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  1. Super DIRTcar Series Drivers Hit Thunder Valley for the First Time - Five different drivers ran fastest laps in five separate practice sessions at Bristol, Mike Gular fastest overall BRISTOL, TN - The excitement and anticipation finally came to a head at Bristol Motor Speedway when the Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds turned its first-ever laps on the famed Tennessee half-mile. Mike Gular, driver the #2A, laid down the fastest lap overall with a 17.361 second lap, which means he drove at an average speed of 112mph. While many of the drivers were in awe of racing in The Last Great Colosseum, they quickly turned their focus toward turning the quick laps. Four other drivers topped their respective groups: Stewart Friesen, Marc Johnson, Matt Sheppard, and Max McLaughlin. The track remained consistently fast all night. Drivers were utilizing the bottom, middle, and top to get around the track, which bodes well for the 40-lap, $10,000-to-win, NAPA Super DIRT Week qualifiers. Gular, from Greene Lake, PA, was the only driver to enter the 17.3 second bracket around the half-mile. His time of 17.361 edged Stewart Friesen by just .042 seconds. Although he clocked the fastest lap overall, it took some time for him to find the sweet spot. “We’re just trying to find whatever speed we can get,” Gular said. “We’re gaining on it. We went from twentieth-something to running the fastest lap so we are happy. We’re going to keep trying a little bit more here.” The speeds were impressive and the track created multiple lanes of racing from the bottom to the top. However, it did not slow down much as the night progressed. The top times in all the sessions were separated by the smallest margins. “The track is getting a shine to it but it’s not slowing down at all,” Gular noted.” I think the goal is to go flat around this place. That’s what we’re dialing it in to do.” Stewart Friesen, from Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, ripped his Halmar Racing #44 around the Bristol high banks in only 17.411 seconds during the first practice session of the evening. He barely topped Larry Wight and Jack Lehner on the final lap of the session. “It’s pretty awesome,” Friesen said. “I’m proud of the Halmar guys. It’s really good to unload fast and be quick time in the first session.”The car started out a little tight and then it freed up in the second session. I don’t think the tires came in as well as the first. It’s badass. It’s a lot of fun running around the top. I hope that continues.” Friesen participated in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race as the NASCAR Cup Series race at the end of March. No one has turned more laps on the dirt at Bristol than him but the Big Block is much different than a stock car/truck. “It’s way different than racing in the truck,” Friesen noted. “When you sit in the truck you sit so low with the big body all around you, and then sitting in an open cockpit car like a modified here you can see so much more. It feels like you are going a heckuva lot faster. It feels almost as fast as going around on asphalt.” Marc Johnson, from Guilderland, NY, is coming off a huge win at the Albany-Saratoga Speedway opener. He dominated a field that held a significant number of Series drivers. Now he’s wheeling the #3J at the top of the charts on Bristol Motor Speedway. Johnson was quickest in practice session two running a 17.542 sec. lap. “We’re trying to learn the track and find speed,” Johnson said. “I’m just trying to feel where the car is best for me. In the beginning, I was almost flat but I felt better rolling out of it a little and keeping the car straight. If guys are wide open out there then God bless them.” One of the best parts of the evening was how the track was able to be fast on the top, middle, and bottom grooves. “The track is very racy but it’s still a huge challenge.” Seven-time Series champion Matt Sheppard, from Savannah, NY, wasn’t necessarily looking to top the charts but via his process of getting comfortable on the Bristol banks, he did. Sheppard ran a 17.522 sec. lap in the fourth practice session of the evening. “We were looking at all aspects, not just qualifying,” Sheppard said. ‘We’re monitoring tire wear and scuffing some tires for the weekend. We were working on short-run speed and I guess we’ll digest it all tonight and see if we can sort it out for tomorrow.” Mooresville, NC native Max McLaughlin ran quickest in the final practice session where Heat Race conditions were simulated. “We put more fuel in the car for this run because it was 8 laps and wanted to see how the car would turn with the extra fuel,” McLaughlin said. “I made a change that I wanted to try and it definitely helped. Honestly, it was weird, I was decent the first half of the run but in the second half started driving it like the asphalt car here. It just was like a different race car. Once I calmed down a little bit and drove it like the asphalt stuff here it was like a familiar Bristol.” McLaughlin has experience running at Bristol in the NASCAR K&N Series and he recently got some advice from a driver who turned thousands of laps at Bristol on the pavement. “Last week I was teammates with Ryan Newman at Martinsville and he told me to drive it exactly the same,” McLaughlin noted. “It clicked in my head on that run and I drove it like that and it helped a lot.” The #32 was fast but the driver played it safe. “I wasn’t running up top at all like those other guys. The car wasn’t turning as well as I think it should and I’m not going to put it in the fence in practice.” The excitement level is ratcheted up another notch as the Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modified race for $10,000 and a guaranteed starting position at NAPA Super DIRT Week in October. Forty laps are set to separate the best of the best at Bristol Motor Speedway. Get your tickets now at BristolMotorSpeedway.com. If you can’t make it to the track, be sure to catch all the action live on DIRTVision.
