By Tom Skibinski, DIRT Modified Series Reporter
Syracuse, NY — October 5, 2005 — For the third straight year, three-time Eckerd 200 Billy Decker set fast time in first round qualifying for big-block Modifieds during Super DIRT Week at the New York State Fairgrounds. The Unadilla, N.Y. speedster hopes he can finally put the two together on Sunday and drive away for his fourth career victory in DIRT MotorSports NorthEast's biggest event of the season.
"We haven't won from the pole yet so we've still got some work to do," said Decker, 40, who set back-back-back records the past two Octobers before settling for a single-lap clocking of 28.588 sec. (125.927 mph) in the 34th edition of Super DIRT Week. Last year Decker set the all-time Syracuse standard of 126.993 mph (28.348 sec.) around the historic Moody Mile but finished 11th after placing fourth the previous year. He scored wins in 2001, 2000 and 1998, time trialing among the six fastest on each occasion although never securing the pole.
Decker will make his third straight pole-position start in DIRT MotorSports NorthEast's signature race on Sunday, with Danny Johnson, Brett Hearn, Todd Burley, Pat Ward and Jimmy Phelps joining him in the front three rows to begin the 200-mile main that boasts a lucrative $50,000 first-place prize.
"Our recent success around here is just a product of a good team and I'm fortunate to be surrounded by some really good people. During practice I saw a lot of cars were in the 29s (seconds) and I thought I might just have a chance at another record. But the track stayed a little too narrow and I took what I could get. You're always on the edge running at Syracuse, I didn't want to get too wild because one slip up could drop you back as far as 20th," said Decker, who led only six laps in the 2003 Eckerd 200 before pacing last year's field for the initial 31 circuits.
For his fast time in winning the traditional Dick "Toby" Tobias Memorial Pole Award, Decker earned $2,500 from Burdick Ford. Ironically, Tobias (1975-77) is the only other driver to set fast time on opening day for three consecutive years. Johnson, driving a brand new TEO mount, kept pace by claiming the $1,500 Behrent's Performance Warehouse Outside-Pole award. Johnson will start second in Sunday’s big event after posting a time of 28.651 seconds in Bridgeport (NJ) Speedway owner's Jay James' no. 27 J&J Shop-Planned Poultry Renovations machine.
"I'm involved with a great team, that and a good motor are what it takes to be successful at Syracuse," said Johnson, 45, who only time trialed among the six-fastest on two other occasions --- third in 1989 and fifth in 1990. The open-wheel veteran from Rochester, N.Y. captured the prestigious Eckerd 200 in 1997. "Its a brand new car so I was mostly concerned with getting comfortable going into the corners. We got some tips from Bobby (Hearn, chassis builder) and the car got better as the day went on. I might've been able to go faster getting into the turns a little better but I was still cautious, you just don't want to put a white stripe on your car for no reason."
Hearn was the 39th car out of 64 to take time and the Sussex, N.J. standout posted the third fastest lap (28.804 sec.) steering the no. 1 Gable Auto Stores-Page Trucking/TEO around the smooth Syracuse Mile. "Any time you can get in the top-six on the first day is a great way to start the week," said Hearn, 47, the all-time career leader at Super DIRT Week with six pole awards. However, his last Eckerd 200 triumph came in 1995. "Maybe we can finish it off this time with a win on Sunday for a change. Last year we over-drove in the turns so that was on my mind this time around. And at Syracuse you have a lot of time for your mind to rewind the laps and try to see where you could've gained more speed. Still, a front row spot in our heat (Friday) is a good place to be."
1992 Hoosier-Sunoco Mr. DIRT Sportsman champion Todd Burley chauffeured the 11th car to take time and emerged as the first of those same top-six drivers to go under the 29-second barrier, ending up fourth quickest (28.854 sec.) on the day. Just two cars later, Decker's teammate Pat Ward (28.878 sec.) was clocked with the eventual fifth-fastest time while Jimmy Phelps (28.941 sec.) from Baldwinsville, New York took the final position up for grabs for Sunday’s Eckerd 200. The 2005 SDW field was the fastest in history as a record 44 cars were clocked under 30 seconds.
Burley from Spencerport, New York set his best time in a secondary no. 62 Mullen Industrial Handling-Industrial Tire/Bicknell car that sported a JanCen motor from Buffalo, N.Y. builder Mike Janis. "We've got some good equipment so I was looking at a top-15 run coming in, but after timing sixth fastest in practice I had some higher expectations," said Burley, whose primary Enders-powered BRP entry soured before running under the clocks. Enders was still featured in three of the top-six drivers (Decker, Hearn, Ward) while Johnson boasted Morrison power and Phelps had another JanCen powerplant under the hood. "Fourth is great in a back-up car, but that's just one day. I've never been good saving fuel or tires at Syracuse and that's what it takes to survive out here. Other than that, its not too hard to get around when the motor's running good."
