Utica-Rome report 2002-06-30

Johnson and Burley split Utica-Rome features on Walton's Farm & Auto Repair night. VERNON, NY -- The legendary Jack Johnson of Duanesburg and defending track champion Todd Burley of Spencerport both claimed the 30-lap feature wins in the...

Johnson and Burley split Utica-Rome features on Walton's Farm & Auto Repair night.

VERNON, NY -- The legendary Jack Johnson of Duanesburg and defending track champion Todd Burley of Spencerport both claimed the 30-lap feature wins in the headline 358-Modified division last Sunday at Utica-Rome Speedway on Walton's Farm & Auto Repair Night. Johnson, 57, won the rain delayed Pepsi-Cola feature from June 16, while Burley, 31, was victorious in the regularly scheduled main event.

Johnson retook the lead from an overheating Matt Sheppard on the final lap after a torrid battle to claim the win, worth $1,500 for the ageless veteran behind the wheel of the Sprint PCS / Teo No. 45. Burley took the lead from early leader Jeff Kotary on lap 12 to dominate the second feature enroute to the $1,500 win for the New England Race Fuels / Troyer No. 89b wheelman. Burley became the first repeat winner of the year, while Johnson won his first of the season.

Rich Price and Jeff Kotary led the rain delayed 30-lap Pepsi-Cole 358-Modified feature down to the green flag with Kotary racing out to the early lead. Steve Hulsizer was on the move in the early stages as he raced into second by lap 2, and into the lead on lap 5. Jack Johnson, who started thirteenth, was already into fifth by lap 4. Johnson seemed to be on a mission as he continued his march toward the front, and on a lap 7 restart, he took the second position, sending Kotary back to third.

Johnson and Hulsizer began a torrid side by side battle for the lead with neither driver giving an inch. Jack peeked under Hulsizer out of turn four, almost in the infield, and got in better position, as he raced out of turn two down to take the lead on lap 9. Hulsizer did not give up as he kept the pressure on Johnson over the next few circuits. By lap 11, point leader Matt Sheppard had raced into fifth after coming from the twenty-first starting position. Sheppard was the fastest car on the track without a doubt and he took over fourth on lap 15.

At the halfway mark, the top five was Johnson, Hulsizer, J.J. Michaels in a borrowed car, Sheppard, and Kotary. Michaels was fast in his first Utica-Rome start behind the wheel of a Teo, as he took over second on lap 16 from Hulsizer. Sheppard raced into third two laps later and went right past Michaels the next circuit. Sheppard wasted no time as the fast driver caught Johnson and an entertaining battle for the lead began between the two drivers that are 38-years apart in age.

Johnson was using the low lane, while Sheppard seemed to be faster on the outside. The two drivers dueled it out for the win, but on lap 21, Sheppard powered around Johnson coming out of turn two for the lead. With just several laps to go, Sheppard began overheating as the tell-tale signs of steam began coming out of the Nick's Cafe No. 28s. Johnson was right there, and with three laps to go, stuck his nose underneath. Johnson held his line, even with lapped traffic, as Sheppard tried to hold on to the finish. The two were side by side on the final lap on the backstretch, as Sheppard shut down his machine giving Johnson the lead, and the victory, his first of the 2002 season at the speedway. Sheppard coasted to finish second, with Michaels in third, Gordy Button in fourth, and Hulsizer in fifth. Todd Burley, Willy Decker, Jeff Kotary, Jim Rothwell, and Aaron Excell rounded out the top ten finishers.

"I had water on my face shield over the last few laps," said Johnson, who knew he had a chance to claim the win as Sheppard began to falter. "I'm happy with the win tonight, I will take it how I can get it." The victory was Johnson's 24th of his career at Utica-Rome, spread out over 8 seasons of winning competition. Four minor cautions slowed the event, the most serious involving Rich Price and Dale Planck in turn three, eliminating both drivers from the event. Heat races run back on June 16 were won by Aaron Excell, Rich Price, and Willy Decker while Jim Rothwell claimed the consi.

