Whittaker Takes Series Regulars by Surprise with Solid Run in Highbank Holdup 100
Story By: MATT NOLES / RACERSGUIDE.COM
Photos By: DAVE DALESANDRO / RACERSGUIDE.COM
FULTON, NY- April 30, 2017- When it comes to racing, expect the unexpected.
The top-five during Saturday night’s Highbank Holdup Super DIRTcar Series modified feature contained the normal list of usual suspects; except for one. With a solid effort during time trials and a victory in the second qualifier earlier in the night, Billy Whittaker found himself in unfamiliar territory; starting on the pole and leading legendary racer Brett Hearn to the green flag.
Whether he expected to fade away or not, the driver of the unmistakable No. 109 refused to become a back marker and, in doing so, ran the race of his big-block career giving his hometown crowd something to talk about at the conclusion of the 100-lap feature.
“I came to this race the previous two years and I never qualified,” Whittaker said Saturday night. “For me to lay down a good lap in time trials at a series race obviously meant a lot; these guys are tough and they’re definitely not a slack group.”
With an undoubtedly stout Bicknell chassis right out of the hauler, Whittaker’s time trial efforts set the tone for the remainder of the evening. “To win our heat race was kind of exciting,” He continued. “All three of the Gypsum team cars ran well, not just us, so home track advantage came into play a little tonight.”
For Whittaker, to qualify wasn’t really a surprise to many in the pit area; what may have come as a surprise was the consistency that he showed throughout the entirety of the evening considering the amount of seat time he’s able to garner compared to the full-time series regulars. If anything, his seventh place finish proves what many have already concluded; beyond a doubt, he can drive a modified.
“I mean I was leading Hearn, Sheppard, Wight, everybody,” remarked Whittaker. “The whole deal really is that Scott Jeffrey puts together a heck of a car and without the LJL Racing Team, I wouldn’t be able to do this first and foremost but for a part-time racer like myself to come out here and have some success, even though it’s not a win, for us it is.”
After fading back to the sixth position early on, he was able to battle back into the top-five and probably would have finished there if not for a simple, yet detrimental mistake in the latter stages.
“I probably should have had a fifth place finish but I made one little mistake,” Whittaker said with a smile. “The track rubbered up and that let Larry [Wight] and Billy [Dunn] get by me but other than that, just to see these guys and be able to race with them and be competitive really made the whole night fun.”
The moment that Whittaker realized how strong his car actually was came during a restart just past the halfway point of the feature when he was able to not only get alongside stablemate Larry Wight, but he was able to put the driver of the No. 99L behind him for a substantial portion of the night.
“I passed him and then I didn’t see him again,” He explained. “I thought to myself ‘I’m going good here,’ and then I started to roll up on Hearn and Jimmy [Phelps] and then the track locked down and took rubber and I made that one mistake that bumped me back a few spots. I missed my mark going into turn one and then Larry got up under me and once I got up off the bottom, it opened up the door for him and Dunn to get by me.”
Given the way his season ended in October with one of the more vicious wrecks that plagued the 2016 edition of Super DIRT Week at Oswego, to have a successful and solid run where both the driver and the car returned to the hauler in one piece certainly builds both confidence and momentum as the 2017 season begins.
“I had been out of racing for a long time,” Whittaker explained. “When I was a kid I did this for a living between our USAC and ASA racing so I’ve had success in the past but to be a part-time driver like I am, for me to come out and have a run like we did tonight is very cool.”
His schedule may only include 16 races over the course of the season but he’s not entirely against the idea of adding a few more events if the solid results continue to come. “I said that if everything goes well tonight, I’m going to run the first five series races,” concluded Whittaker. “After tonight, we’re going to try the first five and see what happens.
Matt Noles is a contributing writer for Racer’s Guide and Dirt Track Digest. He currently resides in Sprakers, New York and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.