Aboard John Wight's second Gypsum Express Special, Ward quietly settled into the top-six with one of the best opening-day performances of his 30-year short-track career. "I'm happy to be locked into the race already, its a lot of pressure off right from the start," said Ward, 48, who hopes to improve upon his best-ever third-place finish from a year ago. "I screwed up in turn two, just didn't lift enough in the middle and got too high. I might have had a chance at a front row spot but I knew Billy was going to be the one to beat. I'm pretty satisfied because at least we're in the ballpark and can fine tune a little more during the week."
While Decker, Hearn and Ward ---and even Johnson for a few weeks--- have been members of DIRT MotorSport NorthEast's Elite 11 throughout the season, Phelps was granted that same status in late September and his six-place timing did nothing to diminish his new role. "It's kind of neat being in the group now, these guys are certainly the best of the best," said Phelps, a season-long follower of the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRT Series. The Baldwinsville, N.Y. pilot registered his fast lap aboard the H&H Motorsports no. 98H Mohawk NorthEast-New England Race Fuels/Troyer ride. "We were still a little bit off today but we have a super motor that made up for it. I think we definitely have a car that's capable of winning. If we can execute our plan and get a little luck, we'll just hope for the best and see what happens on Sunday."
Seventh and eighth-place starting positions will be awarded following Thursday’s second round of time trials with the remainder of the Eckerd 200 field coming from Friday’s Dynomax Triple 20’s and the 'Dig Safely New York Shootout' last-chance qualifier on Sunday.
Super DIRT Week XXXIV action continues on Thursday with DIRT 358-Modified time trials also scheduled in the afternoon beginning at 3pm. Action then moves over to Brewerton Speedway for a 75-lap 358-Modified Super DIRT Series event. Round two of the big-block DIRT Modified time trials are slated to start at 12:30pm with practice opening up the day's activity beginning at 10am.
SKIDMARKS: Rookie campaigner Carey Terrance was the lone casualty in the morning practice session as his LaFrance powered no. 66x T&D Enterprises/TEO entry careened into the first turn wall and was knocked out for the remainder of the week. Terrance acted quickly, opening up his wallet in time to purchase a new TEO chassis that had been on display in the pits. The replacement of a motor and other key components could not be made in time to afford the Akwesasne, N.Y. newcomer a chance to run under the clocks ..... Of the DIRT 358-Modified entries currently registered, most cars took advantage of a special small-block practice session staged following Modified time trials. Frenchman David Hebert from St. Damase, Quebec in his no. 1H Equipe de Course-Freightliner Granby/Bicknell entry posted the fastest (30.305 sec.) time on the smooth Syracuse Mile for an average speed of 118.792 mph. Big-block regular Vic Coffey took time alongside the small-block brethren and his 32c Sweeteners Plus machine finished second quickest among those that took participated in the special small-block 'Happy Hour.'
The DIRT MotorSports™ Advance Auto Parts Modified Series is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Advance Auto Parts, Dynomax Performance Exhaust, Hoosier Racing Tire and Sunoco Race Fuels. Promotional Partners include Stacker 2®, AMB i.t., RACEceiver, Zippo Lighters and F.X. Caprara Car Companies and the contingency sponsors are DART Machinery, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, MSD Ignitions and Wrisco Industries.
