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Alan Johnson Legendary Streak Hits 45 Years With 124th Big-Block Triumph

by Tom Skibinski

Root, DePuy and race winner Ruggles crowned 2019 Land Of Legends Point Champions

Sun, Sep 1st 2019 09:00 pm
Photo by Don Romeo
Photo by Don Romeo

It may have been an “open” event without any points awarded or a track championship on the line, yet for veteran Alan Johnson his first Modified victory of the season meant so much more.

Not only did Johnson increase his all-time track Pepsi Big-Block win mark to 124 at Land Of Legends Raceway, the Middlesex wheelman extended his streak to 45 consecutive seasons with at least one victory to his credit. And it was his first-ever checkered flag at the hallowed Canandaigua half-miler on May 3, 1975 that lit the fire and 'A.J. Slideways' has kept stoking the flame ever since.

It always seems to be coming down to the end of the year to get these wins so the time's probably coming pretty quick when we won't get one but we're thankful for it,” remarked Johnson, certainly in the twilight of his career at age 61 yet still as competitive as ever steering the no. 14J Friendly Ford-Cargill-Conley Farms/Bicknell entry for owner Mark Spoor. The second-generation standout recently finished third in the final point standings behind champion Matt Sheppard and Erick Rudolph, the same two racers he held off to score his last victory at LOLR on Aug. 11 of 2018.

The way our luck has been going ... we've run good in a couple races, just haven't had the luck along with it. They put a great car underneath me tonight and we had the luck to go with it,” figured Johnson, whose near flag-to-flag win in the headliner was still worth $2,000 despite Sheppard and Rudolph out of town for a Super DIRTcar Series show at Lebanon Valley Speedway.

Joining Johnson in the winner's circle on 'Season Championship Night' presented by Smith Bros. Drywall and Sherwin-Williams Paint Store were Kane Bristol (Canandaigua Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram Sportsman), Darryl Ruggles (Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint) and Marc Minutolo (Smith Bros. Drywall Street Stock).

The customary double points program over Labor Day Weekend also crowned the remaining 2019 champions with Kevin Root (Sportsman), Adam DePuy (Street Stock) and Ruggles securing division point crowns to close out the month.

The regular season-ending non-points Modified special attracted 15 entries with only last year's winner Steve Paine and Shannon Whaley signing in with “open” small-block powerplants. Alex Hoag competed with a crate engine as the remaining dozen utilized their traditional big-blocks under the hood.

Johnson and Justin Haers copped the heat races and after the top-six qualifiers redrew for feature starting positions, they shared the front row to begin the 35-lap Modified main. Pole-sitter Haers, also in search of his first win of the season at Canandaigua, jumped out early before turn four contact between Derrick Podsiadlo and Jimmy Maier forced Pod's mount to the infield with just two laps scored.

AJ Slideways grabbed the lead on the ensuing lap three restart followed by Gary Tomkins and Haers while Justin Wright and James Sweeting fought for fourth, before the leader reached traffic on lap 13. The battle for second was fierce with runner-up Tomkins riding up Haers down the back chute before a retaliatory slide job low in turn four carried the red #1 Phelps Cement back into second on lap 16. The pair rubbed rails once again under yellow when Daniel Johnson looped his 14NY mount in turn two to force a second slowdown on lap 22.

Haers was able to hang tight with Johnson over the final 10 laps before the five-time Land of Legends points king pulled away for a popular five car-length victory, his ninth top-5 finish in 13 events staged this season at the Ontario Co. Fairgrounds. Tomkins settled for third while Sweeting and Wright rounded out the front-five for the second straight year in this “open” event.

 

I was surprized how good the outside (groove) was. Didn't look that good so I stayed low but a couple cars went around me and I figured, well, gotta try something so I moved up and it was great,” noted Johnson, with over 550 career Modified wins, including two at the fairgrounds in touring small-block events. “Tried to get a little better in hot laps but didn't like it too well so we went back to (set-up) what we had last week. Wasn't too worried about the last restart as the car was that good. The track was multi-groove and things just went our way tonight.”

