A year ago, Brett Hearn ran out of gas in the waning laps and gave away the lead in the “Salute to the Troops 150,” the feature event for 358 modifieds at Super DIRT Week.
Saturday, Hearn’s Enders-powered TEO was second to Billy Dunn as they started their final tour of the New York State Fairgrounds mile, when Dunn started shaking his car from side to side to get the last few drops of fuel to his gasping engine. But it didn’t work, and Hearn inherited his fifth win, worth some $20,000, in the small block classic.
Tim Fuller, who’d been cruising in fifth with a dozen laps remaining, took the checkers second ahead of Canadian Alain Boisvert, ageless Jimmy Horton and young Matt Billings, who earned the race’s Hard Charger Award for his advance from 36th on the grid.
“Every time I reeled Billy in, he managed to get away,” offered Hearn with a smile. “But the last time it stuck. I think I made him run way harder than he wanted to and that’s what won it for me!”
Polesitter Ronnie Johnson took command at the drop of the green but the 11th starting Dunn ran him down by lap 10 and made repeated runs at the lead through the first caution on lap 23. That let Johnson, Dunn, Stewart Friesen, Billy Decker, Hearn and a few other contenders go to the pits for their mandatory stop, with Johnson the first back to the racing surface, generally the secret to winning at Syracuse.
Marc Johnson assumed the point for the restart, with Matt Williamson and Eric Rudolph chasing him. Rudolph marched to the lead on lap 38, then amazed everyone by staying out when the rest of the frontrunners, with the exception of Kenny Tremont Jr., pitted on the next yellow. Ronnie Johnson sat third for the restart with Dunn and Friesen close behind.
The fans knew that the race from third back was for the lead, as Rudolph and Tremont would eventually have to pit, and they cheered wildly when Friesen drove around Johnson as they hit turn one on lap 60. Rudolph and Tremont finally went pitside on lap 74, and it appeared that Friesen was home free,
That premise proved wrong, when Friesen’s motor dropped a valve on lap 89, putting Johnson in command, but Dunn had other plans, trying Johnson inside and out but never quite getting by. Then, on lap 118, Dunn went to the outside in turn one before diving inside Johnson as they hit turn three and came away with the lead. But Johnson was slowing and four laps later his left front tire disintegrated and he was done for the day.
Hearn closed on Dunn in the late 130 lap range, at the same time worrying about third place Billy Decker, but on lap 143, two tours after the race’s final yellow, Decker ran out of fuel.
“I thought Billy was dry when he slowed with eight to go, but he picked it up again,” recalled Hearn. “Then Billy ran out and I got nervous about how much I had left. I’d run pretty conservatively all day so I cranked it up and played cat and mouse with Dunn until he dropped out, too!”
Fuller, running a distant third, suddenly got second-place money.
“I was just riding. I didn’t race anyone hard all day. You could catch guys but the way the track was, you couldn’t pass them. It’s almost back to the ‘old Syracuse.’ It’s all what I call ‘restart racing’ because that’s the only time you can pass.”
Nobody at Syracuse was any happier than the 20th starting Boisvert. “I got to watch a good race and then brought it home third,” offered the beaming Canadian. “I’ve just been riding since lap 65 and still they kept telling me to slow down and save fuel, because I was gaining on the cars ahead and nobody was chasing me.”
“I rode the whole race too,” added Horton. “You couldn’t get off the bottom of the track because the outside was gone. I never really raced anybody and it was a good thing, as I ran out of gas coming around again after the checkers.”
Lebanon Valley racers Andy Bachetti and J.R. Heffner were sixth and seventh, respectively, ahead of Guilderland’s Marc Johnson, Rich Laubach and 2012 race winner Tim McCreadie. Area competitors in the top twenty included Wayne Jelley (15th), Tremont (16th) and Donnie Corellis (18th).
In the 30-lap Sportsman modified championship, Albany-Saratoga and Lebanon Valley kingpin Brett Wright led most of the crash-marred event but struggled after a late restart. 22nd starting Brad Rouse grabbed the win over Jeremy Pitts, Steve Barber and Wright.
Super DIRT Week will wind up today with Last Chance races for the Pro-Stocks and modifieds beginning at 10:45 am, followed by the Pro Stock championship with Albany-Saratoga champion Rob Yetman starting on the pole. The final event, set for 2 p.m., will be the 42nd annual Syracuse 200 for the big block modifieds. Fonda Speedway champion Friesen and Hearn, 2013 champion at both Albany-Saratoga and Lebanon Valley, will lead the 40-car field to the green.