Syracuse Notes: Engine Changes Numerous

Billy Decker earned his sixth Nationwide 150 small-block modified feature at the New York State Fairgrounds. (Dave Dalesandro photo)
Billy Decker earned his sixth Nationwide 150 small-block modified feature at the New York State Fairgrounds. (Dave Dalesandro photo)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Tow trucks moving engines from car to car were a fixture at Syracuse for years, with a dozen or more powerplants going up in smoke some years. The number of “heart attacks” was higher this year than at recent events, with past winner of both the small-block and big-block events Kenny Tremont losing two.

His team fixed the small-block Ford enough to take a few laps in the Nationwide Insurance 150 but the big-block was terminal. Sponsor George Rifenburgh then shifted an engine from the Donnie Corellis team to Tremont’s car and he broke it in with a second place run in the Safety Kleen Shootout.

Now, he has to pass enough cars from the back to qualify in the Last Chance event, then run the SEF 200.

*Syracuse regulars missed seeing “Mr. Small Block,” Pete Bicknell, on the mile. The noted chassis builder and driver has been sitting out while recovering from much needed back surgery but may have to make a comeback since Billy Decker stole his title with his sixth 358 win.

*Many in the Syracuse pits were saddened to hear that Roger Slack, operations manager for World Racing, will be moving on to manage the Eldora Speedway for Tony Stewart. He’s done a great job with the DIRTcar organization and will be missed, but as one observer noted, “maybe Eldora won’t be as dusty once he works on it for a while.”

*Saturday brought a continued flow of opinions on running under the lights Friday night, with the consensus being that the crowd was better but the trade-off was that the safety factor was lowered. Many drivers said they couldn’t tell where the inside barriers were while others said they had trouble telling where the groove ended and the marbles started. A few others said that the shadows from the cars played tricks on the eyes at Syracuse speeds, which are in the 120 miles per hour average range.

*Many grandstand patrons were yelling when the caution periods in the Nationwide 150 were extended to allow the outside edge of the track to be swept but the extra work kept the second lane viable, a big improvement from past shows on the “Moody Mile.”

*High school senior Bobby Hackel, who ran second in Saturday’s Sportsman feature, is a rare fourth-generation racer. His great-grandfather raced stock cars in the ’50s while his grandfather, also named Bobby, was the king of the mini-stocks, winning from New York to Florida to Rockford, Ill., where he held the track record for years with his amazing VW. His dad, also named Bobby, ran small blocks at both the Fonda and Lebanon Valley Speedways. The youngest Hackel is a skinny kid with the heart of a lion and appears to be headed for bigger and better things in the future.

*Saturday’s autograph session featuring past Syracuse winners let many veterans catch up on what’s going on with the others while at the same time pleasing the fans. While all value their friendships with the others, it would be hard to find two competitors who enjoy talking with each other more than “Barefoot Bob” McCreadie and “Jumpin’ Jack” Johnson, two giants of their era and fast friends both during and since their time at the top of the sport.

*Kenny Brightbill, a past winner in one of the few homebuilt cars in modern times, has been riding his bike around the huge fairgrounds since Thursday morning and has been everywhere, including on the track after the Nationwide race checking the tires on the top cars. Still racing in Delaware, the former Reading Fairgrounds king says he’d still be competing at Syracuse if the necessary sponsorship was available.

*Another modified superstar, Billy Pauch, was seen at the fairgrounds briefly on Thursday, as he had to attempt to qualify for at least one DIRTcar event to be eligible to run at the upcoming World Finals at Charlotte. While he was in and out at Syracuse, he has had another banner year at New Egypt (N.J.) Speedway and continues to roll up the wins.

*Past Syracuse winner and multi-decade modified racer Frank Cozze reports that despite struggling in 2011, his first year in the sprint car ranks, he’ll be back in central Pennsylvania when the 2012 season goes green. He says he would have been better off being a novice than having his many years of experience with a modified but feels he is finally getting a handle on the sprint car world.

And when asked about what he liked most, the speed or the tight competition, he responded that the biggest difference is that the sprint car guys race, go home and race again the next night without the constant infighting and backbiting that is a staple in the modified world.