Utica-Rome report 2001-07-22

VERNON, NY (July 22, 2001) - J.J. Michaels of Baldwinsville came from the eighth starting position and endured a leaking rear end to claim his second DIRT 358-Modified feature win of the 2001 season last Sunday at Utica-Rome Speedway on Nice N'...

VERNON, NY (July 22, 2001) - J.J. Michaels of Baldwinsville came from the eighth starting position and endured a leaking rear end to claim his second DIRT 358-Modified feature win of the 2001 season last Sunday at Utica-Rome Speedway on Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes night. Michaels, 41, survived a mid race duel with Ryan Baye and held off a late race charge from the legendary Jack Johnson for the popular win, worth $1,500. It was an important victory as it broke a long string of bad luck since his only other victory this season on Opening Night in May.

Other feature winners on Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes night were Tim Clemons of Gloversville in the DIRT Sportsman, Jerry Holmes of West Winfield in the DIRT Pro Stocks, Jeff Pastorella of Westmoreland in the Pure Stocks, and Joe DeJohn in the Slingshots.

Bill Shantel Sr. and Wayne Reutimann Jr. paced the 30-lap DIRT 358-Modified feature down to the flags of Starter Dick Sweet and Reutimann took the early race lead. Ryan Baye grabbed the top spot when Reutimann bobbled on lap 3, with Barney in second and Michaels pulling into third. Mitch Gibbs, subbing for the injured Roger Phelps, moved to fourth. Michaels, on a recent string of mechanical failures and just plain bad luck, raced around Barney for second on lap six, but after a restart, when right around Baye for the lead on lap 7. Jack Johnson pulled a spectacular move in turn three, going from fifth to third in just one corner on the same lap.

Michaels and Baye started a tremendous side by side battle that would last nearly ten laps, as with Michaels on the top and Baye on the bottom as Johnson reeled the pair in. Baye, looking for his first career victory and Michaels, looking to end a drought since opening night, were both hungry for a victory and would not give up. Michaels was credited for leading the laps, but Baye edged out ahead of Michaels at least three times over the next few laps, as Johnson moved right in on their bumpers.

Point leader Todd Burley, looking for his third consecutive victory, had trouble in the heat with an overheating engine and was forced to start scratch on the feature field, but by lap 10 had worked his way into the top five. Burley caught Johnson on lap 12, and took over the third position and set his sights on the leaders.

At the halfway mark of the thrilling race, the top five was Michaels, Baye, Burley, Johnson, and Gibbs. Burley quickly caught Baye and after a several lap battle, raced right into second. However, Baye did not give up and when Burley jumped the cushion in turn four on lap 21, Baye retook second, but again, the ageless veteran Johnson was catching the top three who were in heavy lapped traffic. Baye was closing in on Michaels with seven circuits remaining and appeared to get even quicker as he caught Michaels. The pair went side by side once again, but Michaels continued to hold the top spot. Then in one of the most hair raising moves this season, Johnson went three wide in turn one with Baye and Burley to race into the second position with two laps to go.

Johnson appeared to be catching Michaels in the final circuits, but from there on out it was all Michaels, who won his second Utica-Rome feature of the season, the twentieth of his career. Johnson, who started fourteenth, was second, followed by Mitch Gibbs who came from twelfth and made a late race charge to finish third. Burley was fourth and Baye fifth. Completing the top ten in the crowd-pleasing event, it was John Barker, Jason Barney, John Ramsey, Paul Jensen, and Gus Schmidt.

Michaels was lucky to have finished the race, as a pool of rear end fluid formed under his Old Faithful 1997 Troyer/Morrison Performance powered chassis in victory lane following the race. When asked if he ever thought he'd get back to victory lane at Utica-Rome this season, said "Absolutely not! It seems like three years ago, but its great to be back. Ryan and I had a heck of a fun race, but I think the bottom went away for him."

Johnson, who borrowed a 358-motor from his son Ronnie to race while his main Mopar motor is repaired, was just happy to finish second. "He was quick tonight, and I don't think I would have beat him," said the legendary driver in reference to Michaels. "We gave it our best shot and finished second."

Four yellows slowed the 30-lap event, only for minor spins. Barney, Baye, and Andy Romano won the 358-Modified heat events.

DIRT Sportsman point leader Tim Clemons padded his point lead over the division with his fifth victory of the season in dominating fashion. Clemons, who started eighteenth on the field, went from fourth to first on lap six with a wild outside move in turn three, and led the remainder of the 20-lap distance. Defending track champion Kevin Crave made a late race charge to finish second and Gordy Button was third in his best finish since his horrible accident last season in a Sprint Car. Willy Decker and Bill Trexler Jr. completed the top five. Steve Davis, Tom Denton, and Shane Donath were the heat victors, while Bill Shantel Jr. copped the consi win.

DIRT Pro Stock point leader Jerry Holmes started fourteenth and continued his dominance of the division by winning his sixth 15-lap feature of the season in a wild affair that saw four different leaders. Chad Ray led the first three circuits, while Mark Hoffman was in command for the next five laps. Wayne Archer led lap nine, but Holmes took over one lap later and went onto a photo finish by just inches over Archer for the win. Bret Belden, continuing his string of top fives in every race this season, was third, followed by Chad Ray and Mark Hoffman. Ray and John Roese won the Pro Stock heat races.

Pure Stock point leader Jeff Pastorella won his fifth Pure Stock feature event of the season. Pastorella, who started tenth, worked his way to the front and took the lead on lap 4 to lead the rest of the 15-lap distance. Art Newman Jr. was second, followed by Waylan Wilczek, George Schulze, and Les Lewis. Rob Seavy, the early race leader, won the first heat, while Schulze won the second.

13-year old Joe DeJohn won his first career 15-lap Slingshot feature, by leading the entire distance except lap 3 which was led by John Powers. Mike Teachout was able to sneak by for second with just a few laps left, with Pete Neff in third, point leader Denny Tilision in fourth, and Randy Marsh in fifth. Tilison and Teachout won the heats.

Notes - 24 Modifieds, 32 Sportsman, 20 Pro Stocks, 17 Pure Stocks, and 10 Slingshots were on hand for the evening, completed by 10pm. Michaels went from tenth to fourth in the point standings with his victory. Track promoter Eric Kingsley announced an all new clay surface will be put down in a few weeks time, completely rock free. Veteran flagger Dick Sweet returned to the starter's stand at Utica-Rome for the first time since 1997. The Modified chassis win count: Troyer 7, TEO 3, and Bicknell 1. The John's Mobile Homes Dash for Cash events were won by Willy Decker in the Sportsman, Rob Seavy in the Pure Stocks, and Mike Teachout in the Slingshots. Marty Collmer won the popular Spectator Races, featuring a record high 28 cars! Coming up next Sunday July 29 is Schmidt Trucking/Euclid Hotel & Restaurant night featuring the DIRT 358-Modifieds, DIRT Sportsman, DIRT Pro Stocks, Pure Stocks, and Slingshots. Popular country music radio station Big Frog 104.3 will also be on hand. Race time is set for 6pm. For more information, contact the speedway office at (315) 829-4557 or log on to www.newuticaromespeedway.com.

-Doug Zupan

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Series Stock car
Drivers Wayne Reutimann