There’s an old saying in auto racing that you have to lose a big race before you can win one.
Watertown’s Billy Dunn took care of both situations in one weekend Sunday, coming back to close out Super DIRT Week with a win in the Syracuse 200 for big-block modifieds after running out of gas one lap from victory lane in Saturday’s 358 modified classic.
Dunn stood sixth when the caution flag flew on lap 192 Sunday, and after that, everything went his way. A big turn-three crash right after the restart blocked the track, so officials threw a red flag. As order was restored, leader Tim McCreadie’s right rear tire went flat while the field sat in turn one. When McCreadie went pitside as soon as the field started moving again, Stewart Friesen inherited the lead and Dunn moved to fifth.
Billy Decker then ran dry right next to Dunn, putting him fourth just as runner-up Brett Hearn also ran dry. A lap later, second-running Jimmy Phelps joined the list of superstar dropouts, boosting Dunn to second, behind two-time winner Friesen as the crowd roared. Then, as Dunn closed rapidly on the leader, Friesen also ran dry just as the lap counter hit 198.
“I didn’t expect any of this,” said an elated Dunn. “I thought yesterday was our day. I never thought the others would run out. But we got such lousy mileage with this big block that we filled up again with 30 to go. We had no choice, but it worked out perfectly.
“I couldn’t sleep at all last night after losing. But when I saw Timmy’s ire was flat, I knew I could do this and started to force my way by Decker so I could push the leaders to use more fuel.”
When the dust had settled, young Larry Wight was second, ahead of Ryan Godown, Tim Hindley, Duane Howard, Rich Laubach, JR Heffner, Carey Terrance, Danny Johnson and Bobby Varin.
All benefitted from the first-time rule that caution laps after lap 175 would not count, making gas mileage and pit-stop timing a huge, but hard to gauge, factor in the outcome.
“We had plenty of fuel, too, because we pitted late,” said Wight, whose father, John, also owns the mounts of Billy Decker and Pat Ward. “We had a bad stop and had to go in again, and it saved us. I was just riding around and could have gone another 10 laps or more.”
Friesen took the early lead off the pole and ran easily with Hearn in his wake through a lap-81 yellow flag, which let him, Hearn, Phelps, Wight, McCreadie and a host of others pit for fuel. The question then became who would get back to the racing surface first, as passing was extremely difficult, and the answer turned out to be McCreadie.
Vic Coffey and Kenny Tremont Jr. stayed out and ran out front for many laps, but McCreadie sat third all that time with Friesen and Hearn on his bumper. Tremont got around Coffey on lap 110 and ran out to a huge lead, but eventually had to pit under green on lap 136, putting McCreadie in command.
Seeking his second $50,000 win of the season to complement a late model score in Wisconsin, McCreadie looked like he had things under control until spectating driver Kenny Brightbill motioned to him from outside the fence that his tire was going down during the red flag. From that point, the dominoes toppled.
“It feels great to get to the end without running out again,” said a celebrating Godown, who has run dry twice in recent 200’s. “We’ve run dry more than we’ve finished. They told me I was going to run out, too, but I didn’t. The track was one lane, and you couldn’t pass, so I just cruised and saved as much as I could.”
Hindley had a similar outlook, saying, “We talked it out, figured out when we had to stop to make it and just ran our own race. Besides, I was so busy holding the transmission in gear with one hand that I didn’t have time to worry about anything else.”
Besides Dunn, the story of the race might well have been fifth-place finisher Duane Howard, subbing in the Albert 3A.
“I came to help Kevin Albert, trying to get him going in the right direction, then Thursday, his dad asked me to drive. We worked hard on the car, then today, we pitted an extra time because we were 20 laps short. No way could we do it on one stop. But as guys dropped out, we kept advancing, and here we are.”
Other Capital Region finishers, besides Varin, included Jeff Rockefeller (12th), Keith Flach (14th), Hearn (15th), Tremont (18th), Friesen (20th), Donnie Corellis (30th), Ronnie Johnson (31st), Andy Bachetti (32nd) and Eddie Marshall (35th).
Earlier in the day, Marshall and Billy Decker swept the two last-chance qualifiers. Marshall ran down early leader Rich Scagliotta and led JaMike Sowle, Scagliotta and Australian Peter Britten to the checkers. Decker won his round easily over Willy Decker, Tim Currier and Eldon Payne.
Albany-Saratoga pro stock champion Rob Yetman then closed out the preliminary action with a convincing victory in the Bakk Off 25 Pro Stock Championship after turning a fast time to claim the pole. But it wasn’t easy, as he slipped out of the groove on lap 11 and lost the lead to 2012 winner Pete Stefanski. But Yetman took a deep breath on a lap-14 restart and drove outside of Stefanski to turn one, got even in turn two and took the lead back down the backstretch.
They finished that way, with Glen Forward, Jocelyn Roy, Francois Adam, Stephane Lebrun, Albany-Saratoga’s Byron Wescott, Roch Aubin and Fonda Speedway’s Luke Horning trailing.