Todd Burley knows that for part of last season, he was at the top of the Ransomville Speedway DIRT 358 Modified point standings. Then the end of his season went a bit sour.
Poised to start the Ransomville season Friday night as the new driver for a very potent racing operation, he will not only try to complete last year's unfinished business at the Niagara County oval but also has the pressure of filling the shoes of Ron Smoker, who retired this winter after a very successful career.
Burley will drive the BJB Motorsports entry this season at Ransomville for co-owners Bob Burke and Jerry Fay. Smoker, of Boston, won the last three Bicknell Racing Products Modified Tour championships as well as the Sharon (Ohio) Speedway track championship in 2002 and 2003 driving the BJB machine.
"I think we have an excellent shot at the Ransomville championship this year," said Burley, 34, who resides in Spencerport. "I know by reading some of the Internet message boards that some people don't think I have a good chance of winning it, but I do.
"I led the points last year from about June until I got taken out in an accident at the Summer Nationals in August. That is where we lost the point lead. When I was trying to catch back up in the final weeks of the season, there was two rainouts that stopped us from trying to come back to the top."
Despite finishing third in the points last year at Ransomville behind Pete Bicknell and Danny Johnson, Burley had a successful campaign, winning four times. By comparison, Johnson won seven times and the champion Bicknell only twice. It was the first time Burley campaigned weekly at Ransomville since 2001. BJB Motorsports raced with Smoker elsewhere over the last few seasons.
Burley has had his share of success. He won go-cart championships at Paradise Speedway in Geneva in 1985, '86 and '87, and was the high point man at the Genesee Valley Kart Club in Avon in 1989.
He claimed the Mr. DIRT Sportsman championship in 1992 and won the Utica-Rome Speedway DIRT 358 Modified crown in 2001. Proving that he can drive on asphalt as well, Burley won the Lancaster Raceway Park Modified championship in 1998.
The Burley era with BJB got off to a successful start recently when Burley won his first race with the team. He was victorious in the big-block Modified feature at Lernerville (Sarver, Pa.) Speedway on April 15 and then finished second at Sharon the next evening.
"This team has great people on it, starting with the team manger, Ted Curvin, and his father, Theo," said Burley. "They take care of 90 percent of what our team needs, and with a really great car and team we have the potential to win any time."
Smoker said it was time for him to retire and that the team is in good hands with Burley.
"Todd is a very good driver who has the talent to continue on and keep the team successful," said Smoker. "It is time for me to retire. For the last few years, I've wanted to cut back, and it was harder to keep the drive going and the competitive racing fires burning in me."
Smoker campaigned a United States Auto Club (USAC) Midget for two years, winning the 16th Street Speedway Championship in 1999.
BJB Motorsports will field both big-block Modified and 358 Modified cars for Burley. In addition to the 358 effort at Ransomville, Burley will drive in special shows on the DIRT 358 Modified Super DIRT Series. He will compete weekly in the big-block races at Sharon and on the entire Bicknell Racing Products Modified Tour. Burley also owns his own 358 Modified, which he utilized last season at Ransomville and will race on a few occasions this season.
Car owner Kevin Peters will also put Burley in his Troyer-built Modified for about six asphalt shows this year, including three or four at Lancaster.
"It will be nice if we win the Ransomville championship, but the way I look at it, I just want to win as many races there as I can," said Burley. "When you win a championship, that's good for one night of celebrating, but if you win a bunch of times, all those win nights are celebrations of their own."
Ransomville's Test, Tune and Time Trial Night was a victim of the weekend rains Friday, so the event has been rescheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday. Lancaster Raceway Park's IHRA drag racing season opener Friday as well as the opener at Genesee Speedway on Saturday also gave way to inclement weather.