Utica-Rome race summary 2002-07-21

J.J. Michaels throws monkey away after defeating point leader Matt Sheppard. VERNON, NY -- J.J. Michaels of Baldwinsville literally threw the monkey over his back with his first DIRT 358-Modified feature win of the 2002 season last Sunday at ...

J.J. Michaels throws monkey away after defeating point leader Matt Sheppard.

VERNON, NY -- J.J. Michaels of Baldwinsville literally threw the monkey over his back with his first DIRT 358-Modified feature win of the 2002 season last Sunday at Utica-Rome Speedway on Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes Night. Michaels came from the fourth starting position in a borrowed car and held off the late race charge of point leader Matt Sheppard in an exciting photo finish in front of an appreciative crowd. The popular win for the hard luck driver of the Rod and Paula Nacewicz owned No. 31 Teo was worth $1,500.

Tony Ross and Mike Hulsizer paced the 30-lap Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes DIRT 358-Modified feature down to the flags of Starter Matt Burdick with Hulsizer racing out to the early lead. J.J. Michaels was there dueling with Hulsizer for the lead right from the getgo, with Michaels taking the race lead on lap 3. Hulsizer was right there though, and wanted the spot back as they raced side by side for the next several laps. At the completion of lap five, Michaels was the leader followed by Hulsizer, Ross, Pete Taylor, and Willy Decker.

Matt Sheppard who started fourteenth, made his presence known as he raced into fourth on lap 8. Gordy Button was flying as well, and raced from sixth to third on lap 9 as Sheppard moved into second position. Sheppard appeared to be the car to beat as he closed in on Michaels and began applying pressure for the race lead. Sheppard, who was running the inside lane, moved alongside Michaels and an entertaining battle began for the top position. The pair were side by side as the fans rose to their feet. Sheppard nosed out into the lead on lap 14, but Michaels regained the position by next corner.

At the halfway point, the battle for the lead was raging on with Michaels in front, Sheppard in second, Button in third, Jason Barney in fourth, and Ryan Baye in fifth. On lap 17, Sheppard bobbled momentarily in turn four and kept going, but he lost ground to Michaels. However, Sheppard closed right in once again over the next several laps. Sheppard was able to work underneath Michaels on laps 21 and 22 in turn one, but Michaels still held onto the lead.

The story over the next several laps was lapped traffic, as Michaels was able to use the lapped car of Wayne Stearns as a pick and hold Sheppard back once more. However, Sheppard still was there, and with two laps to go, everyone in the place was standing, as the finish was as undecided as ever. Sheppard moved underneath out of turn four on the final lap, but Michaels was able to hold him off for the victory at the line in a photo finish by .302 seconds. Sheppard had to settle for second, with Button in third, Baye in fourth, and Mitch Gibbs in fifth. Jason Barney, Ted Lamb, Jack Johnson, Todd Burley, and John Ramsey completed the top ten finishers.

"It is very nice to be down here," said a thrilled Michaels who was surrounded by family, friends, and crewmembers after his twenty-first career victory at the speedway spread out over nine winning seasons. "This had to have been a great race for the fans. These kids are tough. I'm not as young as I used to be," he said in reference to Sheppard.

The victory was special for Michaels as it broke a long string of bad luck at the speedway. Michaels' mom, Penny, brought a stuffed monkey to victory lane, and J.J. promptly threw it over his back into the mud in the infield. "There -- the monkey is off our back now. We parked our 2002 Troyer and literally dragged this 1997 TEO car out of the weeds. I'd like to thank the owners Rod and Paula Nacewicz, Morrison Performance, and Ron Egli for letting me borrow a motor. Everything in this car is borrowed except the seat," he laughed.

Two yellows slowed the 30-lap main event, the most serious being on lap 10 when Dave Rauscher collected the wall in turn three. Rauscher was done for the night. The entire feature was completed in 19 minutes and 18 seconds. Modified heat wins went to J.J. Michaels, Jason Barney, and Tony Ross.

Jamie Christian of West Winfield won the rain delayed 20-lap Pepsi-Cola feature postponed back on June 16. Christian came from the eleventh starting position and took the lead on lap eleven from Kevin Crave, who finished second. Paul Carey was third, Jim Roberts was fourth, and Tim Clemons was fifth. Jim Roberts was the early race leader until Daryl Hagen passed him on lap 3. Crave was the leader on lap 8 until Christian took over for good on lap 11. Tim Mayne, Jessica Zemken, and Jamie Christian won the heat races run back on June 16, while Billy Shantel Jr won the consi.

Tim Clemons of Gloversville came from eleventh and claimed the win in the regular 20-lap Sportsman feature after contact on the final lap with Mike Button who was attempting to pass. It was the fourth victory of the year for Clemons, who took the lead when mid race leader Kevin Crave went pitside during a caution with three laps to go. Button, who was not happy, recovered to hold on for second and it appears a rivalry is developing between the pair. Jamie Christian was third, followed by Jim Roberts, and John Christian. Dave Bargabos led the opening two laps until Kevin Crave took over on lap 3. Heat victories went to Clemons, Button, and Paul Carey, while Steve Davis won the consi.

Jim Normoyle of Salisbury Center claimed the 15-lap Pro Stock feature victory, his second of the season. Normoyle, who started twelfth, took the lead on the final lap from Mark Hoffman who held on to finish second. Chad Ray, Bill Knapp, and Bret Belden completed the top five finishers. Dave Moyer led the first lap, while Knapp led the second two circuits. Hoffman took command on lap 4, until Normoyle took the lead on the final lap. Pro Stock heats were claimed by Buddy Hencke and Dave Moyer.

Chuck Cushman of Rome won his third Pure Stock feature of the year over Jeff Thorp, Jim Thomas, Waylan Wilczek, and Ricky Trexler. Cushman came from the sixth to first on the opening lap to lead the entire 15-lap distance. Cushman and Les Lewis won the Pure Stock heat races.

Coming up this Sunday July 28 is the annual Family Autograph Night sponsored by Den Kelly Chevrolet. Featured will be the 358-Modifieds, Sportsman, Pro Stocks, and Pure Stocks plus the popular Family Autograph Session on the frontstretch during intermission. Gates will open at 4pm, with racing set to begin at 6pm. For more information, contact the track office at (315) 829-4557 or visit www.uticaromespeedway.com.

PIT NOTES -- 26 Modifieds, 29 Sportsman, 21 Pro Stocks, and 19 Pure Stocks filled the pit area on Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes Night. Jason Rood and Dave Mannise were awarded with the Nan-Way Speed Shop Driver of the Month award for June for the Pro Stock and Pure Stock divisions respectively. Eight different winners have graced victory lane in the Modified division to date: Gibbs (2), Button, Burley (2), Schmidt, Danny Johnson, Steve Hulsizer, J.J. Michaels, and Jack Johnson (2). The Modified chassis win count: TEO 5, Troyer 4, and Bicknell 2.

-urs-

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Series Stock car
Drivers Jim Roberts , Pete Taylor