Syracuse, NYOctober 8, 2008 – By Tom Skibinski, DIRTcar Racing NorthEast PR Director
*Jay Fish Photo

The New York State Fairgrounds got back on track Wednesday afternoon as the Big-Block Modifieds were in town to open trackside activity and kick off Super DIRT Week for the 37th straight year. Customary technical inspections led off activities in the morning under the main grandstands and when the first green flag flew after 2:30 p.m., more than 80 cars were ready to make their mark on the Moody Mile during the two-hour hot lap session.

Just as opening day ‘Happy Hour’ festivities came to halt at 4:45 p.m., the overcast skies began to empty as light rain fell over the fairgrounds and sent teams home for another day. “We started early because all the teams were ready and it turned out to be a good move,” said Assistant Pit Steward Denis Moquin. “We wanted to get in a couple hours and that was just what we got today, nothing more.”

Posting the fastest time during the afternoon was four-time Rite Aid 200 Champion Billy Decker in the no. 91 Gypsum Wholesalers/Bicknell entry. The Unadilla, New York veteran circled the historic fairgrounds oval in a time of 31.751 sec. for an average speed of 113.382 mph. Decker was one of just four drivers to crack the 32-second barrier followed closest by 2007 Rite Aid pole winner Jimmy Phelps, defending SDW 358-Modified Champion Brett Hearn and second-generation standout Ronnie Johnson in the since revamped no. 2 Wm.Larned-Palmer’s Service-Morris Auto Group/TEO ride.

“The track is still 2-3 seconds off where it normally is for time trials,” said Decker, himself a three-time pole-winner (2003-05), who currently tops the Advance Series point standings with a record-tying 10 tour wins registered this season. “It always starts out slow and gains speed as the week goes on. We were looking for any kind of vibration today and really just messing around. Syracuse is tough and we’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. Tell you right now, I really like the good weeks we have here much better,” added Decker, who remains the Big-Block track record-holder, touring the Syracuse Mile in a time of 28.348 sec. on Oct. 6, 2004 to establish the current world mark of 126.993 mph in a Modified.

In search of his second quick time at the fairgrounds, Phelps waited for the track to get run in a bit before taking the H&H Motorsports no. 98H Joe Gibbs Oil-Mohawk Northeast-New England Race Fuels/Troyer machine out for its maiden voyage. “The car was as good as it needed to be and we did what we had to do out there today,” said Phelps, who has time trialed among the six fastest the past three autumns in Syracuse. “The track still needs to get a lot more laps on it and a little more sun.”

“The biggest thing today was being able to scuff up some tires and get some heat in them. Now I can go home and sleep in my own bed, that’s one advantage of living close by. Being the Super Bowl for us makes this whole week even better with a lot of family and friends around. I’ve been coming here so long, but some guys here were probably putting in laps before I ever saw the place. We’re looking forward to the rest of the week, we’re just where we want to be at this stage,” Phelps noted.

Following the front-four on the speed chart were top Frenchman David Hebert (32.025 sec.), two-time Syracuse titlist Jack Johnson (32.026), Southern Tier invader Mitch Gibbs (32.036), Central New York standout and two-time race winner Danny Johnson (32.048), recently crowned Lebanon Valley Speedway points co-champion J.R. Heffner (32.163) and Orange County Fair Speedway favorite Chris Shultz (32.204).

2008 DIRTcar Big-Block rookie contender Chris Higgins from Syracuse was the first car to reach the track at 2:38 p.m. before the afternoon session was stopped under caution at 5:43 when Wayne Jelley suffered a broken axle in his K&F Modular Homes no. 45 Freedom Plains-Advance Auto/TEO mount. The top 29 cars were timed within a second of each other with 27 of those surpassing the 110 mph barrier.

Super DIRT Week XXXVII activity continues Thursday, Oct. 9 with Big-Block Modified and 358-Modified inspection, then Big-block and Small-Block teams will draw for their time trial order at the infield tote board in the morning. Big-Block practice is scheduled for 10am and practice for 358-Modifieds take place immediately after. The customary Advance Auto Parts ‘Media Day’ press conference is slated to go off at 12noon in the infield media center.

Combination practice/qualifying sessions for the Sportsman Modiifed and UMP Pro Stock Futures classes begin at 1pm with Troyer Time Trials for the 358-Modified beginning at 1:30. Futures practice and qualifying continue with the Big-Blocks and Small-Blocks at 2:15pm while American Traditions Motorsports/TEO Pro Car Modified Time Trials are scheduled to start at 2:45. Consecutive Futures finales for Big-Blocks, 358-Modifieds, Sportsman Mods and Pro Stocks start at 4 o’clock. In the evening trackside action moves over to Brewerton (NY) Speedway for a Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Series Championship event. Race time is 7:30pm.

