Weedsport, NY — May 20, 2009 – By Tom Skibinski, Northeast Modified Hall of Fame Selection Committee
*Jay Fish Photo
In a timely tribute to a multitude of individuals, the entire crew of 2008 Super DIRT Week Rite Aid 200 winner Frank Cozze has been named to receive the annual ‘Mechanic of the Year Award’ and will be formally honored during the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies Sunday, May 24 on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds in conjunction with the annual Memorial Day Weekend holiday show at the adjacent speedway.
In a fitting presentation following the monumental Rite Aid 200 Big-Block victory scored last autumn by veteran Cozze on the Syracuse Mile, the Mechanic of the Year Award will be given to all those in charge of the no. 44 Waite’s General Contractors/PMC mount during Super DIRT Week. Outlining plans well in advance of the biggest event of the year, the Wind Gap, Pennsylvania based team had all the major issues addressed by October; even pressing into service a pair of crew chiefs on race day to cover every intangible. On the radio Brent Tittle gave direction and Dave Hoffman provided moral support, and when the checkered flag finally waved on Sunday, motor maintenance man Rudy Horvath, fuel fillers Jack Stanley and Bill Gill, jack man Chip Morgan, tire changers Lee Michaelson, Craig Mitchell and Andrew Cozze, shock specialist Frank Cozze Jr., grandstand spotter Rick Cozze and stat keeper Bobby Bachman had it all figured out.
“This year we started planning six months ahead and took care of all the main principles, the motor builder, car builder and even used two crew chiefs,” Cozze divulged.
“Coming in we knew we probably weren’t going to be the fastest but were pretty confident we could go the farthest. This wasn’t some shot in the dark. We went all the way back to 1988 and saw that almost every Syracuse race had a similar scenario when it came to the number of cautions and which laps to pit. Information is invaluable and we showed that history often repeats itself. Before the weekend the guys figured on 134 laps after pitting. At the end we could’ve gone another 15 under green with still 2-1/2 gallons (fuel) left. Nobody, I mean nobody, gets the gas mileage we got all week,” declared Cozze, who ultimately circled the Syracuse Mile the last 129 laps on one tank of gas, with a handful of his closest challengers running dry as the final laps clicked off.
With his crew flanked by Tittle and Hoffman, brother of ’96 Rite Aid champ Doug Hoffman, Cozze made his first pit stop for fuel and a two rear-tire change after a lap 39 caution. When Gary Tomkins slowed on lap 70 to force out the sixth yellow flag, Cozze stopped for only a new right rear tread and what amounted to enough fuel to cover the remaining distance. “You gotta work on gas mileage out there and M2 (engine builder) had it down pat. Jack and Bill, my fuel guys, they had it right down to a tee. They said I could probably go another 20 (laps) if I just conserve. We got enough cautions there that it really helped, although I was really worried more about the tires than fuel.”
In days gone by when an open trailer pulled pitside at Syracuse, only a handful of traveling companions would sign in for the extended weekend of racing on the famed one-mile fairgrounds oval. Advances in modern-day technology and an ever-changing landscape around the Northeastern circuit has necessitated the use of multi-car teams and a full squadron of crew members as years passed.
“Back when I started running Syracuse, when it was just a weekend, you were lucky to get two guys to go with,” Cozze recalled. “As Super DIRT Week got bigger, more people wanted to be part of the show. Nowadays my guys start coming in on Tuesday and everybody’s usually in by Friday. There’s plenty of help when Sunday rolls around and by then you need it, there’s just too many things that happen on the mile. For some of them its one of the only races they make all year and use it as a vacation. Heck, a lot of them have been with me since they were kids. It was always a big deal to skip school and come to the fairgrounds, now its their regular jobs that they make plans to miss for a week.”
With a dozen teammates on the sidelines in the annual excursion to the Salt City, the need to manage every aspect was realized by Cozze far before autumn ever arrived. The more personnel to back him the better his chances, and he took full advantage of that ‘success in numbers’ philosophy to capture DIRTcar Northeast’s prized jewel in his 24th attempt at the age of 53.
“I’ve always said all the pressure is on your crew at Syracuse,” Cozze added. “I have 200 laps to get the job done, they only get a few chances to get it right. Once the green flag comes out I can only tell the guys what’s wrong, they have to figure out the problem then do the work. My car went 130 laps last year, I’m sure a bunch of other guys could’ve won with that kind of mileage. My crew was right on the money with a set-up that didn’t eat the tires. We gave up speed early to focus on track position and in the end that’s what this place is all about.”
Recognizing career achievements is what the Northeastern Hall of Fame is all about. And now it’s a place that will forever harbor memories of the Cozze clan on the Moody Mile when they made it to the top of the Modified world for a day.
DIRTcar Racing Northeast main office is located in Weedsport, New York on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds www.cayugacountyfairspeedway.com, home of the 2009 DIRTcar All-Star Weekend, July 17-19, featuring Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Championship Series events for Sportsman and Big-Block Modifieds in the richest short-track show of its kind in the nation — the $20,000-to-win Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series “DIRTcar All-Star 100” on Sunday, July 19.
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 www.hoosiertire.com and VP Racing Fuels www.vpracingfuels.com. Promotional partners include Rite Aid Corporation www.riteaid.com, Dig Safely New York www.digsafelynewyork.com and the University of Northwestern Ohio www.unoh.com and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks www.barsproducts.com, Bert Transmission www.berttransmission.com, Bicknell Racing Products www.bicknellracingproducts.com, Bilstein Shocks www.bilstein.com, Brodix Cylinder Heads www.brodix.com, Ferris Industries www.ferrisindustries.com, Integra Shocks www.integrashocksandsprings.com, Intercomp www.intercomp-racing.com, KSE Racing Products www.kse-racing.com, Motorsports Safety Systems www.motorsportssafetysystems.com, Penske Shocks, www.penskeshocks.com, Racing Electronics www.racingelectronics.com, Rislone Oil Stabilizer www.barsproducts.com and Wrisco Industries www.wrisco.com.