PIT STOP: The View from Central New York

OSWEGO, NY – As we all wait impatiently for the start of this year’s edition of the Super DIRTcar Series, I look back to when it all started. I was just a junior in college at SUNY Oswego.

There had been various modified racing series over the years. There were Challenge Cups and there were attempts to have team races representing tracks from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Canada with three members to each team. A novel concept. 

However, none had them staying power of what has become the Super DIRTcar Series. But who are the legends, the men to beat, and the future stars of the series? Let’s start with the all-time Super DIRTcar Series Feature winners list. 

Billy Whittaker Cars 200 at Oswego Speedway, 2018 – Chris Owens photo

Top 10 All-Time Super DIRTcar Series Feature Winners List (Points and Non-Points) 

140 Brett Hearn
89 Danny Johnson
78 Matt Sheppard
70 Billy Decker
57 Alan Johnson
39 Bob McCreadie
32 Stewart Friesen
31 Jack Johnson
31 Tim Fuller
28 Jimmy Horton

The Legends

Wayne Reutimann charges down the backstretch of The Moody Mile, 1973 – Courtesy of the NAPA Super DIRT Week Program

I remember when the Schaefer Circle of Champions raced the what would become the first series shows back in 1972 at tracks like Five Mile Point, Rolling Wheels, Fonda, Flemington, Twin Valley, Orange County, Nazareth, East Windsor, Lebanon Valley, Weedsport, Merrittville and The Mile.

Chuck Ciprich all smiles at NAPA Super DIRT Week – Courtesy of the NAPA Super DIRT Week Program

Winners included the likes of Buzzie and Wayne Reutimann along with Will Cagle, Kenny Brightbill, Dick Hansen, Don Beagell, Chuck Ciprich, Stan Ploski, and Bobby Rossell. These names were always at the top of the results in the race papers. 

Kenny Brightbill in Victory Lane at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, 1979 – Courtesy of the NAPA Super DIRT Week Program

The Super DIRTcar Series has been the lone series that brought together the elite of Northeast Modified racing on a regular basis. For fans, it is treated to have so many of the legends of the tour still with us today and competing on a regular basis.

The winningest driver is Brett Hearn and although he has taken up a management role at Orange County, he hasn’t totally walked away from possibly running a Super DIRTcar Series show from time to time.

Brett Hearn and Billy Pauch talk shop, 1986 – Courtesy of the NAPA Super DIRT Week Program

Whoever would have thought that Danny Johnson, who won his first tour race in 1983, would be second in the all-time win list and still be racing when the resumption of action commences in 2020.

Danny Johnson, 2019 – Pete MacDonald photo

Youthful compared to the guys he is surrounded by in the all-time win list, Matt Sheppard is third and he’s managed to achieve that climb in just 15 years.

The other still competitive drivers in the top 10 list of all-time winners include Billy Decker, Alan Johnson, Tim Fuller, Stewart Friesen, and Jimmy Horton.

Billy Decker triumphant, 2001 – Courtesy of the NAPA Super DIRT Week Program

Alan Johnson still finds time to hit the tour while The Sensational One Jimmy Horton is usually on the roster for NAPA Super DIRT Week and when the tour hits Orange County.

Alan Johnson in chase-mode in the Last Chance Showdown at NAPA Super DIRT Week before going on to win the Billy Whittaker Cars 200 from last, 1989 – Courtesy of the NAPA Super DIRT Week Program

Tim Fuller has been running the tour on and off for years successfully. His win total would be far more substantial it not for his years following the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model tour. 

There is no doubt that within the next 10 years The Doctor, Billy, Alan, Tomkins, Fuller, and Tremont will find other things to do other than sit in the cockpit of a Modified.

Okay, so maybe The Doctor will never quit, but you never know.

The Men to Beat

Obviously, Matt Sheppard has set the bar and after four consecutive years of winning the title will continue to be the man to beat.

Matt Sheppard, 2019 – Pete MacDonald photo

Mat Williamson had the season of his life a year ago in capturing the Super DIRTcar Series title and the Billy Whittaker Cars 200 at NAPA Super Dirt Week and he too is going to be around for a long time to come.

Mat Williamson, DIRTcar Nationals, 2020 – Joe Grabianowski photo

Others who will help maintain the high caliber of racing on the Series include Larry Wight and Erick Rudolph.

Erick Rudolph, DIRTcar Nationals, 2020 – Terry Page photo

Stewart Friesen also should find his way to his share of SDS shows as he too is one helps the tour maintain its luster.

I think Peter Britten and Mike Mahaney will continue to be mainstays on the tour fielding strong entries year after year. 

Peter Britten, Airborne Speedway, 2019 – Joe Grabianowski photo

Teams change goals and aspirations. For some, the thrill of running on the tour and the prestige that comes with it is a dream or their ultimate goal in racing. They try it, for maybe a year or two, and say, “Well, I did it.”  However, others are in for the long haul.

Jimmy Phelps is a driver that can get hot any minute and be a real threat on the tour.

Jimmy Phelps on the gas at Autodrome Drummond, 2019 – Joe Grabianowski photo

Betting on Futures

How does it feel predicting the future Super DIRTcar Series stars? Let me use just one word…Unpredictable.

Certainly, Demetrios Drellos made his presence known last year as a rookie and getting his first tour win as even when I talked to him in February still couldn’t believe his team actually won in the very first year.