While Modified teams were out for fun in the 'Saturday Spectacular,' it was all business for Sportsman contenders as 31 points separated leader Root and Bristol entering the night with Matt Guererri a longshot holding down third on the chart. Following the heat races Root needed to finish sixth or better in the 25-lap feature, so fourth-place in the final result was more than enough to clinch the title despite Bristol logging his third win of the '19 campaign in dominating fashion.

A very successful first full-year here, hats off to everybody at Land of Legends, Paul Cole (promoter) and the entire staff,” began Root, 41, as the Geneva driver gave a second acceptance speech in 24 hours after taking high-point honors the night before at Brewerton Speedway. “Been a phenomenal year, pulling off the Brewerton championship and trying to back up our Mr. DIRT title from last year. So far so good.”

Sportsman Legends class graduates Timmy Borden Jr. and Sam Hoxie chased Frank Guererri Jr. when the initial green flagged dropped over the 25-car field; Bristol starting 11th and Root filing in 18th leaving no room for error in the nightcap.

A.J. Lloyd rode the outside cement retaining wall down the entire front straightaway, requiring the first yellow flag on lap six. Bristol displayed his intentions early, charging from eighth to third on the restart before forging the lone lead change on lap eight. When Zach Payne slammed into the sideways mount of Ricky Newton in turn one to incur the final caution period on lap 12, the Farmington pilot held a commanding lead while Root cracked the top-10 for the first time.

Bristol's potent no. 31 RW Dake Commercial Contracting-Lynnie & Lou's Ice Cream/Bicknell ride was no match for the field as the circuits clicked off, although Root's rally in the closing stages kept the final points tally fluctuating with each passing lap. Root ran sixth with 10 to go, overtook Matt Guererri for fifth on lap 16 and disposed of Frank Guererri for fourth the next time around.

Celebrating with an early birthday present (turned 35 on Sept. 1), at the line it was Bristol by a full straightaway over all-time LOLR Sportsman winner Paul Guererri followed by young rookie Alex Payne, Root and Nick Guererri.

We made a few minor tweeks and the car felt great, but I knew tonight there was only one thing I could do … come out and do what we do every night and give it our best shot and go for a win,” stated Bristol, following his third win of the year to keep him behind Root in the final standings, 723-711. “We got the win so we're happy about that.”

Tough to keep up with Kevin, he had an amazing season. You gotta be on your game every single week, we were close but not close enough. We did our part tonight and I'm super happy the way the season went and the way we kept at it. We were very consistent, our most consistent season ever. Just need to be a notch better to keep up with guys like Kevin. We'll be back next year, can't get enough of this,” added Bristol, who improved from seventh place in the 2018 point standings and one win.

Root also won three features aboard his #34 F.X. Caprara Car Co.-Slack Karts-SJP/Bicknell machine yet it was 10 top-5 finishes in 13 events that proved the difference in the season-long points battle.

Also hats off to Kane, he's tough to beat, its been fun racing with him all year long for the title,” said Root, who posted wins at LOLR in 2015 and '16 before calling Canandaigua home every Saturday for the first time in 2019. “There's nobody I'd rather lose to than him, he's a clean racer and I've got nothing but the utmost respect for him and his team.”

Racing here compared to a lot of other places, we've got some good drivers who do a lot of give-and-take. You can put (car) in there and they're not going to chop you, block or hit you. These are the best guys I race against anywhere. We go a lot of races here without any yellows, sometimes one or two, and with 30-car fields racing every week that's pretty impressive.”

When it was time for the MEM 305 Sprinters to take center stage, like Alan Johnson, Canandaigua lifer Ruggles once again showed that age has little relevance at the Land of Legends as the Hopewell hero led flag-to-flag to score career victory number 38 and lock up a second straight track title in the process.

But in an emotional victory lane appearance, his racing results that night took a back seat to the off-track issues faced by long-time sponsor Danny Willmes.

I'm gonna lose my best friend,” said a choked up Ruggles, 53, revealing the terminal condition of Willmes that was heartfelt by everyone learning the news. “He's been the man behind this operation for years. He'd been waiting eight years for a kidney (transplant) and he got it, but something else grabbed him. He's still here with us today but I don't know for how much longer.”

