PHOTO: A pair of Sportsman races produced a pair of razor-close finishes at Airborne Speedway Saturday. Top: Bucko Branham (#20) edges Danny Sullivan (#3) in the first event. Bottom: Robin Wood (#61) beats Shawn Duquette in the nightcap. (Dave Brown photos)

–by Ricky St. Clair
VMM Correspondent

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — The closing laps of Saturday night’s first event on the Airborne Speedway racing card set up what fans would expect to see for the remainder of the night: Hard racing and close finishes.

Due to a June rainout, the J&S Steel Sportsman division took center stage to kick off Saturday night’s racing action with a 25-lap makeup feature event. Danny Sullivan of Morrisonville, N.Y., used a lap 18 caution to set up a duel between himself and Plattsburgh, N.Y.’s Bucko Branham over the course of the next seven laps.

Twenty year-old Sullivan passed Branham on the outside and cleared the 28-year racing veteran down the backstretch, but his lead of three car lengths would be diminished as another caution on lap 22 forced them to switch roles at the ensuing restart.

The two drivers slugged it out with Sullivan moving Branham up the racetrack and Branham returning the favor by crowning one of Airborne’s most improved drivers this season. They raced side-by-side on the last lap, and Branham moved Sullivan down the race track and ended up pulling out the victory by the width of a tire.

“[Sullivan] pushed me three grooves up and I just stayed in the gas and said, ‘Well, he’s going to have to drive it off the corner in order to beat me,’” Branham said. “When he did, I saw him get loose a little bit. I crowded him down and I beat him to the line and it ended up being a pretty good finish. On the restart I drove it in extra hard. I gave him a little room because I knew even though he was pushing, I still had to pinch the car down to free him up a little bit. That’s where experience comes into play, I guess.”

The top five was rounded out by Robin Wood, Nick Heywood, and Jamy Begor.

The Sportsman nightcap saw Morrisonville’s Shawn Duquette take a commanding early lead, but patiently working up through the field from his tenth starting position was defending track champion Wood, who would take the top spot away from Duquette on lap 18.

In a scene similar to the night’s opening race a lap 22 caution erased Wood’s five car-length lead and set up yet another donnybrook Sportsman finish. With Wood inside and Duquette outside, the two would lean on each other for three consecutive laps until coming down to the checkered flag.

As they exited Turn 4, Wood edged out Duquette by mere inches for the win. It was the third photo finish in the last four Sportsman races.

“I [hated] to see that last caution,” Wood said. “You definitely want to start a restart on the outside and you don’t want to be on the inside. I knew Shawn would pinch me down a little bit, which he did, and we got a little loose, but we managed to hold on to it.”

As the two drivers raced to the line, Wood feared that the finishing result would end up the way it did two weeks ago when he was defeated by Jim Bushey by about 18 inches.

“[I thought] ‘Oh no, not again,’” Wood chuckled. “’It’s like Jimmy Bushey two weeks ago. This can’t happen again.’ But we managed to hang on to it this time.”

The top five was completed by Branham, Heywood, and Begor.

In the Ernie’s Discount Tools DIRTcar Modified feature, George Foley of Saranac Lake, N.Y., climbed from his tenth starting position on the 30-car field to take the win. Foley took the lead on lap 6 from Dan Brown and never looked back.

The event was marred by five caution periods in the first eight laps of the race, setting up a call from race control for a single-file restart with 22 laps remaining. The balance of the event would be run under the green flag and Foley had no serious threat of losing his place in the top spot.

Chazy, N.Y.’s Leon Gonyo finished second ahead of Patrice McGrail, Martin Roy, and Patrick Dupree. Positions six through ten went to Jason Durgan, Dan Brown, Greg Atkins, Kris Vernold, and Don Scarborough, unofficially.

Lance Raboty of Fairfax, Vt., was the victor in the 25-lap Versatile Trailer Sales Renegade feature. After escaping a seesaw battle with “Big Daddy” Don Franklin, Rabtoy would lead the remaining 12 laps of the event. Joe Warren finished second while Josh Terry, Franklin, and Kevin Boutin completed the top five.

Erick Sayles of Saranac Lake grabbed another checkered flag in his rookie campaign by winning the 15-lap Keseville NAPA Mini-Modified feature. Josh LaPorte, Kris Clark, Josh LeClaire, and Jamie LaFountain rounded out the top five.

