THOROLD, Ont. – Danny Johnson ran away from the 28 other drivers in the field in Monday night's Trevor Wilkens Memorial 100-lap feature to earn his third victory and sixth top-five of the Super DIRTcar Series season in the 13 races run so far.
Taking the top spot on lap two and leading every lap after that, Johnson's victory was never in question, but the lack of drama in the lead at Merrittville Speedway did not dull the enthusiasm for the packed house. When fans show up for a night of dirt track racing, they typically get a full night of action.
Often that full night is caused by multiple cautions slowing the action, but the Super DIRTcar stars stayed clean and green for most of the night. That is no small feat on a one-third-mile, D-shaped dirt track. One brief caution on lap six was the only time the field slowed, and even that played into the hands of eventual winner Johnson.
"Going green to caution, everyone had a chance to spread out," Johnson said. "So the traffic was heavy, but it was a spread-out heavy, so it wasn't too bad."
Johnson sat on the pole for the feature race, but after lining up on the inside of the front row he didn't lead the first lap. That honor went to Pete Bicknell, who also owns Merrittville Speedway and obviously knows a thing or two about how to get around the track. He jumped out to lead lap one and then watched as first Johnson and then much of the remainder of the field steamed past.
"I was just out of horsepower," Bicknell said. "I was running the car as hard as I could run it. I had a lot of gear and just got it hot. I overheated it. I ran for probably 20 laps with the temperature gauge pegged and I figured I'd better not push my luck anymore so I backed off."
Bicknell finished 19th in the 29-car field.
At the front of the pack, meanwhile, Billy Decker, Brett Hearn and Tim Fuller kept the fans on their feet while they searched in vain for Johnson. Fuller started from the third position but chose to use a small block engine instead of the big block.
Fuller's choice to go with a small block may have had something to do with last year's race.
"The big blocks shined this year," said Bicknell, who also was in a small block. "Last year it was small blocks that shined, so we'll see what happens next year."
Often the small block drivers will get a weight differential to make up for the relative lack of horsepower, but that was not the case this time as the big block drivers lobbied to have the cars equal.
The track also stayed very tacky and moist for most of the night, which allowed the big block cars to gain more grip. Fortunately for Fuller, the difference wasn't all that great. It took Decker (started eighth) and Hearn (started 10th) all night to catch up to the fleet-footed driver from Edwards, N.Y.
"Wrong motor choice. I had a small block." Fuller said at the end of the night. "It was smoking and the oil was hot. I was lucky to get fourth."
That fourth-place finish kept him in shouting distance of current points leader Hearn and places him ahead of Decker in third in the standings. Notably, these three drivers finished nose to tail in second through fourth at Merrittville to keep the battle raging.
"This isn't the Merrittville that we know. It just took too long to get going," Decker said after finishing second. "But we made up a lot of ground, the Gypsum Wholesale car was really good. This was the best surface we've been on in quite a while."
Decker credited traffic with helping him catch and pass Fuller and Hearn, while Hearn pointed to his ride getting a little loose while trying to negotiate the lapped traffic.
"At that point of the race, he just had a better setup than I did," said Hearn, who finished third. "We may have overheated the right rear tire a bit."
But that didn't exactly ruin Hearn's night.
"The track really held up well," he said. "It was racy. Man, it was good,"
Alan Johnson, the younger brother of race-winner Danny Johnson, finished fifth to round out the lead lap cars.
1. Danny Johnson
2. Billy Decker
3. Brett Hearn
4. Tim Fuller
5. Alan Johnson
6. Jimmy Phelps
7. Dale Planck
8. Matt Sheppard
9. Larry Lampman Jr.
10. Steve Paine
11. Billy Dunn
12. Rick Richner
13. Stewart Friesen
14. Justin Haers
15. Todd Gordon
16. Roger Chrysler
17. Dereck Lemyre
18. Randy Chrysler
19. Pete Bicknell
20. Frank Cozze
21. Gary Tomkins
22. Scott Wood
23. Tim Jones
24. George Bosse
25. Chris Steele
26. Ken Cosgrove
27. Boyd MacTavish
28. Robbie Krull
29. Chad Brachmann