Demetrios Drellos, Autodrome Granby, 2019 – Joe Grabianowski photo

Jack Lehner is still quite young and he has a program that might allow him to be in this thing for the long run. He’s still learning and getting his feet wet. Jack made strides last year and he is one of the Young Ones.

Jack Lehner, Weedsport Speedway, 2019 – Joe Grabianowski photo

Chris Hile, a regular in Central New York, has proven to be competitive the series races he selects to run. He is doing the tour for the first time this year and if he can adapt to some tracks he’s never seen he could be a contender. There is no reason why he couldn’t finish in the top ten in the point standings.

Chris Hile, Eldora Speedway, 2019 – Mike Mallet Photo

If anyone has followed Tim Sears Jr. they know just by watching him for one single night that this kid has talent. The team has received some assistance from John Wight over the years when they are in need, but he would be a tremendous addition to the series. He is the future of Big Block Modified racing and needs to find a ride.

There are a bunch of DIRTcar 358 drivers with the talent to make that step up if sponsors and support can be found including Davie Marcuccilli, Corey Wheeler, Kyle Dingwall, Ryan Arbuthnot, and Jordan McCready.

Corey Wheeler and Todd Root race door-to-door at Oswego Speedway, 2019 – George Smith

However, my base of operation is in Central New York so those are the drivers that stand out to me. Series talent comes from all parts of the Northeast and Canada. 

It’s difficult to see what the future might hold especially in the crazy world we are currently surviving in. When the economy eventually bounces back, the sponsors and fans will be able to remain involved and the longest Big Block Modified series in the Northeast will continue to give fans their fill of the stars of racing. 

There is no crystal ball, but in witnessing racing since the late 60’s I thoroughly understand that times change, drivers change, racing changes, but our sport and in this case the Super DIRTcar Series live on.

Billy Foley is a prolific writer for racing news website Dirt Track Digest and announcers weekly at Brewerton and Fulton Speedways.

Intensity Will Be High When Super DIRTcar Series Battles Sept. 2 at Weedsport

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Big Block Modified racers will be joined by DIRTcar Pro Stock Series and Empire Super Sprints for Labor Day Double Play

WEEDSPORT, NY – Aug. 28, 2019 – In the small New York town of Weedsport lies the historic three-eighths-of-a-mile dirt oval where all the legends of Big Block Modified racing have made their mark. The Super DIRTcar Series has stopped twice at Weedsport Speedway in 2019 with eight-time Series Champion Matt Sheppard and his rival from Ransomville Erick Rudolph splitting the pair of 100-lappers.

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‘The Doctor’ Bags His Third Win of 2018

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Danny Johnson Wins at Autodrome Drummond for Third Series Win of 2018

DRUMMONDVILLE, QUE – September 9, 2018 – Danny Johnson marched through the top third of the field to take the win at Autodrome Drummond ahead of local favorites Mathieu Boisvert and driver/promoter Yan Bussiere. For the second night in a row, the winner came from the sixth row, specifically 11th place. Unfortunately, Johnson’s teammate Peter Britten came up light on the scales in post-race inspection and was forced to surrender his second-place finish. Max McLaughlin picked up fourth position after starting on the pole.

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09/08/2018 Blackout 100 Autodrome Drummond

DRUMMONDVILLE, QUE – September 9, 2018 – For the second night in a row the winner came from the sixth row, specifically, 11th place. Danny Johnson marched through the top third of the field to take the win at Autodrome Drummond ahead of local favorites Mathieu Boisvert and driver/promoter Yan Bussiere. Unfortunately, Johnson’s teammate Peter Britten came up light on the scales in post-race inspection and was forced to surrender his second-place finish.

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Danny Johnson Shocks Matt Sheppard with Late Race Pass

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Battle of Plattsburgh 100 at Airborne Park Speedway Won by Danny Johnson on Lap 98 Restart

PLATTSBURGH, NY – July 31, 2018 – The defending Super DIRTcar Series Champion, NAPA Super DIRT Week XLVI Champion, and current Championship points leader had the fastest car at Airborne Park Speedway in Hot Laps, Time-Trials, and 98/100 laps of the Battle of Plattsburgh 100. But then, on a lap 98 restart, The Doctor Danny Johnson, racing the Ray Graham no. 21G Big-Block Modified, went to the bottom of the track in turn one and passed Matt Sheppard down the backstretch for the win. Max McLaughlin the HBR Motorsports no. 6H grabbed the final podium stop after battling in the top five all race. Erick Rudolph, who spent most of the night chasing Sheppard in second place, seemed to lose some speed and fell back to the fourth position to end the night.

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The Doctor Danny Johnson Wins Liberty 100

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Danny Johnson Grabs Super DIRTcar Series Win 81 at the Land of Legends Raceway

CANANDAIGUA, NY – July 5, 2018 – At the Land of Legends Raceway in Canandaigua, NY, The Doctor Danny Johnson launched his no. 27J Big-Block Modified from pole position to Victory Lane to capture his first Super DIRTcar Series checkered flag of 2018. Johnson lead the Liberty 100 from flag to flag, although runner up Mat Williamson closed in on multiple occasions but could not complete the pass. Points leader Matt Sheppard picked his way through the field up to a podium position, but never threatened for the overall lead. The no. 27J was simply the class of the field with the veteran pilot behind the wheel.

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