Cornwall, ONT – July 22, 2007 – By Tom Skibinski, Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series PR Director
Billy Decker has been fast out of the blocks all season long on the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series. Sunday night at Cornwall Motor Speedway Decker won his fourth Integra Shocks Fast Time Award to once again open the show as a top contender. And this time he stuck around long enough to pass Brett Hearn for the lead with three laps left and go on to capture his first tour win of 2007 in the13th Annual Akwesasne Mohawk Casino International 100.
“Was lucky, just consider ourselves lucky,” said Decker, 42, on the heels of scoring his 36th career Advance Auto Parts Series victory. His latest $6,000 triumph earned him automatic starter status in the prestigious Rite Aid 200 Championship race on Oct. 7 of Super DIRT Week XXXVI at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. “I don’t know that we had the best car but ultimately we got ourselves in a position to give us a chance and come out with a win.”
Decker started seventh in the 30-car field and watched as early leaders and Cornwall regulars Alain Boisvert and Clement Therrien, then Pat O’Brien and Hearn swap the point throughout the 25-mile affair. Heartbreak hit O’Brien on lap 70 when he tangled in turn three traffic to relinquish a straightaway advantage and end any chance of scoring his second Advance Auto Parts Series victory in the last three outings.
Hearn regained the lead following the race-changing mishap yet fell a car-length short of his second straight tour win after Decker ducked under in his LJL Racing no. 91 Gypsum Wholesalers-Stadium Int'l-Quality Hardwoods/Bicknell entry to forge the final lead change on lap 98. Steve Paine held off Bert Hard Charger Danny Johnson for third while veteran Therrien from Victoriaville, Que. held on for fifth to earn a guaranteed starting spot in the 358-Modified Championship during Super DIRT Week in October.
“It was tough sledding, I don’t know if anybody had anything for Pat,” admitted Decker, who vaulted to third in the Advance Auto Parts Series point standings with his third straight top-five tally. Tim Fuller remained the Series leader following his second consecutive sixth-place finish although Hearn closed to within eight markers through 10 extra-distance races. “Steve was coming pretty strong right there and then that lapped car got him messed up. I just happened to have a good line. Really at that stage I had no choice, I had to get there in that rough stuff and rough it up and see if we could make it happen.”
Frenchman Boisvert out-dragged front row partner O’Brien from his outside-pole starting position to set the early pace before Therrien charged high out of turn four to snatch the top spot as the weekly rivals crossed the line and completed lap four. O’Brien switch to the outside lane to take his first advantage two circuits later before already reaching traffic with 10 laps scored. Fifth-place starter Hearn followed O’Brien’s path in the high groove then moved to the point twice a half-dozen laps later, first at the end of the back chute and finally as the lead duo darted under the starter’s stand to finish off lap 16.
Hearn tried to separate his Madsen Motorsports no. 20 Wentworth Custom Homes-Kruger-WLR/TEO Big-Block Modified entry from the field in the early stages yet O’Brien tracked him down as ‘The Jet’ became grounded behind Alan Johnson for a handful of laps. Using traffic to his advantage, O’Brien stole back the top spot on lap 25 and wasted little time extending his own advantage on nearest challengers Hearn and Therrien.
O’Brien split the lapped cars of Johnson and Dave Heaslip in a daring three-wide maneuver exiting the fourth corner on lap 28 to give himself breathing room before the first caution flag finally flew just two circuits later for a slowing Jason Potter. The initial yellow was also the first slowdown of the night for the headline division as 89 straight green flag laps clicked off without any interference beginning with four heats and two consolation races.
With 30 laps in the books, O’Brien had a clear track ahead with Hearn, Therrien, Paine and Decker jockeying for position in his tire tracks. Decker briefly dropped back to sixth as Mike Adderley suddenly made his presence known, yet by the halfway mark the front-five once again included Decker as Adderley, Danny Johnson, Gary Tomkins, Fuller and Jimmy Phelps rounded out the top-10. Former Mr. DIRTcar champions Johnson and Fuller split consolation round victories to help determine the 30-car starting grid, and their charge toward the front kept the attention of both the opposition and capacity crowd throughout.
