastern States 200 in October. Jerry Holmes was the victor in the companion DIRT Pro Stock race.
Gary Tomkins of Clifton Springs NY and Wind Gap PA native Frank Cozze brought the 31-car starting field to starter Matt Burdick's green flag with Tomkins getting the early advantage. Third place starter Billy Decker quickly move his Mirabito Fuel group number 91 into second place by the completion of lap 1, dropping Cozze back to third.
The first caution flag flew on lap 6 for debris on the backstretch, and Matt Sheppard quickly took his Jeff Brownell owned 29s to the pits to change a flat left rear tire. Sheppard quickly returned to competition at the rear of the field. At this point, Tomkins led, with Decker 2nd, Cozze in 3rd, Alan Johnson in 4th, and Utica-Rome Speedway regular Mitch Gibbs in 5th with his DIRT 358-Modified. The caution quickly flew again on lap 7 for Chuck Bower who slowed with a flat tire. Bower would retire for the evening.
When racing resumed again on lap 8, Tomkins again held the top spot with Decker still hounding him. It was at this point that Brett Hearn started to make his presence felt as he moved into third, after starting in the twelfth spot. When lap 10 was recorded, Tomkins led with Decker in tow, Hearn was in third, Gibbs up to fourth, and Cozze falling back to fifth.
When the green lights came on again, Decker continue hound the leader Tomkins all around the half-mile oval, while Hearn seemed, for the moment, to be content watching in third. The yellow lights flashed on again on lap 13 for Sean Beardsley and John Ramsey, who crashed in turns one and two. Both cars were heavily damaged and unable to continue. On the restart, Decker was able to grab the lead from Tomkins, with Hearn following him through to take second. Tomkins fell to 3rd, with Gibbs still getting everything out of his small block powered mount in 4th, and Cozze still hanging on to 5th.
Just four laps later on lap 17 the yellow flag unfurled again, this time for Kenny Tremont who had a right rear tire go down. Tremont ducked into the pits and came back to action. This restart saw Hearn go by Decker on the high side to lead lap 18, and just as the leaders crossed the line the yellow light came on again for Jeff Brownell who had spun in turn four. Tim McCreadie, who had worked himself up to 4th two circuits earlier, ducked into the pits with oil pressure problems.
For the third time in the event, the second place car used the restart to their advantage as Decker powered by Hearn as the green flag flew again. For the sixth time in the event, the yellow flag came out again on lap 20 for Jerry Higbie who had spun off turn two. Higbie refired his mount and joined the rear of the field. Again, the second place car used the restart to make the pass for the lead as Hearn back by Decker and regained the lead at the completion of lap 21. Again the yellows flashed on, this time for Steve Hulsizer, who had spun his racer in turn one.
After gaining the lead, then losing it, and regaining it again on restarts, Hearn had to wonder if he could off Decker on the restart. When the green lights flashed on again, Hearn was successful and was able to hold off Decker and hang on to the lead on this restart, only to see the yellows again on lap 22 for Jeff Isabell, who was limping down the frontstretch. Isabell ducked into the pits, and quickly returned to action.
Again Hearn was able to hold off Decker's charge on the restart to hold onto the lead. Hearn was unable to shake the persistant Decker, and at the quarter mark of the event, it was Hearn with Decker close behind, Tomkins twenty car lengths behind in 3rd, Alan Johnson back up to 4th, and Gibbs in 5th. After a pitstop on lap 6, Sheppard charged his way back to 7th, with Jack Johnson up to 7th from 28th, Cozze slipping to 8th, 14th place starter Vic Coffey in 9th, and Jason Barney charging from 27th to 10th.
During the longest green flag period of the first half of the event, Hearn slowly edged away from Decker, while the front running duo had a full straightaway lead over 3rd running Tomkins. Green flag racing was again halted on lap 44 when Brownell again spun, this time in turn two. This allowed Decker to get back uo to Hearn, but on the restart, Hearn was still able to hold him off. Any lead that Hearn gained was quickly erased as the yellow lights blinked on once again on lap 46, this time for Isabell's mount, which lost a wheel and went off the high side of turn 3 after making contact with the rear of Gibb's Bicknell.
Green flag racing resumed at the halfway point with Hearn's Budweiser TEO still showing the fast way around the Vernon oval, Decker still a close 2nd, Alan Johnson slipping into 3rd, Tomkins in 4th, and Gibbs in 5th. Sheppard was holding onto 6th at this point, with Jack Johnson, Coffey, Barney, and Cozze chasing in the top ten. Gibb's impressive performance came to an end on lap 54 when he pulled his car into the infield with mechanical problems.
