Friesen Closes New York State Fairgrounds History With Fourth Syracuse 200 Victory
Big-Block Modified Star Adds To Legend With $50,000 NAPA Super DIRT Week XLIV Triumph (Pete McDonald photo)
SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Oct. 11, 2015 - No one hates to see the end of the one-mile New York State Fairgounds oval more than Stewart Friesen.
The 32-year-old Canadian who now lives in Sprakers, N.Y., closed the venerable track's rich motorsports history on Sunday by putting his name in the conversation of best to ever tour the speedway, winning the 44th annual Syracuse 200 Big-Block Modified spectacular and its $50,000 top prize for the fourth time in the last six years.
"You don't want to lose a racetrack when you're good at a racetrack," said Friesen, acknowledging the razing of the Moody Mile — the State of New York is using its space as part of a multi-million-dollar Fairgrounds reconstruction project — after Sunday's grand finale. "This place is why I always wanted to race a Modified. I love this place, so I don't want it to be gone.
"But at least we'll always have this day to remember. To see this grandstand packed to capacity, it gave me chills just riding around during the four-wide (pace lap). To be back up here on this stage (as the winner) of the last race is just a totally unbelievable feeling."
Friesen made his winning move on lap 174, charging around the outside of Waterloo, N.Y.'s Matt Sheppard rounding turns three and four to assume command for good. He was never seriously challenged during the 23-lap run of green-flag racing that concluded an event that was plagued by 20 caution flags for 84 laps.
Kenny Tremont of West Sand Lake, N.Y., chased Friesen after sliding past Jimmy Phelps of Baldwinsville, N.Y., for second place on lap 178 and closed to within about five car lenths of Friesen's car entering turn one on the final lap, but the 1999 event winner lost ground clearing a lapped car between the corners and crossed the finish line 1.019 seconds behind the victor.
Phelps settled for a third-place finish 24 hours after scoring his first-ever feature win at the Syracuse Mile in the Salute to the Troops 358-Modified Championship 150. Six-time Syracuse 200 champion Brett Hearn of Sussex, N.J., climbed as high as third after making a late pit stop on lap 113 but couldn't maintain his speed in the late stages due to a sealed tire and a loss of brakes and finished fourth, and four-time race winner Billy Decker of Unadilla, N.Y., finished fifth after rallying from a flat tire that caused him to slow and bring out a caution flag on lap 92 while running fourth.
The victory was by no means easy for Friesen, who not only battled through the seemingly endless starts-and-stops of the race's numerous caution periods but also a temperamental Jeff Daley-owned Teo-Pro car. The machine might have been the same one he steered to the checkered in the 2014 Syracuse 200, but, while he didn't exactly flop around like a listless mermaid during the race's first half, it took some toil to make the mount a winner again.
"My guys worked so hard all week," said Friesen, who started from the outside pole. "We changed a reared this morning. We rescaled and worked on the car all day (before the race). And we were junk at the beginning, so we changed tires and (crew chief) Matty Hearn (of Teo-Pro Cars) came down and we spun some turns and man, the thing just came alive. We were able to pick 'em off and roll."
Friesen pitted on lap 73 and again on lap 95, putting him behind such rivals as Sheppard and Phelps who eschewed the second stop in favor of running the final 127 circuits on a tank of fuel. But Friesen wasn't phased by his long second stop, which he used to his advantage.
"We took tires, we adjusted wedge," Friesen said. "We just did a lot of stuff to make our race car better."
Friesen and his team were flexible enough to trade the safe play of a quick gas-and-go stop to gain track position in favor of a more involved pit visit that could significantly improve their car. It's a philosophy that Friesen has employed throughout his current run of wild Syracuse success.
"I think the biggest key to winning here is to go into it with an open mind and not with a game plan," said Friesen, who previously won the Syracuse 200 in 2010, '11 and '14. "A lot of other guys go into it with a game plan: 'We're gonna do this, we're gonna do this and we're gonna do this.' But we always go in and say, 'We're gonna shoot from the hip and see how it goes.'
"Early our race car wasn't good, so we had a list of changes we wanted to make. We went and did stuff, we changed and adjusted our race car and it worked out."
Friesen was a relatively quiet sixth with just 50 laps remaining, but he vaulted to fourth on lap 154 and surged past Hearn for third on a lap-166 restart. He flashed past Phelps for second on the inside of turns three and four on lap 173 and then sailed around the outside of the same corners one circuit later to take the lead from Sheppard, who had set the pace since lap 113 when Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., pitted after leading from lap 73.
The ease with with Friesen overtook Sheppard surprised him, but there was a reason for that. Sheppard's car had begun to slow due due to mechanical trouble and he retired several circuits later.
"I thought Sheppard ran out of gas, but he had an electrical problem so I feel bad for him there," Friesen said of Sheppard, whose Al Heinke-owned car began popping noticeably at that point. "I seen the flames coming out and I thought, Man, he's running out of gas, but that wasn't it."
Friesen still had to worry about the 53-year-old Tremont, who kept Friesen in his sights throughout the race's late stages. But Tremont couldn't summon the speed to become a two-time Syracuse 200 champion.
