Utica-Rome race report 2002-07-14

VERNON, NY -- Former track champion Mitch Gibbs of North Norwich returned to victory lane for the second time of the 2002 season in the 358-Modified feature last Sunday at Utica-Rome Speedway on Royce Int'l Eyewear Night. Gibbs, 39, used the...

VERNON, NY -- Former track champion Mitch Gibbs of North Norwich returned to victory lane for the second time of the 2002 season in the 358-Modified feature last Sunday at Utica-Rome Speedway on Royce Int'l Eyewear Night. Gibbs, 39, used the outside pole starting position to his advantage and led the entire distance to dominate the 30-lap main event. The win for the popular driver behind the wheel of the Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes No. 2g Teo machine was worth $1,500.

Tony Ross and Mitch Gibbs led the 25 car Royce Int'l Eyewear 358-Modified feature starting field down to the flags of Starter Matt Burdick with Gibbs taking the early race lead. At the end of lap five, the top five drivers were Gibbs, Ross, Jim Rothwell, Gus Schmidt, and J.J. Michaels. Gibbs was pulling away, and had a straightaway lead by lap 9. Gordy Button and point leader Matt Sheppard were having a war for the fifth position on lap 11, with the two drivers side by side for nearly four laps. Sheppard edged out in front to take over fifth on lap 14.

At the halfway mark of the 30-lap Royce Int'l Eyewear 358-Modified feature, Gibbs was the leader by a wide margin over Schmidt, Rothwell, Ross, and Sheppard. Button, Michaels, Todd Burley, Steve Hulsizer, and John Ramsey were the rest of the top ten at that point. The yellow flew on lap 16 for the second pileup in as many weeks in turn three, with Mark Flach, Jason Barney, Willy Decker, Jeff Kotary, and Heath Carney all involved. Flach and Carney were done for the evening with major damage to their racers.

On the restart, Sheppard raced into third, sending Rothwell back to fourth. Button took over fourth from Rothwell several laps later. With five laps to go, the battle focused on the second position as Sheppard caught Schmidt. The two drivers engaged in an entertaining duel for the spot, running side by side for the rest of the event. Gordy Button caught them and made it a three-car battle for the runnerup position, but Schmidt was able to hold them off as the checkers flew with Gibbs long gone, ahead of Schmidt by 2.351 seconds. It was the second feature win of the year for Gibbs, who had also won the Season Opener on May 5. Schmidt held on for second with Sheppard third, Button fourth, and Rothwell fifth. Michaels, Steve Hulsizer, Todd Burley, Paul Kinney, and Ryan Baye completed the top ten finishers.

Gibbs commented, "I knew I had a good chance to win tonight with the up front starting position. We needed this, we have been down in a slump lately," he said about his eighteenth career victory at the track. Gibbs, the 1996 track champion, said he would have a mid-season chassis change, to hopefully return him to championship form as he now sits in second in track points by 40 to Matt Sheppard. "We will have a new Bicknell here next week."

The entire 30-lap feature was completed in 23 minutes and 45 seconds. Three yellows, two minor, slowed the event. J.J. Michaels, Jack Johnson, and Matt Sheppard claimed 358-Modified heats.

Jamie Christian of West Winfield won his third DIRT Sportsman feature of the season by 3.287 seconds over cousin John Christian. Jamie came from the seventh starting position in the non-point affair to take the lead from early leader Jim Roberts on lap 10 and led the remainder of the 20-lap distance. Third was Tim Clemons, fourth was Kevin Crave, and fifth was Dan Yankowski. Heat victories went to John Christian, Jim Roberts, and Daryl Hagen.

Buddy Hencke of Sand Lake claimed his fifth DIRT Pro Stock feature of the season after coming from the eleventh starting position to take the lead on lap 8 from Bret Belden. Hencke held off a last corner charge by Jim Normoyle to take the win. Normoyle had to settle for second, with Bret Belden, Denny Smith, and Eric Vanderhoof completing the top five. A.J. Digsby was the leader on lap one, until Belden took over on lap 2. Hencke and Bill Knapp won the Pro Stock heat races.

Dave Mannise of Fulton copped his fifth victory of the year in the 15-lap Pure Stock main event. Mannise came from the ninth starting position to take the lead on lap 8 from Les Lewis. When the checkers flew, it was Mannise followed by Chuck Cushman, Lewis, Art Newman, and Ricky Trexler. Heat wins went to Jim Thomas and Mannise.

Coming up this Sunday July 21 is Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes Night featuring the 358-Modifieds, Sportsman Twin 20's (including the rain delayed feature from June 16), Pro Stocks, and Pure Stocks. The gates will open at 4pm, with racing beginning at 6pm sharp. For more information, contact the track office at (315) 829-4557 or log on to www.uticaromespeedway.com.

PIT NOTES -- 25 Modifieds, 23 Sportsman, 18 Pro Stocks, and 15 Pure Stocks were on hand for Royce Int'l Eyewear Night. Brandon Colison won the action filled One On One Spectator Races, which had nearly 30 cars in competition. Mitch Gibbs had the fastest time of the night on lap 5 of the feature, with a 20.453 lap, at 88.007 mph. Jamie Christian had the fastest Sportsman lap, with a 21.067 lap, at 85.443mph. The new One Way Radio System frequency is 158.400. Pro Stock and Pure Stock drivers are reminded that the One Way Radio System will be mandatory for them starting August 4. Transponder times for the feature events will be posted on the track website starting this week. Seven different winners have graced victory lane in the Modified division to date: Gibbs (2), Button, Burley (2), Schmidt, Danny Johnson, Steve Hulsizer, and Jack Johnson (2). The Modified chassis win count: Troyer 4, TEO 4, Bicknell 2.

-urs-

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Series Stock car
Drivers Jim Roberts