The longest green flag stint of the night allowed the leaders to begin lapping cars, with Hearn and Decker impressively passing cars, not allowing anyone to gain the advantage on each other. When lap 75 was recorded, Hearn still continued to lead with opening a five car length over Decker, Alan Johnson beginning to show some life in 3rd, Tomkins still in 4th, and Sheppard riding in 5th.
Decker began to close in on the leader Hearn at the lap 80 mark when they were trying to negotiate lapped traffic, and Alan Johnson was beginning on of his patented late race charges to pressure the front running duo. Despite repeated attempts to get by the leader, Decker could not muster enough power to take the lead back while trying to fend off the charge of Alan Johnson. The yellow flag again saw action for the 11th time on lap 91 when Paul Kinney slowed in the backstretch.
Green flag racing resumed on lap 93, and Jack Johnson, Tremont, Bobby Varin, and Brownell all getting together in turn 1, bringing out another yellow. All cars were able to pull away and continue. After green conditions were again on the speedway on lap 95, Jack Johnson slowed on the backstretch bring out the caution again.
It was at this point when the race took a strange turn. An aborted start saw Sheppard, Tomkins, and Barney getting together off turn 2, with Barney receiving heavy front-end damage. With his right front corner digging into the track under yellow, track officials tried to bring Barney into the pits for safety concerns, with Barney not responding to the black flag. As he finally left the racing surface, Decker and Tim Fuller, who recovered from a pitstop on lap 18 to be in 9th at this point, both stopped in turn one. Reportedly they both ran out of fuel due to the high amount of caution periods, victims of the numerous caution periods. Both drivers were pushed into the pit area, with Decker returning one lap down.
With the DIRT rulebook stating that tour events must finish under green, the green flag was thrown as the leaders came across to complete lap 102. Hearn was able to fend off any challenges made by Elaine James Motorsports driver Alan Johnson until the checkered flag with Coffey making a steady run to 3rd, Sheppard having a fine run in 4th, and Tomkins slipping to 5th at the end. Steve Paine crossed in 6th, Varin in 7th, Tremont in 8th, Decker back up 9th, and Pat Ward crossing in 10t. Sheppard earned the Eckerd 200 qualifying spot, and as the highest finishing 358-Modified, Gus Schmidt was awarded the Victoria 200 All-Star Race qualifier. If he should fail to qualfy for the Victoria 200 via the heats and consi's, Schmidt would get an extra chance to qualify through the All-Star race. Thirteen caution periods slowed the event, with most of the cautions coming before lap 25. Caution laps did not count before lap 25, and that is when the most caution periods occurred, forcing drivers to ride around the speedway under yellow without laps counting.
The DIRT Pro-Stocks also raced on this evening for track points. Brian Belden led the field to the green flag and would lead the first two circuits until point leader Jerry Holmes grabbed the top spot on lap 3. Holmes would survive several caution periods and record his 5th win of the season. Defending track champion Jason Rood made it up to 2nd at the checkers, with Bret Belden, Dave Bruno, and Eric Vanderhoof making up the rest of the top five.
NOTES- 44 DIRT Modifieds and 18 DIRT Pro Stocks took part in the night's action. Heat wins for the Modifieds went to Frank Cozze, Jerry Higbie, Brett Hearn, and Tim Fuller. The consolation events were taken by Steve Hulsizer and Paul Kinney. Tim McCreadie was the JE Pistons fast timer with a lap of 19.370 seconds around the fast half-mile oval, beating the old track record of 19.578 set by Billy Decker in 2001. Decker also beat his old record with a time of 19.451, good enough for second quick time.
TRACEY ROAD EQUIPMENT/ GATES COLE INSURANCE RACE SUMMARY
DIRT MODIFIED FEATURE FINISH (100 LAPS)- BRETT HEARN, Alan Johnson, Vic Coffey, Matt Sheppard, Gary Tomkins, Steve Paine, Bobby Varin, Kenny Tremont, Billy Decker, Pat Ward, Tim Fuller, Jeff Brownell, Jason Barney, Butch Tittle, Jack Johnson, Gus Schmidt, Paul Kinney, Frank Cozze, Mitch Gibbs, Jeff Isabell, Jerry Higbie, Steve Hulsizer, Tim McCreadie, Danny Johnson, Sean Beardsley, John Ramsey, Chuck Bower, Todd Burley, Willy Decker, Dale Planck, and Bob McCreadie.
DIRT PRO STOCK FEATURE FINISH (15 LAPS)- JERRY HOLMES, Jason Rood, Bret Belden, Dave Bruno, Eric Vanderhoof, Dan Rickard, Chad Ray, Dave Meeks, Joel Herne, Brian Belden, Ed Ostrander, Mark Effner, Buddy Hencke, Jim Normoyle, John Lazore, Tom Denton, Joe Palmer, and Bill Knapp.