After coming up short in six previous tries in Dirt Modified racing’s biggest race, lightning finally struck in victory lane at Super DIRT Week, as Larry Wight guided his No. 99L to the win in the Super DIRTcar Series Billy Whittaker Cars 200 Sunday evening at Oswego Speedway.
“It feels awesome. This is the greatest feeling you could have in a racing career with the Dirt Modified. Nothing is ever going to amount to it other than getting another one,” Wight told Speed51.com.
It was one of those weeks where Wight had a good car at the Steel Palace, but not necessarily the best car. Throughout the 200-lap race, it was Jimmy Phelps who showed the most amount of speed, leading most of the first 180 laps, despite declining to pit for tires and fuel. But Wight and the Gypsum Express team played their strategy just the way they wanted to, pitting with just over 70 laps to go, and with their new Bicknell car able to handle the tricky high line.
“We kind of went into it knowing that we wanted to pit before 140 and after 110. We got that caution there at 126, we were bantering back and fourth if we should or shouldn’t pit, how many tires we’d take, we came to an agreement, and that’s what we stuck with.”
After getting by Ryan Godown, on a restart with 20 laps to go, Wight immediately went after Phelps one lap later, making quick work as Phelps nursed the 98H on old tires and low fuel.
“I knew Jimmy was saving. He’s raced long enough to be able to slow the car behind him down. Once I knew at the end of the race he was going to try and go for it with fuel, I knew it was just basically a case of me pushing him as hard as I could and not letting him conserve fuel, just push him, push him, push him. Once I pulled up alongside him and got by I knew he wasn’t going to be able to run with me since I had full fuel and fresh tires.”
For Phelps, the gutsy call by him and HBR had come up short, first on tires, and ultimately fuel, as he pitted for a splash on the final yellow with four to go.
“We gambled. We knew it was going to be tight, and ultimately what killed us there was that before we ran out of fuel, we ran out of tires. It was really skatey. It seemed like after that (Lap 170) red flag everything cooled off. We just didn’t fire quite as well. Nonetheless, we weren’t going to make it on fuel. It started sputtering before that last yellow with four to go. We would’ve been sitting ducks so we ducked in and got fuel. Very disappointing, we gambled and we lost, but we stand by the decision.”
Phelps was able to hang his head high, knowing he and his team had produced a rocket of a race car.
“We had a great racecar. We had a car that could’ve won the race if we did things differently. It was on rails, just unbelievable, that’s the takeaway. We’re disappointed right now. We lost a bunch of money and points, but when it’s all said and done, we’re going to get up tomorrow and know we had a great racecar, a good DIRT Week, just came up a little short.”
Phelps’ late pit stop handed second place over to Stewart Friesen, who returned to the seat of his Dirt Modified in the midst of running for his first career championship in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. As expected, Friesen was disappointed to come up one spot short of another Super DIRT Week trophy, but was proud of the effort the No. 44 team had put in all week long.
“I just needed a little bit more than I had there at the end, but I’m proud of my race team, I’m proud of my guys, we’ll take the second and march on. The Halmar Racing Team works really hard to be fast no matter whether we have the Truck or the Modified. Great guys, great teammates, it’s what it takes to be in contention to win these races.”
Friesen managed to keep Wight honest over the final four laps, staying within two or three car lengths and even managing a few peeks to the high side.
Despite his growth as a driver, Wight admitted that there was still a bit of apprehension.
“I can’t say there wasn’t nerves, I’ve seen him make the last lap pass plenty of times. But I just had to think of the mistakes everyone else has made of getting conservative at the last minute, trying not to slip up while he’s on the outside. As long as I hit my marks, I knew he wasn’t going to be able to get around me.”
As for the question of when the win would sink in for Wight.
“Probably a little later tonight after a case of beer.”
Behind Wight and Friesen was Saturday’s 358 Small-Block Modified winner Peter Britten rounding out the podium while Billy Decker and Marc Johnson completed the top five.
Super DIRTcar Series points leader Matt Sheppard came back to finish 13th after cutting a tire late in the race, while Jimmy Phelps’ late pitstop set him back to 22nd position.
The Super DIRTcar Series heads north of the border to Brockville Ontario Speedway for the Northeast Fall Nationals this coming Friday, October 12.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/MoJo Photos