Canandaigua, N.Y. – July 17, 2013 – By Steven Ovens – After Tony Stewart’s first scheduled appearance at Canandaigua Motorsports Park with the UNOH All-Star Series fell to rain on June 11th, the 360 Smoke Shootout was scheduled by promoter Jeremie Corcoran. The new show’s format was simple- take the best 360 and 305 sprint drivers in Western and Central New York, race them against Tony Stewart and may the winner take the $3,000 check and bragging rights home.
Drivers from the Empire Super Sprints and Patriot Sprint Group were in attendance like 2-time defending ESS champion and 2-time Patriot champion Chuck Hebing and 2-time ESS champion Lance Yonge. A special bonus was put up by track management to entice the regular 305 cubic inch sprint drivers at CMP to join the fun. Drivers like Darryl Ruggles, Alysha Ruggles and Charlie Donk all took the CMP 305 challenge.
The beginning of the show made fans question whether the mid-week special should have been named the “Tony Stewart Invitational”. ‘Smoke’ was laying down fast laps around the Ontario County half-mile, setting fast time in hot laps with a 15.55 second lap. Stewart would start second in his heat and dominate- winning by a full straightaway. Other heat race winners included a very fast Shawn Donath in his #53 and local racing star Lance Yonge in his Johnson Farms 17J. Yonge is always a local favorite at Canandaigua, having beat Stewart for the win the last time the 360’s raced at Canandaigua last fall.
In the Dash for Cash it was all smoke, all the time. Again winning by half a straightaway to take the popular win. Even though Smoke’s performance was impressive, “The car felt a little unbalanced in the heat race, we had to tweak it here for the dash.” The man won his heat by a straightaway and dash for cash by half a straightaway but the car still needed tweaking. “I think we’re better than the last time we were here when Lance schooled us all and showed us the way around here.” During the redraw, Stewart drew position number 4 and looked to complete the three-race sweep.
25 cars started the 25-Lap A-Main, with Shawn Donath and local Modified talent Vinny Vitale leading the field to the green. Vitale and Donath battled early on for the lead, with veteran sprint car racer Doug Emery in his #33 following in a close third. Emery, in recent months has become more of a car owner than a driver, having drivers such as Ont., Canada star Stewart Friesen in the car as recently as 2 weeks ago finishing second at Utica-Rome. He had a stout piece for the feature after starting in the 6th position, and climbing to third on Lap 3.
Vinny Vitale’s chance at a Top-5 ended on Lap 6 when his car went wide in Turn 1 and made contact with the outside wall in Turn 2 and bringing out the first caution of the night. This yellow flag would set up a restart off Turn 4 and set up one of the scariest wrecks that I have ever personally seen at a racetrack.
As Donath and Emery paced the field off Turn 4 for the restart, Donath slid high- opening the door for Stewart. The three drivers went three-wide for the lead, but the hole that Stewart once thought was open quickly closed and triggered what would turn out to be a 14-car pileup. Donath and Stewart locked wheels, sending Stewart into the air and into a 180 spin facing the rest of the oncoming cars.
Cars driven by Paul Kinney, Sammy Reakes IV and Chuck Hebing had no place to go and piled into the wreck at almost full speed. One car tipped onto it’s side and suffered a stuck throttle, creating a sound that silenced the large CMP crowd. Drivers such as Blake Breen and Bryan Howland took evasive action through the infield in Turns 1 & 2. Alysha Ruggles attempted to do the same, but ran out of room. Her 48A jumped the Turn 1 jersey barrier and landed just inside of the jersey barrier.
The crash took on the looks of a NASCAR plate race accident. When interviewed on the track, Stewart took full responsibility for the crash, apologized for those who would have to take torn up race cars home and hoped for all drivers to be ok.
Paul Kinney was transported by local ambulance to the hospital for further evaluation and then released. He was however talking to the safety workers and trying to move about while he was being attended to. Alysha Ruggles was transported to the hospital by private vehicle where she underwent surgery for a broken back. Joe Trenca suffered a fractured angle and other bumps and bruises.
The rest of the field was taken pit side to allow the teams to try and fix their damaged racecars to try and put on a show for the fans in attendance. When the green flag flew again on Lap 6, Emery ran away and hid from 2nd place Howland. ESS Winner at Utica-Rome, Matt Tanner, rallied through the field to take over third place. Lapped traffic was something Emery had to work through in the last handful of laps, but nobody had anything for the driver of the 33 Patterson Motorsports machine. Howland finished second, ‘Racin’ Jason’ Barney took third after sneaking by Tanner who finished fourth. Rounding out the Top-5 was the winner of the 305 Sprint Challenge, Darryl Ruggles, who made his 305 work to perfection on the bottom of the dry slick durface.
“I started 6th, in back of some really stellar people. I barreled down in there and the car just stuck like glue.” Emery knew the car was going to be great, “I went by Tony and said ‘man I think we got something here.’“
Emery, who hasn’t been a regular competitor in 2013, has several times turned the car over to Friesen. Emery was also one of the first to put Jessica Zemken in a 360 Sprint Car, she now tours with ESS, the World of Outlaws and travels on several 410 tours.
Doug spoke about how special it was to be driving and to win the 360 Smoke Shootout, “It’s huge because we haven’t been running. I’ve been running a few races here and there. I don’t mind watching once in awhile, but when you have a car like this it is a dream to drive.” I think it’s safe to say, when you beat Tony Stewart and the rest of a star-studded field- it’s a dream come true.
Here’s the AUDIO interview with Emery… Doug Emery 360 SO Vict Lane
In other action at CMP, Dave Marcuccilli led laps 3 through 25 to take the Sportsman Modified $1,000 to win event. He beat ‘The G-Man’ Paul Guererri to the line for the big pay day. Stay tuned to Race Chaser Online for an upcoming piece on Paul Guererri’s race team and their feel-good stories of 2013.
For more information on Canandaigua Motorsports Park visit www.canandaiguamotorsportspark.com
Tony Stewart will be back in action at CMP when NASCAR returns to Watkins Glen. He will participate with the Empire Super Sprints on Saturday August 10th.
PHOTO CREDIT: Steven Ovens / RaceChaser Online