Utica-Rome race report 2002-05-26

Panic Button makes triumphant return to Utica-Rome Victory Lane on Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes night. VERNON, NY -- Gordy "Panic" Button of Kirkville claimed the Memorial Weekend Championship 50-lap victory for 358-Modifieds last Sunday ...

Panic Button makes triumphant return to Utica-Rome Victory Lane on Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes night.

VERNON, NY -- Gordy "Panic" Button of Kirkville claimed the Memorial Weekend Championship 50-lap victory for 358-Modifieds last Sunday at Utica-Rome Speedway on Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes Night. Button used the outside pole starting position to his advantage and led the entire event, his first victory at the track in seven years. The crowd pleasing win for the popular driver behind the J.A. Crouse Trucking / Bicknell No. 714 was worth $2,000, and it marked a tremendous comeback from injuries suffered in a serious Sprint Car accident at the track two years ago the same weekend.

Winning features at Utica-Rome for the first time in their careers were John Christian of West Winfield in the Sportsman and Buddy Hencke of Sand Lake in the Pro Stocks. Chuck Cushman Jr. of Rome was the Pure Stock victor.

Tony Ross and Gordy "Panic" Button led the 26-car starting field down to the green flag from Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes President and Owner John MacDougall. Button raced out to the early lead with J.J. Michaels filing into second and Steve Hulsizer in third. In the young stages of the event, the battle was between Michaels and Hulsizer, who both started in the second row, as Button began pulling away from the field. Hulsizer bobbled momentarily back to fourth on lap 22, enabling Michaels to keep the second position. Ryan Baye was on a mission however, as he raced around Michaels to take over second as Ron Holmes steadily advanced through the field from thirteenth to make his presence known in the top five.

At the halfway mark of the Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes 50, the top five was Button, Baye, Holmes, Michaels, and Hulsizer. Opening night winner Mitch Gibbs was moving up through the field from fifteenth as he raced into sixth on lap 31. Hulsizer and Michaels continued their side by side war, with Hulsizer taking over fourth on lap 38. Ron Holmes, meanwhile, was reeling in second place runner Ryan Baye, as Baye seemed to close in on Button who was in heavy lapped traffic. Teenager Matt Sheppard began working on Michaels for fifth, as Michaels was attempting to get back by Hulsizer once again. However, Sheppard was able to get on by with just two laps to go in the event. Baye closed on Button in the final two laps, but Button was just the dominant car as he had a huge lead when the checkered flag flew. Button was the winner, followed by Baye, Holmes, Sheppard, and Hulsizer. Michaels, Gibbs, Ross, Jason Barney, and Mike Hulsizer completed the top ten finishers.

"Yeah, this is sweet," said an elated "Panic" Button in victory lane, who was surrounded by family, crew, friends, and well wishers in one of the wildest victory celebrations in track history. "We started the year out good, but we've had little stuff breaking, so we didn't finish. This is as good of a car I've driven here. When the car is right, you are having fun -- when it is off, it's tough. It helped starting out front, but we were real fast tonight. We should be tough the rest of the year."

Button's win was his first at Utica-Rome since June 21, 1995 and the fourteenth of his career. From 1997 until 2000, Button returned to the Sprint Car ranks, but on May 29 of 2000, Button suffered a serious knee injury at Utica-Rome in a terrifying Sprint Car flip. It put his racing career on hold for a year's time while he recovered, but he would never drive a Sprint Car again. Last season, he returned to racing, albeit a Sportsman, at Fulton and Utica-Rome. This year, he returned to the Modified ranks with engines supplied by Morrison Performance, but he sure does remember where he was two years ago after this very race -- in the hospital, having surgery on his knee.

"This is so special," he said. "You try not to think about it a lot. I've put that behind me. I want to thank everyone for helping me get here tonight. I really appreciate everyone's help."

Three minor cautions slowed the fast paced Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes 50, with the most serious being on lap 24 when several cars came together heading into turn three, taking out Jim Rothwell, John Barker, and invader Chad Brachman. Rothwell, Aaron Excell, Holmes, and Button won heat races, while Willy Decker and Canadian Dan Miller won the consis.

John Christian started third and won his first career Sportsman division feature at Utica-Rome after taking the lead on lap 4 from early leader Steve Way. Christian pulled away and went unchallenged for the win, with Jim Roberts, Russ Hefti, Kevin Crave, and Paul Carey following him at the finish. Sportsman heat race wins went to Jessica Zemken, Jamie Christian, and Steve Davis, while Mike Button won the consi.

Lebanon Valley regular Buddy Hencke invaded Utica-Rome to claim his first ever 15-lap Pro Stock feature victory after coming from the eleventh starting position. Jim Normoyle was second in his best career finish at the track, with Jason Rood, Dave Bruno, and Chad Ray completing the top five finishers. Gerry Newman led the first four laps until Hencke took over on lap 7. Brian Belden, Joe Palmer, and Rood won the Pro Stock heat events.

Chuck Cushman Jr. won his first Pure Stock feature of the season in a caution free 15-lap affair. Dave Mannise battled for the victory with Cushman, and even led lap 13, but Cushman, who started second, was able to hold him off for the win. Mannise was second, followed by Jeff Thorp, Mark Webb, and George Schulze. Both Mannise and Cushman claimed the heat race victories.

Coming up this Sunday June 2 is Canastota Kart Speedway Night featuring a regular show of 358-Modifieds, Sportsman, Pro Stocks, and Pure Stocks. Race time is set for 6pm. For more information, contact the track office at (315) 829-4557 or log on to www.uticaromespeedway.com.

Pit Notes -- 36 Modifieds, 30 Sportsman, 23 Pro Stocks, and 21 Pure Stocks filled the Utica-Rome pit area with 110-cars on a beautiful Memorial Weekend Sunday evening. The night begun on a humorous note as track promoter Tom Cole got his Utica-Rome stripe as he smashed one of the packer vehicles into the frontstretch wall before hot laps, with the huge monster truck wheel up on the wall. The legendary Jumpin' Jack Johnson did not qualify for the Modified feature, due to mechanical problems in the heat and consi. Johnson will be a weekly Utica-Rome competitor this season in the Sprint PCS No. 45 machine. Current Modified chassis win count: Teo 1, Bicknell 1. Richie Predmore won the Demolition Derby.

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Series Stock car
Drivers Jim Roberts , Dan Miller , John Barker