Mark Smith Beats Danny Varin and Chuck Hebing for $10,000 Cole Cup Win at Utica-Rome Speedway, Matt Sheppard and Rocky Warner also take wins
By MIKE MALLETT/JOHN TIFF
VERNON, NY-It was a battle right down to the end, but Mark Smith made the Pennsylvania Posse proud by capturing Sunday night’s Gates-Cole Insurance/A-Verdi Storage Containers Cole Cup at the Utica-Rome Speedway. It was Smith’s first ever win at the half-mile facility and one of the biggest of his career as he took home a $10,000 payday. Matt Sheppard took the companion Race of Champions New Yorker 40 for the Modifieds while Rocky Warner took the $1,000 Race of Champion Sportsman Series win.
For Smith, of Sunbury, Pa., it was his third Empire State victory of the season. He’s taken a knack to running the slicker tracks in New York, including the tricky surface at Utica-Rome
“Everyone talks about how slick these tracks are,” said Smith. “I like it like this. I think the guys did a hell of a job with this racetrack. It is really fun. Our tracks down home are really big and fast. You get strung out. I like these tracks. They are wide, slick and racey.”
Smith was joined by Danny Varin on the front row of the 30-lap nightcap. He quickly jumped to the lead using the bottom groove. Varin chased him, also working down along the bottom of the speedway. The two paced the field while Chuck Hebing sat third during the opening stages.
It was only lap eight when Smith found the back of the field. The traffic eased the pace for Smith while Varin and Hebing exchanged the second spot multiple times. Hebing eventually got the better of him on lap 15. He then focused on Smith who was hung up in traffic.
With Smith boxed in, Hebing was given an opening on lap 17. Hebing went to the extreme outside. Smith slid through the middle of the corners while Hebing rocketed around the top of the race track to take the lead away.
“I was kind of on cruise control there and following the lappers on the bottom,” commented Smith. “I wasn’t sure where to run. That’s the problem with starting up front. You never know where everyone is going. Then I saw Chuck (Hebing) go by so I knew there was a top there. I didn’t get excited. I started moving around a little bit and was able to get my speed back up.”
The duo couldn’t shake one another as they duked it out for the top spot. Hebing worked high while Smith continued to work through the middle. They continued the fight in traffic with Hebing able to keep Smith at bay.
Smith regained the upper hand once they emerged from traffic. Smith took full advantage of the clean air to immediately pull back alongside Hebing. He then worked him over before regaining the top spot in turns one and two as he slid up tight to him before exiting to the backstretch with the lead.
“I don’t think I ever got an official slide job in,” joked Smith. “I got up to the side of him and had to leave him a lane there on the outside a couple times. I could drive off the center pretty good so I didn’t think I needed to go up there and wreck the pair of us.”
Once Smith found his preferred line, Hebing was forced to search the track for a better line. He searched every inch of the track while trying to regain an edge on Smith. Smith continued to pull away as Hebing had to deal with Varin once more.
Smith went on to take the checkers first with Varin, of Fonda, N.Y., making the pass of Hebing in the closing laps to earn the runner-up position. It was an impressive week for Varin, one in which he picked up his first and second career 360 Sprint Car wins with the Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints, including a week prior at Utica-Rome.
“We ran really well tonight,” commented Varin. “I just was a little too loose. I was dogging him the first couple laps, but I just couldn’t get the job done. Then Chuck got by us. We were able to stick it out. His (Smith) car was a little better tonight. I don’t know what we could have done to our car to make it better.”
Hebing, of Ontario, N.Y., faded back to finish in third. He was glad to see the checkered flag drop as he was hanging on at the end of the feature. Hebing was also the Mid-Atlantic Series Champion based on his second place finish at Williams Grove Speedway back in July and his run on Sunday. He took home the DirtTrackDigest.com Mid-Atlantic Crown champions belt.
“I had a good run,” stated Hebing. “I thought I was actually going to win the race. My tires went away. I must have sealed the right rear running the top. Mark came right back by me, then Danny. I was lucky the race was only 30 laps. We had a great car all night. I think we just made the wrong choice on the tire.”
Matt Tanner finished the event fourth after starting in the eighth position. Mike Mahaney was able to advance from the 9th position to complete the top five in the caution free event.
Davie Franek was quick time in qualifying with a lap of 19.494 earning $100 from DirtTrackDigest.com. Mike Mahaney, Steve Poirier, Varin and Smith earned heat race wins. Paulie Colagiovanni and Cory Sparks won the pair of B-Mains.
