Barberville, FL — February 10, 2009 – By Tom Skibinski, Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series PR Director
*Bob Armbruster Photo
Tuesday marked the eighth day of competition during the 38th Annual Alltel DIRTcar Nationals By UNOH at Volusia Speedway Park and it featured the first appearance of the week made by the Advance Auto Parts Series Big-Block Modifieds.
Third time was a charm for the ground-pounders from the Northeast as they ran off a pair of practice rounds under perfect weather conditions at the popular Barberville, Fla. layout. The last two winter bashes in the Sunshine State were washed out forcing track officials to cancel both test runs.
“At first we were going to sit out the hot lap sessions but we decided to get some track time with our brand new car,” remarked all-time DIRTcar Nationals win leader Brett Hearn, who sparkled in both sessions steering the familiar blue Madsen Motorsports no. 20 Wentworth Custom Homes-Kruger-WLR/TEO entry. The Big-Blocks toured the spacious half-miler early in the evening before concluding the mid-week show following the UMP Late Model and Modified main events.
“After a very cold winter up north we’ve been looking forward more than ever this year to getting back to Volusia. The track was really good in practice and we’re expecting it to be real racy the rest of the week. Fans are in for a treat this week as a lot of talented teams are signed up and the first events of the season are always unpredictable,” added Hearn, who begins his pursuit of an unprecedented eighth Alltel DIRTcar Nationals crown and his 19th Florida Tour feature win when the first green flag flies.
The Alltel DIRTcar Nationals continue at VSP on Wednesday with another big doubleheader featuring an Advance Auto Parts Series non-point opening event for Big-Block Modifieds and round three for the UMP Super Late Models. The DIRTcar Big-Blocks compete every night through Saturday, with three 30-lap features preceding a $5,000-to-win 50-lap finale on Saturday night.
Pit gates are unlocked daily at 3 p.m., grandstands open at 5 o’clock and race time is 7:30 p.m. following group time trials. Alltel FanZone (access limited to anybody with an Alltel phone plus one guest) activity begins at 5 p.m. and continues until the end of evening’s events.
Among those joining Hearn on the grounds Tuesday were past winter time champions Jimmy Horton, Andy Bachetti and Pat Ward, Central New York teammates Matt Sheppard and Jeff Brownell Jr., Frenchmen Mario Clair and Michel Chicoine, and Florida Tour first-timers James Michael Friesen, Brian Sadler, Matt Jester and Rex King Jr.
Ward posted the best time (17.524 sec/102.716 mph) aboard John and Laura Wight’s no. 42P Gypsum Express/Bicknell ride in the first of two six-lap warm-up session and Sheppard brought the curtain down at 11:40 pm touring the smooth and much slicker half-miler in 18.726 seconds for an average speed of 96.123 mph in the second and final 10-lap set of hot laps.
While nearly 30 Big-Block cars made it on to the track Tuesday for the special warm-up sessions, another handful of haulers were parked pitside with teams gearing up for the long-awaited Wednesday opener as Advance Auto Parts kicks off its 11th consecutive year backing DIRTcar Northeast’s premier traveling tour.
After the Big-Block lid-lifter takes its checkered, fans are encouraged to take part in the first of four straight nights of autograph sessions spotlighting the top feature race finishers. Immediately following victory lane ceremonies every night, February 11-14, the top-3 drivers will cross the track and take up their position in the main grandstands midway to sign autographs.
Big-Block fans are also encouraged to cast a vote in the second Alltel DIRTcar All-Star Challenge after the first feature winner is recognized. Alltel Wireless will reward fans’ favorite driver as determined in a text message and online poll. Only drivers who win an A-main during the 12-day speedfest are eligible to win the $10,000 cash grand prize while one lucky fan will be eligible to win a $500 Alltel Wireless gift card just for voting!
With the contest already underway after beginning on February 4 and going through 11:59 p.m. (Eastern) on March 15, fans can vote up to once a day by texting #247253 plus adding their favorite driver’s letter code (available at alltelallstar.com) or by visiting www.alltelallstar.com. The winning driver will be named in a special ceremony shortly thereafter.
FLORIDA TOUR 2009 PIT NOTES
Tuesday – February 10
*Quarter-Century Kick-Off…The 25th year of racing in Florida for Northeastern Modifieds officially kicked off at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville with a strong turnout of DIRTcar Big-Block teams assembled for the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals By UNOH. Of the nearly 30 cars participating in Tuesday night practice sessions, three-quarters of the field were Winter Nationals veterans. Four past tour point champions and seven drivers owning feature race victories in gator country were registered, with four stars among those same groups having Syracuse Rite Aid 200 triumphs highlighting their personal list of career open-wheel accomplishments.
