Utica-Rome season finale report 2001-09-16

Alan Johnson & Bret Belden Score Thrilling Super Dirt Series Victories In Season Finale At Utica-Rome Speedway VERNON, NY -- Alan Johnson of Phelps won the Sunoco Race Fuels 358-Modified Super DIRT Series 100-lap event in thrilling fashion ...

Alan Johnson & Bret Belden Score Thrilling Super Dirt Series Victories In Season Finale At Utica-Rome Speedway

VERNON, NY -- Alan Johnson of Phelps won the Sunoco Race Fuels 358-Modified Super DIRT Series 100-lap event in thrilling fashion last Sunday in the 2001 season finale at Utica-Rome Speedway on Nice N' Easy Grocery Shoppes / F.X. Caprara Car Companies night. Johnson started fourteenth and steadily raced his way to the front, taking the lead from Brett Hearn on lap 82 and riding on to his first victory at the track since 1987. The win for the driver of the Maroney Motorsports / Bicknell Racing products No. 14J was worth $3,000 and it was his sixth victory this season on the Super DIRT Series.

Also winning were 2001 DIRT Pro Stock track champion Bret Belden of West Edmeston in the Automobile Recyclers Association of New York Pro Stock Super DIRT Series event and Waylan Wilczek of Westmoreland for his first career victory in the Pure Stock feature.

Ron Holmes and Sportsman driver Willy Decker led the 32-car Sunoco Race Fuels 358-Modified Super DIRT Series starting field down to the flags of Starter Dick Sweet, with Holmes racing out to the early lead. Hearn moved into second, with Steve Paine taking over third from Decker by lap 7, while Pete Bicknell was in fourth as Hearn began reeling in Holmes as the early laps ticked by. Steadily but surely working his way to the front was Alan Johnson, who took over the seventh position from Decker on lap 11. Alan was fast, but right in front of him was his brother Danny who started twelfth and was simply flying as he made a three wide move with Jack Johnson and Paine to take over fifth on lap 12. Hearn had caught Holmes and took the lead on lap 13. One lap later, Bicknell raced into second with Danny taking over third from Holmes on lap 22. Alan Johnson continued to work the low groove in the turns and picked off fifth from Jack Johnson on lap 30.

Lapped traffic became an issue for the leaders, and helped Danny take over second from Bicknell. When Holmes bobbled on lap 36 in turn four, Alan moved into fourth as brother Danny seemed to close in on Hearn with the traffic. With the lapped cars three wide in front of Hearn and Johnson closing, Hearn tried to split Steve Hulsizer and Billy Wilcox in an attempt to get around. However, contact was made and Hearn eventually got around the traffic.

At the halfway point, the top ten was Hearn, Danny Johnson, Bicknell, Alan Johnson, Ron Holmes, Jack Johnson, Paine, Tom Sears Jr., Jason Barney, and Matt Sheppard. Despite the close call, Hearn was using the lapped cars to his advantage, and was able to pull away from Danny as Alan raced right into third on lap 55 sending Bicknell back to fourth. A lap 56 caution slowed the field and sent the lapped cars to the inside, so the top dogs were all lined up to race for the win. On the restart, Danny went right to work on his bitter rival Hearn, with each driver working different lanes on each end of the speedway. However, this enabled Alan to work underneath brother Danny but Danny held onto the spot, as Hearn pulled away. However, with Alan shaken off, Danny was able to catch Hearn once again on lap 67, with Alan sneaking in once again as the fans rose to their feet.

Danny was literally on Brett's back bumper on lap 75, with Alan right there as well as they worked lapped traffic once again. Alan continued to work the extreme lowside of the speedway, especially out of turn four where he seemed faster than anyone. Alan powered into second on lap 81, sending Danny to third, and it really seemed as though Alan had something for Hearn. As the fans rose to their feet cheering once again, Alan, like a rocket, shot out of turn four underneath Hearn on lap 82 to take the lead by inches at the line. Hearn, however, was not giving up, as he was able to pressure Alan as they raced side by side over the next two laps, with Johnson leading each time in heavy lapped traffic.

On a lap 86 restart, Alan opened a lead, but Bicknell and Danny put on a whale of a show for third as the remainder of the laps ticked by. Alan began pulling away, just as Bicknell put a slide job on Danny to take over third. However, Danny got the spot right back, but with a restart with three laps to go, Bicknell and Johnson went all out for third, as the points are very important. From there on out, it was all Alan Johnson went on to his first win at Utica-Rome since June 16, 1987. Brett Hearn was .667 seconds behind Johnson at the finish, with Bicknell in third, Danny in fourth, and Jack Johnson in fifth. Completing the top ten, it was Vic Coffey, Ron Holmes, Steve Paine, Matt Sheppard, and Ryan Baye.