Needing a victory to clinch a fifth career 305 MEM season championship at the fairgrounds, Ruggles did just that, bolting from third to first on the opening circuit and staving off teenager Johnny Kolosek to solidify his seat atop the throne. Kolosek started in the last row and stormed into second halfway through the 20-lap A-Main, closing to within a bumper of Ruggles by lap 13 before falling a dozen car-lengths back of the neon yellow #48jr. Willmes Enterprises-VanBortel Trucking/Eagle as the checkered flag waved.

Beginning the night eight points behind and needing a victory himself to garner his first track title, Kolosek hung onto second ahead of Dan Bennett and Alysha Bay, with Jason Whipple fading to fifth at the stripe. Ruggles closed out the summer slate with three wins and a division-best nine top-5 finishes in 13 winged shows, out-gaining Kolosek 770-754 in the final points chase.

Our goal starting out is the same as every other night here, to have some fun” stated Ruggles, as he prepared pitside prior to the start of his victory in the first qualifying round. “Everybody's dream is to have a chance to win it all at the end so this is a good time for a lot of drivers coming in so close in points.”

Even with double points on the line, the Street Stock championship was practically pre-determined after Macedon's DePuy captured a track-high ninth feature win the weekend prior. However, a mid-race skirmish between Mike Welch and the eventual champ unfolded, and soonafter deliberate contact involving the same two made the 15-lap finale anything but anti-climactic.

We come out here and try to run our best every night, some guys just can't seem to do that,” said DePuy, 45, referring to the trackside antics played out in the final points program. “So we'll just take the championship and come back and win next week.”

Our car is fine, just a little misfortune tonight and we'll come back and get it next week. Right now, just want to get through 2019 and we'll evaluate over the winter,” said DePuy, who ended the point season with 11 top-fives in 13 starts.

Missing all the action behind him, pole-sitter Minutolo matched Ruggles' performance as he led all 15 feature race laps to crack the winner's circle for the first time this season.

Thought I was gonna get skunked here this year, that's only happened to me one other time,” recalled Minutolo, 27, after the outgoing Newark wheelman out-distanced points runner-up Jimmy Grant for his 59th career stock car victory at LOLR steering the familiar no. 25B Tradition Automotive Group-Big Mike's Auto/Chevrolet Camaro. “Was just gonna lick my wounds and carry on, wasn't a big deal. But 'holy cow' can't believe we won this thing.”

Minutolo out-dragged front row partner Jason Quigley to gain an early advantage with third starting Parker Smith following in the leader's tire tracks. Taking the faster outside line, DePuy moved from 10th to sixth in just three laps with Grant and Welch his next conquests.

In an effort to slide his no. 99 Ifreeze Storage & Dist. Center-A.E.Y. Enterprises-Fox's Auto-Quigley Flooring Chevrolet Camaro under Welch entering turn three, the all-time track Street Stock winner slammed the door shut, forcing DePuy off the gas resulting in a lap seven yellow flag for his car that spun to a stop between the turns.

While Minutolo easily pulled away from the pack under green, DePuy needed just three laps to track down Welch and send around his double-zero exiting turn two. DePuy ducked pitside immediately after the incident as did Welch, who returned to finish ninth without losing a lap.

Granted the way the heat race went and I knew Adam was going to be fast ... I like the guy but I've never been happier to see him spun out there. Then when they parked him I knew I had a really good shot,” remarked Minutolo, who also win last summer's double-points finale only to fall short of DePuy in the standings. This time DePuy finished ahead of first-year regular Grant on the chart, 848-808.

I just tried to keep hitting my marks, stay consistent and make them go around. The short way was fast tonight. I was really good in the money corner (turn 4) and here we are. Have to thank the crew, think we're up to about 10 guys now that help out every week,” Minutolo added.

LEGEND LEDGER:

The month of September kicks off with the first-ever New York Nationals on Sept. 6&7 at Land Of Legends Raceway. Highlighted by a two-day program of 360 Sprint Car racing boasting $35,000 in total purse payouts, top wingmen in the Northeast will be joined both days by a full card of CRSA 305 Sprint Car action while the 'Les Whyte Top Gun Shootout' 75-lap Street Stock Championship runs Friday and a 50-lap DIRTcar Sportsman feature complements the Saturday night show.

