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posted April 15, 2001 10:14 PM UIN: 16262997


Thorold, Ontario A large field of rookie and veteran drivers shared track time April 14th during the open practice session - signifying the start of Merrittville Speedway's 50th Season of DIRT Stock Car Racing. Drivers came from all of Merrittville Speedway's regular divisions - Street Stock, Pro Stock, Dwarf Car, Sportsmen and 358 Modified. Several 4-cylinder drivers were also in attendance in preparation for their first of 7 scheduled shows in 2001 - as part of the season opener - Saturday April 21st.

The largest contingent of drivers on hand was led by defending Sportsmen champion Chad Brachmann. A strong field of veterans and rookies alike should give the North Tonawanda NY driver quite a challenge.

Adam Ferri in a former Pete Cosco #17c, Chad Chevalier in the former Dean Ferri #1 and Fred Carleton Jr. in his dad's former Sportsmen Car led the rookies that attended practice day and all looked strong in their initial open wheel outings. They will be joined by 2000 Street Stock Champion Rob Knapp who has moved up to Sportsmen but did not attend practice.

From the veteran camp all competitors looked to have their cars up to speed awaiting April 21st's first points event. After making a return last season - Rob Ledingham formed a new team for 2001 and is sure to be a force weekly at Merrittville and on the Sportsmen Super DIRT Series. Ledingham's former team of 2000 has brought some new equipment and a new driver to the Thorold track in Tim Jones of Hamburg NY who quickly found the fast way around.

Second generation driver Wayne Conn had both of his cars pit side with the St. Catharines native looking for a strong 2001 season. While Conn will compete in his #8, fellow second generation driver Chris Wood will team up with Conn to run the #4 at select events throughout the season.

Other drivers looking to visit the infield Victory Lane podium in 2001 include Pete Cosco, Brian Elliotson in the former Ken Cosgrove 358 Modified, Randy Chrysler, Brad Rouse, Corey Gruhl, Sean Kott and second generation driver Jeff McGinnis.

In the race for the 2001 Championship in the 358 Modified division, perennial champion Pete Bicknell will face quite a challenge from a number of teams. While Bicknell was not in attendance, a strong Terry St. Amand-owned two car team has a familiar but new look. Last year St. Amand teamed up early in the season with second generation driver Fred Carleton. That part of the team is back and looking to improve on the several feature wins from last season. The team's second car has a new driver with veteran Ken Cosgrove behind the wheel of the #9 in the new black, yellow and orange Harvey's/Swiss Chalet colors.

Another second generation driver Rich Vinson of Sanborn NY also looks to improve his stats in 2001 aboard the family-owned #93.

For Merrittville Speedway's 50th season - it's only fitting that a page from the past comes together again with Harry Sittler returning to run a Ray Stevens-owned car. Many years ago the two were quite a team and they'll try to duplicate that success once again in the former Brian Stevens #44.

In what may be the first of several visits to Merrittville Speedway in 2001, Black Rock Speedway (Dundee NY) regular Aaron Jacobus concluded a Bicknell Racing Products Chassis set-up shop session with some on track action and looked like he would fit right in in any of the up-coming special events.

Also looking to shine in 358 Modified Specials is Sportsmen driver Chad Brachmann. Brachmann also has a 358 Modified car ready for some early season events in addition to the two Sunoco Race Fuels Super DIRT Series events when Azurix North America presents the much talked about Triple 50 Event set for Monday July 2nd and as well when Pete Cosco Haulage presents the 9th Annual Trevor Wilkens Memorial Modified Classic Monday August 6th.

Another driver leaving the Street Stock division behind in 2001 is Mike Ward who looks to contest for Pro Stock Rookie of the Year honors. A driver that made the move last year - looking for a great sophomore year is Dan Gilbert who will be back in the familiar orange #400. Shawn Keus was also in attendance in his new 7s Pro Stock entry. Looking to repeat some of the success that he enjoyed last year in earning his first Merrittville Speedway Pro Stock Points title is Darren Kish.

2001 appears to be the year for the growing Dwarf Car division at Merrittville Speedway as there has been tremendous growth and interest in the division in the off season.

Last season Darlene Gifford made the jump from the Ladies Race Series to become a regular in the Street Stock division and for 2001 - similar action sees Kellie Mason making the move into the Dwarf Cars with a sharp looking #14.

A father and son team also looks to join the weekly racing with the Robins family - father Wayne and son Ken looking strong in their #48 and #22 entries respectively.

Defending champion Lee Webber looks to have strong challenges from several other rookies expected out and veterans like Mike Green and Bill Perry alike as the season unfolds.

With it's two top drivers in 2001 moving on - Champion Rob Knapp and runner-up Mike Ward - it's anybodies guess how the new season will shape up. Two drivers looking to improve on first year success include Mike Dooley and Gerry Deschamps. Veterans Aaron Vasas and Lloyd Cichocki also looked strong amongst the other entries. It almost resembled Winston Cup practice with several un-numbered cars taking to the track looking for the right set-up for the season ahead.

As mentioned earlier, Merrittville Speedway will play host to 7 4 Cylinder Division events for 2001 and a number of the drivers were in attendance preparing for the opener April 21st. Blair Young and Larry Erskine were among the drivers looking to get a head start on the rest of the field.

Well over 50 cars were in attendance in the afternoon session with several other drivers also in the pit area still awaiting completion of their motors and/or cars.

Saturday April 21st's race card will see the Street Stocks, Pro Stocks, Dwarf Cars and Sportsmen in their first points events with the 4 Cylinder cars also part of the program.

Saturday April 28th's race card will see the first event for the 358 Modifieds open their season along with second events for the Sportsmen, Pro Stocks, Dwarf Cars and Street Stocks in addition to the first Small Car Demolition Derby.

A special ceremony kicking off the 50th Anniversary Season will have several vintage cars of the Canadian Motor Racing Historical Society in attendance as well as several politicians, Speedway Owners and former starter/driver Sandy MacPherson of Ed McPherson Construction - whose family firm built Merrittville Speedway for original owners John Marino and the late George Cullen. Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee Members will also be involved in the festivities.

For further information on these or any part of Merrittville Speedway's 50th Anniversary Season call the Speedway Office at 905-892-8266 or visit

July 2nd - Azurix North America presents Modified Triple 50 - $72,000 purse

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