If the question is, “Can Brett Hearn go 146 laps at Syracuse on a tank of gas?” the answer is, “Almost!”
Tim McCreadie will always know the answer to that question, as he inherited the lead and the $20,000 win in Saturday afternoon’s Gander Mountain 150 for 358 modifieds at Super DIRT Week.
Hearn, who had pitted and topped off when a crash involving Bobby Varin and another car put the field under yellow for four laps before the field reached the first turn on the initial start, ran out of fuel on his 149th lap, drawing a roar from the crowd when the always popular “T-Mac” took the lead.
Billy Dunn, Tim Fuller, Ronnie Johnson and Matt Williamson trailed the second-generation star to the checkers in a race that started extremely late due to overnight rain and finished in near-darkness.
“I thought all the others pitted way too early, but except for Brett, they all made it,” said Dunn. “We were fast until the end and got great mileage, and I thought it was ours for a while.”
The cloud of dust kicked up by the leaders when the race first went green caused the first of many cautions, but as soon as green returned, front-row starters Billy Decker and Danny Johnson easily led Ronnie Johnson, McCreadie and Fuller. But Fuller cranked it up just after the 10-lap mark, marching to the front by lap 17 and driving away from the field. He almost had Hearn a lap down, but a lap 39 yellow let Hearn, who had started last after breaking a wheel in Friday’s qualifier, escape.
The leaders all pitted on lap 42, putting Dunn in front with Hearn third after almost everyone in front of him pitted. It soon became clear that he was going to try and go all the way without stopping, and when Dunn pitted on lap 55, Hearn was the new leader. From that point, he cruised slowly during each caution period, hugging the inside to shorten the distance to conserve every last drop of fuel.
McCreadie and Decker, at that time fifth and six, led the cars that had refueled, and when others then stopped, they were third and fourth at the halfway mark. Decker and Danny Johnson dueled until the latter dropped out on lap 128, then Decker joined him pitside on lap 139, spoiling his run at a perfect Super DIRT Week and stopping his consecutive Gander Mountain winning streak at four.
By then, Dunn had clawed his way back to third, and he chased McCreadie while the chilled crowd held its breath, waiting to see if Hearn could make it. When he slowed and coasted to a stop and McCreadie got the lead, the resulting roar was deafening.
“I was worried about how far I could go then,” said the jubilant World of Outlaws LM star. “I conserved for a long while, coasting into the turn from the flagstand, but eventually, you have to suck it up and go. This TEO car and its Morrison engine have been good for three years, but I was really nervous when that last yellow flew.”
A couple of other cars ran dry under yellow to extend the caution, including long-time second place runner Willy Decker, but McCreadie made it home with enough left to cut a few donuts on the frontstretch, NASCAR style.
Fuller, for his part, thought he’d given the race away.
“I got passed by Billy Dunn when I screwed up and got out of the groove, then Timmy got past me in the pits. And those two turned out to be the cars that counted. Considering I also ran out of tear-offs and couldn’t see, we’re lucky to be here.”
Vision was a definite problem in the closing laps as the portable MUSCO lighting units used in the Friday night program had been removed, and by the final laps, it was dark everywhere but the frontstretch. The delays forced the sportsman championship to be postponed to today, immediately following the big block Last Chance race, set for noon.
Matt Billings led the second five, trailed by Matt Sheppard, Dale Planck, Casey Terrance and Stewart Friesen.
Notable Capital Region finishers included Kenny Tremont Jr, 11th, and Wayne Jelley and Andy Bachetti, 13th and 14th, respectively.
NO TIME TO PREP
As soon as Friday night’s qualifying program is complete, Super DIRT Week entrants traditionally turn to making their cars more reliable for the grind of today’s VP Small Engines Fuel 200. Bodywork is braced and taped, everything tightened again, light qualifying parts replaced with heavier pieces and the engine retuned for fuel mileage rather than brute power.
But this year’s rainstorm that began moments after the completion of qualifying and lasted through Saturday morning, further complicated the process.
“You can’t control it, so you react,” said Decker, the pole-sitter. “Personally, I think people are making changes they shouldn’t. Stand pat! If it rains while we’re racing, you have to adjust your pit strategy and race strategy on the fly. Otherwise, if you have a good car, leave it alone. The track always comes back to what it was after they get on it with the heavy equipment.”
Unfortunately, coming back to what it was may not be a good thing, as while turns one and two were good, the other end of the fairgrounds mile was choppy Friday night. Hearn broke a wheel, almost everyone’s cars were bottoming out and most predicted an exceptionally high attrition today in a race that is traditionally a challenge for most teams to finish.
“I think the track will change a lot,” predicted Tremont, another winner. “They’ve already thrown us a curve by mixing sand and clay in the surface, which made it slippery all week. Now, with the rain, the old cinders mixed in, the track will come to the surface and start eating tires. Right now, we’re getting ready to react to that as well as the rough surface.”