MALTA, N.Y. — When a downpour hit on lap 11 of “Brett Hearn’s Big Show” on its original date of July 8, Justin Haers was leading.
He picked up where he left off Wednesday night, sliding front-row companion Billy Decker up the track on the green, then dashing off from the field of big-block modifieds with third-starting Danny Johnson in tow.
But Haers’ second Super DIRTcar Series win of the year and first Albany-Saratoga Speedway score was not to be, as his car belched a cloud of smoke and steam on lap 35, passing the lead and the $10,000 first-place money to Johnson. Decker was a distant second at the checkered flag with point leader Matt Sheppard, Peter Britten and Stewart Friesen trailing.
With Johnson building a full-turn lead after the yellow for Haers, the action was back in the pack as Sheppard clawed his way forward from eighth, staging a pitched battle with Stewart Friesen before finally taking third from the fleet Canadian.
Gary Tomkins drew the second and final caution when he slowed on lap 44 but the surface was black and shiny by then and passing grew ever more difficult. Jimmy Phelps, who had lined up 14th, was the best on the difficult surface and advanced in the late going to lead the second five, leading event promoter Brett Hearn, Billy VanInwegen, Marc Johnson and Ronnie Johnson to the stripe.
The final laps were highlighted by Decker having trouble lapping a pair of back markers running side by side, which let Sheppard make a run on him before he too was held up, letting Britten catch him. But in the end, the logjam broke and the order remained the same.
“We lost it on the start,” offered Decker. “Justin was worried about me beating him and came up across the track and let Danny by. He had on soft tires and nobody else did, so we had nothing for him after that.”
“It was tough to pass, which is typical here,” declared a disappointed Sheppard. “We’ve been here three times and it always goes the same way. I knew I had to make my moves early, because even with a good car, which I had, there’s no place to go.”
As for Johnson, he agreed with Decker, saying “I had soft tires on it and the car loved the black part of the track. It worked great and I could turn anywhere. My plan was to wear Justin down and see what happened, then it turned out that I didn’t have to pass him. It’s a good thing, because he was quick and I was beginning to think I might end up second.”
Since the original program was beyond halfway when it rained, rain checks were no longer good, so Hearn and Albany-Saratoga promoter Lyle Devore decided to run a second complete program to be fair to returning fans. In the end, Marc Johnson won the 35-lapper, his second of the season, but the $2,000 payday did not come easy.
Don Ronca led early on but Gary Tomkins dispatched him on lap 14, with Johnson following him by. Johnson then made repeated runs at the lead only to have a spate of yellows save Tomkins. But on lap 18, with Johnson trying to pass Tomkins on the outside, the leaders tangled at the flagstand and Tomkins blasted the wall in turn one.
From there it was all Johnson. Jimmy Phelps got by him once but a yellow flew before the lap could be scored and he never got that close again. Sheppard was third ahead of Decker, Jeremy Wilder and Rich Scagliotta.
Danny Johnson, Billy Decker, Matt Sheppard, Pete Britten, Stewart Friesen, Jimmy Phelps, Brett Hearn, Billy VanInwegen, Marc Johnson, Ronnie Johnson, Bobby Varin, Duane Howard, Kenny Tremont, Bodie Bellinger, Pat Ward, Rich Scagliotta, Erick Rudolph, Keith Flach, Matt Billings, Jimmy Cottrell, Tyler Siri, Larry Wight, Mike Perrotte, Gary Tomkins, Justin Haers, Billy Dunn, Mark Kislowski, Tim McCreadie, Jim Davis, Elmo Reckner.