'The Doctor' dominates in return to home soil to capture 2012 Super DIRTcar Series opener
Canandaigua, NY – April 7, 2012 – The first weekend in April marked the earliest season-opening in Canandaigua Motorsports Park history, a perfect time for 'Land of Legends' lifer Danny Johnson to once again rattle the Big-Block record book at the hallowed Ontario Co. Fairgrounds half-miler in front of a packed house of sun-drenched fans on Easter eve.
Defending division points champion Dan Wiesner (Safety Awareness Solutions Sportsman Modified), Central New York full-fender standout Russ Marsden (Parts Plus Street Stock) and weekly wheelman Vance Vanderwall (Pure Stock) also claimed checkered flags in companion Corcoran Memorial events honoring the mother of track promoter Jeremie Corcoran for a second straight season.
Buckled in behind the wheel of the blue no. 27J Page Trucking-Honeoye Auto Parts-Waste Management/Bicknell entry equipped with a Mike Mastin-prepared powerplant, Johnson dominated the 2nd Annual Jan Corcoran Memorial presented by Empire Seneca Recycling and Xtreme Lubricants to kick off the 2012 Super DIRTcar Series and collect a hefty first-place prize of $6,400 in the 64-lap Modified main event.
“To win the final two shows last year and come out and win tonight is just awesome,” beamed Johnson, 52, following his 73rd career Big-Block Modified victory at Canandaigua and 71st in series competition. “What a great hotrod I had tonight, can't thank all the guys that work on this car enough.”
“The car was really good tonight, to be honest, I couldn't believe it could be so good out there. It was certainly a pleasure to drive the way things turned out, getting to the front fast and being able to stay there,” remarked Johnson, after holding off a late-race rally by recognized rival Brett Hearn, the only driver taking home more Super DIRTcar Series trophies (107) than the second-generation chauffeur from Rochester.
Johnson led Hearn across the stripe by a comfortable dozen car-lengths while fairgrounds front-runners Justin Haers and Matt Sheppard swapped spots on the last lap to salvage third and fourth on the final scoresheet. Series star Jimmy Phelps rounded out the Top-5 after starting tenth.
Looking to improve on his third-place finish in last June's inaugural Corcoran Memorial, popular pilot Tim McCreadie charged past pole-sitter Larry Wight on the opening circuit with Johnson following the same outside line after starting fourth on the 31-car grid. The 'Doctor' shadowed McCreadie in Vinny Salerno's Four Star/TEO mount, ducking underneath to forge the final lead change as the talented twosome reached the end of the back chute on lap seven.
It took Johnson only 10 times around the ultra-smooth oval to reach traffic and with 18 complete had left 25 drivers on the lead lap. With a third of the race scored, he opened up a commanding lead over Wight and fast time trialer Justin Haers while McCreadie, Sheppard and Phelps battled three-wide further back.
The capacity crowd on hand for the track's 49th annual opener got a short break to catch its breath when former Canandaigua regular Tim Fuller slowed on lap 35 to incur the initial caution. Sheppard took advantage on the ensuing restart and grabbed second from Wight while Haers and Phelps continued to figure in the front-five ahead of 17th starting and surging Hearn.
Back under green with plenty of heat in his tires, Hearn sped past Phelps for fifth on lap 38, dropped Haers into fourth on lap 39 and snatched third away from Wight on lap 40 before Billy Dunn suffered a flat right-rear tire to force out a second yellow flag on lap 43. Phelps stole third from Hearn on the restart but Hearn quickly regained the show position on lap 47 and wrestled away second from 'Super Matt' by the end of lap 51.
Turn three contact suddenly slowed Chad Homan off the pace, resulting in the fourth and final caution period with just a handful of laps left and affording Hearn his last clean shot at overtaking Johnson. But that was the closest the 'Corporate Jet' could get as Johnson pulled away for his first sixth tour triumph in Canandaigua.
