Weedsport, NY — June 30, 2009 – By Tom Skibinski, DIRTcar Racing Northeast PR Director
*Alex Bruce Photo
The Mr. DIRTcar Sportsman Championship Series returns to action after a two-month layoff with teams wasting little time getting back in the groove competing over four straight nights in New York State and Canada.
Canadian driver Greg Panunte will be crossing the border on more than one occasion as he heads back out on the road for a third straight season chasing the elusive points crown. The Pt. Colborne, Ontario veteran is ready to dial in his trusty GM Crate-powered Bicknell mount in the quest to improve upon his runner-up finish tallied in the 2008 overall title hunt.
“It was nice to finally run a couple full seasons on tour after 20 years of racing, maybe this year we can put it all together,” remarked Panunte, 37, who finished behind only teenage sensation Chris Raabe in Mr. DIRTcar points last season and currently ranks tied for eighth after two events. Round two winner Raabe is back on top of the standings while Panunte settled for seventh in the April opener at Black Rock Speedway and placed 15th at Can-Am Motorsports Park where Raabe took the checkered flag.
“I’ve always set my goals high, but I’m a lot more patient nowadays so they’re probably more realistic. I know most of the tracks better now and can get around pretty well, hopefully I’ll continue to have some good luck. We’ll know a lot more after these races are done and I can keep going if the car stays in one piece,” Panunte figured.
Panunte has full intentions of being part of history July 2-5 when the first-ever four-race series swing for Sportsman runs on consecutive nights at Rolling Wheels Raceway Park and Brewerton Speedway in the states, followed north of the border by successive shows at Brockville Ontario Speedway and Cornwall Motor Speedway to wrap up the ‘Fourth of July’ holiday weekend.
“This is certainly a whole new experience for me, we’ve just got one car this year so we’ll take it one race at a time,” said Panunte, who will return aboard his black no. 99P BRP entry backed by Gaston’s Auto Supply, Montgomery Gas, Heating & Cooling, Brian’s Tire Repair and Jimmy D’s Automotive, looking for a second career win at Rolling Wheels and just his second ever starts at Brewerton and Brockville. The July 5 date will mark his tour debut at Cornwall as its only other Sportsman Series show was staged in 1996.
“I really enjoy following the series and getting away from the same old routine every week at home. I like running against the top competition, and I think you get a lot of respect going up against the best drivers out on the road. I’ll just try to get through these first six (July) events and then set my sights on September when the series picks back up,” noted Panunte, who currently leads the point standings closer to home at Humberstone Speedway and sits second at Merrittville Speedway, with two feature wins already scored at both Ontario ovals in 2009.
Residing just 10 minutes from Humberstone —where he ran only a pair of ‘Gumball’ races in 1989 before launching his Sportsman career that includes two All-Canadian Championships— Panunte is among a handful of racers from north of the border preparing for the full four-day assault this week, with plans still intact to follow the entire 20-race tour that comes to a close in October.
“I’ve always been an advocate of running open motors, especially with the experience I have now being able to get all the power down on the slippery tracks compared to some of the new guys,” Panunte pointed out. “But at the same time if it wasn’t for these crate motors I wouldn’t be racing in this series. I never had the funds to follow the tour much before, so this situation is as good for me as everybody else. The crates have certainly proved to be quite good and reliable, as long as they can be policed I’m all for it.”
Since joining the DIRTcar circuit and registering his first Sportsman feature victory in 1995, Panunte has parked in the winner’s circle 36 more times and garnered a trio of track titles at Merrittville (1999, 2003) and Ohsweken (2000) speedways. He posted his first career Mr. DIRTcar Sportsman Series win last September at Humberstone —where he owns 21 first-place trophies— and followed with a second tour triumph the next weekend at Rolling Wheels.
“We’re not like the Big-Block guys so I don’t really know how many of the others up north will be able to make all four shows this week,” Panunte added. “But I do like following the same type of program this season with group time trials at all the series tracks. It’s a tough deal traveling so far and getting caught up early in a wreck because of a bad draw. Running under the clocks is a fair deal for everybody, rewarding the faster cars at the end is really what racing is all about.”
