HORSEHEADS, N.Y. — Column by Race Chaser Online New York Correspondent Steven Ovens — Brad Ovens photo —
To say that this year’s version of ‘Silly Season’ has been nuts would be the biggest understatement of 2015.
My wife, if she had an appreciation for Dirt Modifieds like I do, would say that this offseason has been ‘cray cray’.
Top tier Modified talent being sent to pack their bags, race tracks changing hands, race tracks changing sanction allegiances and race tracks with unknown futures has been the buzz here in early December.
One place that has a very stable future was a track that Race Chaser Online and Turn 5 Live just covered a banquet for last weekend in Woodhull Raceway. Ted White and his entire staff have the best kept secret in the Souther Tier at their Steuben County bullring. They also just announced a Short Track Super Series race for mid-August for the second year in a row. It will be a huge event with a huge purse, and White was as confident as ever on Saturday night that 2016 will live up to the incredible race we saw in 2015 between Stewart Friesen and Dylan Dewert.
The question will be ‘Who Will Step Up For The Home Team?’ It was rumored on Saturday that Dewert is liquidating his team this offseason, after running a partial schedule in 2015. If that night in August was in fact one of his last efforts in a Modified, what a way to go out! I would STILL like to lobby Brett Deyo on that single file restart rule within so many laps to go.
Billy Van Pelt will return to Woodhull Raceway in 2016 to attempt to win his 18th track championship and a potential third in a row with team owner Grant Hilfiger. The No. 78 team will scale back their Short Track Super Series efforts in 2016, but still plan to make what shows they can. Expect to see this team focus hard on that Tuesday, August 16 show at “New York’s Toughest Bullring” after a disappointing finish in 2015.
Dylan Cecce will be back full-time at Woodhull in 2016 to defend his Street Stock title for car owner Dylan Potter. Cecce also hinted at some more shows outside of the weekly Woodhull schedule now that the team has a track championship under their belt. They did win an RoC Street Stock event at Five Mile Point early in 2015 to prove just how dangerous they can be.
Look for Jeff Daugherty to move up into the 4 Cylinder Mini Stock division as this young pilot continues to advance his driving career forward. Daugherty swept the Black Rock/Woodhull Bandit championships in 2015 and looked poised to make a very successful transition to the adult division, even under the age of 16. The younger Daugherty has aspirations of Crate Sportsman racing, but has set his focus on the upcoming year at hand. His father Chris has some big plans for 2016 as well, but those are still to come later on.
Billy Decker Released by Gypsum Express Team After 12 Seasons
This was the rumor that everyone has been waiting to come to fruition for two seasons now. It was the rumor that wasn’t a shock because of how rampant the rumor mill was about Decker’s departure from the team. But what is so surprising here is that the driver who won the Super DIRTcar Series title one year ago and finished runner-up this season finds himself without a ride.
Decker was quoted this week as saying he still was open to racing once a week at a DIRTcar home track and racing on the Super DIRTcar Series. This eliminates the large possibility that Decker was out at Gypsum because of thoughts of retiring from the sport. Decker has a flourishing business at home which keeps him quite busy, so nobody would blame a guy for wanting to take a step back.
Something to follow on Decker would be any race teams in Eastern and Southeastern New York that fit the above criteria that could add a second car. Decker could race once a week, closer to home and still race on the series if the right deal came along to fit that criteria. Like with Matt Sheppard, I don’t think Decker will be riding the pine pony long if he wants to race once a week and on the Super DIRTcar Series.
Congratulations to Mr. & Mrs. Matt Sheppard On Their Recent Wedding
Sheppard and his new bride Bethanne were recently married in Cancun, Mexico and returned to New York on Tuesday. All eyes and ears will now be placed upon the Waterloo, N.Y. native as he navigates free agency. Although Sheppard will have a ton of options to pour over (imagine what his voicemail looked like after coming home?), it seems more and more likely that a driver of his caliber and credentials could make a push as his own team.
Although this is 100% speculation, I think Sheppard’s free agency is the perfect time for he and chassis manufacturer Bicknell Racing Products to once again return to former glory winning races and championships. Sheppard made mincemeat of his competition while driving the Troyer House cars, which makes me cringe for his competition to think about a potential return to Bicknell where he won three Super DIRTcar Series titles.