“It seemed like a long race to hold the lead, I just kept seeing second-place changing (scoreboard) and didn't know what I was going to have to compete with at the end,” added Johnson, who last won a series show at Canandaigua steering the potent Freightliner Trucking no. 6 machine to a convincing victory in 1995, that year leading the entire 95-lap distance and in another flawless performance.
“We got a new sponsor ---Page Trucking--- and its all coming together well for us right now. Mike (Payne, crew chief), Doug (Dulen) at Honeoye Auto and everybody that helps out is the reason we're here in victory lane tonight,” said Johnson, who opened the season with a win in Florida during February to start the string.
Seven-time overall Mr. DIRTcar titlist Hearn was content with his 2102 series debut aboard the BH Racing Enterprises no. 20 Madsen Motorsports-Don Kruger Motorsports/TEO ride, coming up just short in his bid for a fourth series win in Canandaigua.
“Been so darn close here, car was awesome tonight running really well come feature time,” stated Hearn, 53, who finished second to Billy Decker in last June's first Corcoran Memorial. “We started so far back and worked our way to the front with very little help and had a really good car right there right up until the end.”
“On that last restart (lap 59) the motor went sour. Thought it was going to shut off going through (turns) three and four, then it cleared out a little but still kept back-firing. Something happened but I'm not really sure if horsepower would've been the answer anyway. The 27J car was fast tonight, don't think we had anything for him but I still feel pleased with such a strong run,” said Hearn, a winner of seven SDS openers since 1980, with his May victory on pavement in Pennsylvania carrying him to Mr. DIRTcar status in 1990.
Despite besting 41 open-wheel entries in time trials and placing second to Decker in his qualifying heat, luck of the draw put Haers outside row three to start the 64-lap headline event and ultimately just out of reach of that first career series victory.
“The car would go on some restarts, on others the tires just wouldn't go,” lamented Haers, 31, who finished runner-up to Sheppard in the final 2011 CMP point standings adding a pair of feature wins along the way strapped into the Haers Bros. Racing no. 3 Phelps Cement Products-Sweeteners Plus-Classics & Customs/Bicknell mount. “That last restart we didn't go, but then got some heat in (tires) and started coming forward. Matt and me got together a little bit in turn four but that's a racing deal.”
“This is our first race of the year, a lot of the guys here have already run a couple so we're pretty happy. Right out of the box to come and set fast time and pretty much be in contention for a win the whole race is definitely something to build on,” added Haers, DIRTcar Northeast's Big-Block Rookie of the Year in 2004 and six-time feature winner at Canandaigua.
A 20-lap Safety Awareness Solutions Sportsman finale kicked off the night’s open-wheel feature race action with Wiesner needing most of the distance to secure the top spot and speed on to victory in defense of the coveted track points crown. The Geneva driver charged around Justin Henderson on the 16th circuit before pulling away for a five car-length victory over Canadian invader Tyler McPherson. Steve Gray, Todd Henderson and Cody McPherson filled out the final front-five.
“Great (season) starts come with a great crew and great backing like we have,” said Wiesner, who moved into a tie with Gray atop Canandaigua's all-time Sportsman list with 18 career victories. Only Karl Comfort (1999-2000) and Kevin Long (1995-96) have garnered back-to-back season championships in the fairgrounds' companion open-wheel class. “And its certainly great being able to win the opener.”
Father and son duo of Todd and Justin Henderson were the only race leaders until sixth-place starter Wiesner fulfilled his mission to the front with just five to go. The lone caution flags flew once Wiesner was solidly out front, provide a clear track ahead for the no. 66 Monroe Wheelchair-Wayne's Spa Service/Bicknell car in quest of a second consecutive track title.
Local pilot Rob Bussey and Street Stock graduate Frank 'Bubba' Burnell Jr. tangled hard in turn four to bring out the first yellow on lap 17 while Justin Henderson looped after being pinched high off the track at the end of the back straightaway to force the final slowdown on the original white flag lap.
