ESS: Utica-Rome race report 2001-09-02

VERNON, NY -- Aaron Excell of East Hamilton backed up a strong second place finish last week and won his first career DIRT 358-Modified feature in front of a capacity crowd last Sunday night at Utica-Rome Speedway. Excell, 31, used the outside...

VERNON, NY -- Aaron Excell of East Hamilton backed up a strong second place finish last week and won his first career DIRT 358-Modified feature in front of a capacity crowd last Sunday night at Utica-Rome Speedway. Excell, 31, used the outside pole starting position to his advantage and led the entire distance of the 30-lap event. The popular win for the J&J Yamaha Motorsports / TEO Pro Car No. 38 team was worth $1,500 in front of the holiday crowd on track championship night.

Also winning were Steve Dow of Byron in the Empire Super Sprints, Brian Murphy of Cicero in the DIRT Sportsman, Jerry Holmes of West Winfield in the DIRT Pro Stocks, Jeff Pastorella of Westmoreland in the Pure Stocks, and Mike Teachout in the Slingshots. Claiming 2001 track championships were Todd Burley of Spencerport in the DIRT 358-Modifieds, Tim Clemons of Gloversville in the DIRT Sportsman, Bret Belden of West Edmeston in the DIRT Pro Stocks, Jeff Pastorella in the Pure Stocks, and Denny Tilison of Cobleskill in the Slingshots.

Gus Schmidt Jr. and Aaron Excell paced the 30-lap non-point DIRT 358-Modified feature down to the flags of Starter Dick Sweet, with Excell racing out to the early lead. The driver on the move at the start was Ron Holmes, who flew around the speedway and raced from the eighth spot right into the top five. Holmes took over fourth on lap 4, and began a hot battle for third with Roger Phelps. The pair raced side by side for several laps with Holmes taking over the spot on lap 9. Schmidt caught Excell by that time, and was pressuring him for the race lead. Holmes, however, faltered on a restart just one lap later and fell back to fifth. Mitch Gibbs silently worked his way towards the top, but on a lap 10 restart he put the race fans on their feet as he raced three wide from sixth to third place, while Phelps took over the runner-up spot from Schmidt.

At the halfway mark, Excell continued his lead, followed by Phelps, Schmidt, Gibbs, and North Country invader Ryan Bartlett. Holmes, who made a pitstop following a pileup in turn four on lap 10, was running towards the front once again, and went right into fifth on a lap 16 restart. Gibbs put some pressure on Phelps for several laps, but had a tough time getting around. Gibbs had his chance on lap 23 when he used the high running lapped car of Pat Sullivan as a pick to take over the second position. Several minor yellows slowed the field over the next few laps, placing Gibbs right on Excell's rear bumper. With just four laps to go, the battle for the top spot intensified, with Excell looking for his first career win, and former track champion Gibbs following his every move. Gibbs was there, and underneath Excell several times with just two laps remaining. However, Excell proved to be the top driver on this night as he held off Gibbs for his first career Utica-Rome win. Gibbs, who started eleventh, had to settle for second with Roger Phelps in third for his best finish on the season to date. Holmes recovered from the mid race jingle to finish fourth with Schmidt in fifth. Ted Lamb Jr., Wayne Reutimann Jr., Ryan Bartlett, John Barker Jr., and Jim Rothwell completed the top ten finishers. Schmidt, Excell, and Chad Ward were the heat race winners.

"I just tried to stay calm and cool over the last few laps," said an excited Excell who dominated his heat race earlier in the evening. "This place (Utica-Rome) is tough, tonight we started up front and it's easier to win from there, but I think we had the car to beat tonight."

Second place finisher Mitch Gibbs agreed with Excell. "He was just too much for me tonight, and I am really happy for him," he said.

Seven yellows slowed the 30-lap event; the most serious being the incident in turn four after Ron Holmes was turned around by another driver. Holmes was hit by several cars, and appeared to have major damage, but it was mostly cosmetic as he returned and raced right back to fourth in the final rundown. Jim Rothwell, Lance Willix, and Joel Thomas all suffered damage in the same incident. Todd Burley was crowned the 2001 DIRT 358-Modified track champion last week in the final points event.

Brian Murphy became a first time winner in the DIRT Sportsman division at Utica-Rome. Murphy started fifth, took the lead from Kevin Crave on lap 4, and led the rest of the way towards his first career victory in the 20-lap event. Willy Decker mounted a late race charge to finish second, with Kevin Crave in third, Paul Carey in fourth, and Gordy Button in fifth. Tim Clemons, who went pitside with a broken rear suspension part late in the event, claimed his first career Utica-Rome DIRT Sportsman track championship. Tom Denton, Crave, and Willy Decker sat in victory lane for the DIRT Sportsman heats.

Jerry Holmes came from the sixth starting position to claim his seventh DIRT Pro Stock feature win of the season. Bret Belden finished second and continued his string in every race this season with a top five finish. Third was Jason Rood, followed by invader Joe Stefanski and Wayne Archer. Meeks led the first circuit of the 15-lap event, until Holmes took command on lap 2. Archer, Holmes, and Belden were the heat race winners. With his strong second place finish, Belden won his third overall DIRT Pro Stock track title, his first in ten years.

