Weedsport, NY — July 29, 2008 – By Tom Skibinski, DIRTcar Racing NorthEast PR Director
*Alex Bruce Photo
The 2008 oval track campaign began in February for teenage talent Larry Wight with an 11th-place showing in the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals Big-Block Modified points chase at Volusia Speedway Park.
On paper, a single top-10 finish in the four race Advance Auto Parts mini-series was far from impressive and anything but satisfying for Wight. Yet on the track, finishing behind the likes of legends Alan Johnson and Jimmy Horton and Florida Tour co-champions Brett Hearn and Billy Pauch at the tender age of 15 years-old suddenly lent more credence to this rather quiet off-season accomplishment.
Back on home soil for the regular season, the Phoenix, New York phenom has since attracted the attention of fellow racers and race fans alike with his daring style and low-key demeanor. Continued success around the DIRTcar NorthEast circuit has taken this rookie driver far beyond his years when it comes to taming a mighty Modified.
“I’m probably doing a little better than I expected,” downplayed Wight, who is one of just a dozen drivers to start every Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series race this season. Highlighted by an eighth-place finish in the Advance Series opener at Virginia Motor Speedway on May 1, he ranks 14th on the tour points chart with more than half the season left to master. “I came in just trying to qualify for as many races as possible and so far we’ve made every one. It certainly would be great to break into the Top-10 in points but finishing among the front 12 is a more realistic goal against these guys.”
Even more realistic for the soon-to-be high school sophomore is the opportunity to become the first driver in DIRTcar history to collect both Big-Block and 358-Modified first-year accolades in the same season. Active Advance Auto Parts Series travelers Matt Sheppard (5th Series pts.) , Frankie Caprara (8th) and Justin Haers (10th) are so far the only drivers to earn Motorsports Safety Systems/G-FORCE DIRTcar NorthEast Rookie of the Year awards in both divisions yet one season stood between for each.
“I like the power and response of a Big-Block coming out of the corners but getting around a slick track with a Small-Block is just as fun,” said Wight, who garnered DIRTcar’s top rookie honor in the Sportsman Modified division last year. He has already racked up feature wins in four of the six DIRTcar 358-Modified races run at Can-Am Motorsports Park (Sat.), with a pair of front fives at Brewerton Speedway (Fri.) and top-10s at Cayuga County Fair Speedway (Sun.) topping his regular weekend agenda. “The biggest difference is probably the quality of drivers that run Big-Blocks, they don’t worry about winning on the first lap and give you plenty of room running in a pack.”
“The Small-Block is closer to the Sportsman in terms of the power range, and along with more power there’s a lot more skill required to get around the track in a Big-Block. With a Big-Block you can slow down in the corners and come right out on the throttle so you don’t have to overdrive too much. Starting out with a crate motor in the Sportsman class definitely helped prepare me for open-wheel racing but there’s still a lot more to learn once you get the chance to move up the Modified ladder,” Wight noted.
Wight will get two more chances this week when he continues in his pursuit of the unique DIRTcar double steering the LJL Racing no. 99 Gypsum Express Ltd./Bicknell entries. The Advance Auto Parts Super Series returns to action on Thursday, July 31 when Orange County Fair Speedway stages the 36th Escape RV 75. Pit gates are slated to open at 4:00 pm, spectator gates are unlocked at 5:00 pm, with the first race set for 7:00 pm. Ransomville Speedway hosts round two of the Hoosier Tire Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Championship Series on Friday, August 1 with $6,800 awaiting the winner of the Alex Friesen Summer Nationals presented by Coors Light, Hard Copy Wholesale and Mighty Taco. Gates open at 4:00 pm and racing begins at 7 o’clock.
“I like Orange County, it’s a fast track with tight corners and you need to be able to stay on the bottom,” stated Wight, who finished 6th (Sportsman) and 18th (358-Mod) in the Eastern States Weekend finales held last October at the Middletown, New York oval. “It was pretty racy last year and there were a lot of cars running two-wide out there. At Ransomville you have to run either the top or bottom, its tough to get around and make up ground in the middle lane. A couple top-10s would be nice to get this time of year.”
While ‘Lightning Larry’ has been bordering on top-10 tallies in the Advance Series, Gypsum teammate Billy Decker has nearly fenced himself inside victory lane with five extra-distance wins scored in the first 11 races on DIRTcar NorthEast’s premier Big-Block trail.
“I talk with Billy all the time about chassis set-up and things to do at the different tracks,” added Wight, who is joined on tour by Ryan Phelps and Pat O’Brien, with a handful of other drivers also carring LJL/Gypsum affiliation. “He still has his own little secrets, things maybe I can pick up with more experience. Running the Sportsman Series last year now gives me the chance to help out John (Pietrowicz, teammate) with his own set-ups as he’s traveling that whole tour. The biggest advantage with our team is all the information that can be exchanged by everybody during the season,” Wight added.
With Advance Series points leader Decker, Brett Hearn and Dale Planck the front-runners in Big-Block competition heading into Orange County, expected to contend alongside Wight in the 358-Modified Series are a number of Niagara Frontier regulars using Ransomville as a home base. Planck captured the 358-Mod tour lid-lifter at Merrittville (Ont.) Speedway in April while Wight placed 15th in the 100-lapper. The pair also competed at Ransomville in the Advance Series show during the Fourth of July holiday, however Planck (27th) and Wight (29th) posted their lowest finishes of the season.
For additional information, please contact Advance Series and DIRTcar NE Director Cory Reed at the Weedsport office (315/834-6606) during normal business hours or 358-Modified Series Director Gaston Salvas (450/655-5022 or 514/817-2270; e-mail email@example.com). In the meantime, log into the homepages at www.superdirtcarseries.com or www.dirtcar.com to find out more about what’s happening around the entire DIRTcar NorthEast circuit.
Orange County track information can be found at www.ocfsmotorsports.com or by contacting the speedway office at 845/342-2573, while 716/791-3602 is the race day phone number for Ransomville www.ransomvillespeedway.com.
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 and Hoosier Racing Tire. Rite Aid Corporation is a promotional partner and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks, Bert Transmission, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Crane Cams, Dig Safely New York, Holley HP Carburetors, Integra Shocks, Intercomp, KSE Racing Products, Motorsports Safety Systems, Penske Shocks, Rislone Oil Stabilizer and Wrisco Industries.