SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Story by Race Chaser Online New York Correspondent Steven Ovens — Photo By Mark Labrum and Jeremiah Fish — ‘The Franklin Flyer’ Billy Decker is looking to get back to form in 2014 at ‘The Moody Mile’ on the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, NY.
Decker is a name synonymous with NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week glory. When you think of fuel mileage and pit strategy, you think of Decker and crew chief Scott Jeffery.
This has been a driver/crew chief pairing on the Super DIRTcar Series since 1992. Since that time, the pairing has racked up 4 Syracuse 200 wins, a 2nd place finish in 2011 and a record- 7 Pole Awards for the crown jewel race on the dirt circuit. Decker also has 6 Salute to the Troops 150 Small-Block Modified championship wins on the Mile. How does Decker and his Gypsum Express team do it year after year?
“Show up with speed,” said Decker in a recent online Q&A session hosted by the Super DIRTcar Series. “Past history kind of guides us as to what you do and when you do it. It’s worked, last year we underachieved and didn’t make the top six, but hopefully we can right the ship this year. The main thing is just show up with speed. Rely on past notes and approach and unload fast.”
If the Decker crew can unload fast and run well in the Syracuse 200, there is a lot more on the line than just the $50,000 check and trophy. Decker is just a mere 7 points behind Brett Hearn, who took the points lead away from Matt Sheppard following this past weekend’s Super DIRTcar Series event at the Fonda Speedway. Hearn went on to win the race while Sheppard dropped out with a DNF due to a broken axle. The DNF also elevated Unadilla, NY’s Decker to 2nd place in the standings.
With all of that being said, Decker and Jeffery’s approach to the Syracuse Mile and winning the Super DIRTcar Series championship are the same.
“Honestly, you prepare to succeed in both of them at the same time. As much as anything, you have to beat Syracuse, you have to be able to finish that race. To do either one of them, you have to prepare the same. I don’t think we do anything different. We go there to win the race and let the points take car of themselves.”
2013 was not kind to Decker and the NAPA Auto Parts #91 at the Moody Mile. Decker had to qualify through the Last Chance Qualifier on the morning of the 200 which would line him up to start in the 38th position. Jeffery and crew used pit strategy to move Decker up into the Top 5 late in the going, but Decker would run out of fuel and come home in 28th place 9 laps down. This has sparked a new approach to dirt week for Decker and his proven crew.
“We’re working as best we can on our cars. We’ve done nothing as far as engines, so we’ve worked on our cars. Both cars are being changed. It’s still the same Big-Block car, we’re approaching it just a little bit different. As rough a year as we had last year, we’ve not been as good at Super DIRT Week the last couple of years as we need to be. We’re taking a little bit of a different swing at it this year.”
It will be interesting to see what this ‘different approach’ entails for the 91 team. They are well known to be the rabbit on time trial day, having won 7 pole awards for the Syracuse 200. 2 times they have been able to turn that time trial day speed into a win in the 200. But we’ve also seen drivers come from deep in the field on time trial day to eventually win at Syracuse.
Frank Cozze started 33rd in 2008 knowing he didn’t have the fastest car, but what he did have was the Dirt Modified that could go the furthest on fuel. Slower top speeds and better gas mileage could be the key to seeing Billy Decker return to victory lane for his 5th Syracuse 200 victory.
Being with such a power team like the LJL Racing Team backed by Gypsum Express Owner John Wight- one might think Decker relies on having his teammates notes and discussion. Decker disagrees with this idea.
“I don’t think we’ve taken full advantage of teammates, although we all know what each one of us is doing so if somebody gets rolling on something we share that knowledge. That being said, I don’t think we have reaped very much benefit from it,” said Decker.
When asked about winning at the Moody Mile and whether each win gets sweeter, Decker added, “Each time is satisfying, but it’s really hard to replace that first time. Syracuse, there’s something special about winning there.”
If Decker can do just that it will more than likely hand the Series points lead over to him and set him up with a 3-event dash to the championship. Two of those three tracks have been kind to Decker recently in the Brockville Ontario Speedway and the Dirt Track at Charlotte for the World Finals. Decker won at Brockville in Ontario, Canada last year in the Big-Block after winning the ‘Clash at the Can’ the night before at the Penn-Can Speedway in northern Pennsylvania.
Stay tuned to RaceChaserOnline.com and the Turn 5 Racing Podcast and Turn 5 Live Facebook page for all of the latest updates, news and driver previews from the Syracuse Mile.