Utica-Rome Speedway opener in two weeks

VERNON, NY - On Sunday May 6, the racing engines will be roaring and the wheels will be turning at the ultra fast half-mile Utica-Rome Speedway in Vernon as racers and race fans alike return to the speedway for the first time this year. Slated...

VERNON, NY - On Sunday May 6, the racing engines will be roaring and the wheels will be turning at the ultra fast half-mile Utica-Rome Speedway in Vernon as racers and race fans alike return to the speedway for the first time this year.

Slated for 6pm, Utica-Rome's "Opening Day 2001" promises to be a tremendous kickoff to the 40th anniversary season at the DIRT Motorsports sanctioned speedway, known as the "Action Track of the East". On tap is a 40-lap special for the mighty DIRT 358 Modified division, along with a regular program for the DIRT Sportsman, DIRT Pro Stocks, Pure Stocks, and Slingshots.

Defending 358-Modified track champion Ron Holmes of Oneida will lead the charge of all competitors as he tries to begin the new season with last year's championship form. However, veteran drivers J.J. Michaels, John Barker, Jr., Ted Lamb, Jr., Roger Phelps, Todd Burley, Jason Barney, Steve Hulsizer, Gus Schmidt Jr., and Billy Wilcox, will all be trying to secure their first ever Utica-Rome title. Other top drivers looking for a victory in the season opener include former champions Jack Johnson, Mitch Gibbs, Paul Jensen, Dale Planck and many of the travelling Sunoco Race Fuels 358-Modified Super DIRT Series stars who will be on hand in preparation for the May 13 100-lap event.

Since the speedway was re-opened by current promoter Eric Kingsley in 1989, Planck leads the list of opening day victories with three triumphs. Gordy Button, who is currently looking for a 358-Modified ride at Utica-Rome for this season, has two victories. Drivers with one win each include Donnie Wetmore, Ted Lamb, Jr., Pete Bicknell, Paul Jensen, J.J. Michaels, Mike Romano, and last year's winner Andy Bachetti, who blistered the speedway enroute to his first ever Utica-Rome victory.

Seven time 2000 DIRT Sportsman feature winner Jamie Christian will have his hands full in the Sportsman division this year, as all-time feature winner and 1994 track champion Jim Rothwell will be moving back into the division he once dominated. Add in Tim Clemons, DIRT superstar Mike Button, Willy Decker, Billy Trexler, Jr., defending champion Kevin Crave, and rookies such as 2000 DIRT Pro Stock Track Champion Tom Denton, Todd Thomas, and Ryan Phelps, the competition in the division looks to be at an all-time high.

The Pro Stock chase for the championship this season at Utica-Rome looks to be a wide open affair, with drivers such as former champions Jerry Holmes, Bret Belden, and Joe Palmer all returning for yet another run at the title. Other drivers looking to make their mark are last year's opening night winner Frank Twing, Jason Rood, Mike Watkins, Dave Bruno, former Limited Supermodified driver Charlie Pike, as well as rookie drivers Chad Ray and Mark Effner.

Eight-time Pure Stock track champion will defend yet another championship this season in the division. However, Jeff Pastorella will be back and if his three victories at the end of last season are any indication about how he will do in 2001, he should prove to be tough company for Mannise this season. Other drivers looking to end the five consecutive season championship reign of Mannise will be Jim Thomas, Waylan Wilczek, Bobby Newman, Chuck Cushman, Jr., and Herm Staats.

You can be a part of the "Fastest Family Fun in Central New York" this summer at the Utica-Rome Speedway, a Sunday family tradition in the Mohawk Valley. The gates for the 2001 Season Opener on Sunday May 6 will open at 4pm and racing will begin at 6pm, with Slingshot heats taking the green from Starter Chip Burdick at 5:45pm. The speedway is located on Route 5 in Vernon, NY, and it is easily accessible from NYS Thruway Exit 33. Free parking and overnight camping is allowed on speedway grounds.

For more information, contact the speedway office at (315) 829-4557 or log onto the official website at www.newuticaromespeedway.com.

-Doug Zupan

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