Utica-Rome season opener preview

Utica-Rome Speedway set to open for 42nd season on April 27th. VERNON, NY- This Sunday, April 27th, the gates will swing open at Utica-Rome Speedway for the official start of the 2003 season. Gates-Cole Insurance will present the 42nd season ...

Utica-Rome Speedway set to open for 42nd season on April 27th.

VERNON, NY- This Sunday, April 27th, the gates will swing open at Utica-Rome Speedway for the official start of the 2003 season. Gates-Cole Insurance will present the 42nd season opener featuring a 40 lap DIRT 358-Modified Super DIRT Week qualifier plus a regular show for the DIRT Sportsman, DIRT Pro Stocks, and Pure Stocks. Gates open at 4 p.m., with racing at 6p.m.

Matt Sheppard competed in his first full season at the Utica-Rome Speedway in 2002, and while only nabbing 1 checkered flag, won the 2002 DIRT 358-Modified track championship in his first attempt. Sheppard will return to defend his title in 2003, but will have to hold off 1996 track champion Mitch Gibbs, Ryan Baye, Jeff Kotary, Jim Rothwell, Gus Schmidt, JJ Michaels, John Ramsey, and many others. 2001 track champion Todd Burley has indicated he will return full time in 2003. Burley dominated the 2001 season with 7 wins and 13 top five finishes. Also planning to make an assault for the 2003 track championship will be three-time NASCAR Winston Racing Series regional champion Dale Planck. With an impressive run at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte and a second place run in the Black Rock Speedway opener, Planck has served notice the he will be in contention for the 2003 DIRT 358-Modified title.

Jamie Christian will return to the Vernon speedplant in 2003 looking to repeat as the DIRT Sportsman track champion. Christian will be looking for his third title in five seasons in 2003. Veteran Tim Clemons switched chassis manufacturers halfway through the 2002 season, and many feel it slowed his title chase. Clemons hopes to return to his 2001 track championship form, but will have to contend with Jamie Christian along with Paul Carey, Jim Roberts, John Christian, Tim Mayne, Steve Davis and a host of others.

The DIRT Pro Stocks put on one of the most competitive point battles in speedway history last season. Five drivers went into the last night of points with a legitimate chance to win the track championship, with Oneida's Jason Rood coming out on top. Three-time Pro Stock champion Bret Belden, Buddy Hencke, Joe Palmer, Denny Smith, Bill Knapp, Jim Normoyle, Chad Ray, and Gerry Newman are scheduled to return to the Pro Stock wars in 2003. Tom Denton, Pro Stock track champion in 1998 thru 2000, is set to return to the Pro Stock division for the upcoming season. Former Pure Stock track champion Jeff Pastorella is also scheduled to move up into the Pro Stock division.

Dave Mannise took top honors in the Pure Stock division in 2002 by a mere 2 points over a hard charging Chuck Cushman in the last night of points. If Mannise hopes to repeat in 2003, he will have to hold off Cushman, Art Newman, fan favorite Jim Thomas, Rick Trexler, and many more.

Some upcoming specials on tap for the 2003 season at the Utica-Rome Speedway include the annual Mother's Day special featuring the Turning Stone Casino Resort DIRT 358-Modified Super DIRT Series and Sunoco Race Fuels Super DIRT Series for DIRT Sportsman on May 11th, Battle of the Street Stock/Pure Stock Series (BOSS) on June 1st, NEARA Challenge Series for IMCA type modifieds on June 8th, three visits for the Empire Super Sprints (Memorial Day weekend, July 4th weekend, and Labor Day Weekend, Advance Auto Parts Super DIRT Series for the mighty DIRT Modifieds on July 31st, and the return of the Turning Stone Casino Resort DIRT 358-Modified Super DIRT Series on September 14th to the close out the season.

Gates will open at 4 p.m. with racing at 6 p.m. Utica-Rome Speedway is located on Route 5 in Vernon, NY, just minutes off the NYS Thruway Exit 33. For all the latest news, go to www.uticaromespeedway.com or call the speedway office at (315 829-4557.

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Series Stock car
Drivers Jim Roberts