Weedsport, NY — March 20, 2008 – By Tom Skibinski, Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series PR Director
*Alex Bruce Photo
Only one driver has been able to return to victory lane since the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series debuted at Hagerstown Speedway in 2001. But its been four years since Gary Tomkins last made his way into the Maryland winner’s circle, the same amount of time between his only Mr. DIRTcar Modified Championship in the Big-Block ranks.
“Truthfully, I thought I wouldn’t do as well as I did the first time I saw Hagerstown,” said Tomkins, 42, who scored his first career Advance Series win at Frank Plessinger’s storied half-miler in 2002 and returned to the Old Line State to make it two straight in ’04. The Clifton Springs, New York chauffeur crossed the stripe first steering Doug Dulen’s Honeoye Parts no. 84 Red Parker Excavating/Bicknell ride before taking the checkered flag aboard the Elaine-James Motorsports no. 1 entry two years later.
“It’s funny because when I first ran the track it didn’t seem like it would fit my style. I always did better on bigger tracks with wide sweeping turns and Hagerstown had the long straights yet was tight in the corners. But I found out fast that at Hagerstown you can always pass, and obviously its been one of my favorites ever since. I won my first tour race there with Doug and then my first race with Jim so its been a very special place over the years,” added Tomkins, who rallied from 16th to win in 2002 before forcing the final lead change on the white flag lap to snatch victory away from Tim Fuller in the ’04 thriller. Tomkins finished third a year ago and placed seventh in 2005 when the race was rain-delayed until June.
Tomkins will be looking to post a rare trifecta when he begins his 19th season of Modified racing in the 2008 Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series opener at Hagerstown Speedway on Saturday, March 22. The 2004 Mr. DIRTcar Champion leads an all-star cast of Big-Block Modified stars searching for the top prize of $6,000 in the 7th Annual North-South Shootout 100.
“I just thank God everyday that Doug (Dulen, owner) likes racing so much,” noted Tomkins, who first partnered with Dulen and former co-owner Bill Trout at the end of 1996. Although Tomkins joined forces with Jim Bechy to tackle the Advance Series in 2004-05, Dulen retained close ties as Honeoye Auto Parts continued to adorn the side panels every Saturday at Canandaigua Speedway.
“Winning another Mr. DIRT title with Doug would really mean a lot after all he’s done for the team over the past decade. He’s not one of those high-profile owners but he loves racing and has a lot of time and money invested in the team. Doug not only backs our entire outfit, he helps out many other teams on the local level and even sponsors race nights at Canandaigua and Rolling Wheels. When we needed more room to work he went ahead and built a shop attached right to his own business,” Tomkins said.
Housed in the garage behind Honeoye Auto Parts in Honeoye, New York during the 2008 season will be a pair of Bicknell Chassis built for short-track and Series competition, with another car saved just for the Syracuse Mile during Super DIRT Week in October. Led by crew chief Mike Payne, the team is in the process of putting together a Small-Block ride for DIRTcar 358-Modified specials scheduled at season’s end.
“We’ve done a lot of work over the winter and have two cars ready to race as I speak,” acknowledged Tomkins, who admittedly had his worst year of Modified racing last season since emerging as a title contender in the new millennium. “We just had to deal with so many issues last year, and when you fall out of a race you don’t get many points. We ran very well at the end of the year but it was really too little, too late to make up much ground.”
“We probably just weren’t as prepared a year ago as we thought. In the off-season we spent a lot of time figuring out what we need to do and finding ways to go about things in order to finish races. Last year I thought we were even lucky to finish at Hagerstown when some suspension pieces came apart, there’s just no excuse for something like that going wrong This year all our cars are good to go and we know all the tracks, so its just a matter of keeping things together all season and avoiding some tough luck. Thinking you’re ready and still catching some bad breaks is probably the toughest part about this whole game,” Tomkins figured.
When Hagerstown is over and teams return from Virginia Motor Speedway (May 1) in the spring, Tomkins will be back home as Rolling Wheels Raceway Park opens for the 40th straight season on May 4. The ‘Fast Track’ staged seven 50-lap features as part of the 2007 Advance Auto Parts Series and the Dulen duo captured three checkered flags and finished among the top-10 on two other occasions.
“Just like Hagerstown, we feel comfortable with the set-up every time we line up at The Wheels,” said Tomkins, who has recorded six of his 15 Advance Series wins at Rolling Wheels, with Hagerstown and Canandaigua the only other tracks he has doubled up at. “Whatever happens we always seem to end up near the front there. And that’s a good feeling to have in a long series like this when you’re on the road almost every week.”
Tomkins heads the talented list of past Hagerstown winners including Brett Hearn (2006), Alan Johnson (2005), inaugural victor Steve Paine (2001) and defending champion Tim Fuller. Empire State rivals banging on his bumper will be Danny Johnson, Billy Decker, Dale Planck, Matt Sheppard and Justin Haers, along with rising stars Billy Dunn, Kevin Bates, Sean Beardsley, Larry Wight, Joe Isabell and 2007 DIRTcar Big-Block Rookie of the Year Mike Bowman.
Hagerstown pits gates are scheduled to unlock at 3:00 p.m., grandstands open at 4:00 p.m. with warm-ups starting at 5:30 p.m. followed by Integra Shocks Big-Block Time Trials. The speedway is located on U.S. Route 40, four miles west of I-81. For additional information, log into www.superdirtcarseries.com, contact the speedway office at 301/582-0640 or visit the track website at www.hagerstownspeedway.com.
Modified teams can direct specific questions regarding rule procedures to Cory Reed, DIRTcar NorthEast Director of Competition & Track Sanctioning, at the DIRTcar NE Office (315/834-6606).
Headquartered in Roanoke, Va., Advance Auto Parts is the second-largest retailer of automotive aftermarket parts, accessories, batteries, and maintenance items in the United States, based on store count and sales. As of October 6, 2007, the company operated 3,228 stores in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The company serves both the do-it-yourself and professional installer markets.