Matt Sheppard and Rob Bellinger brought the Race of Champions New Yorker 40 starting field to the green flag with Sheppard assuming the lead. Bellinger and third place starter Danny Varin put on show as they battled for second while Sheppard pulled away. A quick yellow flag on lap four brought the field back together and on the restart, Sheppard again flexed his muscle and ran from the rest the field while Bellinger, Varin, Marc Johnson, and Vic Coffey fought for the rest of the top five spots. The car that was on the move early was 10th place starter Alan Johnson as he moved his way towards the front. With 10 complete, Alan Johnson was just outside the top five and as the field took the halfway signal, he had moved in the third spot behind Sheppard and Bellinger.
On lap 22, Sheppard began to hit heavy lapped traffic which slowed his pace while Varin was beginning to reassert himself as retook the second spot. As the laps wound down, Varin closed the gap on the front running Sheppard but ran out of time as Sheppard took the $3,000 win over Varin, Marc Johnson, Alan Johnson, and Tim Fuller. Coffey, Bellinger, Larry Wight, Pat Ward, and Ronnie Johnson.
After winning the King of Dirt event the previous night, Rocky Warner had high hopes to the same the next night and things started to look good for him when he drew the pole for the Race of Champions 602 Sportsman 30 lap main event. When the green flag flew, it was outside pole sitter AJ Filbeck that would launch to the lead where he would remain for the first two circuits. Warner was able to slip by to lead the third lap and he would begin to pull away. Third place starter Kevin Root was able to get by Filbeck on lap six and would begin to run down Warner. As the field reached the halfway point it was Warner, Root, Corey Barker, Filbeck, and Stephen Denton filling out the top five spots.
With ten circuits left, Root was challenging Warner for the lead and as the field was coming to lap 21, he was underneath Warner poised to take over the top spot but the first caution of the night stalled his challenge. When racing resumed, eighth place starter Matt Janczuk was mounting challenge as he moved into the runner-up and looked to chase down Warner. However, Warner was too fast, leaving Janczuk to battle Barker for second. Warner would race to his second $1,000 win of the weekend with Barker grabbing second from Janczuk at the line. Brad Alger and Tyler Trump took fourth and fifth.
The final event of the 2016 season at the Utica-Rome Speedway is scheduled for Tuesday October 4, which will feature the completion of the Victoria 55 lap feature for the Race of Champions Modifieds plus the 360 Sprints and Mod Lites. For more news on the “The Action Track of the East”, please log on to www.uticaromespeedway.com or call the speedway office at (315)829-4557.
A-VERDI STORAGE CONTAINER AND GATES-COLE INSURANCE RACE SUMMARY
COLE CUP 360 SPRINT A-MAIN FINISH (30 LAPS)-MARK SMITH, Danny Varin, Chuck Hebing, Matt Tanner, Mike Mahaney, Davie Franek, Steve Poirier, Bryan Howland, Jason Barney, Tim Schaffer, Aaron Ott, Lucas Wolfe, Larry Wight, Cory Sparks, Bobby Varin, Paulie Colagiovanni, Billy VanInwegan, Matt Billings, Jordan Thomas, Dylan Westbrook, Jason Schultz, Sammy Reakes IV, Sam Hafertepe Jr., Dan Douville, Kelly Hebing, and Paul Kinney.
DNQ-Mike Stelter, Dave Axton, Jeff Cook, Chris Jones, Coleman Gulick, Jonathan Preston, Justin Barger, Josh Flint, Shawn Donath, Marc Johnson, Parker Evans, Will Hull, Pete Richardson, Jordan Poirier, Jeremy Quick, Tommy Wickham, Alex Hill, Chad Miller, Scott Holcomb, and Tim Axton.
NEW YORKER 40 MODIFIED FEATURE FINISH (40 LAPS)-MATT SHEPPARD, Danny Varin, Marc Johnson, Alan Johnson, Tim Fuller, Vic Coffey, Rob Bellinger, Larry Wight, Pat Ward, Ronnie Johnson, Chris Hile, Bobby Varin, Jack Miller, Jimmy Davis, Tim Mayne, Steve Way, Andrew Ferguson, Alan Barker, Scott Huber, Brandon Walters, Shaun Pangburn, Tim Murphy, and Jim Nagle.
RACE OF CHAMPIONS 602 SPORTSMAN FEATURE FINISH (30 LAPS)-ROCKY WARNER, Corey Barker, Matt Janczuk, Brad Alger, Tyler Trump, Kevin Root, Stephen Denton, Kyle Inman, David Schilling, Daryl Nutting, AJ Filbeck, Rocco Leone, Earl Rudy, Alan Fink, Tony Kamuda, AJ Miller, Aaron Jacobs, Jimmy Zacharias, Jack Lehner, John Baker, Charlie Tibbitts, Carl Inman, Dave Moyer, and Bobby Gage.