Utica-Rome report 2002-08-11

Jeff Kotary and Matt Sheppard become first time winners at Utica-Rome Speedway on Wilber Duck Chevrolet Night. VERNON, NY -- Two first time winners graced victory lane last Sunday in the headline 358-Modified division at Utica-Rome Speedway on...

Jeff Kotary and Matt Sheppard become first time winners at Utica-Rome Speedway on Wilber Duck Chevrolet Night.

VERNON, NY -- Two first time winners graced victory lane last Sunday in the headline 358-Modified division at Utica-Rome Speedway on Wilber-Duck Chevrolet Buick Night. Jeff Kotary of Floyd was the victor in the rain-delayed 30-lap feature, while point leader Matt Sheppard of Waterloo won the regularly scheduled 30-lap feature.

Kotary, 32, used the pole starting position to his advantage and drove his Hideaway Pub No. 3 Bicknell chassis to a dominating victory, leading all 30-laps in the process. Sheppard, 20, came from fourteenth in the nightcap to take the lead on lap 26 from mid race leader Mitch Gibbs enroute to his victory behind the wheel of the Nick's Cafe Teo No. 28s machine. The crowd pleasing first career wins for the popular drivers was worth $1,500 each.

Jeff Kotary and Dave Rauscher paced the 30-lap rain-delayed 358-Modified feature from July 28 down to the flags of Starter Matt Burdick, with Kotary racing out to the early lead. Kotary, Rauscher, Gus Schmidt, Ryan Baye, and Jason Barney were the top five drivers at the end of the fifth lap, with Kotary having a full straightaway lead already.

At the halfway mark, Kotary was still leading with Schmidt, Baye, Rauscher, and Barney the top five drivers. Point leader Matt Sheppard began to make his mark, as he raced into seventh on lap 16. On a restart on lap 17, Schmidt peeked under Kotary for the lead, but Kotary held his own and pulled away as Barney took over second. Sheppard entered the top five on the restart, and by lap 22, he was racing with Schmidt for the third position. Jack Johnson moved into fifth the same lap as Sheppard took over third on lap later. Johnson broke and pulled into the infield with a possible engine problem on lap 24.

Sheppard caught Barney with five laps to go, and took over second on lap 27. Sheppard was quicker than Kotary over the last three laps, but Kotary was just too far ahead, and running some excellent laptimes of his own. At the checkers, it was Kotary for his first ever Utica-Rome 358-Modified win over point leader Matt Sheppard, who had to settle for second. Barney was third, Schmidt fourth, and Baye in fifth. Mitch Gibbs, J.J. Michaels, Bob Savoie, Aaron Excell, and Ted Lamb completed the top ten.

"It has been a while," said a very happy Kotary who last visited victory lane in a Sportsman car at Utica-Rome in 1995. "There is lots of money out there, we just made it work with what we have. It is hard to compete in this class." Kotary, who runs Tony Feil Motors, was smooth during the entire event and handled traffic to perfection as he had a huge lead for most of the event. "As good as it feels to be stubborn sometimes, I guess this time it paid off to be cool."

In the nightcap 30-lap 358-Modified feature, teenager Paul Kinney drove his Wilber Duck Chevrolet Buick machine to the early race lead. Mitch Gibbs raced into third on lap 3, and by the end of lap 5, Kinney was still the leader, with Dave Rauscher in second, Gibbs in third, Jason Barney in fourth, and Jim Rothwell in fifth. Gibbs took over second on lap 7 and began pressuring Kinney for the lead. After a great battle, Gibbs took command on lap 9.

Sheppard entered the top five on lap 10, and on a lap 12 restart took over fourth. Sheppard was simply flying as he took over third, and then second, putting Ryan Baye back in third. Gibbs now had Sheppard right on his bumper at the halfway mark, with Jason Barney in third, Ryan Baye in fourth, and Gus Schmidt in fifth. Barney slowed on the backstretch on lap 16, and went pitside.

