Winning on the mile track at the New York State Fairgrounds takes talent, patience and a whole lot of racing luck. One victory there can be a defining moment in a racer’s career.
For the last three years, that has been a winning combination for Rocky Warner.
“The Flying Squirrel” has had a run at the mile that is impressive by anybody’s standards.
In 2010, Warner won the pro stock futures event and backed it up with a win in the 25-lap BNC Pro Stock championship the same day.
He went back next year to win a second-straight pro stock race championship and in 2012 put on one of the most dramatic late-race drives to take home the NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week 30.
That’s four wins in three years.
“The first year with the pro stock we got lucky with the shift,” Warner said. “It was a rubbered-up track like Syracuse always is. We got to the front and it went green to checkers. The other two times it was kind of the luck of having an ill-handling race car. It was so tight that we got forced up into the high groove. We caught the outside and had good drive off [the turns]. Starting so far back actually helped us because the guys starting up front didn’t want to move around because they thought the bottom line was the fastest. We were doing OK two years in a row with the outside groove. We were just fortunate to find the outside line before those guys did.”
Last year’s charge after a late-race caution to move from fourth to take the lead with two laps had people standing up and taking notice.
“I thought we were catching the guys in front of us but we were going to finish third or fourth; then the yellow came out,” Warner said. “I wasn’t the greatest on restarts but those guys went down into turn one, drove in as hard as they could and got sideways and I picked off the one car. Then they were driving a little too hard on the slick track and had no idea the outside groove was good. I don’t think we had a better car than they did because early on Jeremy Pitts pushed me to help me get past two cars. I did not have a good car at all.”
“The Flying Squirrel” pulled double-duty last year, also competing and finishing third in the pro stock feature.
When Super DIRT Week gets under way Wednesday, Warner is ready for another assault on the mile with two sportsman cars in race trim.
“Both have Syracuse bodies on them,” he said. “The one we won with last year is probably going to be our traveling car to go to Weedsport. We were going to go to Brewerton, but they cancelled that show. We have a new frame under the one we plan to run on the mile. I was thinking about running 358 futures race but I have to talk to the car owner about that.”
Sticking to his roots in the pro stock division, Warner has a ride lined up for a shot at another victory.
“We are going back with a pro stock again this year,” Warner said. “It is the number 44 we ran at Fonda earlier this year, but it is renumbered with the 79. As far as I know it is going to be plain-Jane with a white body and just the 79 on it. We haven’t touched the car yet. Pro stocks are a lot of fun, and I love running the full-fendered cars a lot.”
Before the team can concentrate on Syracuse, there is the Industrial Tire of CNY Sportsman Shootout 50 as part of Fulton Speedway’s Outlaw 200 Weekend this Friday and Saturday.
“We are already in the redraw for the sportsman portion of that,” Warner said. “I have to thank all our sponsors and my car owner, West End Auto. We have not had the greatest of years. We had a lot of top-three finishes and a lot of traveling wins, which is kind of cool. But at our home track at Fonda, we won two races, and last year, we won four. We were in the hunt for the championship, but when you do that you have to start 12th every week and it is hard to pass in 20 laps, especially when everybody is supposed to have the same motor.”
Speaking of motors, after a win at Brewerton, track officials pulled Warner’s motor and checked it.
“Got tore down at Brewerton,” he said. “They took the motor, dynoed it and we were actually below what the specs were because it was an old motor. I am glad they did it.”
Another racing legend that helped make Fonda Speedway the Track of Champions died earlier this week.
Rene Charland passed away Monday at the age of 84.
Charland won four straight NASCAR sportsman national championships in the early 1960s.
Although it can not be confirmed, Charland amassed over 700 wins on dirt and asphalt throughout his illustrious career.
The cigar-chomping driver, simply known as “Da Champ” will be remembered for his pranks and antics in the pits as well as his unmatched ability to wheel a race car on the track.