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Larry Ott: Dewitt legacy still alive in local racing scene

For decades the Dewitt name has had a special place in the local auto racing stock car scene mainly through the contributions of sponsor the late Gene Dewitt. While Gene may be gone, that family name continues through the career of his grandson, Street Stock driver Byron Dewitt and other members of their extended racing family.

Byron has been one of the winningest drivers over the last few years and that trend continued last Saturday when he overcame a torrid mid-race battle with Mike Jackson at Genesee Speedway to earn his third victory of the season at the dirt track on the Genesee County Fairgrounds in Batavia. Bryon extended his point lead in the class as well.

"I have a real good setup in the car now," Dewitt said. "Mike Jackson is one of my best friends and to go door-to-door with him for five or six laps was great and whoever did not make a mistake would end up leading it. I got lucky and didn't make a mistake."

Byron, of Leroy, had a dominant 2015 season at Genesee and claimed the Street Stock title that year. Last season started as a struggle for Dewitt at Genesee but he launched a great comeback only to fall short in his championship bid by six points to Butch Zimmerman.

"Two years ago I won the championship here and last year the first five races I never finished," Dewitt said. "I came back and missed the championship by six points to Butch and I vowed to come back and get the championship this year and I've put my heart and sole into this car and that's what it's all about, winning the championship this year.

"In 2015 I had 13 wins here at Genesee, one win at Freedom and two down at Little Valley and I won the points championship at Little Valley. That was the highlight of my career right there. Then during the first five races here last year I blew two motors up and had other mechanical failures and got caught up in accidents. About halfway through the season I had a meeting with my family and my girlfriend and said, what do you want to do, go camping or go for this championship?  I came back and won the last four races here in a row including championship finale night and made a run for the championship. I just came up a little short last year.

"If I get this championship this year than we'll all go on a nice vacation then and it will be a nice big party."

In the bigger picture, Byron is very proud of his family heritage in local racing. Gene was one of the most successful car sponsors in history fielding stock cars for the late Richie Evans, Doug Hewitt, the late Dutch Hoag and Mike Logsdon as well as a few other drivers. Gene's sponsored teams won numerous races and championships over many years. Gene died in February of 1987 but his legacy lives on through the efforts of Byron and others.

"Gene's the one who got this family doing this and I race for the Gene Dewitt name every week," Bryon said. "That's why I run the car number 34 because grandpa's car numbers always added up to the number seven. Richie's was No. 61 and Dutch Hoag was No. 7 and Doug was always No. 52.  Mike Logsdon's number was always 34 and now mine is too. The digits of the car's numbers always added up to the number seven. On the back of my car I have painted "Gene's Machine", because that was what everyone of my grandfather's cars had on them."

Byron is not the only one carrying on the Dewitt family tradition at Genesee. Bryon's two daughters, Morgan Dewitt (age 19)  and Allison Dewitt (13) campaign in the Genesee Street Stock and Bandit classes respectively. Byron's niece Jessica Traxler also competes in the Bandits. Byron has a girlfriend Gail Shepard and her daughter, Bailey Logsdon (14), also competes in the Bandits. This last Saturday, Bailey won the Bandit feature followed closely by Traxler.  Allison was not in competition Saturday after suffering a rollover accident in a recent race at Genesee.

Bailey has now won two Genesee Bandit races in a row and Traxler leads that division's points.

"I guess my family and friends adds a lot of cars to the car count every week," Byron said laughing.

Genesee is having a good season according to Jim Johnson who is in his second season of co-promoting Genesee alone with Mike Fisher. Last Thursday night the pair ran their first ever special during their regime at Genesee when they hosted the United Late Model Series. They deemed the show a success.

"Mike and I talked after last season and our first year in we just put in a decent schedule but didn't try to over-do things and then we thought our first season went very well," Johnson said. "We had great crowds and a great car count and had a lot of overall support here.  We wanted to do something special for the crowd in this area. Our fans are here week in and week out. We thought why not do something special so this past Thursday was one of those with the ULMS Super  Late Models. The show was amazing. Those boys really got around here in the low 15 second bracket. It was quite the show."

Fisher says the promotional process has been a real learning curve.

"We made mistakes our first year as everybody does," Fisher said. "We just tried to learn from them and move forward. Jim has done a heck of a job this year with the track prep and this place has been smooth as glass and fast. We're now averaging 90 cars in the pits and the stands are full. Last year we averaged about 78 cars a night. Our fan attendance is up ten percent over last year although we don't make public our figures. I can't help but think that somethings being done right here."

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