Curtis LaGrave, Jr., cashed in another victory in the Busch Bomber feature event, followed by Josh Durivage, Bill Joyal Sr., Dale O’Neil, and Rob Sines.

Weekly racing at Airborne continues next Saturday night at 6:00pm as the International Supermodified Association (ISMA) makes its second-ever appearance at the Airborne half-mile. The racing card, which is sponsored by Della Honda, Northline Utilities, and White Management, will also include the Renegade, Mini-Modified, and Bomber divisions.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS — Adirondack Hardware Company Night
Airborne Speedway, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Saturday, July 17, 2011

(# – denotes rookie)

Ernie’s Discount Tools DIRTcar Modified (30 laps)
1. George Foley, Saranac Lake, N.Y.
2. Leon Gonyo, Chazy, N.Y.
3. Patrice McGrail, Candiac, Que.
4. Martin Roy. Napierville, Que.
5. Patrick Dupree, Saranac Lake, N.Y.
6. Jason Durgan, Morrisonville, N.Y
7. Dan Brown, Sutton, Que.
8. Greg Atkins, Clintonville, N.Y.
9. Kris Vernold, Kingsbury, N.Y.
10. Don Scarborough, Brandon, Vt.

J&S Steel Sportsman (June 11 make-up feature, 25 laps)
1. Bucko Branham, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
2. Danny Sullivan, Morrisonville, N.Y.
3. Robin Wood, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
4. Nick Heywood, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
5. Jamy Begor, Mooers Forks, N.Y.
6. # David Rabtoy, Swanton, Vt.
7. Mike Chagnon, Saranac, N.Y.
8. # Brandon Atkins, Ausable Forks, N.Y
9. Jimmy Bushey, Mooers Forks, N.Y.
10. Jamie Atkins, Ausable Forks, N.Y.

J&S Steel Sportsman (25 laps)
1. Robin Wood, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
2. Shawn Duquette, Morrisonville, N.Y.
3 .Bucko Branham, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
4. Nick Heywood, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
5. Jamy Begor, Mooers Forks, N.Y.
6. Danny Sullivan, Morrisonville, N.Y.
7. Jimmy Bushey, Mooers Forks, N.Y
8. Jamie Atkins, Ausable Forks, N.Y.
9. # Brandon Atkins, Ausable Forks, N.Y
10. # Keith Pelkey, Clintonville, N.Y.

Versatile Trailer Sales Renegade (25 laps)
1. Lance Rabtoy, Fairfax, Vt.
2. Joe Warren, West Chazy, N.Y.
3. Josh Terry, Morrisonville, N.Y.
4. Don Franklin, Milton, Vt.
5. Kevin Boutin, Swanton, Vt.
6. # Rick Doner, Ausable Forks, N.Y.
7. # Curtis Seymour, Jr., Plattsburgh, N.Y.
8. Josh Allen, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
9. Robbie Favreau, Peru, N.Y.
10. David Drake, Ausable Forks, N.Y.

Keeseville NAPA Auto Parts Mini-Modified (15 laps)
1. # Erick Sayles, Saranac Lake, N.Y.
2. # Josh LaPorte, Plattsburgh, N.Y..
3. Kris Clark, Keeseville, N.Y
4. Josh LeClaire, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
5. Jamie LaFountain, Keeseville, N.Y.
6. Speedy Bresette, Castleton, Vt.
7. Chris LaVair, Gabriels, N.Y.
8. John Bradley, Morrisonville, N.Y.
9. Justin Doner, Ausable Forks, N.Y.
10. Eric Reyell, Morrisonville, N.Y.

Busch Beer Bomber (15 laps)
1. Curtis LaGrave, Jr., Plattsburgh, N.Y.
2. Josh Durivage, West Chazy, N.Y.
3. Bill Joyal, Sr., Ausable Forks, N.Y.
4. # Dale O’Neil, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
5. Rob Sines, Dannemora, N.Y.
6. # Jason Branham, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
7. JohnMichael Bresette, Keeseville, N.Y.
8. Tyler Crary, Saranac Lake, N.Y.
9. Joe Fountain, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
10. David Bresette, Plattsburgh, N.Y.