VERNON, NY — official release — Jeremiah Fish Photo — It was an emotional night at the Utica-Rome Speedway as the life of Kevin Ward Jr., was memorialized with the first running of the Kevin Ward Shootout.
Ward’s entire family was in attendance and it was only fitting that one of his closest friends picked up the win. Matt Tanner scored his second ever 360 Sprint Car victory at the speedway in the 13-lap feature earning himself $1,300 and a guaranteed spot into the Cole Cup.
Tanner and Kevin Ward Sr. celebrated together atop the wing in Victory Lane in what proved to be an emotion filled interview afterwards. Tanner was using a powerplant supplied by the Ward family in his car.
“I can’t even explain what this means,” stated Tanner. “This is the biggest win of my career. To have the whole Ward family here, running in memory of Kevin, running his motor, I can’t thank Senior enough for letting me do that. I really don’t even know what to say.”
Tanner started on the front row alongside current United Racing Company point leader Davie Franek. Tanner jumped out to the lead right at the get go holding off Franek as they raced through the first corner.
One lap was complete when the only stoppage in the race came as Tim Axton hopped the wheel of Jason Schultz and flipped off the outside of turns one and two. He was uninjured in the incident but it ended his weekend.
Tanner chose the outside lane for the restart and it again it proved effective as he outdueled Franek as they raced through turns one and two. Franek then had his hands full with Steve Poirier.
“For some reason tonight the bottom seemed to be faster,” said Tanner. “Usually the top is. I knew starting second we had a pretty good shot if we could beat him into one. We made a pill change after the heat race and this thing was perfect on the restarts.”
Poirier worked over Franek before ultimately getting by him on lap four for the runner-up position. At that point he started looking around for a faster line as he tried chasing down Tanner.
At the halfway point it was Tanner just ahead of Poirier as he found the middle lane through the corners allowing him to close in on the back bumper. Tanner heard him there and changed his line slightly allowing him to open the advantage on Poirier once again.
“I got a little worried about Steve there,” commented the Stephentown, N.Y., pilot. “I saw him once there on the outside so I pulled the wing back and started protecting the bottom.”
Once he found the quicker lane Tanner drove away from Poirier over the second half of the race claiming the victory while Poirier, the current Empire Super Sprint point leader, had to settle for a runner-up effort. He tried everything to catch Tanner to no avail.
“He was just faster,” said Poirier of Tanner. “I tried everything I could. I thought at some point I had a good groove on the outside but I didn’t have the drive off. I tried the inside but I wasn’t as good as him. I tried the inside, the outside and the middle and I could not catch him.”
Franek fell back to finish in the third position at the final checkered flag. It was one of his best efforts to date at the facility.
“It is something for us to go on,” stated Franek. “We weren’t 100 percent obviously. These guys are tough up here and we got a little bit to learn. We got a jump start for tomorrow but all in all you can’t complain about a third place finish when you come up and race against these guys. They are on top of it so we’ll take it and go.”
Paul Kinney finished in the fourth spot after a great race with Franek in the final couple of laps. Robbie Stillwaggon completed the top five.
The final Pro Stock event of the season at the speedway took the green flag with Glenn Forward grabbing the initial lead of the 25 lap event from his outside front row starting spot.
Fourth place starter Bret Belden made his presence felt right away as he immediately was pressuring Forward for the lead. Lap three saw Belden charge by to take over the point, but Forward was not giving up easily as he regained the lead on lap seven. Several mid race cautions kept the field bunched together, and lap 10 saw Belden again use the outside lane to take the lead.
With the front running duo putting on a great show up front, there were several battles for position behind them including the battle for the third spot between Tom Denton and Mark Effner. Like the battle up front, Denton and Effner were spending a lot of laps racing side by side with Denton holding the edge. On lap 12, Forward charged by Belden to regain the lead and would remain there until the checkered flag with Belden, Denton, Effner, and Chris Carr chasing.
The Pure Stock 20 lap feature saw track champion Russ Marsden gain the lead from his front row starting spot, but it was fifth place starter that was on the charge early.
Mason was third by lap two, second on lap three, and by lap four he was able to charge by Marsden for the lead. Marsden would spend the next 11 circuits trying to get around Mason but every challenge was fought off the by the leader. As the pair completed lap 14, Marsden swung low go into turn one to slip underneath Mason, and as the pair raced off turn two, Marsden was again the leader.
Mason spent the next handful of circuits trying to get back out front but Marsden was too strong as he raced off to the season ending victory followed by Mason, Rick Breed, Chris Cunningham, and Frank Hyatt.
GATES-COLE INSURANCE/SUNY CANTON NIGHT BEFORE THE COLE CUP RACE SUMMARY
KEVIN WARD JR. SHOOTOUT (13 LAPS)-MATT TANNER, Steve Poirier, Davie Franek, Paul Kinney, Robbie Stillwagon, Jeff Cook, Tommy Wickham, Shawn Donath, Jason Barney, Jason Shultz, Dave Axton, Aaron Ott, and Tim Axton. DNQ – Scott Just, Steve Hutchinson Jr., Casey Williams, Doug Emery, Jordan Thomas, Tyler Graves, James Hanson, Cory Sparks, Parker Evans, and Dave Just.
PRO STOCK FINISH (25 LAPS)-GLENN FORWARD, Bret Belden, Tom Denton, Mark Effner, Chris Carr, A.J. Digsby, Ed Ostrander, Ryan Lund, Rob Seavy, Dwight Johnson, Devon Camenga, Greg Galligan, Tom Vance, Joe Slawiak, Travis Welch, and Jim Money.
PURE STOCK FINISH (20 LAPS)-RUSS MARSDEN, Bill Mason, Ricky Breed, Chris Cunningham, Frank Hyatt, Mike Kazlauskas, Rob Thieme, Ron Hawker, Mike Stebbins, Ernie Staelens, Chuck Cushman Jr., Jim Thomas, Keith Stevenson, and Jerry Streeter.