Utica-Rome season opener report

Utica-Rome Speedway 2002 season opener set for Sunday May 5. VERNON, NY -- The excitement is building as Utica-Rome Speedway begins its 2002 season of stock car racing under new management this Sunday May 5 with the Gates-Cole Insurance 41st ...

Utica-Rome Speedway 2002 season opener set for Sunday May 5.

VERNON, NY -- The excitement is building as Utica-Rome Speedway begins its 2002 season of stock car racing under new management this Sunday May 5 with the Gates-Cole Insurance 41st Anniversary Season Opener. In race action at the popular DIRT Motorsports half-mile freshly clayed oval will be the 358-Modifieds in a special 40-Lap extra distance Super DIRT Week Qualifier plus the Sportsman, Pro Stocks, and Pure Stocks. Race time is set for 6pm.

The headline 358-Modified division is set to have a spectacular season under the new management leadership of Tom Cole. As the year begins, it looks as though there could be a new track champion crowned when the points races are over on August 26. One of the toughest competitors in weekly action will be 1996 track champion Mitch Gibbs of North Norwich, and he will look to regain his championship form with new backing from Nice N Easy. Strong drivers looking for their first career Utica-Rome title include the popular J.J. Michaels of Baldwinsville, Gordy Button of Kirkville, Ryan Baye of Constantia, young Matt Sheppard of Waterloo, and Gus Schmidt of Liverpool. Michaels is the defending Season Opener race winner, and would like nothing more to begin the new year with a victory in the 40-lap Gates-Cole Insurance special.

Also in weekly action will be legendary DIRT Hall of Fame nominee Jack Johnson, Jim Rothwell, Ted Lamb, Mike Hulsizer, Aaron Excell, Wayne Jelley, Dan Miller, John Ramsey, Joel Thomas, and Canadian Dan Miller. The 2001 track champion, Todd Burley, will be a frequent Utica-Rome visitor this season, but will not be in action every week, as he has moved on to the Big Block Modified division. Former champion Ron Holmes of Oneida is still actively looking for a competitive ride for the season at the speedway. A strong crop of rookies led by Willy Decker, Tony Ross, Paul Kinney, and Jim Lavalla is also expected to contend for a victory in the Gates-Cole Insurance Season Opener. In addition, a contingent of invaders will be on hand on Opening Day to tune up for the May 12 100-lap kickoff of the Super DIRT Series at the speedway.

Tim Clemons of Gloversville is ready to defend his first career Sportsman championship at Utica-Rome, and started off last season with three straight victories. He will be challenged by close rival Jamie Christian of West Winfield for the season crown. Also expected to contend for feature wins this year are Mike Button, Paul Carey, Kevin Crave, John Christian, and Bill Shantel Jr.

The Pro Stock division will be led by defending champion Bret Belden of West Edmeston during the 2002 season as he looks for his fourth career track title. Jason Rood, Dave Moyer, Wayne Archer, and Mark Effner will closely duel with him throughout the year. Strong car counts are anticipated in the Pro Stock ranks this season, as several new drivers will be in weekly action.

Dave Mannise of Fulton will be back at Utica-Rome to try for yet another championship at the historic track. Last year's champion, Jeff Pastorella will not return to defend, but Mannise will have strong competition from Les Lewis, Waylan Wilczek, Jim Thomas, and George Schulze.

An exciting Utica-Rome off-season, culminating with the sale of the speedway to Tom Cole, has led to the much-anticipated 2002 Gates-Cole Insurance Season Opener. Utica-Rome race fans can expect an intense summer of professional DIRT Motorsports action at "The Action Track of the East". The speedway is a Sunday family tradition in the Mohawk Valley, and on average over 100 cars show up for weekly competition in front of several thousand race fans.

Utica-Rome Speedway gates on Sunday May 5 for the Gates-Cole Insurance Season Opener are set to swing open at 4pm, with fast paced green flag racing beginning at 6pm. The track is located on Route 5 in Vernon, just minutes off New York State Thruway Exit 33. Free parking and camping is allowed on speedway grounds. For more information, contact the speedway office at (315) 829-4557 or visit the new website located at www.uticaromespeedway.com.

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Series Stock car
Drivers Dan Miller