O’Brien was the only one taking little notice as he methodically pulled away from the star-studded field steering his familiar red no. 6 Gypsum Logistics-730 Truck Stop-Newells Garage/Bicknell machine, the same one that had triumphed in the century grind less than two weeks earlier on home turf at Brockville Ontario Speedway. With 60 laps run the former Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Champion had built up a 5-second cushion while Paine’s move past Therrien was the only shake-up among the top-five.
Ten laps later tragedy suddenly struck for O’Brien as he continued to carve his way through traffic on owner Ron Morin’s racy quarter-mile clay oval. Potter slid up across the track in turn three and collected the rides of Jeff Sykes and Tomkins, and with no room to get by, O’Brien barrelled in to quiet the crowd as a seemingly certain victory was shuffled off for another day.
A dozen laps under yellow were needed before the wreckage was disposed of with Hearn inheriting the point for the lap 82 restart. Paine was hardly content with his runner-up status and shadowed the leader until pulling alongside high in turn two on lap 89. Hearn took away Paine’s preferred lane the next time around and this opened up the inside for Decker to make his move. The Unadilla, N.Y. pilot shot under Paine’s yellowbird no. 7x Tallmadge Tire-Terrell's Potato Chips-Swarthout Recycling/Troyer car for second on lap 91 and sized up Hearn for his late-race heroics. The pair ran side-by-side across the stripe on lap 97 and Decker completed his mission just a quarter-lap later. Hearn used a lapped car to snuggle up to Decker’s bumper as the checkered flag waved, although the verdict was already in and Decker’s rally to the front was complete.
“Its funny, one of them deals where that top way off (turn) two was better and if you’re leading or nobody’s running there in front of you, you’ll lose your deal,” figured Decker, who also garnered Advance Auto Parts Series victories at Cornwall in 2003 and 1999. “So Steve gave Brett a run there and kinda gave that top away and that’s what opened the door for myself.”
Fresh off extending his all-time high career Series win total to 93 at Grandview (Pa.) Speedway on Wednesday, Hearn posted his seventh successive top-five finish to give him eight on the year in 10 tries. “Hats off to Billy, just goes to show you how good of a driver he is,” said Hearn, 48, who remains in search of his first Mr. DIRTcar Big-Block title since 2001. I’m disappointed but it was a great run, another consistent top-5 finish for the #20 car. I have to thank everybody that’s helped out, it’s a great team and I’m already looking forward to (Drummond) tomorrow.
“Tonight was a strategy race, and the advantage goes to the guy who can experiment a little bit. I saw Steve get there to the outside and I knew there was traction there in the lower part of the middle of the track. Billy had the advantage of going down there and finding it because he wasn’t trying to block anybody,” Hearn noted.
Hovering among the front-five runners for the duration, Paine was inclined to settle for his second straight third-place finish despite falling to fourth behind Decker by just three in Advance Auto Parts Series points. “Brett was running the top and there was a little bit more room out there and I thought I’d give it a shot. But when I got there I hung the right-rear in the water or whatever is over there and he went back by and the next thing I know Billy’s there,” said Paine, 46, who earned the coveted Mr. DIRTcar Modified Championship in 2000. “Billy found the middle bottom or whatever he found and he was really good at the end. I was just getting tighter and tighter, couldn’t turn and Danny almost got me at the end. The (Troyer) car’s really good, its come a long ways since what we usually are here.”
Autodrome Drummond concludes the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series doubleheader in Canada on Monday, July 23 with the 30th Annual Hyundai 100. Touring teams then return stateside to open the new month when Brewerton Speedway hosts the ‘Fernandez Auto Mall 100’ on Friday, August 3. Both main events pay $6,000 to win and offer valuable points towards the overall Hoosier Tire-Sunoco Race Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Championship that’s up for grabs along with guaranteed starting spots in the recently renamed Rite Aid 200 at Syracuse during Super DIRT Week XXXVI on Oct. 7.