“The outside was good but the track was getting dryer and dryer with the series being here tonight,” added Wiesner, who registered his first stock car win at Canandaigua in 1998 (Pure) and followed up with two more during the 1999-2000 (Pro) campaigns. “With a little bite on the top I just went up there and flat-footed it until the right-rear hit the cushion and never lifted.”
“I don't like starting first because you don't know if anybody behind is better than you. Coming through from sixth is still quite an honor being able to beat some of the veterans up front,” said Wiesner, after coming out on top among a stellar opening day field that included 43 cars.
Marsden picked up right where he left off last season, edging reigning division points king Mike Welch by two car-lengths to add his fifth career win in the 12-lap Parts Plus Street Stock finale. Nate Daggett's debut netted him third-place with Nate Peckham and Blane Smith following in order.
“We ran side-by-side there for a bit, then things got a little hairy at the end but it was a good race,” said Marsden, a four-time winner last year in his rookie CMP campaign, including the final two features --- chased by runner-up Welch on both occasions. “Jeremie's done a heckuva job with this place, it was fast tonight and fun to get around.”
Welch immediately disposed of pole-sitter and heat race winner Daggett at the drop of the first green flag with fifth-place starter Marsden in the reskinned no. 28 Flack’s Hi-Rise Concrete Restoration-Coatings Plus/Chevrolet Impala tracking down the leader by the halfway mark. After a side-by-side battle for the lead on lap seven, Marsden muscled by for good the following circuit en route to a narrow win in the caution-free affair.
“Other than the new body, we rebuilt the rear-end and put in new valve springs for this season. Have to give a lot of credit to Pat Flack and Marty Patchen, they're the backbone of this entire operation and I'm glad to open the season with a win for them,” Marsden added.
Vanderwall closed out the four-star show with a convincing flag-to-flag Pure Stock victory, leading all 12 circuits aboard his eye-catching orange no. 742 Pulcini Contracting-Carriarge Stop Restoration Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
“I've been working on this car for two years now, nice to open with a big win,” said Vanderwall, who finished fourth in last year's final race in his own #742 car after enjoying limited action driving Don Drave's no. 23 machine earlier in the season. “Hope this starts to build some momentum for the rest of the season.”
Vanderwall copped the preliminary heat and advanced easily from the point once the feature got underway, leaving the opposition to contend only for runner-up laurels in early-season affair. Leading Brad Steinruck and 2011 points champion Marc Minutolo by eight car-lengths after just one circuit, the Palmyra pilot stretched his advantage to a full straightaway with 10 laps down and remained untouchable over the last mile.
Minutolo slipped by Steinruck to settle that score halfway through while Chris Gingerich and George LaVare Jr. completed the Top-5 under the checkers.
Canandaigua Motorsports Park returns to action on Saturday, April 14 featuring a standard five-star show of Big-Block Modified, Sportsman, Parts Plus Street Stock, Pure Stock and New Legends Sportsman racing, along with the first Pit Stop Challenge. Qualifying begins at 7pm.
Round two of the 2012 Super DIRTcar Series moves to the forefront during the first holiday of the race season with Rolling Wheels Raceway Park in Elbridge, N.Y. hosting the Hall of Fame Classic as part of All-Star Weekend on Sunday, May 27.
With the 49th season now officially underway, be sure to follow the point standings and breaking news online by visiting www.CanandaiguaMotorsportsPark.com. Send along a note to email@example.com to join the e-mail list, or register with http://www.twitter.com/Canandaigua_MSP to keep up-to-date on-line and through text messages on cell phones via Twitter.
For more information, please contact Jeremie Corcoran via cell 315-374-2839 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Joe Bailey (585-500-8852, email@example.com) can also be reached during the week to discuss marketing opportunities still available at the track in 2012.
Canandaigua Motorsports Park is located at the Ontario County Fairgrounds, east of the city on Town Line Road (County Road 10), with easy access off either Exit 43 (Manchester, Route 21 South) or Exit 44 (Farmington, Route 332 South) of the New York State Thruway, just ½-hour southeast of Rochester.