On the restart, Sheppard was right behind Gibbs as the two drivers began clicking off nearly identical laptimes. Gibbs still held the top spot, and it almost seemed as Sheppard would not have enough for him. However, lapped traffic the great equalizer caused the pair to go side by side on lap 24 to begin an entertaining battle for the lead. Sheppard was quickest in turn three as he drove in hard, getting underneath Gibbs each time. After slight contact in turn one in traffic, Sheppard took over the lead.

A yellow bunched the field up with three laps to go, but Sheppard pulled away and went onto his first career Utica-Rome 358-Modified stock car victory, further padding his point lead. Gibbs held on for second and third was J.J. Michaels who made a late race charge and appeared to be closing on the leaders. Fourth was Aaron Excell and fifth was Ryan Baye. Completing the top ten it was Gus Schmidt, Jeff Kotary, Paul Kinney, Gordy Button, and Dave Rauscher.

Sheppard was not too excited in victory lane, even though he has tried all season to win a feature, but come up short each time. "I really do not feel good about this win," he commented. "I pushed up a little bit and got into the side of Mitch," he said about the pass for the lead.

Button, Barney, and Gibbs were the Modified heat race winners. One caution slowed the first feature while three slowed the second, with no major incidents all evening long.

Jamie Christian of West Winfield padded his point lead with his fifth victory of the 2002 season in the Sportsman division. Christian started tenth and took the lead on lap 12 from cousin John Christian, who finished second. Third was 16-year old Jessica Zemken, fourth was Paul Carey, and fifth was Billy Shantel Jr. Tom Denton led the first two laps, while Zemken led until John Christian went by on lap 10. John Christian, Billy Shantel Jr, and Steve Kotary claimed Sportsman heat race wins.

Dave Bruno of Rome won his first feature at the speedway since 1999 in the first Twin 15-lap feature for the Pro Stock division. Bruno charged from the fourteenth starting spot and took the lead from Denny Smith on lap 8 enroute to his win. Jason Rood, Denny Smith, A.J. Digsby, and Dave Meeks were the remainder of the top five. Meeks led the first six circuits until Smith took over on lap 7.

Buddy Hencke of Sand Lake won his seventh feature of the year in the nightcap Twin 15-lap event for the Pro Stocks. Hencke started fourth and led the entire distance. Following Hencke, it was Joe Palmer, Dave Moyer, Chad Ray, and Bret Belden. Heat wins went to Bill Knapp and Jason Rood.

Jim Thomas of March claimed his second 15-lap Pure Stock feature victory in a row in the rain-delayed event from July 28. Thomas started fifth and took the lead on lap 10 from Art Newman Jr and led the remainder of the distance. Rick Condes was the leader on lap 1, while Les Lewis was in command for the next three laps. Waylan Wilczek, Les Lewis, Jeff Thorp, and Rick Condes completed the top five finishers.

In the regularly scheduled 15-lap Pure Stock feature, Chuck Cushman Jr of Rome won his fourth feature of the 2002 season after coming from the ninth starting position to take the lead on lap 3 from early leader Rick Condes. Dave Mannise was second, followed by Jim Thomas, Dave Pope, and George Schulze. Heat race victories went to Condes and Mannise.

Coming up this Sunday August 18, J.M. Uvanni Motors presents 358-Modifieds, Sportsman, Pro Stocks, and Pure Stocks plus One on One Spectator Races. The gates will open at 4pm, with racing beginning at 6pm. For more information, contact the track office at (315) 829-4557 or visit www.uticaromespeedway.com.

PIT NOTES: 26 Modifieds, 25 Sportsman, 21 Pro Stocks, and 16 Pure Stocks joined the race action on Wilber-Duck Chevy Buick Night. Ten different winners have graced victory lane in the Modified division to date: Gibbs (2), Button, Burley (2), Schmidt, Danny Johnson, Steve Hulsizer, J.J. Michaels, Matt Sheppard, Jeff Kotary, and Jack Johnson (3). The Modified chassis win count: TEO 7, Troyer 4, and Bicknell 3. It has definitely been one of the most competitive seasons in track history.

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