Bellinger scores first win on opening night

BACK ON TRACK — From left, drivers Alan Johnson, Ronnie Johnson, Matt Shepherd and Stewart Friesen race hard into the corner during a modified heat race during the Utica-Rome Speedway’s season-opener on Sunday night. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

FIRST-TIME WINNER — Robbie Bellinger celebrates in victory lane after winning the modified feature race during Utica-Rome Speedway’s season opener on Sunday. It was Bellinger’s first feature win at the speedway. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

VERNON — Robbie Bellinger survived a heated battle with Mike Mahaney to capture his first career Utica-Rome Speedway modified victory on Sunday during the track’s chilly season-opening program.

A pair of late-race cautions bunched the field up to set up a dash to the finish with three laps remaining.

During the final restart, Bellinger outran the leader Mahaney into the first turn to claim the lead. However with two laps to go, Mahaney was able to slide back in front of him to take the spot back momentarily as Bellinger returned the slide job in turns three and four.

On the final lap, the pair raced into turn one with Mahaney trying for another pass attempt and the two made contact, but Bellinger was able to fend off Mahaney’s last effort and run off to the $2,000 prize.

Billy Decker raced into third place, followed by Matt Sheppard in fourth and defending modified track champion Stewart Friesen finished fifth.

In the sportsman race, defending track champion Matt Janczuk led the first 12 laps until Jeff Leslie was able to find his way around him and cruise on to the opening night win. Jeremy Vunk also slipped by Janczuk to get second, while Steve Way took fourth, AJ Filbeck was fifth, and Rome’s Chris Mackey captured seventh.

Tom Denton went on to win the pro stock race, as Matt Forward finished in the runner-up spot, and Jim Normoyle raced to third.

Teammates Ron Hawker and Ricky Breed swapped the lead on several occasions in the 15-lap pure stock race, but it was the defending champion Hawker getting the best of Breed to begin his title defense on a high note. Breed was second followed by Bill Mason in third.

The Speedway will continue its 51st season when it hosts a regular show of modifieds, sportsman, pro stocks and pure stocks next on Sunday night, with gates opening at 3:30 and racing beginning at 6.