The adult grandstand general admission ticket price is $22 on Friday, $20 for seniors (65 yrs. plus) while children 6-16 yrs. are $5 and under 5 are free. On Saturday an adult GA ticket is $29, seniors are $27 and kids 16 & under are still $5 with those under 5 remaining free. Reserved grandstand seating tickets are extra while a 2-day GA pass will be offered for $45.

The pit fee is $40 on Friday and $45 on Saturday with a special reduced two-day pit pass available on Friday for $75.

On both days pit gates swing open at 4 p.m., grandstand seating starts at 5 o'clock and racing follows hot laps at 7.

Fans and racers will have three more weeks to count down before the 2019 season-finale but it will be well worth the wait when the Phelps Cement Products Gerald Haers Memorial takes center at the fairgrounds. The highly-anticipated $45,000 DIRTcar 'Build Your Bank' Challenge for both DIRTcar Big Block Modifieds and DIRTcar 358 Modifieds is set for Sat., Sept. 28.

Boasting a whopping $35,950 purse posted for the 50-lap feature with a cool $6,000 saved for the winner, at least 20 racers are expected to collect over $1,000 in the most 'Spectacular Saturday of the season that ultimately pays every driver entered.

A DIRTcar Sportsman Series fall event adds another $7,500 to the record single-day payout in Canandaigua, with $2,000 collected by the winner of the 40-lap feature that guarantees $125 to start.

As the 56th season comes to a close, check out the final point standings for all four weekly divisions and keep up with all the late breaking news online by visiting www.LandOfLegendsRaceway.com. Advance sale tickets for the remaining shows are also available for purchase online throughout the final weeks. Log into the website (LandOfLegendsRaceway.com), hit the red “Buy Tickets” button on the homepage, then make a selection from the list of dates & events highlighted.

Land of Legends Raceway is located at the Ontario County Fairgrounds, east of the city on Town Line Road (County Road 10), with easy access off either Exit 43 (Manchester, Route 21 South) or Exit 44 (Farmington, Route 332 South) of the New York State Thruway, just ½-hour southeast of Rochester.

Land of Legends Raceway Event Summary – August 31, 2019

Saturday Spectacular

Smith Bros. Drywall & Sherwin-Williams Paint Store present Season Championships

Pepsi “Open” Modified(NON-POINT)

*Feature (35 laps): 1. 14j-Alan Johnson ($2,000), 2. 1h-Justin Haers, 3. 82-Gary Tomkins, 4. 11j-James Sweeting, 5. 19w-Justin Wright, 6. 31m-Jimmy Maier, 7. 7x-Steve Paine, 8. 22g-Gil Tegg Jr., 9. 77-Lance Dusett, 10. 1r-Adam Hilton, 11.

44-Shannon Whaley, 12. 1-Billy Paine, 13. 7h-Alex Hoag, 14. 14ny-Daniel Johnson Jr., 15. 21p-Derrick Podsiadlo.

Heats (8 laps)

#1: A.Johnson, Wright, Sweeting, Tegg, S.Paine, Dusett, D.Johnson, B.Paine.

#2: Haers, Tomkins, Podsiadlo, Maier, Whaley, Hilton, Hoag.

Canandaigua Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram Sportsman Modified(DOUBLE POINTS)

*Feature (25 laps): 1. 31-Kane Bristol ($750), 2. 7-Paul Guererri, 3. 70-Alex Payne, 4. 34-Kevin Root, 5. 25g-Nick Guererri, 6. 113jr.-Frank Guererri Jr., 7. 12g-Matt Guererri, 8. 1x-Andrew Smith, 9. 20x-Kevin Ridley, 10. 56-Garrison Krentz, 11. 3m-Mike Stanton Jr., 12. 9-Tim Baker, 13. 21v-Tony Velez, 14. 1-Billy Paine, 15. 2-Loren Lincoln, 16. 11n-Ricky Newton, 17. 23b-Timmy Borden Jr., 18. 92-Wesley Hayes, 19. 117jr.-C.J. Castelletti, 20. 01-Doug Smith, 21. 77-Benny Karlsen, 22. 04-Eric Years, 23. 00-Sam Hoxie, 24. 7z-Zach Payne, 25. 1f-A.J. Lloyd93-Tyler Vinson(DNS).

