By MIKE MALLETT
LAFARGEVILLE, NY – Unlike many of the other drivers in Saturday night’s Riverside Bar and Grill, Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprint (ESS) A-Main event at the Can-Am Motorsports Park, Alain Bergeron had already turned competitive laps during the 2011 season. The St. Pie, PQ, native towed south a few weeks back to compete in an event in New Jersey.
Those laps assisted Bergeron in the 25-lap feature event as he hit the setup spot on and passed 2010 Lane’s Yamaha/ESS Rookie of the Year Kevin Ward to win the opening round of the Northwood 2 Construction/LaSalle Motorsports Canadian Invasion Series and the SUNY Canton Racing series. For Bergeron it was 11th career series win.
“It was important to win for my new sponsors and the guy that bought the car for me,” stated Bergeron, who was planning on retirement at the end of last year. “It is very important for all my guys too. It starts the season on a good note.”
Bergeron, driving a Don Ott powered Eagle, began the race on the outside of the front row while Ward started on the point. The A-Main took a couple attempts to get rolling, but once it did it was Ward that took the lead heading into the first turn.
“It was very important to start on the front row,” said Bergeron. “My car was very good. The only problem I had was the car bobbled on the starts.”
Ward and Bergeron remained out in front of the field while defending champion, Steve Poirier, began to charge to the front from the fifth starting spot.
Only six laps were complete when Ward caught the back of the field with Bergeron and Poirier closing in. The duo remained together as they battled each other and the drivers racing at the tail of the pack.
Bergeron made his move with ten laps complete. Bergeron got a strong run off the second turn and was able to pull even with Ward down the back straightaway. As they entered the third corner, Bergeron was able to slide under a slower car while Ward had to check up and wait to pass that same car.
“It is better to be second in traffic,” commented Bergeron. “I tried to get him at the start but I couldn’t and he was faster than me. I was able to get underneath him and take the lead.”
At the midway point of the race, Bergeron held onto the lead by nearly a straightaway while Poirier was searching for a quicker line in the second spot to close that gap.
Laps continued to wind down with Bergeron not willing to release his stranglehold on the top spot. The race remained caution free with Bergeron securing his first win at the half-mile speedway and Poirier holding the second spot. He was really hoping to see a caution at the end.
“I think I was faster than him (Bergeron) in clean air,” said Poirier. “I was closing on him and I needed a caution. I would have really liked to try the first double-file restart. I don’t know if I would have been as good if I wasn’t in clean air but I would have liked to make it a race.”
Unlike last season, Poirier was happy to start 2011 on a positive note. The team worked with the same setup that brought them a feature win last September and it nearly earned him another one.
“Last year it took us to mid-season to get where we were strong,” stated Poirier. “We used last year’s setup and it was good in the feature. We were okay in the heat race and we made a few small changes for the feature and it was better.”
Ward, of Port Leyden, N.Y., held on to finish in third. Ward reported that the setup went away on his No. 13 as he built up too much pressure in his tires once they got heat in them.
“It wasn’t the traffic my tires were starting to get hot and build pressure,” stated Ward. “I could get into the corner really good but I couldn’t take off up the straightaway like I needed to. I think we need to start running bleeders so we don’t have that problem again.”
Jared Zimbardi made a rare Empire Super Sprint start and cruised to a fourth place finish while Cory Sparks, of Edinburg, N.Y., held off the late challenges of Shawn Donath to finish in fifth.
Rounding out the top ten were Shawn Donath, Chuck Hebing, who earned the WestFront Construction Hard Charger bonus, first year tour traveler Matt Tanner, 2009 champion Justin Barger and Brian McDonald.
ESS/Can-Am Notes: A nice field of 26 cars were in the pits for ESS’ earliest opener since 2008…Making his first ever starts were Steve Collins who used to be a crew member on Tom Taber’s sprinter many years ago, now he’s piloting a Taber owned mount and Can-Am modified champ Billy Dunn aboard the Mike Cushman owned sprinter…Something broke on Chris Jones’ mount in heat two which forced him hard in the turn four wall. He was knocked out for a short time but then eventually walked away…Poirier’s defense of the title took a strange twist in his heat just after the white flag, his car slowed dramatically. The problem? “I thought it was the checkered!”…History was made with the new rule of double-file restarts which was used twice in heat two with no troubles…With the big crowd on hand, track promoter Chip Burdick has already booked the 2012 April opening event…The stars and cars from the Lucas Oil tour will now head to Black Rock Speedway on Sat. to be a part of the $2,500 to win Spring Nationals.
Riverside Bar and Grill A-Main – Alain Bergeron ($2,250), Steve Poirier, Kevin Ward Jr., Jared Zimbardi, Cory Sparks, Shawn Donath, Chuck Hebing, Matt Tanner, Justin Barger, Brian McDonald, Tommy Wickham, Michael Parent, Jeff Cook, Paul Pekkonen, Devin Caron, Lee Ladouceur, Mike Stelter, Jason Barney, Dave Dykstra, Lance Yonge, Dylan Swiernik, Billy Dunn, Tyler Rand
Lap Leaders – Ward Jr. 1-9, Bergeron 10-25
Cook’s Contracting Services Halfway – Bergeron $100
WestFront Construction Hard Charger – Hebing (12 pos) $50
Mohawk Racing Parts Pick 5 – Sparks $50
Ohsweken Speedway Winners Bonus – Bergeron $50
Car Mate Custom Built Trailers – Bergeron, Zimbardi, Cook $25.
Car Mate Custom Built Trailer Heat 1 – Bergeron, Parent, Donath, Swiernik, Wickham, Barger
Car Mate Custom Built Trailer Heat 2 – Zimbardi, Sparks, Yonge, Poirier, Pekkonen, Ladouceur
Car Mate Custom Built Trailer Heat 3 – Cook, Ward Jr., McDonald, Tanner, Dunn, Dykstra
Rt. 37 Building Supply/Cobra Coaches Dash – Ward Jr.
B-Main – Hebing, Caron, Barney, Rand.
Provisional Starter – Stelter.
Did Not Qualify – Steve Collins, Kyle Fraser, Chris Jones
The Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints are brought to you by: Lucas Oil, Northwood 2 Construction/LaSalle Motorsports, SUNY Canton, 730 Truck Stop, Hoosier Racing Tires, Les Constructions Ultra, Cooks Contracting Services, Fondations 4 Saisons, Car Mate Trailers, The National Parts Peddler Newspaper, WestFront Construction, Cobra Coaches, The Ohsweken Speedway, Mohawk Racing Parts, Engine Research, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Total Race Supply, Riverside Bar and Grill, Coffrage Daniel Lampron, Jasmin Peloquin Sport, FX Chevy and many, many associate sponsors.