OSWEGO, N.Y. – Long known for his wild charges around the outside that either ended in a win or a spectacular crash, Larry Wight turned the wick down a bit Sunday and was rewarded with a $50,000 victory in the Billy Whittaker Cars 200.
Wight’s Kevlar-powered brand new Bicknell led Stewart Friesen, Saturday small block winner Peter Britten, Billy Decker and Marc Johnson to the checkers during the Super DIRT Week finale at Oswego Speedway in a race filled with three wide passes, multiple pit stops and wide variations in race strategy.
“This is huge,” said the elated winner. “The only thing close was qualifying for the Chili Bowl my first time there. This is the biggest modified race anywhere and makes your career.
“At the end, I had to keep telling myself, ‘Don’t be too conservative. That’s when Stewart Friesen passes everyone to steal his wins.’ Eric Kingsley was my spotter and he told me to go hard on the outside while it was there to get track position. Once we got to the top five, we just rode.
“Actually, I was surprised others pitted so early. These tires seal over very quickly here and guys who pit later just drive right by you. Our timing turned out to be perfect.”
As happy as Wight was, fast timer and race-long leader Jimmy Phelps was at the other end of the spectrum. He planned on running the race non-stop and led to lap 67, when Wight muscled his way by on a restart.
He got the lead back when Wight pitted and held off all comers until Wight again ran him down on lap 180. Then, with just three laps remaining, Phelps ran out of fuel and had to pit, dropping him to 22nd in the rundown.
Keith Flach, Gary Lindberg and Friesen ran behind Phelps early on as it soon became apparent that yellows would be the order of the day. All told, the caution flag waved some 16 times, allowing teams to pit for fuel and tires almost at will.
The first mass pitting came on a lap 57 caution, with contenders Erick Rudolph and Matt Sheppard going in, then leading the cars that hit pit road back through the field as others made later stops. Classic winning strategy on the Syracuse mile, the plan would come up short on the Oswego five-eighths-mile oval.
At the halfway point, the order was Phelps, Wight, Billy Dunn, Justin Haers, Chris Hile and Kenny Tremont Jr., none of whom had pitted, with a horde of refueled cars with new tires behind them. Wight dove for the pits on lap 123, when Danny Varin stopped to draw a yellow, with Friesen and a number of others following.
Phelps stayed out with Britten, who would pit a number of times before the end, behind him. Sheppard and Rudolph also made another stop on lap 136 along with Britten and by lap 150 the order had changed completely again. Phelps led Ryan Godown, Billy Decker and Tim Fuller, but Wight stood eighth and Friesen ninth, ready for a final charge.
The crowd held its collective breath as Britten charged around the outside three wide after another stop and Wight worked his way forward at a calmer pace, with a 10-car melee, the only major incident of the race, then coming on lap 170, precipitating a red flag.
Justin Haers, who had hit the turn two wall, got to turn three and went around with a flat, collecting a gaggle of cars in the process. Most amazingly continued once order was restored, though the mid-pack order was shuffled.
When the green reappeared on lap 170, Godown began trying Phelps on the bottom while Wight went to his beloved outside groove once again and flew from sixth to third before the next yellow. That let him shoot down Godown on the restart and as the lap counter hit 179 he stood second with what Phelps the only driver ahead of him. The next time around he dove under Phelps in turn one and the 200 was his.
“I had better tires and plenty of fuel, so I knew I’d get him,” summed up the elated winner.
Godown also got by Phelps, only to have another yellow negate the pass while also giving Britten, now back to eighth, a shot at the lead pack cars. With action everywhere, Friesen took second from Godown as Britten shot around the outside only to have a car slow to draw another yellow with three to go.
Phelps then went pitside, putting Friesen second. Godown began smoking under yellow and dropped out as soon as the green reappeared and Britten, fifth on the restart, shot to third to set the final order.
“We got there but couldn’t do anything with Larry in four laps,” tipped Friesen. “These tires are weird. They go like mad, then cool down under yellow and stop.
“It went through my mind early in the race to try and go non-stop like Jimmy but I’m not that patient.”
As for Britten, many thought he made one too many stops, giving up too much track position, but he disputed that, saying, “You never know the ideal strategy. We didn’t do one too many sets of tires, we just needed that last set a little earlier before the track took rubber.
“I needed another yellow to keep the field closed up, but the track also dusts up under yellow and gets slick for a lap or two. We just didn’t know how the track would change. Larry pitted at the exact right time so congrats to him.”
Former winner Billy Dunn led the second five, trailed by Rudolph, Mat Williamson, Max McLaughlin and Fuller.
Larry Wight, Stewart Friesen, Peter Britten, Billy Decker, Marc Johnson, Billy Dunn, Erick Rudolph, Mat Williamson, Max McLaughlin, Tim Fuller, Kenny Tremont Jr., Mike Mahaney, Matt Sheppard, Keith Flach, Danny Varin, Gary Tomkins, Pat Ward, Mike Maresca, Justin Haers, Chris Hile, Jack Lehner, Jimmy Phelps, Bobby Varin, Danny Johnson, Billy Whittaker, Brett Hearn, Adam Roberts, Jimmy Horton, Tim Sears Jr., Ryan Godown, Rich Scagliotta, Carey Terrence, Dave Rauscher, Gary Lindberg, Alan Johnson, Billy VanInwegen, Ryan Watt, Nick Webb, Demitrius Drellos.