October 30th, 2004

Perfect Timing For Gibbs In Southern Tier Open Victory

KIRKWOOD, NY - Timing was paramount for Mitch Gibbs last Saturday night at Five Mile Point Speedway. Gibbs made his winning move just two circuits before rain moved in, cutting the night's Southern Tier Open short.

When Mother Nature intervened, the North Norwich, N.Y., talent inherited his second consecutive post-season victory at the 54-year-old facility, picking up a $2,500 payday for his triumph in the 40-lap Modified contest. "I got the lead just in time," remarked Gibbs, who topped the Southern Tier 100 at the quarter-mile on Oct. 17. "If I would have waited any longer, it may not have turned out this way."

With Gibbs coming from seventh position in his Moshier-powered Bicknell, front-row starter Meme DeSantis set the pace early on, surviving a slew of early restarts in the rough-and-tumble affair. The Grandview (Pa.) Speedway regular, making a rare stop in the Southern Tier for the late-season program, held the top spot in Mike Dinatale's Bicknell No. 11D through 12 cautions in the first 14 circuits.

For Gibbs, the stop-and-go nature of the initial circuits proved to be an obstacle in his ascent through the field. "I was getting frustrated," said Gibbs, noting his car sustained sheet metal damage through a series of rugged restarts. "I had to calm myself down in the car. I knew I had plenty of time, I didn't want to do anything stupid."

He escaped a lap-nine incident when third-running Chuck Hebing twirled in turn three. Gibbs made an evasive right turn, narrowly avoiding a trip over the embankment. "That was a close one. I couldn't see where the track stopped over there," he said of the scrape. "I almost knew that was gonna happen though (Hebing's spin). I had a feeling."

Following a yellow for Keith Nonnemacher on lap 14, the race took on a green flag complexion, as Desantis powered away from the second-place battle between a stout Rick Holgate and Gibbs. At the halfway point (lap 25 of the scheduled 50), Desantis, running a 9-to-1 power plant on alcohol, held a straightaway advantage, while Gibbs struggled to work by Holgate. "He (Holgate) was tight getting in, and so was I early on," said Gibbs. "I wanted to take a run to the outside of him, but I was afraid he'd run me high coming out of (turn) two, through no fault of his own.

It was the line he had to take. "My fear was I would get hung out to dry and three or four cars would get by. That would have been the race." With laps winding down, Gibbs relegated his Nice n Easy Grocery Shoppes No. 2G to the inside, looking for bite to propel him by the Kingsley, Pa., driver. He got his opportunity on lap 30. The 41-year-old pulled even with Holgate heading down the backstretch, then forged ahead in turn three.

Even at that point, Gibbs wasn't sure if he had a shot at the win. "I pretty much gave up on the other guy (Desantis)," admitted Gibbs, the '04 Afton (N.Y.) Speedway track champion. "It's so much of an advantage to be out front here because you can race the track and keep momentum. "When you're racing with someone it slows you down so much."

With a clear track, Gibbs devoured Desantis's lead. By lap 37, only two car-lengths separated the top two. One circuit later, Gibbs made his move. He entered turn one on the extreme outside of the speedway, getting a run off the cushion, then swiftly disposed of the unsuspecting Desantis, who hugged the low line with a pair of lapped cars in his path. "He (Desantis) hasn't raced here a lot, so he didn't know about the line right on the cushion going into (turn) one," Gibbs said. "I could put the right rear against it and go. I used that line the whole race."

When Don Hart Jr. slowed on lap 40 to bring out the caution, rain that had surrounded the area all day long intensified and the checkered flew 10 laps shy of the finish. For Gibbs, it marked a continuation of his FMP dominance, as he racked up another Southern Tier Open trophy. He last won the event in 2002. DeSantis, 48, was the runner-up in his second career FMP start.

"We went with the wrong tire choice," said DeSantis. "I had a 53 (compound American Racer) on the car, then with the rain, I decided to take it off and put the 48 on. That was too soft for late in the race.” Still, the Temple, Pa., native was content with such a solid effort, considering Gibbs's record at the Kirkwood facility. "We knew coming in he was the shoe," Desantis continued. "I fell pretty far off the pace. About the 15th lap, I could feel the car stepping out. "The rain was the only thing that could have saved me."

Rick Virkitis of Carbondale, Pa., rallied from outside the top five in the final 15 laps to record a third place effort. Virkitis, a Penn-Can (Pa.) Speedway regular, came away unscathed from a first-lap get-together with Ray Swinehart. Defending race winner Rich Keehle Jr. of Windsor, N.Y., finished fourth and Broadalbin, N.Y.'s Bob Savoie rounded out the top five. Forty cars entered the program. Heat winners were Desantis, Don Hart Jr., Gibbs and Savoie, while J.R. Hurlburt and James Cornell topped the consolations.

Jeremy Holt of Kirkwood, N.Y., concluded his rookie season in style with a victory in the 30-lap Sportsman feature. Holt, at the controls of a Teo-Pro car out of the Country Town Auto Service stables, roared by early leader Brett Tonkin on a fourth-lap restart, using the outside line to his advantage.

Holt then repelled the advances of Bob Mills - including a one-lap dash to the finish - to collect the popular win. "The car felt great in the heat race," said an enthused Holt, whose previous best was a runner-up finish on July 10. "I've got to thank everyone that helped me. This is great!" Mills put forth his best-ever FMP open-wheel effort in second, ahead of Butch Klinger, Dusty Jagger and Brett Tonkin.

