There were a number of stars at “Big Show 5 presented by Recovery Sports Grill” Tuesday night at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, most notable Brett Hearn, who promoted the race and also won the top prize of $9,711.
But the real star of the night was the racing surface. All too often, overhyped big races fall flat because of a dry, slick, one-groove-race track. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday.
“I think that is a testament to Lyle [Albany-Saratoga track manager Lyle DeVore], giving us a track we could run high and low,” Hearn said in victory lane after the race. “We had a choice, and that is what makes great dirt racing. We were able to go bottom, top, middle, slide through the middle or slide from the top down. That is everything a dirt race should be.”
Hearn, Gary Tomkins, Dale Planck (who had never raced at the Malta track before) and Billy Decker kept the capacity crowd thoroughly entertained with great side-by-side racing. Hearn was running so far on the outside that he actually jumped the cushion on lap 45, but he also felt he had the car to beat.
“Even when I was fourth, I felt confident that I was better than the guys in front of me,” Hearn said. “I knew if I could just get to the lead and run my own laps, I could run even faster.”
After a heck of a battle with Tomkins, Hearn finally got the lead for good on lap 69, and the only driver on the track that seemed to be able to stay with Hearn was Billy Dunn, who had started 14th. He was very conservative in the first half of the 100-lap feature, but then found a rhythm, and was closing on Hearn before a final caution came out on lap 85 when Stewart Friesen suffered a flat tire.
Hearn easily pulled away on the restart, and signed his own check, so to speak.
“I thought I had a shot at him in traffic,” said Dunn, who finished 1.249 seconds behind Hearn. “But on the last restart, he’s got a million laps here and he knew just where to go. I was searching around, and he started to pull away, so I figured I’d settle for second.”
One of the other problems that Hearn ran into, although it wasn’t known until after the race, was an issue with the shield on his helmet.
“At one point, my shield popped open,” said Hearn. “There were a lot of laps where I couldn’t get one eye open.”
But when you take home $9,711, those little problems go away quickly.
Hearn, the driver, was pleased, as was Hearn, the promoter.
“If you take the best guys, and put them on a track where you don’t have nose-to-tail racing, you get a race like this,” he said. “I knew Lyle had the facility handled. For me, this was like getting ready for a big race. I have a good team around me, and we went through every detail. We were up 20 percent in car count this year because everyone had a good time last year. I want to make this an annual summer event that everyone wants to come to.”
More from the show
While the top five consisted on DIRTCar Series racers (Hearn, Dunn, Tomkins, Decker and Planck), the big surprise was Albany-Saratoga regular Marc Johnson finishing sixth. While the top five all ran big blocks, Johnson was campaigning a small block.
Ronnie Johnson finished second in his heat race, but immediately shut off the engine and put his car back in the hauler, out for the night. “The motor started to vibrate,” said Johnson as his hauler was pulling out of the pits. “I know what these things cost, and I’ve been around long enough to know when to shut it down.”
Modified heat race winners who each earned a $500 bonus were Decker, Friesen, Justin Haers and Larry Wight. Matt Sheppard won the Morris Ford Dash for Cash, which was also worth $500.
The DIRTCar Pro Stock Tour ran as the support race to “Big Show 5,” and although many of the tour’s top Franch-Canadian drivers were on hand, the final top five was made up of local drivers — Bryon Westcott, Dan Older, Chuck Towslee, Kenny Martin Jr. and Pete Broderson.
The victory was Westcott’s first career pro stock win, as he moved up this season after years of running a limited and a street stock.
The Burnt Hills driver started on the pole and led flag-to-flag, although three consecutive yellows after lap 33 extended the race and kept Older, who is Westcott’s brother-in-law, right on the leader’s rear bumper.
“We were fortunate to draw the pole. That was critical,” said Westcott. “I wasn’t perfect. I bobbled here and there, but I had enough to sustain the lead.”
Around the tracks
Hearn snapped a 38-day winless drought with his victory Tuesday night. He won the first four features of the year at Lebanon Valley and also had two wins at Albany-Saratoga, but the last came on May 31, leaving him 0-for-June.
He said it’s just part of the summer cycle. “You get into handicapping, and then the temperature goes up and the tires get hotter and it’s tougher to pass,” he said. “And there are always good guys who have three bad weeks in a row and start near the front.”
Jimmy Davis, who finished 14th in “Big Show 5,” was running his Utica-Rome car, which has a big block in it, and that’s the car he’s going to be using at Fonda for a while, after he damaged his small block on the first lap of the feature last Saturday.
Davis is still looking for his first win of the season. “We’ve got a fourth-place set-up,” he said. “Then we tinker with it, and wind up eighth or ninth, so I go back to the fourth-place set-up. We can’t seem to catch a break.”
Running a big block at Fonda in the heat of summer probably isn’t going to help, either. “We’ll take this car up there and see how it goes,” Davis said.
Lebanon Valley will be running a $5,000-to-win “King of the Track” modified feature Saturday night.
Dan Petronis of Mechanicville chalked up his second career late model win last Friday night at Devil’s Bowl. Petronis was the pro late model track championship at Albany-Saratoga in 2011, the final year of the track’s two-year asphalt experiment, and he decided to stick to asphalt when the clay went back down at the Malta track prior to the 2012 campaign.
Laudy Hoyenga is still going strong. The 68-year-old driver came away with his first sportsman victory of the season last Friday at Glen Ridge Motorsports, holding off Brian Pessalano.