"I just couldn't move around on the track like I needed to," said Tremont, who made his 34th career start in the marquee Big-Block Modified event. "I needed to be a little bit more flexible. I was committed to the bottom and I pounded the crap out of that hole (on the inside of turn one) — if I hit it right I was OK, but sometimes I'd hit it wrong and it shot me out and I'd lose any momentum that I had.
"There were some spots where you could really get ahold of get a bit, and boy, then you could really accelerate. But then you'd hit a real slippery spot. Stewy knew all the bitey spots as well as I did and I just couldn't catch him."
A fixture at the Syracuse Mile throughout the history of NAPA Super DIRT Week, Tremont would have loved to end the track's era with a victory. He was satisfied with a $25,000 runner-up finish, however.
"We've been here right from 1972 on and have a lot of fond memories," said Tremont, who previously scored second-place finishes in the Syracuse 200 in 1993 and 2001. "We're pretty proud to be a part of the history here."
Friesen, of course, now figures prominently in any discussion of the Moody Mile's storied past. His victory made him one of four drivers with four wins in the Syracuse 200 — joining Hearn, Decker and Floridian Gary Balough — and the lone driver to win the event in back-to-back years on two separate occasions.
"I wish there wasn't a last win, but winning this was the goal," said Friesen, whose four wins have come in just nine career starts since 2005. "We always try hard to win, but to win the last Syracuse — it's, like, pretty cool."
Early leaders of the 200 included polesitter Larry Wight of Baldwinsville, N.Y., who paced laps 1-22 and 24-46 before retiring on the 49th circuit due to a broken driveshaft; Carey Terrance of Hogansburg, N.Y., who nosed ahead of Wight to lead lap 23 but slowed four circuits later with a front-end trouble; and 2013 event winner Billy Dunn of Watertown, N.Y., who led laps 47-72 but made a couple unscheduled pit stops after slowing to bring out a caution flag on lap 117.
Dunn rallied to finish sixth, however. Gary Tomkins of Clifton Springs, N.Y., drove Mike Payne's car to hard-charger honors after advancing from the 36th starting spot to a seventh-place finish. Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., was a quiet eighth-place finisher, falling short of a coveted Syracuse 200 victory that would have allowed him to join his father Bob as an event winner. Frank Cozze of Wind Gap, Pa., placed ninth after running third with just 50 laps remaining and Pat Ward of Genoa, N.Y., completed the top 10.
Sunday's Syracuse 200 was taped for broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. A broadcast date will be announced in the near future.
With the upcoming demolition of the Syracuse Mile, DIRTcar officials previously announced that the 45th annual NAPA Super DIRT Week activities will be relocated to the newly-constructed half-mile Central New York Raceway Park in Hastings, N.Y., on Oct. 5-9, 2016.
For the latest news and updates about NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week and DIRTcar Racing, visit www.SuperDirtWeekOnline.com and www.DirtCar.com.
The Super DIRTcar Series and DIRTcar Racing in the Northeast Region is brought to fans by several sponsors and partners including Hoosier Racing Tire, VP Racing Fuels, Chevy Performance Parts, NAPA Auto Parts, Pole Position Raceway and Dig Safely New York. Contingency sponsors are ASI, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, Brodix, ButlerBuilt, Cometic Gasket, Comp Cams, Edelbrock, FX Caprara, Fox Shox, Impact Race Products, Intercomp, JE Pistons, JRI Shocks, KSE Racing Products, Mobil 1, Motorsports Safety Systems, MSD Performance, Racing Electronics, Superflow, TNT Rescue and Wrisco Aluminum.
Syracuse 200 Finish
|23||41||Tom Sears Jr.||185||$1,600|
|32||39||Mark Forte Jr||140||$1,500|
|Margin of Victory: 1.019|
|Time of Race: 3 hours, 20 minutes, 39.879 seconds|
|Lap Leaders: Wight (1-22); Terrance (23); Wight (24-46); Dunn (47-72); Fuller (73-112); Sheppard (113-173); Friesen (174-200)|
|Caution Flags: 20 for 84 laps|
|Pole Award: Larry Wight ($1,000 - Pole Position Raceway)|
|Outside Pole Award: Stewart Friesen ($750 - Dirt Track Digest)|
|Non-Qualifiers' Race Winner: Peter Britten ($500)|
|Syracuse 200 Hard Luck Award: Matt Sheppard ($1,000 - Sharon's Toy)|
|Driver Leading at Last Caution: Stewart Friesen ($500 - Sharon's Toy)|
|Leader at Lap 51: Billy Dunn ($510 - Sharon's Toy)|
|Third Place at Halfway: Matt Sheppard ($500 - Sharon's Toy)|
|Final Sharon's Toy Compound Driver Running at Finish: Bob McGannon ($500 - Sharon's Toy)|
|Hard Charger Bonus: Gary Tomkins ($1,000 - Sharon's Toy)|
|Best Appearing Car & Crew: Peter Britten (prize package - AARN)|
|Lap 100 Leader: Tim Fuller (Chassis & Body - Teo-Pro)|