By CAMDEN PROUD
Billy Dunn entered last Saturday’s Super DIRTcar Series Rockstar 100 as the defending Can-Am Speedway track champion. Dunn, of Watertown, used his extensive experience at the north country oval to his advantage against a 41 car field of the best Big Block Modified drivers in the Northeast.
Early in the program, Dunn’s self-owned big block with backing from Intergrow Greenhouses was considerably fast. The No. 49 timed fastest in the fourth time trial group, good enough for second quick overall. In the heat race, Dunn smoked defending series champion Matt Sheppard by four tenths of a second to get the win.
Making his way into the redraw, Dunn pulled the fourth starting spot for the 100-lap, $10,000 to win main event. Through a caution filled race, Dunn set out on a steady, consistent pace. Early on, he fell in line behind race leaders Matt Sheppard and Jimmy Phelps, before eventually giving way to fifth starting Erick Rudolph on a lap 10 restart.
Rudolph would go on to challenge Sheppard for the lead, but was never able to hold the position. After taking the top spot for just a split second, Rudolph instead made a mistake and turned second over to Billy Decker. By that time, Dunn had gotten by Phelps, but since fallen to fourth. That’s when a lap 23 yellow for Danny Johnson slowed the field.
On the ensuing restart, Dunn found his way back by the Rudolph No. 25 and planted himself on Decker’s back bumper only for the yellow to come out again sixteen laps later. The restart that followed caused Dunn to surrender the third spot back over to Rudolph.
For the next twelve laps, Rudolph worked over Decker for second while Dunn tried to find a way back by for third. The yellow flag came back out on lap 66, but this time a restart finally worked in Dunn’s favor.
On lap 71, he got by Rudolph, then blew past the Decker No. 91 before another yellow came out on the following circuit when the Franklin Flyer ended his day with a broken front end. As it turned out, Dunn would have six more restarts to throw everything he had at Sheppard.
Dunn worked Sheppard over well, but to no avail, and in the end lost the runner up spot to a hard charging Mat Williamson. When Dunn missed the bottom with seven to go, that was all it took for the Buzz Chew No. 88 to sneak by. Nevertheless, he was able to hold on for third and although it appeared neither Dunn nor Williamson had anything for the No. 9s, he was happy with his start to the season.
“It’s tough sledding out there,” Dunn said post race. “I had a little bit of home track advantage for the heat races, but come feature time that goes away. Its a 100-lap race and the track was pretty tricky. Matt was very, very good tonight. I thought I might have had a couple runs at him, but I got a little tight and that was when Williamson snuck underneath me. Overall I’m happy.”
Dunn’s racing program has a bit of an added twist this year. For the first time in his career, he is now funding his own big block operation. Billy owns the No. 49 car with major backing from new sponsor Intergrow. He now plans to venture out to a few more Super DIRTcar Series events while also keeping busy with his small block program. With a lot of new people and sponsors around him, he was happy to get things started off on the right foot last weekend.
“It was our first race of the year and these guys have a couple months worth under their belt already,” Dunn noted. “It’s a whole new team and a whole new deal for this year so I’m definitely not complaining with the result for our first night out.”
Dunn has driven for a handful of different teams over the years. He spent many seasons driving for his Dad thanks to backing from family business Number One Speed. Norm and Billy Dunn won the 2013 Syracuse 200 at the Mile together, but after three and a half more years on the road, decided on what was a very well publicized split halfway through 2017.
More recently, Billy has seen an increase in small block competition. Dunn spent many Friday nights in the Ladouceur family ride at Mohawk and in the RLM Motorsports No. 949 at Can-Am. He has absolutely dominated the Nasty Track of the North these past two seasons winning back to back track championships.
In 2018, Dunn ventured out to the Land of Legends Raceway on Saturdays with the Bob and Randy Slack owned No. 3RS. The trio also teamed up for NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week and other select events on the Super DIRTcar Series tour. Dunn and the Slacks faired rather well throughout the year, earning victories in the Big Block / Small Block Shootout at Can-Am, the King of Dirt Racing Series Victoria at Utica-Rome, and in the track championship event at Canandaigua.
For 2019, Dunn and his father have teamed up again, but on a bit smaller of a scale. Norm will continue to own Billy’s big block motor and interestingly, enough, Dunn has actually purchased the same car he drove for the Slacks in the prior season. It is the car he finished third with in Saturday’s race.
“My dad owns the motor for this big block deal and even though its a new team with a new sponsor, it is actually the same car,” mentioned Dunn. “I bought this from the guy I was driving for and its pretty much exactly the piece we had at Oswego, I just did some maintenance on it. The car itself is actually only a year old.”
Despite spending several years working alongside his Dad, Dunn has never really owned a car of his own. Not only does he own the big block car, but one of his two small block rides as well. Intergrow has stepped up big time and owns a second small block which Dunn will also drive throughout the year.
“This is really my first go around of being a car owner,” Dunn stated. “I think we have some good things going on. We have Intergrow onboard as a partner and things are off to a good start. The big block is my car, then I own one small block and Bill Cook from Intergrow owns the other small block and sponsors all of my stuff.”
With Intergrow onboard, Dunn’s schedule for this season will look very similar to that of his 2018 slate. He will return to defend the track title at Can-Am on Fridays and will bring his big block back to Land of Legends on Saturdays. Sundays will again see Dunn start the season off at the Utica-Rome Speedway. He’s not sure whether or not he will run the full season there, but it is certainly a possibility.
“I just hope we can keep the momentum going and start the year off well, we will have to see what happens,” offered Dunn. “We are doing Can-Am on Friday with the small block and Canandaigua on Saturdays with the big block car. We’re also going to start off at Utica with a small block. I don’t know if we will stay there all year or not, but we’ll just see how its going after a month or so and make a decision then.”
Dunn had spent hardly any time at all on the Super DIRTcar Series recently until last season. He made seven starts in 2018 with the Slack 3RS and in doing so earned a pair of top five finishes. The plan is to do some more series shows with his own stuff this year, but it will only be on a hit or miss basis. It has now been more than five years since we’ve seen Dunn take on the full schedule.
“I enjoy running the series shows and we will definitely do some of them, but its kind of going to be a hit or miss type of deal,” Dunn explained. “I plan on hitting all of the Weedsport stuff, the Canandaigua show for sure, the Big Show for sure, and then if there’s any racing at Brewerton or Fulton we will be there too.”
That ‘hit or miss’ plan includes several 358 Super DIRTcar Series shows as well. The series is scheduled to be at Can-Am twice this year, first in June and again in September. Expect Dunn to be a favorite in both of those 100-lap events and don’t count this seemingly rejuvenated dirt racing veteran out any time he pulls in the pit area.