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358-Modified Title Defense Begins Saturday At Merrittville For Mario Clair

2007 Mr DIRT 358 Mario Clair
2007 Mr DIRT 358 Mario Clair - Rick Young Photo

Weedsport, NYApril 22, 2008 – By Tom Skibinski, DIRTcar Racing NorthEast PR Director

When reigning points king Mario Clair buckles into his sleek Small-Block ride this weekend to open the 2008 Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Championship Series, the talented second-generation driver will be on defense in unchartered territory.

Last autumn Clair became the first French-speaking driver in DIRTcar’s 32-year history to clinch the elusive Mr. DIRTcar Championship in any division. Although he kicks off the 26th edition of DIRTcar NorthEast’s Small-Block title run on Canadian soil, the personable pilot from across the border will still be hundreds of miles away from his home in St-Edmond, Quebec.

“I think I’ll have an advantage this year,” figured an optimistic Clair, 35, son of still active Sportsman Modified driver Rene Clair while continuing to race against his older brother Gino. “Many of the tracks were new to me last season. Now at least I have an idea of what they’re all like. The competition might be tougher but my expectations are a little higher also.”

The first test for Clair in his Morrison-powered no. 22 Batiments JDL-Bert Transmission/Bicknell ride will be at Merrittville (Ont.) Speedway when the 13-race Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Series is launched on Saturday, April 26. The Baron Roofing Windows and Doors ‘Spring Sizzler 100’ title race boasts a $4,000 winner’s share from the base purse in excess of $20-grand.

“I’m hoping to do well right from the start as I want to follow the whole series again. I also want to run the four tour races (Brockville, Granby, Drummond, Cornwall) in July. There aren’t many Big-Blocks in the area but I’d still like to travel to more of those races whenever I can. Racing in Florida with those guys is always a lot of fun,” added Clair, who will once again compete regularly during the summer months at autodromes Granby and Drummond, where he is the defending track points champion.

Although Clair scored five Small-Block feature wins during the regular season, he was denied a trip to victory lane last year in Series competition, posting four top-5 finishes along the way. Clair increased his career DIRTcar count to eight 358-Modified feature wins to complement his DIRTcar Big-Block total of six all recorded at Drummond from 2001-02.

Clair’s recent success has instilled a new sense of confidence on the local front as fellow Frenchmen David Hebert, Martin Gagne, Eric Gauvreau, Sportsman graduate Alex Boisvert and Drummond racing promoter Yan Bussiere have each penciled in their own plans to chase the coveted Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified crown in 2008.

“I can only compare the Canadian drivers nowadays to New Yorkers awhile back when the Modified teams from New Jersey and Pennsylvania were 2-3 years ahead with knowledge and equipment,” noted 358-Modified Series Competition Director Gaston Salvas. “At least now some of the Frenchmen are in the same ballpark and trying to raise the bar.”

Also expected to challenge Clair for the elusive trophy this season will be ’07 runner-up Danny O’Brien, Carey Terrance (3rd) and Roy Tarbell (5th). Local knowledge nearly always figures into the Mr. DIRTcar Series equation and Merrittville favorites will be out in full force looking to turn back the invaders. Headed by all-time track champion “Mr. Small-Block” Pete Bicknell, the lengthy list of hometown heroes features 2007 top-five point-earners Scott Wood, Chad Brachmann, Kenny Cosgrove and Larry Lampman Jr.

Merrittville’s 57th season-opener gets underway this Saturday with gates opening at 4 o’clock, hot laps starting at 5:30 and qualifying leading off the trackside action at 6:30 p.m.

For additional information, please contact 358-Modified Series Director Gaston Salvas (450/655-5022 or 514/817-2270; e-mail gastonsalvas@hotmail.com) or DIRTcar NE Director Cory Reed at the Weedsport office (315/834-6606) during normal business hours. In the meantime, log into the homepage at www.dirtcar.com to find out more about the Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Series as well as the entire circuit.