Jimmy Phelps hasn’t been run his car since last October’s Rite Aid 200, with Kurt Weigel in charge of maintenance. Other than displaying in car shows or participating in training seminars, the car has not been on any track since as Weigel completed general maintenance over the summer with every detail covered during the past three weeks.
“Last year’s pole wasn’t unexpected, the car was certainly capable and we definitely had a clean lap. Before that we were 3rd fastest in 2006 and 6th best in ’05 so we knew we pretty close. We’ve got the same exact deal going this year with the Troyer car and a good Bruneau engine. Just have to get out of the pits better and put ourselves in a position to win at the end. Don’t want to play catch up again (finished 7th after leading opening 54 laps). Weather was big factor last year making it two lanes for guys to make a choice. You have to keep cars on the track all week to hold rubber and make it that way…..Just the event itself is enough motivation, not really the track but the tradition that surrounds the whole week. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid and I know the Syracuse Mile is a place you’ll be on the edge of your toes all week because you’re never sure what will happen next. To win here would be something I’ve dreamt about my whole life, it puts you in a whole other class,” said Phelps, who grew up rooting for legendary drivers like ‘Jumpin’ Jack Johnson, ‘Barefoot’ Bob McCreadie and the ‘Shillington Slingshot’ Kenny Brightbill — all past winners of the Super DIRT Week Modified main.

Billy Decker was using same car that carried him to his 4th Rite Aid 200 victory in 2005 when he led 160 of the 200 laps in one of the most dominant performances ever witnessed during SDW. “We were hoping to be lucky and have the Mr. DIRT title sewn up before Syracuse. When we come here its all about winning, its difficult to make a run of it worrying about points. The track is demanding enough even before you consider the competition. Any time you can win here, even go home in one piece, it’s never a bad idea to go home and count your blessings,” Decker figured.

Danny Johnson was back aboard the no. j66 Atlas Paving-Behrent’s Performance Warehouse/TEO ride that he drove during the summer in Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series events at Merrittville (Ont.) Speedway and Cayuga County Fair Speedway, placing a season-best second at Merrittville. A two-time Rite Aid 200 Champion, Johnson is fresh off a dramatic $25,000 victory at Fulton Speedway and the last time (2006) he won Fulton’s season-ending Schneider Bros. 200, the Rochester, New York native also captured the Rite Aid title on the Syracuse Mile. “We’re excited to have Danny back with us, he’s definitely got a unique laid back style but he knows what’s going when he gets behind the wheel,” said owner Mike Petruska, who also owns the red no. 66 car that Jeff Heotzler captured the ’07 season points title in at Orange County Fair Speedway as well as last autumn’s Eastern State 200 finale on the Hard Clay. “I’m a crash and burn type of guy, all I want to do is win. And I know winning is what Danny is all about so we work together well. If things go well and Danny gets a deal together next year, I’d be happy to have a car ready as his back-up. To follow a series like this you need a top driver, there’s a lot of finances to cover so you have to have somebody that can go out and knows how to win. We’re coming to Syracuse expecting only one thing —to win—and Danny’s our man right now.”

Second in Advance Series points only to Billy Decker, just finishing a race on the Syracuse Mile has been a priority for Dale Planck. “I’ve only finished one race around here and that was the 358-Modified event in 1996 (6th). Until last year (ran out of gas with 4 to go) I’ve never even made it past lap 100. Now we’ve got the right fuel system on board but its still our regular Saturday night car just with a new body” ….. Larry Wight was sporting the same sheet metal that adorned his Gypsum Express no. 99 DIRTcar Sportsman ride on his 358-Modified this year with one nine on top of the other ….. After competing in his first DIRTcar-sanctioned 358-Modified show in September at Canandaigua Speedway, Mitch Gibbs is back in Gary Mann’s New York Truck Parts no. 55 TEO entry, this time housing a Big-Block JPM powerplant ….. Matt Sheppard is the one driver registered in the field that has a chance for the Syracuse Triple — already winning the 358-Modified and Sportsman title races at Super DIRT Week with only the Rite Aid 200 missing from his resume. Brand new “everything” was evidenced from bumper-to-bumper with the JB Motorsports no. 9S Seneca Auto Sales Bicknell/CC Perf.-Finger Lakes ride ….. Regular DIRTcar Sportsman Modified campaigner Loren Lincoln will be serving as crew chief for Jeff Brownell, teammate to Sheppard, during the week. Past experience on the two-way at the Moody Mile goes back to his days with the Thum Racing #12T when Cup competitor and former USAC star J.J. Yeley was buckled in. “I like to be around money, since I don’t have any of my own I’m on the radio here” ….. Bobby Varin was back on the Syracuse Mile in the Gable Motorsports no. 1 TEO car, one that hasn’t been driven since Varin finished 11th in the 2006 Rite Aid 200. With owner Jody Gable regrouping his finances, Billy Pauch even called last year inquiring about the possibility of filling the vacant ride …. DIRTcar track promoters Mike Perrotte (Airborne) and Yan Bussiere (Drummond) took time on Wednesday afternoon with Perrotte clocked 28th quickest and Bussiere 45th fastest in his Small-Block entry. 2008 marks Bussiere’s first-ever visit to the Salt City speedplant with Volusia Speedway Park in Florida his only other racing done in the United States …. Joining Bussiere on the Super DIRT Week rookie list was 49 year-old Pennsylvania pilot Brian Swartzlander, a Western Pa. star touring the fairgrounds oval before only during the summer months.