Jeff Kotary and Pete Taylor led the 30-lap regularly scheduled Walton's Farm & Auto Repair 358-Modified feature event to the green flag with Kotary once again opening the early race lead. Todd Burley, who started sixth, appeared to be on a mission as he raced from fourth to second on lap 7, as Matt Sheppard raced into fifth one lap later. Sheppard was using his back up car, as his main car was done for the night with a possible burnt piston. Burley caught Kotary on lap 8 and the pair engaged in a torrid battle for the lead. Side by side, Burley edged into the lead on lap 12, but Kotary did not give up. Sheppard raced into fourth, and then third several laps later.

At the halfway mark, Burley was the leader followed by Kotary, Sheppard, rookie Willy Decker, and Ryan Baye. Sheppard and Kotary were fiercely battling for second with some banging, but Sheppard took over the spot on lap 16. Burley was pulling away, but he had a scary moment on lap 19 as Mike Hulsizer slowed on the frontstretch right in front of him. However, Burley held his own and continued his lead. Gordy Button was making a late race charge into the top five, but Burley was just gone. With just one lap to go, rookie Heath Carney flipped over the turn four wall, but he was uninjured. When the race resumed, Burley checked out and raced to his second win of the 2002 season.

"The track was excellent tonight," said the happy Burley of his 12th career win at Utica-Rome. "Hopefully they can build on it. This win is long overdue for us." Six minor cautions slowed the pace of the event. Modified heat victories were claimed by Willy Decker, Jack Johnson, and Jim Rothwell.

Defending DIRT Sportsman track champion Tim Clemons of Gloversville started tenth and won his second straight 20-lap feature in the division after a wild three car battle for the win between former champions Dan Yankowski and Jamie Christian. Yankowski was the early race leader, but Christian hounded him in the early stages to get far enough ahead to lead lap 8. Yankowski, however, retook the lead one lap later but Tim Clemons was closing fast to make it a three-car show for the win on what could have been the best race of the night. Clemons took the lead from Yankowski with four laps remaining and rode onto victory in the event. Second was Christian with Yankowski in third. Daryl Hagen was fourth and Kevin Crave rounded out the top five. Heat victories were claimed by Crave, Clemons, and Hagen.

Veteran lady racer Gerry Newman of Durhamville came from fourth to claim her first 15-lap DIRT Pro Stock feature victory since 1998 at Utica-Rome. Newman took the lead on lap 6 and rode onto the popular win. Jason Rood was second, followed by Bill Knapp, Chad Ray, and defending track champion Bret Belden. A.J. Digsby was the early race leader, but got sideways and wrecked to fall out of the event on lap 7. Digsby and Ray were the heat race winners.

Dave Mannise of Fulton started tenth, took the lead on lap 7, and won his fourth 15-lap Pure Stock feature of the 2002 season. Mannise led Waylan Wilczek, Jim Thomas, Art Newman Jr, and Rick Condes across the finish line. Les Lewis led the first two circuits, while George Schulze and Art Newman led two laps each for the next four laps until Mannise took the lead for good on lap 7. Chuck Cushman and Mannise won the Pure Stock heat races.

Coming up this Sunday July 7 is the Independence Spectacular featuring Twin 20's (full purse for each event) for the DIRT Sportsman plus a regular show for the DIRT 358-Modifieds, DIRT Pro Stocks, and Pure Stocks on Federated Auto Parts Night. The show will also include the Northeast Extreme Freestyle Motocross Series and a gigantic fireworks display. 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 -- 27 Modifieds, 27 Sportsman, 20 Pro Stocks, and 17 Pure Stocks were on hand for Walton's Farm & Auto Repair Night. Former track owner Eric Kingsley helped with the greatly improved track surface. The food token system was eliminated much to the delight of the fans. Dollar bills or leftover tokens will now be used for the remainder of the season in the concession stand. Seven different winners have graced victory lane in the Modified division to date: Gibbs, Button, Burley (2), Schmidt, Danny Johnson, Steve Hulsizer, and Jack Johnson. The Modified chassis win count: Troyer 4, Bicknell 2, TEO 2.

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Series Stock car
Drivers Pete Taylor