SYRACUSE - In a span of 11 years, from 1985 to 1995, Brett Hearn won the NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week big-block modified feature five times. Since then he has been lucky just to finish the event.
Sunday, Hearn got to the front early, conserved fuel and was on the point when rain forced an early finish for the VP Small Engine Fuels 200 giving Hearn his sixth win, ending 17 years of frustration on the New York State Fairgrounds mile.
"Over the past 17 years, we have had fast cars that basically imploded," Hearn said. "Now this year we had, by far, the superior car in the field. I guess the moral of the story is if you keep doing this long enough, it will come back around to you."
Brett Hearn, center, is flanked by third-place finisher Jimmy Phelps, left, and Matt Sheppard during ceremonies after the rain-shortened VP Small Engine Fuels 200 during the 41st NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week at the New York State Fairgrounds. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
After rain brought the caution out on lap 106, the field stayed out a few more laps before the event was red flagged on lap 113 and the cars sent to pit road. After about a half hour, DIRTcar officials declared the race official, giving Hearn the victory.
"I thought they really could have put the caution out about lap 90 or 92," Hearn said. "Visibility was becoming an issue but the track was still decent. But by the time the yellow came out, I think on lap 106, the track was pretty much gone by that point."
Matt Sheppard inherited the second spot when Tim Fuller pitted for fuel one lap before the cars were sent to pit road.
Jimmy Phelps was third, Justin Haers fourth and Pat Ward fifth. Danny Johnson, Tim McCreadie, Jeff Strunk, Alan Johnson and Billy Dunn round out the top 10.
Pole sitter Billy Decker led the 45-car field for the first four laps before Hearn made a strong run on the backstretch to take the lead on lap five.
"I could see I was that much more superior than the 91 [Decker] and where my strengths were," Hearn said. "At that point I just figured I would take it because I needed to control the pace."
Bobby Varin pulled ahead of Decker on lap 15 and settled in well behind Hearn. Even with the help of six restarts, Varin was unable to mount a charge at Hearn.
One of the cautions was for defending race champion and Fonda Speedway track champion Stewart Friesen, who stopped with a broken drive train on lap 38.
Hearn and his crew came up with two game plans for the race and with the rain closing in they opted not to pit early but gambled on when the rain would arrive.
"I had guys on the laptop and guys spotting upstairs so I had a lot of people feeding me information," Hearn said. "We had two different game plans but the rain pretty much dictated our choice. At about lap 50 I was pretty much committed. If we ran out [of fuel], it would have been just like yesterday."
Hearn was leading the Gander Mountain 150 for small-block modifieds when he ran out of gas with two laps remaining.
"I tried to stay off the carburetor a little bit so I didn't hit the squirtters and ran a steady pace on the yellows," Hearn said about conserving fuel during the race. "Anytime we could back the race pace down we did and ran only as hard as we had to, which was way under what the ability of the car was. When you are in front in clean air like that and setting your own pace, that is worth about 10 laps by itself."
A light rain began falling around lap 80, but the race remained under the green flag with Hearn in front, followed by Varin, Decker, Phelps and Sheppard.
Decker moved past Varin on lap 98 and Fuller charged past Sheppard and Phelps into fourth.
After the race hit the 100-lap mark, making it official, Decker turned onto pit road for fuel, moving Varin back to second, Fuller to third with Phelps and Sheppard fourth and fifth.
Varin pitted on lap 104 for fuel but retired from the race on lap 106 with overheating.
After running several laps under caution, the cars were sent to pit road, where they remained as the rain became steady forcing officials to declare the race official.
It was just the second time in the 41-year history of Super DIRT Week that the feature has been rain-shortened. In 1992, Richie Tobias was declared the winner when rain brought out the checkers on lap 135.
Notes: Ronnie Johnson started 18th on the grid and ran 11th for the majority of the race before pitting late and falling back to finish 20th ... Varin, who won one of the 20 qualifying events Friday night, finished 34th after running in the top five for the majority of the race in the Dover Brake 00 ... Friesen finished 42nd and received the $1,000 Sharon's Toys hard luck driver of the race award. ... Tim McCreadie won Saturday's Gander Mountain 150 for 358-modifieds, while Ronnie Johnson placed fourth behind Billy Dunn and Fuller. Jeremy Wilder placed 20th in the race 2 laps down and Varin was involved in a wreck at the drop of the green and did not complete a lap. ... Rocky Warner pulled double-duty on the mile Sunday. Warner made a spectacular run after starting 11th in the 30-lap sportsman feature. Warner was third when a late race caution set up his dramatic finish, passing Cody McPherson on lap 29 and Mathieu Dejardins on lap 30 to pick up his third win on the mile in three years. The other two wins came in the pro stock division. ... Warner dashed from Victory Lane ceremonies, climbed into Gus Hollner's pro stock, and finished third behind Pete Stefanski and Joey Ladouceur. ... Brian Gleason placed 19th in the 30-lap sportsman event, while Pete Broderson was seventh in the pro stock feature, followed by Luke Horning in ninth, Chuck Dumblewski in 11th and Rick Achzet in 35th.