SYRACUSE – A pair of Fonda Speedway champions pulled down pole positions, and a third shocked the modified regulars with a top-six qualifying time.
On Thursday, two-time Fonda Speedway track champion Stewart Friesen tripped the clock at 30.237 seconds for the fastest time of the day to claim the pole position for Sunday’s Syracuse 200, sponsored by NAPA Auto Parts at the New York State Fairgrounds.
“As far as the race plays out, [it’s not very important], but it is still pretty dang cool,” Friesen said of his first Syracuse pole. “There is a good award that goes with it. Our goal is to have a good, well-balanced race car, and that is what we’ve got. We had some carburetor issues in warm-ups and we got them corrected, but we still have some fuel line issues and were sucking some air. We straighten that out we will be real good.”
Also locking up starting spots in the big block main event were Brett Hearn, Jimmy Phelps, Jeff Rockefeller, Matt Sheppard and Carey Terrance.
Earlier in the afternoon, 2011 modified champion Ronnie Johnson turned in a 31.754 second lap to claim the pole for Saturday’s Salute to the Troops 150 for 358-modifieds.
“We were real fast in practice,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know how good we were because you’re out there by yourself. I’ve run a lot of time-trial laps and felt like that was the fastest one, and I come in and I’m 10th or 12th, so you never know. But when I took the white flag lap, I saw the 76 up on the board, so I knew we must have been pretty good.”
Also locking up starting spots in Saturday’s 358-modified main event were Chris Raabe, Terrance, Marc Johnson, Larry Wight and Willie Decker.
While Friesen and Johnson took top honors, Jeff Rockefeller drew the attention of fans and fellow competitors.
In his first attempt at qualifying a big block modified on the Syracuse mile, Rockefeller turned a 31.101 second lap midway through time trials that was the fastest of the day until the final six of 73 cars time trialing took the track.
“It was long,” Rockefeller said of his wait on pit road while the remaining 39 cars time trialed. “When I saw how many people still had to go through, I said there is no way – this has got to be a dream.”
The time held up until Brett Hearn, the 68th time trialer, put up a time of 30.963 to drop Rockefeller to second. Four cars later, Jimmy Phelps posted a 31.055 to drop him to third before Friesen, the final qualifier, turned in his fastest lap of 30.237.
“My dad said we are fourth, we are in,” Rockefeller said. “I couldn’t believe it. Last year we were here with the 358 and didn’t get in. Now we are locked into the big block race. I can’t believe it.”
The disbelief continued as the photos were taken of the top six qualifiers and he found himself standing with hot shoes, Friesen, Hearn, Phelps, Matt Sheppard and Carey Terrance.
“Oh, my God. I couldn’t believe it,” Rockefeller said. “I said to Friesen, ‘I can’t believe this is happening right now.’ I know Sunday is a completely different day and so are the triple 20s. I am glad we are locked in. We are just going to play it smart now.”
Friesen’s luck in the small block and Johnson’s in the big block contrasted with their fast times.
The motor in Johnson’s No. 2RJ blew on the frontstretch before he took the green. He was able to take one lap at the end of qualifying in the No. 76A small block and qualified 41st with a time of 32.198.
The engine in Friesen’s small-block ride also blew late in warm-ups, and he did not time trial.
“It just broke. It was a new motor and I probably should have pulled it in a lap earlier but didn’t,” Friesen said. “Jeremy and Kelly Wilder are going to loan us one of their motors, and that is going in tonight.”
Rockefeller also attempted to qualify his small-block but time trialed 38th out of 59 cars with a time of 33.394.
Local track regulars Aaron Jacobs and Darwin Greene also qualified small blocks modifieds for the Twin 20s. Jacobs qualified 53rd in 35.890, and Greene was 39th in 33.402.
In the blocks, Bobby Varin qualified 21st in 31.753, while Greene was 42nd in 32.228, JaMike Sowle 48th in 32.488 and Jacobs was 68th in 35.188.