On a night when Ryan Susice scored his first career 358 Modified victory at Ransomville Speedway, the bigger winners appear to be the fans of Western New York dirt track stock car racing.
Because of smaller car counts and lower attendance, especially at asphalt tracks, some area fans say today's programs don't measure up to the so-called good old days of the past. Yet it appears that times have never been better at Ransomville based on the season opener Friday.
In the headline 358 Modified division, 31 cars came to compete. It included a mixture of seasoned veterans, emerging stars and even a few asphalt drivers who are dabbling more and more on dirt these days. Many of the new drivers gained experience in the track's Thursday night Go-Kart program.
More than 20 cars were present in the other support divisions that campaigned at Ransomville and there is plenty of driver movement from lower to higher tier divisions. A total of 120 race cars encompassing five divisions were present at the Ransomville opener.
The fact that the grandstand was mostly full was another positive.
With so many cars, Ransomville managements has added a 358 Modified B-Main to its weekly format which gives those drivers who did not qualify for the 30-lap main event one final chance to advance to the main event.
This success did not just happen over night. Track management headed by the Friesen family has worked hard to keep the Ransomville program growing over the last 53 years.
Susice, a past two-time DIRT.car Sportsman champion at the Niagara County dirt oval, held off two other younger talents, Mike Bowman and Erick Rudolph to win the first race of his sophomore 358 Modified season. He's only 21.
Susice's triumph was the 100th feature win of his career dating back to his days in Go-Karts, Street Stocks and Sportsman. He has won at tracks near and far.
"I think the reason why there are 31 cars here tonight is, first, the track's in a great location but mostly it's all about how they promote this place," said Susice. "They bring in a lot of sponsors here and they have a B-Main for us now which is a cool deal."
Also, it's more meaningful to win a race when the field is full of cars loaded with successful racing veterans.
"You got to have the respect for the older guys such as Todd (Burley), Pete (Bicknell), Danny (Johnson) and Chad (Brachmann)," he said. "Those guys have been doing it for a long time but right now everybody is pretty much in top-of-the-line equipment. Yeah, the veterans are going to have more experience and ability but if a good young driver has the same equipment I don't see any reason why he can't compete. It's a cool thing."
Bowman, of St. Catherines, Ont., had a very strong run. He has been very successful the last few seasons at his home track, Merrittville Speedway.
"This is my second time running a Modified here although I've run a Sportsman car here quite a bit in the past," said Bowman. "I like coming over here. We'll take it week-by-week and if we keep having finishes like this we'll keep coming back."
An interesting entry at Ransomville Friday was Andy Jankowiak, who is a rookie in the track's DIRT.car Sportsman class. Jankowiak has been an asphalt specialist who won 2010 Sportsman titles at Dunn Tire Reaceway Park and Wyoming County International Speedway.
"Trey Hoddick had a dirt car for sale so we got it to race on dirt," said Jankowiak, who intends to continue racing the asphalt Sportsman. "We're going for the Holland championship this year."
*Tim Moore has won the first two weeks in the Top ET class during the Friday night IHRA drag racing at Dunn Tire Raceway Park.
The Lancaster facility will host a "Spruce Up The Speedway Night" on Wednesday. Anyone can participate in the event which runs from afternoon to dark. Painting, pruning and polishing the grandstand area, spectator midway and fencing will take place. Those coming are asked to bring red, white or blue paint, shovels, rollers, brushes and clippers to assist with the work.
*Gary Lindberg captured the season opening Sportsman headliner Friday evening at New Humberstone Speedway. Paul Reichel scored a victory in the Humberstone Street Stock race, his first feature race win since 1997.
*Stateline Speedway in Busti hosted 158 race cars for its opener Saturday night. David Scott won both the Super Late Model and E-Mod main events.
*Little Valley's Jared Zimbardi placed a strong second to Bobby Breen of Savannah, N.Y., in the Patriot Sprint Car event Friday at Black Rock Speedway in Dundee. Zimbardi is the defending Patriot champion.
*There were 60 cars present for the preseason practice session Saturday afternoon at Raceway 5 in Batavia. More are expected for Saturday's season opener.