Super DIRT Week XL gets under way Wednesday, culminating with the SEF Small Engine Fuel 200 on Sunday, Oct. 9, and by the time the checkered flag falls in the 200, there will be numerous stories of triumph and disappointment.
But no matter who wins this season, the achievement won’t match what Jack Johnson accomplished in 1984.
Johnson dominated Syracuse that season, winning all four races — 4th of July, Labor Day, Winner’s Classic and the Schaefer 200 — held at the Moody Mile at the New York State fairgrounds. But his performance in the 200 was nothing short of incredible.
Johnson started off the week by winning the pole position, and then patiently waited for Sunday to roll around (remember, there were no heat races in those days).
He led the first 57 laps, made his mandatory pit stop, and then passed Carl Collis to regain the last on lap 95 of the 125-lap race.
When the checkered flag fell, Johnson had led 84 of 125 laps — only Gary Balough led more laps, when he sat out front for 98 of the 125 in 1980.
But the amazing thing about Johnson’s second win in the Schaefer 200 (he became the first New York driver to win the 200 in 1979) was that he was driving an untested race car.
Two weeks before the 200, Johnson had sold his regular Syracuse car, the one that was already 2-for-2, to Dick Larkin.
“When a guy comes in and offers you so much for a car, you have to take it,” said Johnson in an interview in 1984. “The car is worth ‘x’ amount of dollars now, and will be worth half of that after Syracuse. As a businessman, I have to take that offer.”
So Johnson went to Syracuse with a new experimental Troyer chassis that had never been on the track, and whipped the best drivers in the Northeast and Canada.
“Jack was unbeatable today,” said Merv Treichler, who finished third. “There was no way anyone was going to catch him.”
The top three cars were all powered by Hutter big blocks, and Johnson said after the race that his new chassis made all the difference.
“I’m going in the completely opposite direction from everyone else, but it works,” said Johnson. “It makes us a tad better, chassis-wise. We worked hard for seven days and everything clicked. We had a plan, and went there and stuck to our guns.”
The only problems Johnson had on race day came from lapped traffic, which is always a nuisance on the Moody Mile, which has a habit of turning into one lane rather quickly.
“The lapped cars gave me trouble all day,” Johnson said. “I didn’t want to take a chance and get too close to them, but I couldn’t hold back because I knew Merv and Carl was running good.
“I tried to cool it a couple of times, but in a race like this, with the way the other guys were running, you have to go all out. If anything had gone wrong, we would have finished second.”
Not only did Johnson sweep all four races at Syracuse in 1984, he also won both the CRC Series championship and the overall Drivers Indepedent Race Tracks point title.
Johnson is one of just two Capital Region drivers who has won the 200 at Syracuse. Ken Tremont Jr. got his only win in 1999.
Both drivers have five top-three finishes in the 200. Johnson has two wins, a second and two thirds, and Tremont had his victory, three seconds and one third.
But Tremont also has won the 358 championship race during Super Dirt Week four times.
Tommy Corellis (1973) and Randy Glenski (1992) have runner-up finishes in the 200, while Ronnie Johnson (2005), Larkin (1998), Jeff Trombley (1990), C.D. Coville (1989) and Dave Lape (1983) crossed the finish line third.
Jack Johnson (1994), Bobby Varin (1998) and Corellis (1973) are the only area drivers who have won the pole for the 200.
There have been nine different winners in the last nine October classics at Syracuse, and Brett Hearn will again be shooting for a record sixth win next week. But Hearn’s last win came in 1995.
Action at Syracuse begins with time trials next Thursday, followed by heat races for both 358s and big blocks next Friday night.
On Oct. 8, Billy Decker will be trying to chalk up his fourth straight win in the Nationwide Insurance 150 358-Modified Championship, and the SEF Small Engine Fuel 200 is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9.
Still no word on the proposed sale of Albany-Saratoga or Devil’s Bowl speedways. The only updates on the Champilain Valley Racing Association Web site pertain to NASCAR championship checks, which are supposed to be distributed sometime after Oct. 15.
Ron Proctor, who won the NASCAR modified title at both of the CVRA tracks, is in line to collect $6,000 for the double crowns.
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