"This car is just a great race car," said a happy Alan Johnson in victory lane after his ninth career victory at the track. "It seemed that the slower the track got, the faster the car was. It's great everywhere on the track, and we took advantage of it tonight. We've been struggling here lately, so it was great to win."

Johnson, who drives the orange Bicknell 2002x chassied, Mike Maroney owned No. 14J drew the fourteenth starting position during the redraw, and he was asked in victory lane if he thought there was anything special in that number. "No, not really," he said. "We drew thirteen on Friday, and still won at Brockville. A number is a number."

Four minor yellows slowed the event due to minor skirmishes, mechanical problems, and flat tires, but one red flag was brought out on lap 14 when Wayne Reutimann, Chad Ward, J.J. Michaels, and John Barker came together on the backstretch. The Michaels and Barker machines were locked together and several minutes were taken to unhook the cars.

In time trials, Steve Paine set the JE Pistons Fast Time with a 20.042, which is 89.811 mph around the fast Utica-Rome half-mile. Brett Hearn was second, followed by Bicknell, Hulsizer, and Aaron Excell. Bicknell, Sears, Excell, Holmes, Alan Johnson, and Danny Johnson won the heat races, while Billy Wilcox, Jason Barney, and Gus Schmidt won the consis. Billy Wilcox will represent Utica-Rome in the Super DIRT Week Sunoco / A-Plus 358-Modified Championship 150 on October 6 as he won a guaranteed starting spot for the event. Alan Johnson was the BERT Hard Charger as he advanced the most positions of any driver during the event from their starting spot.

The Sunoco Race Fuels 358-Modified Super DIRT Series continues September 22 at Rolling Wheels Raceway in Elbridge. Danny Johnson holds a one-point lead over Steve Paine in the Super DIRT Series point standings, with Alan Johnson rapidly closing in on the top two. A great battle for the national Mr. DIRT 358-Modified champion appears to be in the making.

Bret Belden, the 2001 DIRT Pro Stock track champion, used the outside pole starting position to his advantage and showed everyone why he is champion by winning the Automobile Recyclers Association of New York Pro Stock Super DIRT Series 25-lap event for the second consecutive season. Belden led the entire distance of the race, and was never seriously pressured by runner up Butchie Irwin or any other of the invading drivers in his tenth career victory at the track. Jerry Holmes, Dave Bruno, Billy King, Wayne Archer, Tom Cannizzaro, Jipp Ortiz, Tom Barron, and Pete Stefanski completed the top ten. Barron, Belden, Irwin, Holmes, and Cannizzaro won heats, while Mark Effner and Eric Vanderhoof won the consis.

Belden will now represent Utica-Rome on the Syracuse Mile during Super DIRT Week on October 6 as he won a guaranteed spot for the event due to his win last Sunday at Utica-Rome.

Waylan Wilczek of Westmoreland took the lead from early leader Art Newman Jr. on lap 5 and went on to his first career 15-lap Pure Stock feature win at Utica-Rome. Newman, David Pope, Ricky Trexler, and Bill Mason completed the top five.

Notes -- 56 Modifieds, 42 Pro Stocks, and 14 Pure Stocks were on hand for the season finale on an emotional night due to the recent terrorist attacks. 1,000 American flags were handed out to the spectators, and the competitors in the Modified feature displayed American flag decals on the right rear window of their machines, thanks to the generosity of Triple T Signs and Kinney's Kar Kare, both on Route 46 in Oneida. A gigantic billboard, featuring the American flag and the words "UNITED WE STAND" was put up on the backstretch and made by J.R. Graphics in Weedsport. Before the features, all the drivers as well as their crews came on the track for a special tribute to the nation featuring the singing of the National Anthem by Nashville country artist Sharie Bardo. The final Modified chassis win count: Troyer 10, TEO 6, and Bicknell 3. Nine different drivers have won in the headline DIRT 358-Modifieds to date, including Todd Burley (7), Jack Johnson (3), J.J. Michaels (2), Mitch Gibbs (2), Danny Johnson (1), John Ramsey (1), Aaron Excell (1), Ryan Baye (1), and Alan Johnson (1). With the completion of this event, the 2001 racing season at Utica-Rome is now over. Track management and all the employees wish to thank everyone for a very successful year and are all looking forward to the 2002 season. Stay tuned to the track website at www.newuticaromespeedway.com for the latest off season news and updates.

-NURS-

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Series Stock car
Drivers Wayne Reutimann , Brett Hearn , John Barker