By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — RANSOMVILLE — Friday night lights aren't just for high school football. They're also a longtime fixture for racing fans in Niagara County.
Tonight those lights will switch on again while the sounds of motors thunder to bring in a new season of racing at Ransomville Speedway. The season opener, the Martin's Fantasy Island Lid Lifter, begins with the first race at 7:15 p.m.
While stock car racing, specifically NASCAR, gets the lion's share of attention in auto racing, Ransomville's 2012 season proved there is a lot of drama on the dirt track as well. Take, for instance, the ultra close finish at the top of the standings in its Mighty Taco Modified division. Only two points separated the season's champ, Pete Bicknell, and Chad Brachmann. The pair finished with 892 and 890 points, respectively.
"Who could have scripted it any better?" Ransomville Speedway marketing and public relations director Tana Robinson said. "Pete Bicknell and Chad Brachmann came into the final points night tied. Bicknell was an 11-time champion - looking for number 12. Brachmann was the defending champion and running better than he ever has in his career. It was a race within a race as the pair worked their way through the field running together most of the night. In the end, Bicknell finished just ahead of Brachmann giving him his 12th title."
Ironically, Brachmann won more races than Bicknell, four to one, respectively. Robinson says the two are obvious favorites to win again this season but there certainly are other contenders.
"Todd Burley has multiple wins here and will also be a favorite to take the title," she said. "Scott Kerwin has three titles to date in three different classes. If he were to win one in the Modifieds he would be in the record books as the only driver to ever win four titles in four different classes at Ransomville. He has a very strong team and could challenge for the champions trophy."
In addition to Modifieds, Ransomville hosts several other divisions: Investor's Services Sportsman, Ki-Po Chevrolet Streetstocks, FinditQuick.com Fireballs, and Gippster's Collision 4 Bangers. Last weekend, the track hosted its "Test, Tune and Time" event which determines which drivers will have the honor of opening the season tonight in the front rows of each main event.
"The fastest two drivers in each division earned the front row for the opening nights feature mains this Friday," Robinson explained. "We had 90 cars in attendance and expect close to 100 on Friday."
The competitors, in addition to points, can win portions of fuel granted to the speedway as part of its designation last November as the VP Racing Fuels Track of the Year. The award, which is given to a DIRTcar Racing sanctioned track, honors a selected facility using criteria such as average car counts, average attendance, level of sponsorship participation and promotions. Ransomville's numbers were clearly favorable.
Those prizes of free fuel, which were first given last year, carry a value of at least $500, hardly chump change in a sport that can prove quite expensive for its racing teams.
Something worth noting as the season starts is the presence of women drivers. NASCAR's Danica Patrick has been a media magnet. Meanwhile, more quietly at Ransomville, there are at least three women rostered.
"Im not sure if it's a Danica factor as much as it's a family thing," said Robinson. "Camille Fuller and her husband Jason are both racing in the Gippster's Collision 4 Bangers. Ashley Harbison and her brother both raced in the Fireballs last year. He has decided to sit this year out though. Racing is so much a family sport at this level. You often find brothers racing, husbands and wives, cousins, fathers and sons. We are very much family oriented."
And beginning tonight, many Niagara County families will renew a favored Friday night tradition — under the lights.Follow Niagara Gazette Sports Editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter at @MrozGazette