Panunte will take four more shots at getting up to speed beginning with his haul to Rolling Wheels on Thursday, July 2 for the Mr. DIRTcar Sportsman Series ‘Bailout 25,” which is accompanied by a complete show for BRP Can-Am Series Late Models. Pit gates swing open at 4 p.m. and grandstand seating begins at 5 o’clock with practice scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sportsman Series Time Trials are slated to start promptly at 7 o’clock with the first heat rolling off the line at 7:30 p.m.
Joining Panunte in the Sportsman points chase will be reigning Mr. DIRTcar Champion Raabe along with early season leaders Justin Wright, Matt Billings, Black Rock winner Sammy Reakes IV and Dave Marcuccilli.
Additional series information can be obtained by contacting DIRTcar Racing www.dirtcar.com Northeast Director of Competition & Track Sanctioning Cory Reed via cell (315/224-9009) or at the Weedsport office (315/834-6606 x227) during normal business hours. Please visit www.rollingwheelsraceway.com, www.brewertonspeedway.com, www.brockvillespeedway.com and www.cornwallspeedway.com for specific track information.
2009 Mr. DIRTcar Sportsman Championship Series Schedule
*All events subject to change.
DAY-DATE TRACK WINNER/LOCATION
Sun-Apr 5 Black Rock Speedway Sammy Reakes IV
Fri-Apr 17 Can-Am Motorsports Park Chris Raabe
Thr-Jul 2 Rolling Wheels Raceway Park Elbridge,NY
Fri-Jul 3 Brewerton Speedway Brewerton,NY
Sat-Jul 4 Brockville Ontario Speedway Brockville,ONT
Sun-Jul 5 Cornwall Motor Speedway Cornwall,ONT
Sat-Jul 18 Cayuga County Fair Speedway Weedsport,NY
Tue-Jul 21 Canandaigua Speedway Canandaigua,NY
Mon-Sep 7 Rolling Wheels Raceway Park Elbridge,NY
Fri-Sep 11 Ransomville Speedway Ransomville,NY
Sat-Sep 12 Merrittville Speedway Thorold,ONT
Sun-Sep 13 Humberstone Speedway Pt.Colborne,ONT
Fri-Sep 18 Canandaigua Speedway Canandaigua,NY
Sat-Sep 19 Genesee Speedway Batavia,NY
Sat-Sep 26 Rolling Wheels Raceway Park Elbridge,NY
Fri-Oct 2 Fulton Speedway Fulton,NY
Wed-Oct 7 Can-Am Motorsports Park LaFargeville,NY
Fri-Oct 9 Rolling Wheels Raceway Park Elbridge,NY
Sat-Oct 10 New York State Fairgrounds Syracuse,NY
Sat-Oct 24 Black Rock Speedway Dundee,NY
-Two worst finishes through the end of September will be dropped by each driver; all October events count.
-A driver must make six DIRTcar weekly event starts at a single track to earn maximum home track bonus points of 360.
DIRTcar Racing Northeast main office is located in Weedsport, New York on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds www.cayugacountyfairspeedway.com, home of the 2009 DIRTcar All-Star Weekend, July 17-19, featuring Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Championship Series events for Sportsman and Big-Block Modifieds in the richest short-track show of its kind in the nation — the $20,000-to-win Super DIRTcar Series “DIRTcar All-Star 100” on Sunday, July 19.
The Big-Block Modified Super DIRTcar Series is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Hoosier Racing Tire www.hoosiertire.com and VP Racing Fuels www.vpracingfuels.com. Promotional partners include Rite Aid Corporation www.riteaid.com, Dig Safely New York www.digsafelynewyork.com and the University of Northwestern Ohio www.unoh.com and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks www.barsproducts.com, Bert Transmission www.berttransmission.com, Bicknell Racing Products www.bicknellracingproducts.com, Bilstein Shocks www.bilstein.com, Brodix Cylinder Heads www.brodix.com, Ferris Industries www.ferrisindustries.com, Integra Shocks www.integrashocksandsprings.com, Intercomp www.intercomp-racing.com, KSE Racing Products www.kse-racing.com, Motorsports Safety Systems www.motorsportssafetysystems.com, Penske Shocks, www.penskeshocks.com, Racing Electronics www.racingelectronics.com, Rislone Oil Stabilizer www.barsproducts.com and Wrisco Industries www.wrisco.com.