Weedsport, NY — September 18, 2008 – By Tom Skibinski, Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series PR Director
*Jay Fish Photo
Once heralded as the driver to beat at Canandaigua Speedway, Alan Johnson returns to his Big-Block Modified racing roots when the historic Ontario County Fairgrounds oval comes to life for Labatt Blue RaceFest Weekend, September 19-20.
While Johnson rolls into Canandaigua as the all-time feature race winner in wine country, car owner Jake Spraker will be looking to make his first trip to victory lane at the ‘Land of Legends’ as a triumph in the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series show is now clearly in sight for both.
“This would be a good time to get no. 114,” remarked Johnson, now 50, as he geared up for the Labatt Blue 100 Big-Block finale at his former stomping grounds nestled in the heart of New York State’s Finger Lakes Region. The five-time track champion has pulled into victory lane 113 times prior at Canandaigua since 1975, and owns an Advance Series best seven victories at the popular Routes 5 & 20 facility. “Any win is really good nowadays, seems we’ve got a few more millionaires in the sport today.”
“I think my chances are pretty good going back. This will be the best car I’ve had there in quite a while. The competition is definitely better than its ever been but I’m comfortable in the new car. We don’t have a brand new motor but its fresh and certainly good enough to get the job done,” said Johnson, who hasn’t triumphed in a Big-Block tour race at Canandaigua since 2002, when he won twice steering the Beachy Motorsports no. 1 Pillsbury/Bicknell machine en route to the Mr. DIRTcar crown.
Johnson will once again be buckled into a Bicknell ride at Canandaigua and the Spra-King Racing no. 1J Jake’s Used Cars & Trucks entry is already on the verge of registering another victory in just its fourth Advance Series appearance with ‘A.J. Slideways’ behind the wheel. Johnson made a successful debut coming out on top in the first 50-lap segment at Cayuga County Fair Speedway on August 31, then followed up with fifth-place in the nightcap and another fifth the next day at Rolling Wheels Raceway Park.
“Randy (Williamson, Bicknell Racing Products VP) talked me into purchasing an ’09 BRP chassis and I made the deal only after Eric (Kingsley, crew chief) agreed to maintain the car in his shop,” said Spraker, 53, proprietor of his own car dealership in Gloversville, New York near where he once raced a Mini-Modified in the early 1980s. Kingsley’s garage is located in Phoenix, New York just minutes from Fulton Speedway.
Eventually teaming with Johnson for 358-Modified Series competition in 2001, Spraker first fielded cars for C.D. Coville (1983), Ray Dalmata (1984, 4th-place Mr. DIRT), Mike Romano, Jeff Trombley and Bobby Varin in the Big-Block ranks, garnered a track points title out east with Pro Stocker Steve Welch in 1997 and shared the 2003 overall Mr. DIRTcar Sportsman championship crown with his driver Tim Clemons in 2003. Johnson hasn’t raced regularly at Canandaigua Speedway since 1997, garnering his last track title at the storied Ontario County Fairgrounds in ‘88.
“I’ve always liked Alan and Danny (Johnson) as drivers and this was a good way to keep Alan in the series. Back in ’03 we missed a lot of Small-Block races but still lost the Mr. DIRT title by only five points. He’s still one of the best drivers around, very good on equipment. Considering the money spent, Alan can definitely still win. I’d like to get one at Canandaigua since I’ve never won there before. I know (Billy) Decker is hot but I think we have as good a shot as anybody right now,” noted Spraker, who will also enter his JPM-powered mount in upcoming Advance Series stops at Rolling Wheels (BPG 200, Sept. 27) and Orange County Fair Speedway (Eastern States 200, Oct. 19), as well as in the Schneider Bros. 200 at Fulton Speedway on October 4.
With Johnson on the gas, its an even bet to take a checkered flag despite the Middlesex, New York veteran not scoring an Advance Series win at Canandaigua since 2002. A.J. Slideways did claim back-to-back 358-Modified Championship Series events at Canandaigua in 2005 to extend his all-time track-high total to 115 feature wins.
However, since the new millennium arrived Canandaigua Speedway has been a house of ‘Paine’ for Big-Block point chasers trying to unseat perennial champion Steve Paine. While 10-time Canandaigua Big-Block Modified titlist Paine has offered little sign of relief for his weekly opposition, competition in the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series often opens the door during a 100-lapper and Johnson hopes to step right through for yet another time on Saturday night.
“The place hasn’t really changed to me,” said Johnson, who netted a pair of top-10s aboard Wallace Stacey’s no. 14J Bully’s Truck Stop/Bicknell entry at Canandaigua’s Advance Series Twin 50s run in August with current tour points leader Decker copping both 25-mile mains. Extra-distance races have been Johnson’s forte at the Ontario County speedplant with five Series trophies earned in 100-lappers another logged in a 200-lapper to close out the ’92 season.
“The cars are pretty much the same to me too and I still have just about the same set-up from year to year. Jake’s car has been good so far so I guess I’m looking forward to getting back (Canandaigua) a little more now with a better shot to win,” added Johnson, who garnered three Canandaigua point championships from 1980-84 while chalking up 47 feature wins in that same five-year span.
Joining Johnson (11th in points) in Canandaigua’s all-star field will be 10-time Advance Series race winner Decker, current points runner-up Dale Planck, third-place runner Jimmy Phelps, reigning overall Hoosier Tire Mr. DIRTcar Champion Brett Hearn and Gary Tomkins, who has combined with Decker to win seven of the last nine Advance Series features. Matt Sheppard, Frankie Caprara, Steve Paine, Justin Haers and Ryan Phelps rank among the top-10 in points while Billy Dunn, Danny Johnson and 15 year-old rookie Larry Wight pose outside threats as the tour winds down.
Tickets for the Labatt Blue RaceFest on Saturday are $20 for Adults, $18 for Seniors (65+), $5 for kids (10-14), and FREE for those 9 and under. A $35 two-day combo package will also be made available for spectator seating.
Pit gates are scheduled to unlock Saturday at 4 p.m. and the main grandstands open at 5 o’clock with hot laps slated for 5:30 p.m. Integra Shocks Modified Time Trials will begin at 6 p.m. with heat race qualifiers taking the first green flag immediately after.
Canandaigua Speedway www.canandaiguaspeedway.com is located at the Ontario County Fairgrounds, east of the city on Town Line Road (County Road 10), with easy access off either Exit 43 (Manchester, Route 21 South) or Exit 44 (Farmington, Route 332 South) of the New York State Thruway. For more information call DIRTcar NE Headquarters at 315/834-6606 or the track (585/394-0961) on raceday.
For specific tour information, please contact DIRTcar Racing NorthEast Director of Competition & Track Sanctioning Cory Reed at the DIRTcar NorthEast Office (315/834-6606) in Weedsport, New York or log into www.superdirtcarseries.com for additional Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series material.
Headquartered in Roanoke, Va., Advance Auto Parts, a leading automotive aftermarket retailer of parts, accessories, batteries, and maintenance items in the United States, serves both the do-it-yourself and professional installer markets As of April 19, 2008, the Company operated 3,291 stores in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Additional information about the Company, employment opportunities, customer services, and on-line shopping for parts and accessories can be found on the Company’s web site at www.advanceautoparts.com.
The Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Advance Auto Parts, Hoosier Racing Tire and Sunoco Race Fuels. Promotional partners include AMB i.t., Rite Aid Corporation and the University of Northwestern Ohio and the contingency sponsors are Bert Transmission, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Crane Cams, Integra Shocks, MSD Ignitions, Motorsports Safety Systems, Penske Shocks and Wrisco Industries.