Bill Trego of Gouldsboro, Pa., snapped his streak of runner-up efforts with a win in the 30-lap Street Stock feature, Trego, a veteran of many different types of cars on both dirt and asphalt, led the entire distance to record the triumph over Dan Pompey. Third through fifth went to Darl Ellis, Darwin Green and Ken Sparks.

Invader Randy Hall of Olean, N.Y., won the 30-lap UMP/IMCA Modified Shootout, emerging from a see-saw battle early on with Danny Ody. Hall took over the lead for good on a lap-nine restart, then raced on for the win over Starlight, Pa.'s Brad Shaffer, a FMP Regular. George Valenti, Dale Caswell and Brian Rhodes completed the front five.

Susquehanna, Pa.'s Shane Wolf took the win in the 30-lap Pure Stock main. Wolf fended off a persistent challenge from Chris Stull to take the win, his fifth of the season at FMP. Stull finished second, with Mahlon Shoemaker, Dee Ramey and Frank Mills in tow.

Nate Stevens of Berkshire, N.Y., drove by Rich Powell on lap 14, then rallied to win the 30-lap Four Cylinder Stock feature. Powell, the winner on Oct. 17, finished second in his bright green No. 48 Pinto. Chris Smith, Chuck Powelczyk and Jason Tuttle rounded out the top five.

COUNTER POINTS:The total car count of 155 included 40 Modifieds, 24 Sportsman, 22 Street Stocks, 18 UMP/IMCA Modifieds, 39 Pure Stocks 12 Four Cylinder Stocks…. The high number of competitors forced some creative parking, with haulers filling the pits, then overflowing to the infield, turn two and even outside the pit gate near the road…. Andrew Harpell rolled the dice with the weather, and with the exception of a shower around 6 p.m. and the rain that cut the Mod main short, his decision to go ahead with the program worked out well….

Improvements were visible around the speedway grounds. Parts of the frontstretch wall have been replaced, banking has been added to turn two to accompany the increased width, and some of the new concrete wall is in place through turns one and two…. Chuck Hebing looked stout until his lap-nine spin, running his potent No. 66 against the outside cushion…. Rick Holgate's fine run ended on lap 36 with an overheating engine….

Southern Tier Open Modified Feature Finish:
MITCH GIBBS, Meme DeSantis, Rick Virkitis, Rich Keehle Jr., Bob Savoie, Bob Hamm Jr., J.R. Crouse, Chris Weaver, Joey Grammes, Don Hart Jr., J.R. Hurlburt, Marty Bunker, James Cornell, Rick Holgate, Keith Nonnemacher, Ray Swinehart, Chuck Hebing, Jim Crawn, Joel Batzel, Denny Superko, Allan Kellogg, Mike Decker, Dave Rumsey, Mike Trautschold, Jim Corcoran. Did Not Qualify: Joe Eisenhauer, Andy Fayash Jr., Billy Jenkins, Brian Corcoran, Bobby Puckett, Glenn Knapp, Dave Dissinger, Chris Ostrowsky, Steve Walsh, Mike Frost, Dave Jenkins, Dan Morden, Danny Erb, George Kostelansky, Russ Zimmerman.

Sportsman Feature Finish:
JEREMY HOLT, Bob Mills, Butch Klinger, Dusty Jagger, Brett Tonkin, Mike Loney, Mike Demorier, Scott Brady, Justin Hoffman, Tim Votra, Keith Leonard, Bob Conklin, Chad O'Hara, Rich Wallace, Alan Barker, Jerry Winn, Rick Brown, Duane Koskey, Andy Miller, Skip Pickwick, Tom Cremer, Tim French, Steve Ragan.

Street Stock Feature Finish:
BILL TREGO, Dan Pompey, Darl Ellis, Darwin Green, Ken Sparks, Kurt Decker, Ed Sites, Carl Heater, Jason Rhodes, Jim Rosh, Alan Crooker, Wade Decker, Brett Spoor, Gary Roberts, Rod Slater, Steve Coots, Denny Decker, Ken Hineline, Paul Rooney, Rich Post, Randy Tyler. Did Not Start: Les Gillette.

UMP/IMCA Modified Shootout Feature Finish:
RANDY HALL, Brad Shaffer, George Valenti, Dale Caswell, Brian Rhodes, Jerry Curry, Mike Stoddard, Bob Banks, Gary Dence, Danny Ody, Joe Cole, Scott Bennett, Jeff Cleveland, Mike Stolarcyk III, K.C. Cole, Ty Hurlburt, Sean Lias. Disqualified: George Catanzano.

Pure Stock Feature Finish:
SHANE WOLF, Chris Stull, Mahlon Shoemaker, Dee Ramey, Frank Mills, Buck Mills, Larry Hillis, Darl Ellis Jr., Ernie Martin, Chad Stone, Brad Butcher, Bob Maynard, Tony Kelly, Jeremy Shaw, Mike Williams, John Carpenter, Mike Wilbur, Brian Lindsay, Tom Eiklor, Jason Bond, Ray Austin, Fred Velez, Mike Codington, Jamie Batzel, Doug Stack, Carl Bittendender. Did Not Qualify: K.J. Yager, Fred Peters, Allen Metzgar, Todd Houghtaling, Corey Bond, Jim Clark, Rich Powell, Sheppard Blodgett, Brian Rhodes, Scott Brown, Gene Galligan, Randy Rolison.

Four Cylinder Stock Feature Finish:
NATE STEVENS, Rich Powell, Chris Smith, Chuck Powelczyk, Jason Tuttle, Mike Navone, Rich Murtaugh, Lloyd Twarz, Todd Williamson, Ron Cummings, Jay Hoyt. Did Not Start: Bob Dedrick.