DIRT Hall Of Fame Handing Out Several Special Awards

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WEEDSPORT, N.Y. – As is tradition, the upcoming Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame induction ceremonies aren’t just about the three new class members joining the elite.

There will be several special awards handed out during the event as well.

Also being honored at the July 23 induction banquet are Tico Conley, Billy Taylor, Bob and Donna Miller, Tery Rumsey and April Preston-Elms.

The 2020 Gene DeWitt Car Owner Award goes to Tico Conley, a second-generation car owner who grew up in Oaks Corners, N.Y., and who will be forever attached to Hall of Fame driver Alan Johnson’s legacy.

When a dramatic legal battle snatched Johnson’s 1979 ride right out from under him, Conley came to the rescue with a car to finish the season.

Over the winter, the two officially became a team, with Johnson ingeniously reconfiguring Conley’s old show car to his liking — and changing the course of dirt modified history in the process.

Blasting out of the box, Johnson and Conley won 20 events and the Canandaigua title in 1980.

In the next three years, the team took down another 88 victories, two Mr. DIRT and a pair of Super DIRT Series titles, the ’83 Florida tour, track championships at Weedsport, Canandaigua, Rolling Wheels and Ransomville, the 1983 Super DIRT Week biggie on the Syracuse mile, and over half a million dollars in winnings and prizes.

All told, the Johnson/Conley team hit for 169 feature wins at 24 different tracks in five states and two Canadian provinces.

Billy Taylor, recipient of this year’s Mechanic/Engineering Award, has been in the sport for the past 59 years, starting out with ’60s racers like Bill Wimble and Dick Goodell at Plattsburgh and tracks north of the border as a teenager.

After his family moved to Rochester in the 1970s, Taylor hooked up with Richie Evans at Spencer Speedway and traveled the circuit with the NASCAR Mod superstar for the next three years. Crew stints with Maynard Troyer and Geoff Bodine followed.

When he moved back to NY in the mid ’80s, Troyer was already manufacturing Mud Busses — and Taylor turned his attention to dirt.

Sporting sponsorship from his brother Phil’s Chevy dealership, Billy’s meticulously prepared cars were driven by many of the marquee names: Kenny Brightbill, Doug Hoffman, Alan and Danny Johnson, Mike McLaughlin, Dave Blaney, Gary Balough, Sammy Swindell and more.

DIRT’s Asphalt Series, which ran from 1988-1992, seemed custom-made for Taylor, with his vast paved track experience. He won six of those specials, with Danny Johnson, ringer Geoff Bodine, and Doug Hoffman, who took the series championship in 1991.

The majority of success came with Hoffman, who won 19 big events for Taylor, including a pair of Lebanon Valley 200s, two Fonda 200s, and the 1996 Super DIRT Week classic.

Taylor now works for JR Motorsports in North Carolina, building electric systems for the team’s Xfinity cars.

The promoting team of Bob and Donna Miller will receive the Leonard J. Sammons Jr. Award for Outstanding Contributions to Auto Racing.

The Millers, formerly of Pennsylvania and now residing in Florida, recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of their popular Thunder on the Hill Series at Grandview Speedway.

Launched in 1990 as a joint venture with Grandview promoters Bruce and Theresa Rogers, with impetus from sprint car and modified driver Dave Kelly, the “specials only” series was designed to showcase open-cockpit racing for the resident modified crowd.

Since its inception, the TOTH Series has run 137 events at Grandview, paid out more than $4.8 million to competitors, and featured such high-octane traveling series as USAC National Midgets and Sprints, World of Outlaws sprint cars and late models, and the All Star Circuit of Champions, in addition to DIRTcar, RoC, ARDC and URC.

TOTH is also traditionally part of Pennsylvania Speedweek.

Bob, who cut his racing teeth at the Reading Fairgrounds and Bridgeport, and his wife Donna, organizer of the annual Ms. Motorsports pageant from 1986-2020, have also promoted events at New Egypt, Lincoln and Big Diamond speedways, among others.

DIRT TV cameraman and producer Tery Rumsey, now residing in Rochester, N.H., will receive the Andrew S. Fusco Award for Media Excellence, in memory of Hall of Fame board member and legal counsel Andy Fusco.

Rumsey had been a production manager and cameraman for Channel 9 in Syracuse before meeting DIRT president Glenn Donnelly in the late 1970s to film Donnelly’s snowmobile races at Weedsport Speedway.

From there, Rumsey went on to shoot and produce Super DIRT Week for ESPN, and was on the ground floor — along with Fusco, Patrick Donnelly and local sportscaster Doug Logan — for “This Week on DIRT,” a slick weekly cable show that captured the CNY racing season.

Originally playing to a limited audience, Tery shrewdly shopped the show nationwide.

Clamoring for content, regional sports networks across the country picked up the program, which wound up reaching almost 15 million households every week during its 20-year run.

Rumsey was also involved with live broadcasts from Weedsport, and continued to produce tape-delayed racing from the Syracuse Fairgrounds, Rolling Wheels and other venues.

Since 2007, Tery has worked as a freelance cameraman, covering the Olympics and other major sporting events.

April Preston-Elms, the co-owner of Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, Vt., will be honored with this year’s Outstanding Woman in Racing Award.

As a kid, Preston-Elms spent Thursday nights with her family at Thunder Road. She got out on the track herself in 1994, racing a “Fast Four” Mustang on the asphalt at Claremont and Canaan Fair Speedway in New Hampshire.

By 2000, April was also hosting a one-hour radio show on local racing — and that’s how she met Bear Ridge owner Butch Elms in ’02. They hit it off, and by the end of that year they had bought Canaan Fair.

For four years, Butch ran Canaan’s Friday program on the dirt oval, then returned to Vermont to manage Bear Ridge on Saturdays, while April stayed at Canaan to run the asphalt track.

It proved to be too much, and in ’06 they sold Canaan and April set her first sights on Bear Ridge, bringing a new vision to the quarter-mile dirt track that had been in Butch’s family since 1967.

Since her arrival, the facility has been spruced up, the program has been tightened up to end by 10:30 p.m. and 358 Mods were dropped for Sportsman, racing under a DIRTcar sanction.

The result? The weekly fan base has tripled, car counts are up, and this year Bear Ridge — in the farthest reaches of dirt modified country — will host a DIRTcar series event.