SUPER DIRT WEEK XXXIV MODIFIED TIME TRIALS: DAY 1
TIME MPH CAR# DRIVER AWARD
1 28.588 125.927 91x Billy Decker / Unadilla,NY $2,500 - Burdick Ford Pole
2 28.651 125.650 27J Danny Johnson / Rochester,NY $1,500 - Behrent's Performance Outside Pole
3 28.804 124.983 1 Brett Hearn / Sussex,NJ
4 28.854 124.766 62 Todd Burley / Spencerport,NY
5 28.878 124.662 42P Pat Ward / Genoa,NY
6 28.941 124.391 98H Jimmy Phelps / Baldwinsville,NY
7 29.017 124.065 39x Tim McCreadie / Watertown,NY
8 29.037 123.980 M1 Tim Fuller / Edwards,NY
9 29.055 123.903 91 Billy Decker / Unadilla,NY
10 29.085 123.775 1J Bobby Varin /Sharon Springs,NY
11 29.097 123.724 7X Steve Paine / Waterloo,NY
12 29.119 123.631 4 Andy Bachetti / Sheffield,MA
13 29.153 123.486 98 Eddie Marshall / Ridgefield,CT
14 29.168 123.423 74B Frank Cozze / Wind Gap, PA
15 29.172 123.406 1H David Hebert / St. Damase,QUE
16 29.204 123.271 1y Gary Tomkins / Clifton Springs,NY
17 29.218 123.212 2 Ronnie Johnson / Duanesburg,NY
18 29.256 123.052 32C Vic Coffey / Leicester,NY
19 29.260 123.035 115 Kenny Tremont / West Sand Lake,NY
20 29.272 122.984 12A Jack Johnson / Duanesburg,NY
21 29.285 122.930 62T Todd Burley / Spencerport,NY
22 29.297 122.879 19 Kenny Brightbill / Sinking Spring,PA
23 29.317 122.796 44Sx Matt Sheppard / Waterloo,NY
24 29.327 122.754 1Ha Tim Hindley / Monticello,NY
25 29.359 122.620 1b Gary Tomkins / Clifton Springs,NY
26 29.426 122.341 77X Dale Planck / Cortland,NY
27 29.490 122.075 3H Justin Haers / Phelps,NY
28 29.494 122.059 USA1 Richie Tobias,Jr. / Annville,PA
29 29.496 122.050 125 Kyle Strickler / Sinking Spring,PA
30 29.552 121.819 86 Billy Pauch / Frenchtown,NJ
31 29.553 121.815 44S Matt Sheppard / Waterloo,NY
32 29.556 121.803 3B Chad Brachmann / Wheatfield,NY
33 29.572 121.737 26 Ryan Godown / Ringoes,NJ
34 29.576 121.720 45 Wayne Jelley / Pittsfield,MA
35 29.724 121.114 29H Jimmy Horton / Neshanic Station,NJ
36 29.744 121.033 85 Ricky Elliott / Seaford,DE
37 29.781 120.882 24 Chris Shultz / Pawling,NY
38 29.783 120.874 14J Alan Johnson / Phelps,NY
39 29.808 120.773 20 Stewart Friesen / Niagara-o-t-Lake,ONT
40 29.840 120.643 00 Doug Manmiller / Wyomissing,PA
41 29.873 120.510 5 Rick Laubach / Quakertown,PA
42 29.961 120.156 1H Tim Hindley / Monticello,NY
43 29.975 120.100 99B Chuck Bower / Lansing,NY
44 29.982 120.072 56 Vince Vitale / Phoenix,NY
45 30.031 119.876 21 Donnie Corellis / Averill Park,NY
46 30.085 119.661 96 Todd Milton / Auburnn,NY
47 30.227 119.099 41 Keith Brightbill / Mohnton,PA
48 30.342 118.647 29B Jeff Brownell,Jr. / Waterloo,NY
49 30.377 118.511 151KB Brian McDonald / Cornwall,ONT
50 30.483 118.099 42 Pete Bicknell / St.Catharines,ONT
51 30.589 117.689 29Bx Jeff Brownell,Jr. / Waterloo,NY
52 30.612 117.601 5a Rick Laubach / Quakertown,PA
53 30.697 117.275 37 Scott Flammer / West Milford,NJ)
54 30.699 117.268 32Cx Vic Coffey / Leicester,NY
55 30.911 116.463 44 Sebastien Gougeon / Drummondville,QUE
56 30.994 116.152 88x Jeff Strunk / Bethel,PA
57 31.174 115.481 18 Sean Beardsley / Central Square,NY
58 31.187 115.433 1X Todd Stone / Middlebury,VT
59 31.397 114.661 37x Scott Flammer / West Milford,NJ
60 31.708 113.536 10X Richie Pratt,Jr. / Sewell,NJ
61 31.923 112.771 66P Jared Petruska / Wayne,NJ
62 32.036 112.374 48too Dave Rauscher / Waterloo,NY
63 33.106 108.742 55 Perry Francis / Akwesasne,NY
64 33.460 107.591 USA1 Bob Hamm,Jr. / Windsor,NY
65 -NT- ----- 3 Brett Hearn / Sussex,NJ
66 -NT- ----- 6J Tom Sears,Jr. / Clay,NY
67 -NT- ----- 7Xx Steve Paine / Waterloo,NY
68 -NT- ----- 26 Rick Richner / Niagara Falls,NY
69 -NT- ----- 27 Danny Johnson / Rochester,NY
70 -NT- ----- 37K Kyle Jacobs / Hogansburg,NY
71 -NT- ----- 39 Tim McCreadie / Watertown,NY
72 -NT- ----- 42Px Pat Ward / Genoa,NY
73 -NT- ----- 66 Vince Gagliardo,Jr. / Kenhoist,PA
74 -NT- ----- 66X Carey Terrance / Akwesasne,NY
75 -NT- ----- 74 Frank Cozze / Wind Gap, PA
76 -NT- ----- 88 Jeff Strunk / Bethel,PA
77 -NT- ----- 98Hx Jimmy Phelps / Baldwinsville,NY
*Top-6 locked into front three rows.
- 77 Cars Entered