*Double Decker…Reigning overall Hoosier Tire Mr. DIRTcar Champion Billy Decker got an early jump on his closest DIRTcar rivals, logging track time at VSP on Monday and again Tuesday in a UMP Late Model. Decker finished 19th in the 30-lap full-fender feature on Monday won by Darren Miller yet fell short of cracking the all-star starting grid on Tuesday. He failed to report trackside for Big-Block practice although he plans to perform double-duty the rest of the week steering the LJL Racing no. 91 Gypsum Express in both Modified and LM action.
*French Connection…Making the haul all the way down to Florida from the Canadian province of Quebec are open-wheel veteran Mario Clair and second-year DIRTcar 358-Modified chauffeur Michel Chicoine. 2007 Mr. DIRTcar 358-Mod champ Clair, recently supplied an engine from past Florida Tour participant Wallace Stacey, is making his fifth Alltel DIRTcar Nationals appearance since 2003 while Chicoine’s initial trip to the Sunshine State marks his career debut piloting a Big-Block powered Modified. “When you race with the best drivers, you become better,” figured Chicoine, 47, who raced motorcycles on both dirt and ice in the 1900s before entering the DIRTcar Sportsman ranks where he competed at autodromes Granby and Drummond in 2005.
*Hall of Fame Hook-Up…With his primary Big-Block driver Jimmy Phelps remaining home in Central New York, Northeast Modified Hall of Fame ‘Mechanic’ award winner Randy Kisacky took a tip from Modified/Late Model runner Ricky Elliott and the result was a temporary position as crew chief for upstart Brad Trice from Parsonsburg, Maryland. The brother in-law of Jeff Brown, both visited Volusia for the first time two years earlier and are still looking to qualify for their first main event. Phelps recently competed in Australia for Team Troyer affiliate Simon Jupe and the ‘B’Ville Blizzard’ joins his wife Shannon as they are expecting their third daughter in the coming week.
*Daytona After Dark…Billed as the place where Daytona races at night, Volusia Speedway Park always lures Cup drivers annually for the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals By UNOH. Already sighted during the 2009 edition have been Jeff Burton, Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart along with Kenny Schrader, Kenny Wallace and Clint Bowyer, with the latter trio also competing in UMP action. Making his way up to the podium with grandson and UMP Modified winner Austin Dillon was legendary car owner Richard Childress.
*Camara Bridges Generation…The last time Dave Camara ran a DIRTcar-sanctioned event his daughter was 2 years old. Its 2009 and the Vermont invader has since added two boys and a second daughter and is making his first-ever trackside appearance at VSP. “I’ve been to Volusia once before a few years back but that was just to watch,” recalled Camara, whose daughter Rachel is now 12 years old and he actually owns one feature win in Florida, that scored in 1991 when Pennsylvania promoter Bob Miller staged a four-race mini-series for Small-Blocks at JAX Raceway in Jacksonville and Putnam County Speedway in Satsuma. Camara recorded his last DIRTcar Big-Block feature win at Autodrome Granby in 1999 en route to his second straight track title at the Quebecois oval. “We built a car with a little something different so we’re just here to try it out, see how things work and have some fun.”
*Rain, Rain Went Away…For the first time since 2006, practice day went on as
scheduled for the Big-Block Modifieds as clear skies prevailed over the Volusia County oval. On this occasion, teams were stationed outside the turn four go-cart track although they are expected to relocate Wednesday to a spot adjacent to the notorious gator pond that looms prominently below the backstretch pit area.
*Look Who’s Behind The Wheel Now…Despite what the pre-race roster led onlookers to believe, the faces of those drivers buckled into some of the Big-Block mounts did not match the names. But with helmets hiding the truth no one could prove any difference. Owner Alex Thompson gave fellow Lebanon Valley (NY) Speedway car owner Steve Hough, who fields a Florida ride for Andy Bachetti, a chance to hot lap his no. 42 PMC mount as regular driver Guy Sheldon was making his way around the area links. Meanwhile in the late session, Kevin Bates reportedly hopped behind the wheel of the LJL Racing no. 99L traditionally driven by ’08 Rookie of the Year Larry Wight, who was back home in New York taking care of classroom assignments in high school with intentions of flying to Florida on Wednesday. Bates serves as Wight’s crew chief this year. Then there was Lernerville (Pa.) Speedway GM Gary Risch Jr. behind the wheel of his own no. 3G Teo Pro Car housing a experimental General Motors powerplant, but that only came after Orange County Fair (NY) Speedway mainstay Jimmy Johnson broke in the car during the first three practice segments.
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 VP Racing Fuels. Promotional partners include Rite Aid Corporation, Dig Safely New York and the University of Northwestern Ohio and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks, Bert Transmission, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Crane Cams, Ferris Industries, Holley HP Carburetors, Integra Shocks, Intercomp, KSE Racing Products, Motorsports Safety Systems, Penske Shocks, Racing Electronics, Rislone Oil Stabilizer and Wrisco Industries.