Utica-Rome report 2002-05-05

Gibbs starts new era at Utica-Rome Speedway with a victory in the Gates-Cole Insurance season opener VERNON, NY -- Former track champion Mitch Gibbs of North Norwich started third and claimed the 40-lap DIRT 358-Modified Super DIRT Week ...

Gibbs starts new era at Utica-Rome Speedway with a victory in the Gates-Cole Insurance season opener

VERNON, NY -- Former track champion Mitch Gibbs of North Norwich started third and claimed the 40-lap DIRT 358-Modified Super DIRT Week Qualifier feature win in the Gates-Cole Insurance Season Opener last Sunday at Utica-Rome Speedway. Gibbs took the lead from Steve Hulsizer on lap 6 and pulled away to claim his first victory of the year, worth $1,800 behind the wheel of the Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes No. 2g TEO machine.

Other winners in the first points races of the year were Jamie Christian of West Winfield in the DIRT Sportsman, Bret Belden of West Edmeston in the DIRT Pro Stocks, and Dave Mannise of Fulton in the Pure Stocks. A large crowd was on hand on the beautiful spring evening to help kick off the new era of ownership at the speedway under the leadership of rookie promoter Tom Cole.

Ron Holmes and Steve Hulsizer led the 25-car starting field down to the flags of Starter Matt Burdick with Hulsizer racing out to lead the first circuit of the 40-lap Super DIRT Week Qualifier. Hulsizer would hold onto the top spot until lap 6 when Mitch Gibbs, who took over second from Holmes on lap 3, leaped into the race lead on lap 6. Hulsizer continued to keep pressure on Gibbs for the lead, but Gibbs was just too strong as he began to pull away.

Moving up several positions in the early going were Matt Sheppard, who started fifteenth, and his boss, Steve Paine, who started eleventh on the field. The duo entertained the race fans with an exciting battle for position, as Sheppard raced into the fifth spot on lap 9. Sheppard continued his march to the front as he went by Frankie Caprara several laps later to take over fourth and set his sights on third place driver Ron Holmes.

Hulsizer was able to close in on Gibbs on lap 14 and race side by side momentarily, but that was as close as he would get as Hulsizer broke on lap 19. At the halfway mark, Sheppard got by Holmes for the second position and the top five was Gibbs, Sheppard, Holmes, Jason Barney, and Paine. Sheppard and Holmes were racing together and battling for second, as Paine closed in on Barney over the next few laps.

Gibbs handled the lapped traffic like a pro as he went around on the outside, but it bunched up the second half of the top five as Gibbs really began to pull away. At the checkerd flag, Gibbs was the winner with Sheppard, Holmes, Barney, and Paine right behind. Completing the top ten, it was Frankie Caprara, Jeff Kotary in one of his best runs ever, Pete Taylor, John Barker Jr., and Jerry Higbie Jr.

"It was good from the get-go," said Gibbs, who credited engine builder Mike Moshier in victory lane. "I was up front pretty much the whole race. I didn't really know how close anyone was to me. I would like to thank Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes and my crew. We started this team a year ago, and we couldn't be happier right now."

Holmes, Hulsizer, Gibbs, and Pat Ward took home heat race wins, while Ryan Baye and Willy Decker were victorious in the Modified consis. Three caution periods slowed the event, with the most major being a pileup in turn four that involved J.J. Michaels, Dan Jalbert, Paul Kinney, and Mike Prentice. Jalbert and Prentice were done for the night with heavy damage. With his win, Gibbs is now a guaranteed starter for the 358-Modified Championship event held during Super DIRT Week.

Former track champion Jamie Christian of West Winfield returned to his championship form as he claimed the Sportsman feature win. Christian used the pole position to his advantage and led the entire 20-lap distance of the affair in his self built Christian chassis. His arch rivals Kevin Crave and Tim Clemons finished second and third, while Tim French and Bill Shantel Jr. finished out the top five. Sportsman heat victories went to Jamie Christian, 16-year old birthday girl Jessica Zemken, and Tim Clemons.

Defending Pro Stock track champion Bret Belden started the new year off where he ended last year -- in victory lane as he claimed the 15-lap Pro Stock feature win. Belden used the pole starting position to his advantage to take the lead from rookie Denny Smith on lap 7 and held off the furious late race charge of invader Dave McCready in the final laps to take the win. Eric Vanderhoof, Wayne Archer, and Jason Rood completed the top five. Heat wins went to Bret Belden and Smith.

Dave Mannise started second and won his first 15-lap Pure Stock victory of the year in the Season Opener. Mannise was followed across the line by Ricky Trexler, Les Lewis, Art Newman Jr., and Jeff Thorp. Thorp and Mannise claimed the Pure Stock heat wins.

Coming up this Sunday May 12 is the first major race of the 2002 season in Central New York featuring the Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes/F.X. Caprara Car Companies Mother's Day Special. In race action will be the Turning Stone Casino 358-Modified Super DIRT Series with a 100-lap all-star event as well as the Sunoco Race Fuels Sportsman Super DIRT Series in a 30-lap affair. Gates will open at 3pm, with time trials beginning at 5:30pm, and racing taking the green flag at 6pm. For more information, contact the track office at (315) 829-4557 or log on to the website at www.uticaromespeedway.com.

PIT NOTES -- 37 Modifieds, 26 Sportsman, 20 Pro Stocks, and 21 Pure Stocks filled the pit area with 104 cars on Opening Night presented by the folks from Gates-Cole Insurance. Heat lineups were determined by the luck of the draw, and the features were heads up. The handicapping system will start on May 19. Legendary veteran Jack Johnson was not in action as planned because his new Sprint PCS Utica-Rome team got delivery of their new TEO car just two days before the opener. Expect Johnson to be racing this Sunday. Popular local driver Gordy "Panic" Button made his return to the Modified wars for the first time in 6 years. 19-year old Matt Burdick, son of Race Director Chip Burdick, became the youngest Head Starter in DIRT Motorsports and track history, and did an excellent job in doing so. Steve Paine, Justin Haers, Pat Ward, and Roger Phelps invaded the track after an early afternoon race at Weedsport.

-urs-

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Series Stock car
Drivers Pete Taylor , John Barker