  2. Big Block Modified Legend ‘Jumpin’ Jack Johnson Passes Away - Andrews, Decker remember Super DIRTcar Series hero of the famous #12A BY Super DIRTcar Series WEEDSPORT, NY — The Super DIRTcar Series and all of the dirt racing community are mourning the loss of four-time Series champion Jack Johnson. Courtesy of Super DIRT Week program Johnson, who passed away on Thursday at 76 years old, easily ranks among the all-time greatest Big Block Modified drivers, and for many race fans and former competitors, he is the greatest without question. “Jumpin Jack” was a part of the very origins of the Super DIRTcar Series circuit. His first Series Feature win came at Ransomville Speedway on Aug. 7, 1973. Johnson’s excellence behind the wheel of the flashing orange #12A brought him 30 more wins until his final Series victory in 2001 at Orange County Fair Speedway. Jack Johnson had many loyal fans following him across the Northeast during his incredible career, but one of them became the voice of the Super DIRTcar Series. Shane Andrews shared his heartfelt thoughts on the passing of Jack Johnson. “Jack Johnson has left an indelible impression on so many race fans in the Northeast,” Andrews said. “Growing up in Central New York, when you walked into a race track, whether it was Utica-Rome, Weedsport, Rolling Wheels, Albany-Saratoga, but most of all Fonda Speedway you were greeted with an absolute sea of orange. It was the orange of the #12A of Jack Johnson.” In addition to his four Series championships, Johnson took the checkered flag at NAPA Super DIRT Week in 1979 and 1984. He became the first New Yorker to capture the crown jewel of dirt modified racing at the famed Syracuse Mile. “He had talent,” Andrews said. “He had a big smile and rock star looks. He was the man. He had great equipment, great sponsors, and he had a personality. He was approachable and personable. He was a gasser. He was smooth. Those years that he won 12 races at Fonda he had to start in the back every race because of the handicapping. He could race through the field. He was up on the wheel every lap. He knew what it took to win. He was a driver that a young race fan could meet and that was important.” Clearly, Jack Johnson made an impact with fans and racers throughout his career. “If you spend any amount of time around racing in the Northeast you’ll see Jack’s influence,” DIRTcar Racing CEO Brian Carter said. “Whether it was the way he raced on the track or the way he connected with fans in the pits, he was a hero to so many people.” Andrews described seeing Johnson for the first time: “At my first race, my parents told me to pick a car to root for and I picked this orange #12A and they bought me a picture of it. He won the race that night at Utica-Rome and I instantly became a fan and stayed one my entire life. We went to the pits and I got him to autograph it. I still have that picture to this day. He made me a race fan. He was my racing hero and still is. There is nobody that will ever take the place of Jack Johnson in racing to me. He is the ultimate racing hero for me and I am not the only one that feels that way. Heroes live forever and Jack Johson will always be the man to many people.” Andrews still sees the legacy of Johnson’s driving ability live on amongst active drivers. “A lot of drivers that are racing to this day still try to race like he did,” Andrews noted. “He helped forge a lot of racers that you see racing today. He took the time to talk to up-and-coming drivers and to give them pointers.” Without Jack Johnson’s affable nature and willingness to reach out to his fans, we may not have Shane Andrews on the mic as heroes inspire many to achieve success. “I was awestruck every time I talked to him,” Andrews said. “Then I started getting into announcing. We’re not supposed to have favorites as announcers, but I couldn’t help kick it up a notch when he was on the track. I’ll admit it. If Jack Johnson was winning a Heat Race, I picked it up a little more. If Jack Johnson was winning a Feature, the meter was pegged. I loved announcing races when Jack Johson won and I had the opportunity to do that. I was able to interview him in Victory Lane and that to me in a lifetime highlight.” One driver that learned a lot from Jack Johnson was Billy Decker, from Unadilla, NY. Decker, with three Series championships, is one behind tying the great #12A. “Jack Johnson was special to me,” Decker said. “We raced, we hunted together, and I stayed at his house and helped work on the car between racing at Albany-Saratoga and Fonda. He was very important to me and my racing.” Jack Johnson’s prime spanned the careers of some of the best drivers to ever take on the Super DIRTcar Series. “He made it really tough to go out and win on the Super DIRTcar series,” Decker noted. “I got into it when we had all these powerhouses [Brett Hearn, Danny Johnson, etc.]. Jack was at the top of the list of competitors. He made it tough to compete. You had to be able to drive hard and work on your stuff to compete and he and his team did that. They did their job. No one was harder to race than Jumpin’ Jack.” “He was going to race you hard. Not dirty, but hard. You were going to have to be all over the steering wheel if you were going to pass him. He didn’t block, but he drove hard. When he strapped in, he was gassed up. That’s it. It was fun.” When the Super DIRTcar Series returns Saturday, April 10, at Can-Am Speedway, there will likely be a lot of orange in the pit area. Johnson touched the lives of many in the Northeast. “Jack was a legend, but he never made you feel that way,” Decker said. “That goes for his crew, too. It was always fun. He would help us out and we had a lot of laughs together. What was really amazing was the amount of support for Jack later in his life that immediately made his legacy apparent.” Super DIRTcar Series Director Dean Reynolds also grew up a fan of Johnson. “The word icon might be overused in today’s society, but I just can not think of a truer word to describe Jack Johnson,” Reynolds said. “One of the greatest to wheel a dirt Big Block Modified, a champion, a fan favorite and of course a Hall of Famer. While we lost Jack Johnson, let’s remember all the joy, and memories he brought us over the years. My thoughts are with his son Ronnie and the entire Johnson family.” Rest assured, the legend of “Jumpin’ Jack” will live on forever in the hearts of fans and racers for all time. Courtesy of Super DIRT Week program
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