Dave Darling came on in the latter stages, once again, to win the Don Dionne Memorial Race for Pro Stocks after working his way up from tenth with ten laps remaining. Darling engaged Dick Houlihan in a crowd-pleasing duel for the previous nine laps. Houlihan had charged up from sixth to take over the lead from Kevin Folan on lap sixteen. Folan had led since the outset. Houlihan led eleven laps with Mike Brightman coming up to second to challenge him on lap 16. But four laps later, Darling was knocking and moved Brightman back to third on lap 20. Brightman continued in that spot through lap thirty-one, when Vanasse came by enroute to second.
Houlihan continued as leader until Darling got under him on lap 29. But the wily Houlihan had seen the move coming and immediately crossed under and tried to scoot below Darling to recapture the lead. But Darling was equally perceptive and saw Houli coming and held him off. It was a tour-de-force show by two of the Speedway’s most knowledgeable drivers.
And in two of the division’s oldest Pro Stocks. Both vehicles shepherded by the sport’s top builders: Ronnie Pond on the Darling vehicle and Len Ellis, Jr. on Houlihan’s ride. (When Pond and Ellis had combined their efforts back in the ‘90s, it had led to a championship for Ellis as driver.)
The debate was not over, as they brawled their way toward the finish. They battled after a lap 31 caution when Folan and Bob Hussey got together in turn three, with Darling retaining his lead and again on a lap 34 restart after a spin by Dave Hutchins, Sr.
This time, Ryan Vanasse, fresh from a Late Model win in the Manchester Memorial, powered under Houlihan from the third restart slot and harried Darling the rest of the way to the checkers. Darling denied Vanasse a two-division night with a 1-second win. (Vanasse had, however, passed 22 cars in two events’ worth of racing.) Houlihan was fourth with Fred Astle and Tom Scully, Jr. rounding out the top five.
Scully was a study, working from twelfth to fourth on lap 23. He held the spot for six laps before Vanasse moved in to the spot, behind Mike Brightman on lap 29. Vanasse was by Brightman on lap 30 as Fred Astle moved Scully back from sixth. Two laps later, Astle was past Brightman into fourth.
Scully came back on the final circuit to take fifth from Brightman, who ended up in sixth. Kenny Spencer III chased Brightman across, followed by Dave Silvia, Folan and Darryl Stampfl rounding out the top ten.