Utica-Rome Speedway ready for season opener

VERNON, NY -- The 2002 race season at Utica-Rome Speedway in Vernon is just a month away from the green flag on Sunday May 5 for the Gates-Cole Insurance Season Opener. It will mark the beginning of a new era of DIRT Motorsports stock car ...

VERNON, NY -- The 2002 race season at Utica-Rome Speedway in Vernon is just a month away from the green flag on Sunday May 5 for the Gates-Cole Insurance Season Opener. It will mark the beginning of a new era of DIRT Motorsports stock car competition as the first event under the leadership of rookie Owner / Promoter Tom Cole.

The Gates-Cole Insurance Season Opener will be highlighted by a 40-lap Super DIRT Week qualifier for the DIRT 358-Modifieds, as well as a regular program for the DIRT Sportsman, DIRT Pro Stocks, and Pure Stocks. Race time is set for 6pm, and it will commence the 41st anniversary season of three and four wide action on the new clay surface at the popular Sunday night fast track.

The headline 358-Modified division will have a tremendous mixture of talent on the half-mile track during the 2002 season. Returning to defend his first career title will be Todd Burley, but he will have his hands full as he will have to vie with former champions Mitch Gibbs and legendary DIRT Hall of Fame Nominee Jack Johnson. Other contending drivers in weekly action will be J.J. Michaels, Ryan Baye, John Ramsey, Ted Lamb, Aaron Excell, Gus Schmidt, Wayne Jelley, and Jim Rothwell. Several of the top DIRT drivers are also considering racing at Utica-Rome weekly, but nothing is official as of this writing. Local driver Ron Holmes is looking to return, but needs a ride for the season.

Young superstar Matt Sheppard, the 2001 Fulton Speedway champion, will call Utica-Rome his Sunday night home, as will the popular Gordy Button who will be returning to the 358-Modified division on a weekly basis for the first time since 1996. A strong crop of rookies, featuring Willy Decker, Paul Kinney, Tony Ross, Aaron Jacobs, and Jim Lavalla, will challenge the veteran drivers and attempt an upset victory.

Tim Clemons will return to defend his stellar Sportsman track championship but he will have his hands full with rival Jamie Christian. The duo put on some tremendous battles last season, and combined, had ten victories between them. Paul Carey, Utica-Rome's top contender on the Super DIRT Series, is coming into his own, and could be one of the favorites to challenge Clemons and Christian for a win on a weekly basis.

Other top drivers returning to the Sportsman ranks will be former Mr. DIRT Mike Button, Dan Yankowski, Kevin Crave, Steve Davis, Tom Denton, and Jessica Zemken. Several new competitors including Billy Osta, J.J. Courcy, Darren Keyser, Tim Nye, and Bob Bradt, will also compete weekly.

Speedway management expects many of the top 358-Modified and Sportsman teams on the DIRT circuit to be in action for the Season Opener in preparation for the lidlifter of the 2002-edition of the 358-Modified and Sportsman Super DIRT Series, which is scheduled for Utica-Rome on May 12. For many of the teams, Opening Night will serve as an excellent tune up for the kick off of the Super DIRT Series.

Defending Pro Stock champion Bret Belden will be back for his twenty-fourth year of race competition, and he will be looking for his fourth track title at Utica-Rome. Jason Rood, Wayne Archer, Dave Moyer, Mark Effner, Brian Belden, Chad Ray, John Roese, Bill Knapp, and lady racer Gerry Newman will be back in the popular division. Speedway management is unsure if 2001 runner-up Jerry Holmes will return for yet another year of Utica-Rome racing.

The Pure Stock division at Utica-Rome looks to be a wide-open affair in 2002 as Jeff Pastorella will not return to defend his first career track title. Dave Mannise is still contemplating his 2002 plans, but it seems there will be a new top driver in the Pure Stock ranks. Top drivers such as Jim Thomas, Les Lewis, Waylan Wilczek, George Schulze, Rob Seavy, and Art Newman Jr are willing to step it up a notch this season.

Preparations for the 2002 Gates-Cole Insurance Season Opener set for Sunday May 5 at Utica-Rome Speedway are in full force as the month of April begins. Track management could not be more excited about the upcoming race season, and drivers, fans, and sponsors should expect a great year of racing at the historic track.

For more information on the 2002 race season at Utica-Rome Speedway, contact the speedway office at (315) 829-4557 or visit the new track website, located at www.uticaromespeedway.com.

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