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DIRT races are coming to Hagerstown

March 25, 2005

HAGERSTOWN - Did somebody say road trip?

The journey to Hagerstown Speedway for the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRT Series season opener is one of the longer ones of the season, but the Maryland track has become a second home for many in the Elite 11 collection of big-block modified stars.

You won't hear defending series champion Gary Tomkins complaining about the distance, that's for sure. Tomkins has won the Hagerstown race the past two times it has run.

"It's a long trip south but it's certainly been worthwhile for us," said Tomkins, 39, who will make the haul from his home in Clifton Springs, N.Y - about six hours north - when DIRT's crowd-thrilling traveling show makes its fourth trip to promoter Frank Plessinger's speedplant. Back aboard the potent No. 1 Elaine James Motorsports-Pillsbury Collectibles/Bicknell entry, Tomkins will begin the defense of the overall Hoosier Tire-Sunoco Race Fuels Mr. DIRT Championship.

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"Hagerstown is certainly one of the premier tracks that we race on all season," Tomkins said. "I look forward to it every year and coming back this time will be even more special as we're looking for a second straight championship."

DIRT MotorSports officials recently reached agreements with an impressive collection of 11 racers who make up the inaugural edition of the Elite 11 and will contend in all 25 point races on the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRT Series schedule.

Joining Tomkins in the Elite 11 are multi-time Syracuse Eckerd 200 winners Brett Hearn and Billy Decker, '04 Eckerd 200 winner Tim Fuller, five-time DIRT Driver of the Year Danny Johnson, '03 Florida Tour titlist Pat Ward, five-time Canandaigua Speedway points champion Steve Paine and former Eckerd 200 winner Vic Coffey, along with rising stars Matt Sheppard, Stewart Friesen and Chad Brachmann.

The season launches at Hagerstown for the sixth consecutive year, although rain forced the cancellation of events in 2000 and '03. Tomkins' title defense will begin Saturday with the 100-lap big-block winner collecting $6,000. Time trials are slated to begin at 6 p.m.

The competition has historically been fierce at Hagerstown, with the Elite 11 drivers becoming fixtures atop the leaderboard. Last year Tomkins scored a narrow victory against Fuller, followed by Hearn and Decker. Brachmann (6th), Ward (7th), Sheppard (9th) and Coffey completed all 100 laps while Johnson (27th) and Paine (29th) retired

early with mechanical problems. Friesen did not race at Hagerstown, but still managed to finish fourth in the overall 2004 Mr. DIRT 358-Modified points battle.

The 2003 stop at Hagerstown was lost to rain, but Fuller (4th) and Decker (5th) joined winner Tomkins among in the top five of the 2002 100-lapper. Paine (6th), Ward (11th), Coffey (13th), Johnson (18th) and Hearn (21st) came next. Mr. DIRT 358-Modified runner-up Sheppard and Brachmann were small-block entries throughout the year while Friesen competed in the DIRT Sportsman ranks.

Paine captured the inaugural Advance Auto Parts SDS event at Hagerstown in 2001 with Johnson (3rd), Hearn (7th) and Fuller (8th) tallying top-10 feature finishes. Decker (13th), Coffey (15th) and Ward (22nd) were in the field although Tomkins was not as he had yet to fund a full-time tour schedule. That same year Sheppard was named DIRT's 358-Modified rookie of the year, Brachmann was crowned Mr. DIRT Sportsman Champ and Friesen had finished his second full season as a Sportsman campaigner.

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