BY RICKY ST. CLAIR Press-Republican
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Todd Stone and Jessey Mueller will lead a field of more than 20 DIRTcar Modifieds in the biggest two-day event in Airborne Park Speedway’s 60-year history this weekend.
The Modified portion of the inaugural American-Canadian Tour (ACT) International 500 consists of two 50-lap segments, with the first of two races occurring Saturday. The second will prelude to the $25,000-to-win ACT International Sunday.
The Twin 50s event, paying $3,000 to the winner, will be determined by a Monza-style format. The victor will be awarded one point, while each succeeding position will earn an additional point.
The driver with the lowest combined point total will collect the checkered flag. In the event of a tie, the competitor with the better finish in the final segment will be awarded the position.
Stone, the 2012 track champion, has solidified himself atop the point standings, winning feature races May 4, June 1, June 15 and July 6.
A veteran driver of Middlebury, Vt., Stone has familiarity with segment racing, finishing second in the prestigious Milk Bowl at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in 2003.
Stone and his team’s focus isn’t the numbers game, though. They’re trying to pull off the difficult task of winning each 50-lap race.
“I’m just going to do the best we can in every segment and try to win every one,” Stone said. “That’s what we tried to do when we raced the Milk Bowl before — get as far up in the segment as we could and try to win it.
“It’s 50 laps, and I think you need to take care of your car and make sure that it’s going to last 50 laps. We’re used to racing 30 laps and being done, so I think you need to get your car set up for the long haul.”
With a grueling two-day schedule taking its toll on equipment and drivers, Stone knows the importance of strategizing with his team.
“We’ve already started thinking about what time each race will start,” Stone said. “The ACT puts down a different rubber on the track than what we’re used to, so we’ve already got that in play. We’ve already thought about the day race versus the night race and the different rubber compound that’s going to be on the track. We have a game plan of what to do.”
Six drivers — Stone, Mueller, George Foley, Andy Lindeman, Patrick Dupree and Andy Heywood — have all won Modified features this summer.
Stone said winning this weekend won’t be an easy task.
“I just think it’s going to be an interesting weekend,” Stone said. “There’s going to be a lot of cars and a lot of different people there, so it’s going to be an exciting weekend for everybody. I hope everybody comes out and watches the race.”
Mueller, an 18-year-old driver and recent graduate of North Warren Central School in Chestertown, made a splash last summer when he won two Modified races at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven, Vt., under the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series sanction.
After a first-career win at Airborne July 3, Mueller registered his second consecutive podium finish three days later, launching himself into second in the point standings.
“I think (wins) will start coming now,” Mueller said. “We work hard, and we just need to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Mueller also has experience in segment racing, participating in events at Devil’s Bowl.
“You need to know when to save your car for the second feature, while also being consistent,” Mueller said. “I raced in the Fall Foliage at Airborne last year. It was three 50-lap segments, and we ended up second in that. I’m pretty excited for it, and I think that we’re going to win this.”
Recently, Muller was approached by Heinke-Baldwin Racing. The program nurtures young talent and grooms them into top-level stars, with a goal to advance drivers and team members into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, according to the team’s website.
Mueller will test and potentially race an SK Modified at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Conn., on Friday nights this summer.
“They asked me to come drive the car and see if I like it,” Mueller said. “Of course I said yes. They’re going to call me with a schedule within the next few weeks.
“This is a one-in-a-million chance they give to people,” Mueller said. “I’m real fortunate and lucky to do be able to do it. As long as I can go and impress someone or maybe win a race, I’ll keep moving up.”
Saturday’s front gates open at noon, with practice starting at 1 p.m. and racing scheduled for 6 p.m.
Adult general admission is $15, while kids 12 and under are admitted free of charge.