Congratulations to Stewart and Jessica Friesen on the arrival of son Parker Taylor Friesen
The Friesen family’s little bundle of joy arrived last week and comes at an exciting time for the whole family. Not only did Parker make his grand entrance, his father Stewart recently announced a huge backer of his racing operation with Team Halmar. The deal includes the Super DIRTcar Series, Orange County Fair Speedway, some 410 and 360 Sprint Car shows and possibly even a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ride for the MudSummer Classic at Eldora.
Friesen now becomes an even bigger favorite to win every race in 2016 than he already was…if that’s even possible?
Black Rock Speedway
I spoke with Mike Jackson last week regarding his status with Black Rock Speedway in 2016. Mike felt that he would reach an agreement with track owner Dean Hoag within the next week, but that was as far as the conversation went. Jackson felt that his team gained a ton of momentum late in the 2015 season and started to really gel in their first season working under the Mike Jackson era as Promoter.
The concern in the racing community continues to grow over the future of Black Rock Speedway, as this scenario of not having a signed lease through the month of December has an eerily similar feel to what occurred in late December one year ago.
Dan Harpell was at the helm at the time, and felt that things went fairly well under his first year promoting the speedway — then named Yates County Speedway. He expected to negotiate a deal with Hoag to return as the promoter for a second year, until it was announced days before Harpell’s lease expired that Jackson would assume the reigns of the four-tenths-mile clay oval.
As of publication, Jackson still does not have a deal in place for 2016. Every day that passes without a new deal is another day in which a schedule and potential sponsors to fill that schedule can be accumulated. A similar struggle that Harpell faced in 2014, when he took over approximately 5 weeks before the start of the season. Jackson took over the facility in January of 2015, but still struggled to fill a complete schedule of support with his late start.
The awards banquet for the speedway is scheduled to be held on Saturday January 30th at the Benton Fire Department. But the question remains — will the promoter at the banquet not be returning to promote the speedway in the upcoming season for the third year in a row? Can the speedway survive a fourth changing of the guard in as many years? Time will soon tell.
The Growing World of Crate Sportsman Series Racing
Freedom Motorsports Park announced this week that they will be hosting the newly created Race of Champions Crate Sportsman series multiple times in 2016, which should make things interesting.
Over the past few seasons, Freedom has been a Grit Series track with multiple shows at the facility. With there now being four major Crate Sportsman series to race with in New York State, the question now is: where does RoC fit into that mix?
The DIRTcar Sportsman Series races nearly 50% of the time in Canada, but in 2016 has quite a few more New York-based races than in years past. Brewerton, Fulton, Weedsport and Central New York Raceway Park all enter the fold in 2016.
The King of Dirt Series, focusing on events in the Capital District, has their own niche in Eastern New York, although it was still Rocky Warner who swept both King of Dirt and Grit titles in 2015. Rainouts and reschedule dates worked out in Warner’s favor to allow the Gloversville, N.Y. pilot to contend for both series crowns.
The Grit Series seemed to strike a happy medium with their racers in 2015, setting up their tour into an American Racer (“South”) series and a Hoosier (“North”) series. This allowed drivers to follow one series or the other and not purchase tires for both unless they chose to do so to run both series. One team that Race Chaser Online spoke to this weekend at the Woodhull Banquet is hoping for a similar schedule, as they have planned a full assault on the American Racer series with hit-or-miss events on the Hoosier schedule.
“The Hill Speedway” Plans April 2016 Opening
The speedway formerly known to those in the racing community as Dunn Hill has been renamed “The Hill Speedway” and has a launch date of April 2016 per the speedway’s recent announcements.
The speedway will feature Front Wheel Drive 4 Cylinders, Rear Wheel Drive 4 Cylinders, Street Stocks and IMCA Modifieds. It is unknown if The Hill will be IMCA sanctioned yet or just follow the IMCA sanction’s rules for competition.
More classes could be added with enough interest, but it appears The Hill is going to move forward one step at a time. They have met with interested drivers in all divisions and are finalizing a complete rulebook for potential competitors. Any questions are being directed toward www.thehillspeedway.com.
Race Chaser Online and Turn 5 Live on the Performance Motorsports Network will continue to follow these developing dirt track news stories. Stay tuned to Race Chaser Online on Facebook for the late breaking news and follow RCO on twitter @racechasernews
Until next time…put the pedal down and keep it on the cushion!
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.