Billy Decker came within a whisper of a clean sweep of Thursday’s “Top Six” qualifying program at Super DIRT Week, which saw some 53 big-block modifieds and 37 358-modifieds race against the clock.
Decker edged Wayne Jelley for the pole in the small-block race, but in final qualifying group qualifying for Sunday’s Small Engine Fuels 200 for big-block modifieds, Jimmy Phelps’ 31.592-second run around the New York State Fairgrounds mile dropped the four-time winner’s Kevlar-powered Gypsum Wholesalers Bicknell to second. The Phelps/Decker front row will take Sunday’s green ahead of Decker’s teammate, Pat Ward, as well as Stewart Friesen, Lebanon Valley star J.R. Heffner and surprise “top sixer” Tom Sears Jr.
“That was the most challenging track I’ve ever been on here,” said Phelps after climbing out of his Wave Energy Drinks Troyer fired by a Bob Bruneau engine. “In some spots, I was way looser than normal, but other places were rubbered up, and you’d be carrying a lot of speed and then suddenly lose traction.”
“The big-block car was good, but we came up a little short,” said the disappointed Decker. “The track stayed really narrow, and with the crazy weather, it kept changing from group to group.”
Weather was a major factor in the day’s action, as heavy rain Wednesday night left the track crew struggling to dry it out, substantially delaying practice and time trials, then as soon as the track was dry, a bright sun and a stiff wind immediately turned it dusty and loose.
“The track conditions made driving the car a handful,” said Ward. “One minute, you’re tight, the next minute, you’re right sideways. Racing side-by-side will be tough, as I needed the whole track just for myself.”
Heffner agreed, saying, “I would have liked to be a lot smoother and could probably have done better yet” after exiting his Bedell-fired Bicknell, while Sears just smiled as he enjoyed his first “Top Six” performance and gave credit to his late draw and his Morrison-powered Bicknell.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Friesen, another driver who does not normally make the top six. “This sets us up to make some serious money in our heat before we even get to the feature. It’s great for me and for all of our sponsors of our Cicci-powered TEO, as well.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Fonda Speedway stars Ronnie Johnson and Bobby Varin were disappointed after they were pushed out by the last-minute qualifying times just seconds after Varin had jumped into the top six.
Johnson was much happier with the 358 standings, where he trailed Decker, Lebanon Valley’s Wayne Jelley, Tim McCreadie and Jimmy Horton, with Pete Bicknell sixth.
“This car was quick right off the trailer,” said Johnson of his Alton and Carole Palmer-owned No. 76. “The track’s not great, but it’s way better than yesterday. It’s scary with the headwind down the backstretch because it shakes the car all around.”
Johnson ended up 12th, quite appropriately, in the 12A big block formerly driven by his father, Jack, while Varin was eighth.
Other Capital Region racers posting qualifying times included Brett Hearn, who was an uncharacteristic 18th, Eddie Marshall (19), Kenny Tremont Jr. (21), Andy Bachetti (24), Wayne Jelley (26), Keith Flach (33), Donnie Corellis (43) and Marc Johnson (49).
Today’s program starts at 12:45 p.m. with Twin 20’s for the 358 modifieds and Triple 20’s for the big blocks to set the feature lineups behind the locked-in Top Six. They will be followed by a World of Outlaws sprint car dash, qualifying for the sportsman division cars and both the big-block and pro-stock futures events.
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