Track information can be found at www.merrittvillespeedway.com or by contacting Public Relations Director Jim Irvine at 905/892-8266. Merrittville Speedway is accessible from any direction in the U.S., taking the Peace Bridge in the Buffalo, NY/South Niagara Region, Rainbow Bridge and Queenston-Lewiston Bridge in Niagara Falls, or in Canada following the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) south to Niagara from the Hamilton or Toronto areas.

Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Championship Series Opening Day Top-5s
DATE TRACK FIRST – SECOND – THIRD – FOURTH – FIFTH
8/20/07 Drummond Brett Hearn – David Hebert – Kayle Robidoux – Mario Clair – Todd Stone
9/9/06 Lebanon Valley Andy Bachetti – Alan Johnson – JR Heffner – Brian McDonald – Kenny Tremont
8/1/05 Merrittville Alan Johnson – Brett Hearn – Pete Bicknell – Larry Lampman,Jr. – Matt Sheppard
4/2/04 Lowe’s Brett Hearn – Pat Ward – Richie Pratt,Jr. – Tim Fuller – Alan Johnson
4/4/03 Lowe’s Jack Johnson – Billy Decker – Alan Johnson – Tim Fuller – Mike Perrotte
6/19/02 Utica-Rome Danny Johnson – Jack Johnson – Vic Coffey – Jeff Trombley – Mitch Gibbs
5/13/01 Utica-Rome Danny Johnson – Pete Bicknell – Steve Paine – Tim Fuller – Brett Hearn
5/14/00 Utica-Rome Danny Johnson – Todd Burley – Ron Holmes – Pat Ward – Tim Clemons
6/30/99 Brockville Brett Hearn – Steve Paine – Luke Plante – Pat O’Brien – Tim Hindley
6/11/98 Orange County Kenny Tremont – Jeff Heotzler – Tim McCreadie – Andy Bachetti – Tom Hindley
5/21/97 Orange County Danny Johnson – Brett Hearn – Jeff Heotzler – Bobby Hayes,Jr. – Alan Johnson
5/22/96 Orange County Frank Cozze – Kenny Tremont – Alan Johnson – Frank Jashembowski – Jerry Higbie,Jr.
6/27/95 Accord Brett Hearn – Kenny Tremont – Danny Johnson – Rick Wilson – Pete Bicknell
6/30/94 Orange County Danny Johnson – Kenny Tremont – Frank Cozze – Pete Bicknell – Frank Jashembowski
6/29/93 Frogtown Kenny Tremont – Ovide Doiron – Tim Fuller – Doug Carlyle – Jimmy Hauser
9/6/92 Cornwall Rich Ricci,Jr. – Dave Heaslip – Tim Fuller – Laurent Ladouceur – Marcel LaFrance
9/1/91 Cornwall Pete Bicknell – Pat O’Brien – Laurent Ladouceur – Rick Wilson – Vince Quenneville,Jr.
9/2/90 Cornwalll Doug Carlyle – Ovide Doiron – Laurent Ladouceur – Danny O’Brien – Dave Camara
8/6/89 Cornwall Mark Hitchcock – Rick Wilson – Laurent Ladouceur – Sandy MacIntosh – Billy VanPelt
8/16/88 Frogtown Pat O’Brien – Bud Christmann – Danny O’Brien – Ovide Doiron – Dick Nephew
9/3/87 Woodhull Curt VanPelt – John Moravec – Doug Carlyle – Lance Yonge – Walt Mitchell
8/14/86 Edelweiss Marcel LaFrance – Jeff Heotzler – Robbie Green – Mal Lane – Doug Howard
7/3/85 NYS Fairgrounds Lin Hough – Pete Bicknell – Jimmy Horton – Jeff Heotzler – Robbie Green
7/3/84 NYS Fairgrounds Jimmy Horton – Richie Burgess – Jeff Heotzler – Glenn Smith – Ralph Heotzler
7/3/83 NYS Fairgrounds Pete Bicknell – Mike Ricci – Bobby Hearn – Tony Corcoran – Jeff Heotzler

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