With intermittent waves of rain blanketing the New York State Fairgrounds all day Friday, DIRTcar officials finally cancelled the day’s events at 3 p.m., leaving the individual race teams to strategize how not running the scheduled Triple 20s for big blocks and Twin 20s for the 358-modifieds would affect them.
Lebanon Valley and Albany-Saratoga speedways kingpin Kenny Tremont Jr., who timed 54th and was counting on a strong heat race run to make the 45-car field for the Rite Aid 200 Sunday, was among those disappointed by the bad weather.
“We’ll just have to see if there is an opportunity to move up in Sunday’s non-qualifiers race,” said Tremont. “We’ll run that if we have to and see if we can go forward and get one of the three qualifying positions. They don’t mention putting past winners that don’t qualify into the 200, but they did that for me one other year, so that’s always a possibility, as well.
“If we run the 358 race Saturday, the track should come back to give us a couple of grooves to work with Sunday morning.”
The problem facing Tremont and others is that while the field will have more than the 37 cars set to be taken from Thursday’s time trials after the qualifying program was scrapped, the tentative 45-car field also has to include guaranteed starters Billy Dunn, Alan Johnson, Larry Wight and Michael Storms from the summer qualifying series and the “win and you’re in” driver from tonight’s twin bill of World of Outlaws sprint cars and DIRTcar modifieds at the Rolling Wheels Raceway Park.
Lebanon Valley champion Andy Bachetti is in a slightly better position, having timed 43rd Thursday with his big block car.
“I didn’t feel good in three and four, where it felt icey, and the holes in turns one and two hurt me getting in,” said Bachetti as he watched the rain fall. “If I have to run the non-qualifiers race, we’ll be starting near the front, and should be OK.
“We’ll be really good tomorrow with the small block. That car feels great out there, and we’re due to win the 358 race one of these years.”
Bachetti’s brother-in-law, Fonda and Albany-Saratoga star Ronnie Johnson, was timed in 32nd, so he has no worries about being in Sunday’s 200, despite problems Thursday.
“Actually, timing back there may turn out to be an advantage,” said Johnson of his run in his “one of a kind” TEO chassis. “I hope they rain out today because we’re qualified for sure that way. That’s way better than running the heats on a bad race track, and getting caught up in a big crash.
“We got no track time yesterday, and besides, the conditions were really bad. The steering box we swapped in is quicker than I’m used to, but we should adapt with a few practice laps Sunday morning. It’s been a frustrating week, as our new engine broke on the dyno last Sunday morning, and we had to use the motor my dad ran here last year. It should race well, and we’re here to win. We’ve already turned fast time, and won the best-appearing car award. Now, we have to win the 200.”
“We started in the back a few times with his dad,” added longtime Jack and Ronnie Johnson crewman Joe Bellomo with a smile. “You just have to adjust your strategy a little. You’re not going to pass 32 cars on the track here, so you have to move up using pit strategy, along with being fast. If we’d had practice Wednesday, all of our problems would have been taken care of, but you can’t control the weather.”
If there was one driver in the jam-packed Syracuse pit area that didn’t care if the qualifying program rained out, it was 40th qualifier Richie Tobias, the 1992 winner of the 200 and the hero of many non-qualifying races with his crowd-pleasing dashes to a qualifying position.
“If we have to run the non-qualifiers race, we’ll just go around the outside of everybody like we always do,” said the Annville, Pa.-based veteran.
Today’s revised program will start at 10:45 a.m. with a 12-lap non-qualifiers event to complete the field for the 358-modified championship, with the qualifiers joining the top 30 cars from time trials and seven guaranteed starters for the 1:45 start.
Sunday’s program will have the Modified Futures event added at 11 a.m., with the Rite Aid 200 still scheduled for a 2:15 start.