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SPORTSMAN CHAMP CAPPELLI SEEKS POSTSEASON TITLE

Vince Cappelli has a love for full body stock car racing in his heart and a devotion to open-wheel racing in his genes. Seven years ago, when Cappelli decided to become a driver, he combined the two traits when he joined the Sportsman division at Lancaster Motorsports Park.

Cappelli, who this season earned his first LMP Sportsman season points championship, will look to keep the momentum rolling this weekend during the 12th annual NAPA U.S. Open Weekend at LMP. The event, billed as "Western New York's Racing Finale," is the largest two-day stock car meet in this area.

"I've loved racing all my life and grew up with it," said Cappelli of Lancaster. "My father was an open-wheel Midget and Sprint Car racer and I really loved stock car racing too. So as the Sportsman car has open wheels with a stock car body, I picked the class because it marries the two types of cars. While the Modifieds are similar to Sportsman, the Sportsman are more affordable for me."

Cappelli won a career-high three races at LMP on his way to the title. There was a night in August, however, just three weeks before the end of the season, when Cappelli, the point-leading driver, thought his championship dreams might have ended in the first turn wall. In an example of sportsmanship, Cappelli received help from his fellow competitors, the very people who could have capitalized on the situation. Their efforts helped save the season for Cappelli.

"Dave Pawlus and I had contact coming down the frontstretch and I went into the inside wall and ripped up the left side of the car," Cappelli said of the Bob Mason's Service Center/Precision Remanufactured Engines/Don's Auto Body entry. "My brakes were gone and I then flew to the outside of the track and hit the first turn wall and ripped off the right front side. I got out, took a look and thought my championship was done, over with.

"I got back into the pits and six other teams came over and started thrashing on the car. It was intense but we all got the repairs done as best we could in less than an hour and were just taking the car off of the jack stands when they called our division to the lineup chute for our race. At first I took it real slow but when the car held together, I kept increasing my speed every lap and finished fifth. It saved the day."

Cappelli said he enjoys the friendliness of the group he races with and will stay in the Sportsman class. Despite the intense competition, the teams share food, fun and laughs in the pits on race nights.

"I started driving in the class seven years ago and have raced with all the great drivers who have moved up to the Modifieds, such as Bill Putney, Kirk Rutherford, Karl Hehr, Rick Kluth and Don Staubitz among others."

He also likes the high level of competition still found in the Sportsman.

"Jerry Gradl is tough and Joe Torrisi is always in the thick of things," Cappelli said. "Kevin Eckerich comes from Canada every week and he's a great guy to race with. Ed Cain is fast too.

"I think the thing that has helped me is knowledge. Over the years, I've acquired a better knowledge for what we need to do and learned to get away from what we do not need to pay attention to. We've also switched to Tom's Performance Engines this year and that's made a positive difference.

"I'd like to cap my season by winning the U.S. Open."

That event will highlight competition for the Modifieds, LMP Late Models, Sportsman, Holland/Williamson Late Models, Strictly Stocks, Street Stocks, TQ Midgets, MBNA Cup Lites and Mini-Stocks. Pit gates Saturday open noon with practice at 1. Heat qualifying races for all divisions except the Modifieds begins at 5. The MBNA cars will run a 25-lap feature. The Mini-Stocks will run an exhibition race only.

On Sunday, pit gates open at 10 a.m., with practice at 10:30. Spectator gates open at 11. Non-qualifier races begin at noon. Modified heats begin at 1 followed by all features. Features are Lancaster Late Models, 75-laps; Modifieds, 50; Holland/Williamson Late Models, 35; TQ Midgets, 35; Sportsman, 30; Street Stocks, 30 and Strictly Stocks, 25.

Packman moves on

LMP stock car announcer and local racing media personality Tim Packman will co-announce his last race this Sunday at LMP. The Clarence native was hired by NASCAR earlier this month as a reporter/staff writer for NASCAR.com, the official on-line site of NASCAR.

"It's a dream come true to be working for NASCAR," said Packman, who will be based out of the NASCAR offices in Charlotte.

"It doesn't seem real yet. I guess all those trips to help with television production for CBS and TNN finally paid off."

Packman said he will travel to cover the Winston Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck Series for the Web site.

Pit stops

Wyoming County International Speedway has announced a WNY Sno-Cross Series for snowmobiles this winter. Racing is set for Dec. 17, Jan 7, Jan 21, and Feb. 4. Events begin at 2 p.m. WCIS will also host a grass snowmobile card Oct. 29. Call WCIS at 237-2580 for rules and information.

WCIS's Utz Tire and Auto of Batavia Late Model Clash Invitational, featuring area dirt Late Model drivers challenging asphalt talent, was rained-out Sunday. It has been rescheduled for Oct. 14 along with the Pepsi Sportsman Modified Series, Four Cylinder cars, Street Stocks and a 50-lap Enduro. Race time is 2 p.m.

West Seneca's Fred Hahn, driver of the Jim Oddy-owned Summit Racing Pro-Modified Corvette, was named to the Car Craft Magazine All-Star Drag Racing Team as the 2000 Pro-Modified Driver of the Year.

"It's the biggest honor I have received in my career," said Hahn, who was honored at the Car Craft banquet last month in Indianapolis. "What I like is that the drivers, media and fans voted and picked me. It's not a political deal so it means that much more."

LMP Super Pro dragster driver Bill Bigham is home resting after suffering a heart attack, Sept. 14. He returned home this past weekend after a one-week stay in the hospital. LMP will host a Super 8 special during drag racing at 7 p.m. Friday.

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