Jeff Pastorella won his tenth Pure Stock feature of the year at Utica-Rome. David Pope, Waylan Wilczek, Art Newman Jr., and Bill Mason completed the top five of the 15-lap event. Pastorella started tenth and took the lead on lap three to lead the remainder of the distance, with Newman leading the first two circuits. George Schulze and Newman were the heat race victors. Pastorella claimed his first career Utica-Rome Pure Stock track title.

Mike Teachout came from the second starting position to claim his third 12-lap Slingshot feature event of the season. A.J. Digsby, Denny Tilison, heat winner Mike Waterman, and Randy Marsh completed the top five. Teachout led the entire 12-lap distance of the event, while Tilison won the divisional track championship.

Steve Dow claimed the thrilling victory in the first Empire Super Sprints race held at the speedway since 1996. Dow took the lead from early leader George Ely on lap 13 and rode on to a popular victory. Lance Yonge mounted a last lap charge from fourth to finish second, with Jeff VanDusen in third, Bubby Kerrick in fourth, and John Karklin Jr. in fifth. Ely, VanDusen, and Podolak were the heat race winners, while Podolak visited victory lane once again in the Dash for Cash. Rob Dietrick was the B-main winner.

Notes -- 38 Empire Super Sprints, 26 Modifieds, 23 Sportsman, 28 Pro Stocks, 19 Pure Stocks, and 9 Slingshots filled the Utica-Rome pit area to capacity with 143 racecars. The 50/50 draw was worth a record $2,090 on a night that was one of the largest crowds in speedway history. J.J. Michaels, who was celebrating a birthday, unfortunately was scratched for the night after he broke a motor in the heats. The Modified chassis win count: Troyer 10, TEO 6, and Bicknell 1. Seven different drivers have won in the headline DIRT 358-Modifieds to date, including Todd Burley (7), Jack Johnson (3), J.J. Michaels (2), Mitch Gibbs (2), Danny Johnson (1), John Ramsey (1), and now Aaron Excell (1). Coming up this Sunday is the popular Modified Run Whatcha' Brung as well as the DIRT Sportsman ($500 to win), DIRT Pro Stocks ($400 to win), Pure Stocks ($300 to win), and Slingshots. Race time is set for 6pm. For more information, contact the speedway office at (315) 829-4557 or log on to


DIRT 358-Modifieds -- AARON EXCELL, Mitch Gibbs, Roger Phelps, Ron Holmes, Gus Schmidt Jr., Ted Lamb Jr., Wayne Reutimann Jr., Ryan Bartlett, John Barker Jr., Jim Rothwell, Lance Willix, Bill Trexler Jr., Chad Ward, Bill Shantel Sr., Darrell Hurlburt, Joel Thomas, Todd Thomas, Jim Lavalla, Andy Romano, Jason Herrington, Mike Schoonover, Pat Sullivan, John Ramsey, Mike Gillette, Dan Fassett. DNS -- J.J. Michaels.

2001 DIRT 358-Modified Track Champion -- Todd Burley.

DIRT Sportsman -- BRIAN MURPHY, Willy Decker, Kevin Crave, Paul Carey, Gordy Button, Tom Denton, Jessica Zemken, Scott McCue, Daryl Hagen, Jim Roberts, Steve Davis, Butch Reiter, Dave Bargabos, Craig Pritchard, Brian Johnson, Aaron Jacobs, Ben Novak, Jamie Christian, Tim Clemons, John Christian, Donnie Wetmore Jr., Tim Mayne. DNS -- Steve Way

2001 DIRT Sportsman Track Champion -- Tim Clemons.

DIRT Pro Stocks -- JERRY HOLMES, Bret Belden, Jason Rood, Joe Stefanski, Wayne Archer, John Pietrowicz, Dave Teedman, Pat Hobbs, Bill Knapp, Doug Grimaldi, Mark Effner, Nick Stone, Joe Palmer, Mark Hoffman, Kenny Gates, Brian Belden, Dave Moyer, Dave Meeks, Warren Williams, Ray Hall Sr., George Dyer, Chad Ray, Richard Hart, Gus Gould, Bob Gloska, Eric Vanderhoof, Steve Zajac, Gerry Newman.

2001 DIRT Pro Stock Track Champion -- Bret Belden.

Pure Stocks -- JEFF PASTORELLA, David Pope, Waylan Wilczek, Art Newman Jr., Bill Mason, Jim Thomas, Ray Hall Jr., Ted Crawford, Rob Seavy, Cody Streeter, Walt Wilczek, Chris Streeter, Walt Koperda, Mike Walters, Luke Horning, Brett Haman, George Schulze.

2001 Pure Stock Track Champion -- Jeff Pastorella.

Slingshots -- MIKE TEACHOUT, A.J. Digsby, Denny Tilison, Mike Waterman, Randy Marsh, J.J. Courcy, Mike Lotito, Ken Stafford Jr., Brad Belden, Joe DeJohn.

2001 Slingshot Track Champion -- Denny Tilison.


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About this article
Series Sprint , Stock car
Drivers Jim Roberts , Brian Johnson , Wayne Reutimann , Brian Murphy , John Barker
Teams Williams