---- — PLATTSBURGH — Airborne Speedway begins its 60th anniversary stock car racing season Saturday with a five-division race card that is expected to draw over 100 race cars, including a large DIRTcar Modified field for the Econo Lodge Craig Ormsby Memorial 60-lap main event.
Saturday’s opener, presented by Della Auto Group and Furniture World, launches title defenses for three 2012 champions — Todd Stone of Middlebury, Vt. and Plattsburgh drivers Bucko Branham and Nick Heywood.
Stone’s impressive performance landed him his first title since dirt-tracking his way to the 2008 Devil’s Bowl Speedway Modified crown. His championship run came down to the final race with Canadian Pat McGrail only 10 points behind. He placed third to record his 10th top-five finish and clinch the title.
Stone drove the G Stone Motors No. 1 to four wins in 2012.
Crew chief Jeff Carter, Rob Lowell, Cory Whelan, Wade Provencher, Stone’s wife Stacey, his father Gardiner and son Justin all contributed to the championship season as did advisors Rick Paya and Lou Cicconi, an accomplished Midget, Sprint Car and ISMA Supermodified racer.
“We started out planning to run some asphalt and some dirt races,” Stone said. “After two second-place finishes to start the season, we decided to see if we could keep it going and turn the season into something special. Airborne is a good place to race. Mike (Perrotte) does a good job.”
“My oldest daughter Hillary is a wonderful special-needs kid and my biggest fan,” Stone added. “Years ago when I raced on the American Canadian Tour, she’d go to Thunder Road and make posters and get very excited. She loves the races, but one night when I flipped over at Mohawk, she was pretty concerned. I enjoy having her go and how she pleased she is when we have a good night. Hopefully this year, we can get off to another strong start.”
Branham is coming off perhaps the best season of his career. He dominated the Adirondack Water Limited Late Models, winning eight races, including the USA/Canadian Masters Series “4-20’s” event. It was the third year in a row Branham prevailed as the “4-20’s” winner.
Since 2000, Branham leads all Airborne competitors with 38 Limited Late Model/Tiger Sportsman wins. He also has six DIRTcar Modified wins.
“Winning races is the goal,” he said. “When the wins come, that can lead to a championship. I’m proud of the three straight “4-20’s” wins, even though it took an electrical problem for Billy Thwaits for me to win one of them. Those are tough races. I’m also honored to have won the Speedway Illustrated “Real Racer” award last year.”
This season, Branham will defend his Airborne title and also drive a Late Model each time the American Canadian Tour is in town, as well as compete in a pair of Late Model events at Devil’s Bowl in West Haven, Vt.
Bud Light and Liquor & Wine Warehouse are the primary sponsors of Branham’s No. 20 Limited Late Model machine. Additional sponsors include Marsha Homes, Daniels Signs, Precision Auto, Plattsburgh Paving and Garrant Sanitation & Son.
“We made a commitment to run five races with the Late Model,” Branham said. “Subway of Plattsburgh, Adirondack Water, Bart’s Convenience Store are sponsors along with Daniels Signs, Precision Auto and Garrant Sanitation & Son.”
Heywood made history by winning the J&S Steel Sportsman Modified championship in the division’s inaugural season. The Sportsman Modifieds are similar to the open-wheel Modifieds, but are powered by GM 602 sealed engines and use less expensive tires.
Heywood had previously competed in the Limited Late Model and Renegade divisions. “It took some time to adjust to the open-wheel car,” Heywood said. “It’s easier to work on and set up than the Late Models, but when it comes to driving, you can’t lean on anybody and there are no mirrors.”
Heywood won six races and finished in the top five 13 times.
“I gained more patience by the end of the season,” he said. “Finishing the race with the car still in one piece is pretty important. My goal is to repeat as the Sportsman champion, but also to have fun in the garage during the week and at the race track. I like the competitiveness, but I really enjoy sharing the time with family and friends.”
Heywood and his wife Sarah welcomed son Carter into the racing fraternity over the winter. The rest of the Heywood race team includes father Randy, father-in-law Mike Criss, Jared McKee, Grit Agnew, Mark Lubic, Chris Gonyea and uncle Andy - driver of the Ernie’s Discount Tools Modified No.80.
Heywood has even more sponsors than crew members. His No. 29 is backed by Budweiser, Warren Tire, T&B Metals, Peru Farm Center, North Country Garage & Doors, Northeast Radiator, RMG Enterprises of Morrisonville, Gallagher Towing and Criss Fabrication.
Erick Sayles, the 2012 Mini Modified champion, is moving up to the Key RD Trailer Sales Renegade division this season.
The Fun Karts track opens Saturday at 1 p.m. The front gate for grandstands opens at 3 p.m. Post time is 5 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults. Kids 12 and under will be admitted free.