Heats (8 laps)

#1: M.Guererri, P.Guererri, Bristol, F.Guererri, A.Smith, Lloyd, Newton, Z.Payne, Hayes.

#2: N.Guererri, Root, Lincoln, Paine, Borden, Velez, Karlsen, Krentz, Vinson.

#3: A.Payne, Ridley, Baker, Hoxie, Stanton, Castelletti, D.Smith, Years.

2019 Track Champion: Kevin Root

Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint(DOUBLE POINTS)

*Feature (20 laps): 1. 48jr.-Darryl Ruggles, 2. 26j-Johnny Kolosek, 3. X-Dan Bennett, 4. 48a-Alysha Bay, 5. 38-Jason Whipple, 6. 75-Brandyn Griffin, 7. 18c-Dan Craun, 8. 42-Jesse Pruchnik, 9. 53-Tom Fletcher, 10. 13t-Trevor Years.

Heats (8 laps)

#1: Ruggles, Griffin, Bay, Fletcher, Kolosek.

#2: Whipple, Craun, Bennett, Years, Pruchnik.

2019 Track Champion: Darryl Ruggles

Smith Bros. Drywall Street Stock(DOUBLE POINTS)

*Feature (15 laps): 1. 25b-Marc Minutolo, 2. 36-Jimmy Grant, 3. 34q-Jason Quigley, 4. 5c-Rick Crego, 5. 64-Bob Buono, 6. 55p-Parker Smith, 7. 37x-Carl Johnson, 8. 57j-Quinn Sutherland, 9. 00-Mike Welch, 10. 58d-Nick Dandino, 11. 55b-Blane Smith, 12. 5-Ryan Rozelle, 13. 99-Adam DePuy, 14. 25j-Justin Eldredge.

Heats (6 laps)

#1: P.Smith, Minutolo, DePuy, Buono, Grant, Johnson, Sutherland.

#2: Quigley, Welch, Crego, Dandino, B.Smith, Eldredge, Rozelle.

2019 Track Champion: Adam DePuy

NEXT EVENT: NEW YORK NATIONALS - Friday Frenzy, Sept. 6 @ 7pm; 360 Sprint Triple 15s/305 Sprint CRSA Crown Series/Street Stock Les Whyte Top Gun Shootout 75L. Saturday Spectacular, Sept. 7 @ 7pm; 360 Sprint Championship 30L/Sportsman 50L/305 Sprint CRSA Crown Series with Waterloo Cheerleading Benefit.

Track Instant Info

Website: www.LandOfLegendsRaceway.com

E-Mail: info@LandOfLegendsRaceway.com

Twitter: @LandofLegendsNY

Facebook: @LandofLegendsNY

Instagram: @LandofLegendsNY

Along with recognizing its weekly 50/50 raffle fund beneficiaries, Land of Legends Raceway is proud to salute several sponsors and corporate partners that continue to help bring its fans the best Saturday night racing show in the Northeast. Listed alphabetically are current division sponsors Canandaigua Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram, Mike Emhof Motorsports, Pepsi Geneva Club Beverage, Smith Bros. Drywall; event sponsors Admar Construction Equipment & Supply Company, American Equipment, A-Verdi Storage Containers, Geneva Club Beverage, Honeoye Auto Parts/Auto Value, Pepsi/Mountain Dew/Lipton Lake Beverage, L&L Transmission & Towing, Main Energy, Red Osier Restaurant, Sherwin-Williams Paint, Tradition Automotive Group; promotional partners Champion Power Equipment, Dig Safely New York 811, Dobbers Sports Bar, Elab Smokers Boutique, Hoosier Racing Tire, Hoselton Chevrolet, Ontario County Fairboard, Radio 95.1 Rochester, Star Headlight & Lantern Co., VP Racing Fuels, Weedsport Hall of Fame, Wright Beverage, Young Real Estate Agency.