Story By: JOE GRABIANOWSKI / DIRTCAR – OSWEGO, NY – The tease of Saturday’s DIRTcar 358 Modified Salute to the Troops 150 came in threefold Friday night at Oswego Speedway.
Three 20-lap Qualifying Heats for the 74 cars entered in the division gave drivers and fans a taste of what they can expect from the 150-lap main event and guaranteed 24 more drivers a starting position in it.
After claiming the SRI Performance Pole Award and setting a new track record for the 358 Modifieds at Oswego Speedway Thursday afternoon, Billy Dunn backed that up by winning the first Heat. In the second Heat, seven-time Salute to the Troops champion Billy Decker became the first driver this week to deny Mat Williamson a win. And in the final Heat, Tim Sears, Jr. set a blistering pace to win by 2.5 seconds. All three took home a $1,000 check for the victory.
The three winners had already locked themselves into Saturday night’s $20,000-to-win Salute to the Troops 150, through Thursday’s Time Trials, along with Williamson, Stewart Friesen and Rob Bellinger. Joining them now as a locked-in driver are the likes of Pat Ward, Larry Wight, Peter Britten, Ronnie Davis and more.
When the DIRTcar 358 Modifieds thundered into Turn 1 of Oswego Speedway as a group for the first time in two years, Pat Ward was granted an opening. Stewart Friesen slipped from his outside pole position, allowing Ward to dart past him from fourth and then make a run at Dunn for the lead. Right as he snuck past Dunn for the top spot, the caution flew for an accident in Turn 4 that ended Jordan McCreadie and Mike Bruce’s night.
Ward held the lead for the next two laps before another caution hindered this chance at building momentum. When the race commenced, Dunn moved high and found the bite he needed to get back around Ward for the lead on Lap 5. From there, Dunn comfortably held the lead for the next 14 circuits while the last one made him sweat.
While he led, Larry Wight became the show in the final half of the race. He spent most of his time trying to find his way around Friesen for fourth, using any lane he can to get around the NASCAR Truck Series star. With four laps to go, Wight moved high just in time. Lap cars blocked the low and middle lanes, allowing Wight to rocket around the outside of Friesen, Tim Fuller and Ward to go from fifth to second in one corner.
With three laps to go there was about a second and a half gap between him and Dunn. With two to go, it was down to half a second. On the final lap, he charged to the outside of Dunn but the red #49 had enough speed to hold of Wight for the win.
“Man, the track changed a lot in those 20 laps,” Dunn said. “I lost the lead early and had to fight to get it back and was able to hold on (for the win)… It takes me about a lap to get wound up in that W16 motor, but, man, once I got it going it was really good. The track seemed to get rougher, rougher and rougher. I was just trying to be really easy in lap traffic. I know I was losing speed to the cars behind me, but I just wanted to get to the end and stay out front.”
With Mat Williamson winning every race he’s entered in the past seven days, the question lingered if anyone could beat. Billy Decker, the defending Salute to the Troops 150 champion, answered with “yes.”
Williamson launched ahead of the field at the start of the second Heat and held command out front for the first eight laps before the caution came out for a two-car accident in Turn 2. When the race went back green for the final 12 laps, Decker looked like his teammate Larry Wight, ripping the high side of the 5/8-mile track. In doing so, he found himself to the outside of Williamson and in the lead shortly after.
Once he cleared the defending Billy Whittaker Cars 200 winner for the lead on Lap 9, Decker set sail and pulled away to a 1.6-second win over Williamson.
“He (Williamson) raced me very respectfully,” Decker said. “The Wholesaler (#91) cars was really good. Took a few laps to get the tires where they belonged and when they took off, they took off. It was fun at that stage.”
Tim Sears, Jr. has been on the verge of a DIRTcar 358 Modified all week long, nearly stealing the victory from Williamson at Weedsport Speedway on Wednesday and starting up front at Brewerton Speedway on Thursday before fading back. But on Friday night at Oswego Speedway, Sears was in a class of his own.
When the green flag hit the air for the third and final Heat of the night, Sears entered a new dimension when he pushed the throttle. His #62X rocketed ahead of the field and he gapped second-place Dave Marcuccilli by half a second in the first lap.
He caught the rear of the field by the halfway point of the race and even that couldn’t slow his momentum.
Behind him, Peter Britten had his own star moment on the initial start, going from sixth to third in the first lap. However, he couldn’t make any further ground after that. Sears powered to a more than two-second win over Marcuccilli, who finished second with Britten behind him in third.
“I wanted to get to lap traffic to see how we race,” Sears said. “This car has been good all year. Mullen and the guys at the shop, they prepare a great race car. I mean, every time we go on the race track this thing is ready. I couldn’t do it without all of them.”
DIRTcar 358 MODIFIED SALUTE TO THE TROOPS HEAT RACES
HEAT 1 — 1. 49-Billy Dunn; 2. 99L-Larry Wight; 3. 44-Stewart Friesen; 4. 19-Tim Fuller; 5. 42P-Pat Ward; 6. 83-Danny Johnson; 7. 111-Demetrios Drellos; 8. 66X-Carey Terrance; 9. 215-Adam Pierson; 10. 27W-Nick Webb; 11. 3M-Michael Stanton; 12. 98H-Jimmy Phelps; 13. 31B-Corey Barker; 14. 21H-Bob Henry Jr; 15. 29-Matt Caprara; 16. 8-Rich Scagliotta; 17. 18-Ryan Macartney; 18. 55-Matt Woodruff; 19. 11S-Steve Lewis Jr; 20. 11-Alissa Cody; 21. 79-Jeffrey Prentice; 22. 21-Ryan Darcy; 23. 28-Michael Trautschold; 24. 28M-Jordan McCreadie; 25. 22-Michael Bruce
HEAT 2 — 1. 91D-Billy Decker; 2. 6-Mat Williamson; 3. 32R-Ronnie Davis; 4. 7MM-Michael Maresca; 5. 98JS-Rocky Warner; 6. 60-Jackson Gill; 7. 31W-Lance Willix; 8. 63R-Billy VanInwegen Jr; 9. 44P-Anthony Perrego; 10. 2A-Mike Gular; 11. 15-Todd Root; 12. 12-Darren Smith; 13. 14M-CG Morey; 14. 69-Randy Green; 15. 21R-RJ Tresidder; 16. 879-Darryl Mitchell; 17. 1NY-Gregory Atkins; 18. 39-Ryan Bartlett; 19. 26R-Corey Cormier; 20. 115-Montgomery Tremont; 21. 34-George Foley; 22. 88-Olden Dwyer; 23. (DNS) 0-Dan Humes; 24. (DNS) 14-Brian Swarthout.
HEAT 3 – 1. 62X-Tim Sears Jr; 2. M1-David Marcuccilli; 3. 21A-Peter Britten; 4. 3-Justin Haers; 5. 8R-Rob Bellinger; 6. 3J-Marc Johnson; 7. 34S-Rusty Smith; 8. 38-Jason Parkhurst; 9. 58M-Marshall Hurd; 10. 36-Ben Bushaw; 11. 20K-Kyle Inman; 12. 91-Bobby Flood; 13. 66W-Derek Webb; 14. 713-Tommy Collins; 15. 02-Roy Bresnahan; 16. 9-Tyler Meeks; 17. 7-Michael Sabia; 18. 34F-Andrew Ferguson; 19. 37-Alex Tonkin; 20. 24K-Nick Krause; 21. 11T-Jeff Taylor; 22. 25-Erick Rudolph; 23. 16-Aaron Jacobs; 24. (DNS) 7Z-Zachary Payne.