*All tmes and events subject to change.
8am Pit Gates Open;
8am-10am Inspection Area Open (under main grandstand, AAP Mod, 358 Mod, DIRTcar Futures allowed);
10am Grandstands Open, Advance Auto Parts Modified practice;
11am Syracuse 150 358-Modified Practice;
12:00noon Advance Auto Parts ‘Media Day’ Press Conference – Infield Conference Bldg;
1 pm DIRTcar Futures Practice/Qualifying (Sportsman, Pro Stock);
1:30pm Troyer, Inc. 358-Modified Time Trials (2-laps, Top-6 Qualify for Front-3 Rows);
2:15pm DIRTcar Futures Practice/Qualifying (358-Modified/Modified);
2:45pm American Traditions Motorsports/Teo Pro Modified Time Trials (2-laps, Top-6 Qualify for Front-3 Rows);
4:00pm DIRTcar ‘Futures’ Feature Events (Modified, 358-Modified, Sportsman, Pro
10pm Pit Area Closed.
7:30pm Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Series at Brewerton Speedway.

8am Pit Gates Open, Town Mechanical, Inc. Sportsman Inspection Open;
10am Grandstands Open, Syracuse 150 358-Modified Practice;
10:45am Advance Auto Parts Rite Aid 200 Modified practice;
11:30am Town Mechanical, Inc. Sportsman Practice;
12noon Pullen’s Truck Center 358-Modified Twin 20s (10 non-qualified cars advance
from each);
1:30pm Advance Auto Parts Mod Triple 20s (10 non-qualified cars advance from each);
2:45pm P & M Fabrication and MSS Sportsman Time Trials (2-laps, Top-24 Qualify);
3:00pm Optional Early Bird Pro Stock Inspection (East End of Main Grandstand);
3:30pm Modified Pit Stop Competition;
10pm Pit Area Closed.
7pm Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified & Sportsman Series at Rolling Wheels Raceway.
7:30pm ASCS Patriot Sprints and Mr. DIRTcar Street Stock Series at Cayuga County Fair Speedway.

8am Pit Gates Open, BNC Motorsports Pro Stock Inspection Open;
9:00am Syracuse 150 358-Modified Championship Driver and Crew Chief Meeting (in pit building);
9:15am Town Mechanical, Inc. Sportsman Driver’s Meeting (in pit building);
9:30am Grandstands Open, Track open for Syracuse 150 358-Modified Final Practice;
10am BNC Motorsports Pro Stock First Practice;
10:30am Town Mechanical, Inc. Sportsman Final Practice;
11:15am BNC Motorsports Pro Stock Practice Second Practice;
11:45am Dig Safely New York Sportsman Last Chance Qualifier;
12:15pm Terrell’s Potato Chips Pro Stock Time Trials (2-laps, Top-24 Qualify);
1:30pm Syracuse 150 358-Modified Championship Pre-Race ceremonies;
2pm Syracuse 358-Modified Championship (150 laps, 40 cars to start);
4pm Town Mechanical, Inc. Sportsman Championship (30 laps, 30 cars to start);
7pm ESS/URC/ASCS PSG Sprint Challenge at Rolling Wheels Raceway.
7:30pm Pullen’s Truck Center presents the SUNY Canton “Win and You’re In” Big-Block/Small-Block Twin 25’s plus BRP CanAm Late Model Series at Cayuga County Fair Speedway (Mod Overall Winner Earns 45th starting spot in the Rite Aid 200).

8am Pit Gates Open;
9:15am BNC Motorsports Pro Stock Driver’s Meeting (in pit building);
9:30am AAP Rite Aid 200 Modified Driver and Crew Chief Meeting (in pit building);
10am Grandstands Open, Track Open for Pro Stock Final Practice;
10:20am Advance Auto Parts Series Rite Aid 200 Final practice;
10:45am Dig Safely New York Pro Stock Last Chance Qualifier;
11:15am Dig Safely New York Modified Last Chance Qualifier;
11:45am Mandatory Advance Auto Parts Modified Top-30 Autograph Signing under grandstand (Top 30 in Thursday Time Trials);
12:00pm BNC Motorsports Pro Stock Championship (25 laps, 30 cars to start);
12:45-1:45pm Rite Aid Cold Pit Tour of Pit Row;
1:30pm Rite Aid 200 Modified Championship Pre-Race ceremonies;
2:15pm Rite Aid 200 Modified Championship (200 laps, 44 cars to start)

-TBA- Rain Date for Saturday or Sunday events.

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

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.