Australian Peter Britten had his Bruneau-powered Troyer modified on the provisional pole for most of Thursday afternoon’s big-block qualifying session at Super DIRT Week. But with just four cars left of the 69 that took time, he knew he wasn’t safe.
“I figured all day that if anyone beat my time, it would be Billy Decker,” said Britten with a broad smile. “And from the sound of his car when he went by, I knew I was in trouble.”
Trouble indeed, as Decker, long the premier driver at the New York State Fairgrounds mile, cranked out a 33.260 second lap on his first time around, eclipsing Britten’s best lap of 33.330. Then, Decker dug deep and posted a 32.997 on his second lap around the “Moody Mile” in his Kevlar-powered, NAPA Auto Parts-sponsored Bicknell.
“I got sideways between one and two, but I got it back to traction quick,” said Decker in his usual understated manner. “Then I bounced around in the hole between three and four, but I think everybody did. I think I still left a tenth or two on the table, but it’s a good start on the week.
“I thought the track would slow down a lot, but it stayed OK and we were happy that the track was pretty much the same when we went out as during the last practice session.”
Britten then suffered another letdown when Canadian David Hebert, who missed his time-trial spot and got one lap in his Finger Lakes Machine-fired Bicknell at the end, also beat his time to claim the outside pole for Sunday’s VP Small Engines Fuel 200. The second row will consist of Britten and Brett Hearn, with Bobby Varin’s familiar Dover Brake No. 00 and Gary Tomkins rounding out the locked-in top six.
“I wanted the front row, but I’m happy with this,” said Hearn. “I haven’t been up here in a couple of years. I really didn’t want to start eighth or 10th in one of the heats, because the further up you are, the safer you are.”
Varin was as surprised as he was happy, saying, “The car felt terrible, and the racetrack was horrible. I felt like I left three seconds on the table, but I must have been way better than it felt. I think this is my third time in the top six. Now, we can get ready to race Sunday.”
Tomkins was also surprised to make the top six after struggling on lap two, explaining that “my fastest lap was my first, but I didn’t think it was all that good, though it turned out to be good enough.”
Pat Ward, who had been on the bubble after Decker’s run eliminated Tim McCreadie from contention, was pushed out by Hebert’s quick lap, and will start at the front of one of tonight’s qualifying heats. He looked to be a lock until Hebert rolled out late.
“Now, I’m worried,” said Ward prophetically before Hebert’s run. “He’s pretty good here.”
Trailing Ward in the final rundown were contenders McCreadie, Justin Haers, Jimmy Phelps, Matt Sheppard and Fonda Speedway favorite Ronnie Johnson, who sat on the frontstretch for a long time before being bumped after timing third fastest in the first of the five time trial groups.
Johnson’s competitive run capped a day that saw him blow the engine in his primary ride, then struggle with overheating problems in the backup Palmer’s Service Center No. 2RJ.
Other Capital Region drivers who took time included Fonda Speedway champion Stewart Friesen (14th), Andy Bachetti (18th), Keith Flach (27th), Kenny Tremont Jr. (29th), Eddie Marshall (35th), Marc Johnson (37th), Mark Flach Jr. (38th), Mike Perrotte (40th) and Donnie Corellis (58th).
Qualifying for the Gander Mountain 150 for 358-modifieds was postponed until today due to the late start to Thursday’s program, as Wednesday’s rain eliminated all scheduled practice and pushed the start of all on-track activities to 1 p.m. Thursday, when the track was finally worked into shape.
Today’s program will start with the 358 time trials at 11 a.m., followed by sportsman time trials, Futures qualifying and Futures races in all divisions, with the Twin 20s for 358-modifieds and Triple 20s for the big-block modified set for 7 p.m. All times are tentative, as weather is expected to be a major factor throughout the weekend.