PHOTO: Hunter Bates celebrates his first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series win of the season after dominating the rain shortened Firecracker 44. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)

Bushey outduels Petronis for fourth straight Late Model win

–by T.J. Ingerson

WEST HAVEN — Hunter Bates didn’t let a little rain slow him down on the Fourth of July at Devil’s Bowl Speedway.

The 17-year-old Middlebury hotshoe started fourth in the scheduled 44-lap feature for the Bond Auto NASCAR Modifieds and quickly jumped out to the lead on lap three. Bates continued his sweltering pace, and opened up a near six second gap, more than the length of the straightaways. Bates was able to sustain that advantage even as rain started to fall on the West Haven half-mile.

The rain, however, continued to pick up intensity, and the race was called complete at lap 25 after the track was soaked.

“I drove my butt off for the first 25 laps of the race,” Bates said. “In that situation, you don’t know who’s behind you and you don’t know what’s going on. You’re just along for the ride. When the caution came out for weather, it’s not the way you want to win it, but I’ll take it.”

Another teenage driver, 17-year-old Jessey Mueller, was able to work his way into the runner-up position. The Olmstedville, N.Y., racer started eighth and took the second position on lap 16. Mueller was rapidly catching Bates — sometimes at more than three-tenths of a second a lap — before the caution flag flew for rain.

Georgia rookie Joey Roberts was able to claim the third position, his second straight final podium spot finish. Defending track champion Ron Proctor, of Charlton, N.Y., charged from his 11th starting position to finish fourth, while last week’s victory, Brandon’s Vince Qunneville, Jr., finished fifth. Rookie Jeff Haskins, Joe Williams, and Cody Sargen finished sixth, seventh, and eighth respectively. Former Devil’s Bowl champion Kenny Tremont made a return to the speedplant and finished ninth. Polesitter Jason Bruno completed the top ten.

Craig Bushey may have been able to score his fourth consecutive J&S Steel Late Model win, but the Fairfax racer may have faced his toughest challenge of the season for it.

Bushey was able to make his familiar charge to the front from his last place starting position, and moved inside leader Dan Petronis, II, on lap 19. But Petronis didn’t go away easily. The Albany-Saratoga Speedway Late Model champ last year Petronis, of Mechanicville, N.Y., gained momentum on the outside and was able to keep Bushey at bay. Bushey fought an ill handling race car on the inside of Petronis, many times sideways off of the turns.

Bushey was able to snag the lead from Petronis on lap 29, but Petronis fought back and reclaimed the lead on lap 33. The duo continued to battle side-by-side before Petronis slipped up, allowing Bushey to reclaim the lead on lap 35 and complete the pass.

Bushey, once out front, was able to use the whole race track to his advantage and claimed the win.

“I thought at first that if I can keep (Petronis) outside of me, I can probably wear him down,” Bushey said. “By lap 12 or 15 (on his inside), I was getting looser and looser getting off (the turns), and he started driving back by. I wasn’t sure I would (get by him). I think he just made a couple of bobbles and I was able to gain position and use the whole race track. Door-to-door, we were pretty even. I don’t think I wore him out any more than he wore me out.”

Petronis was unworried when Bushey moved into the second position early in the race, as he tried to avoid the same mistake he made one week ago.

“I tried to ignore it as much as possible so I didn’t make the same mistake as I did last week,” Petronis explained. “Once he got under me, I kept running my line and hitting my marks. I think we longer I was out there, definitely, the better I got. When he got there, I didn’t think I was going to be able to hold him off that long. And after a little bit, I was thinking I had a shot.”

Petronis was able to take home the second position. Bryan Town, of Charlestown, N.H., rebounded from an early race spin to finish third. Northfield’s Matt White finished fourth, while rookie Robert Bryant, Jr., of Brooklyn Conn., finished fifth.

Bushey only had one word to describe his run of four straight wins.

“Unbelievable. Until this year, I’ve raced probably 15 years and I haven’t even had two in a row,” Bushey said. “I’ve met many goals this year, broke a lot of them, and have done things I’d never I figured I would. It’s been a really, really good season. We haven’t had a lot of success since (car owner) Leigh (Sykes) came on board and picked up the tab. It’s nice to get some success going his direction.”

Pittsford’s Ryan Keith was able to resume his winning ways in the 20-lap Renegade feature and scored his third win of the season. Keith’s run to victory, however, was not without drama. Race leader Jeremy Jones rapidly slowed on the fronstretch with a mechanical issue and nearly collected Keith and others. Milton’s Robert Gordon charged hard at the end, but was unable to catch Keith and finished second. Hydeville, N.Y.’s Bill Duprey finished third.

Bobby LaVair, of Gabriel, N.Y., claimed his second straight Bomber feature win. LaVair quickly ascended to the top position during the 20-lap feature and never looked back. Tyson Drown, of Plattsburgh, N.Y., made his first trip to Devil’s Bowl a memorable one and claimed the second position. Mitchell Dundon, of Orwell, claimed his first podium finish in his young racing career with a third place finish.

The Rutland Herald will present the Mid-Season Track Championship on Friday night, July 14. Double points will be awarded to all divisions.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS — Coca-Cola Firecracker Twin 44s
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series — Devil’s Bowl Speedway, West Haven, Vt.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012

(# – denotes rookie)

Bond Auto NASCAR Modifieds (44 laps, rain shortened to 25 laps)
1. Hunter Bates, Middlebury
2. Jessey Mueller, Olmstedville, N.Y.
3. # Joey Roberts, Georgia
4. Ron Proctor, Charlton, N.Y.
5. Vince Quenneville, Jr., Brandon
6. # Jeff Haskins, Wells
7. Joe Williams, Scotia, N.Y.
8. Cody Sargen, Greenfield Center, N.Y.
9. Kenny Tremont, West Sand Lake, N.Y.
10. Jason Bruno, Plattsburgh, N.Y.

J&S Steel Late Models (44 laps)
1. Craig Bushey, Fairfax
2. Dan Petronis, II, Mechanicville, N.Y.
3. Bryan Town, Charlestown, N.H.
4. Matt White, Northfield
5. # Robert Bryant, Jr., Brooklyn, Conn.
6. Boomer Morris, Barre
7. Hunter Bates, Middlebury
8. # Johnny Chesnut, Grantham, N.H.
9. Kevin Elliott, Rutland
10. Norm Andrews, Northfield

Renegades (20 laps)
1. Ryan Keith, Pittsford
2. Robert Gordon, Milton
3. Bill Duprey, Hydeville, N.Y.
4. Tylor Terry, Essex, N.Y.
5. Josh Terry, Morrisonville, N.Y.

Bombers (20 laps)
1. Bobby LaVair, Gabriels, N.Y.
2. Tyson Drown, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
3. Mitchell Dundon, Orwell
4. Ray Germain, Jr., Bristol
5. # Gerald LaFlam, Hinesburg