The last time Bicknell was at the controls of his Lucas Oil #42, it was in the John Spencer Memorial 50 lap event that closed the 61st Season where he soldiered to a third place finish but good enough for his 21st Career Title at the Thorold DIRTcar sanctioned facility and would have back surgery later than week.
Despite issues with the PA System after the start of 50 lap event for the 358 Modifieds that left co-announcers Clint Geoffrey and Dana Huffman literally speechless, the excellent opening night crowd saw that Bicknell will once again be one tough animal in 2012 in his quest for a 22nd Championship.
One driver looking to earn his first career title after finishing second to Bicknell the last two seasons is Mat Williamson and as the defending winner of the annual Spring Sizzler was out front early after lead swaps between front row starters Larry Lampman Jr. and Bicknell.
Williamson was in top spot by lap 8 with Bicknell challenging for the lead by lap 15. With the leaders quickly coming up on lap traffic, Chris Steele in third was overtaken by both Chad Brachmann and Scott Wood. With Williamson still out front to the halfway point at lap 25, Brachmann was able to get by Bicknell for the runner-up spot.
By lap 30 Brachmann and Bicknell began to close in on Williamson and on lap 35 the leader almost met with disaster coming up on slower cars. Luckily Williamson was able to weave his way through but unluckily – the top three were all now about a car length apart from each other.
The top three weren't holding anything back with incidental contact between Bicknell and Brachmann finding the former champion having a left front tire going soft. Later Williamson would fall victim to a broken front shock on lap 45.
With Bicknell taking control of top spot on lap 45, Scott Wood was now in the runner up spot but couldn't reel in the leader.
Bicknell and Wood were followed at the finish by Williamson and Brachmann who were both able to hold on to top 5 finishes with Lampman fifth.
Another driver looking to be one tough animal in 2012 is Cody McPherson – behind the wheel of the Advantage Trailer-owned Bobcat of Hamilton sponsored #7 Sportsman in 2012. Behind the wheel of a non-family owned race car for the first time since his Mike Granton-wrenched Hoosier Stock held off his brother-in-law and team mate Brandon Easey by a mere 3/100ths of a second after 40 laps of hard racing.
"It's awesom to get Gord and Gord Sr. their first win," exclaimed McPherson in Victory Lane, "I'm glad we were able to pull it off ... at the end I didn't think I could get by the lap cars but to win and beat Easey ... it's even better!"
Easey who is making a return to the division after a season in the 358 Modifieds was the initial leader facing a challenge from defending Champion Brad Rouse before a lap 7 caution slowed the field. By lap 15 Rouse was out in front with McPherson joining in in third. By halfway it was McPherson ahead of Easey with Rouse dropping to third.
McPherson ran away to about a ¼ lap lead but as the event neared lap 30, Easey was closing in. Through heavy lap traffic Easey continued to close and by lap 35 was right on the leader. With one lap to go, Rouse had even got back to have a shot but at the checkered flag ... McPherson was able to hold off the two.
"I used to think racing was the best thing," revealed the new father post race, "but now with my daughter Aliyah and Amber at home ... thanks to them for letting me keep do this – our programs on top right now ... hopefully we'll keep it up front all season."
McPherson Easey and Rouse were followed by Gary Lindberg and BJ Willard.
"Just out to beat the pink cars ...that's our goal," admitted Kevin Knapp at the conclusion of the 30 lap Hoosier Stock Spring Sizzler, "They were so fast ... for me it was all about patience and running the bottom."
The start of the initial Feature Event of the season had two former drivers sharing the front row. Brad Sheehan and Billy Hogue both returning full time this season with Sheehan the first to lead.
After an early caution, Kevin Knapp was on the move and quickly was into second quickly reeling in Sheehan. By lap 10 he was challenging for top spot – taking control out of Turn 2. Caution on lap 12 slowed the pace after front runners defending Champion Ken Sargent and Hogue became hooked together.
Knapp was back out in front on the restart pulling away to a couple car lead with Jeff Dayman, Rob Murray and Chris Crawford as the top 5 before caution just past half way slowed the pace once more. Knapp edged ahead on the restart holding just a car length with 10 laps to go.
Knapp began to pull away with former Champion Rob Murray by Sheehan just before the 5 to go mark.
Caution on lap 26 eliminated almost a ¼ lap lead for Knapp on the field. On the restart with it was Murray challenging but Knapp ran to a 5 car length lead at the finish ahead of the 'pink' cars of Murray and Sheehan with former Champion Jeff Dayman in 4 and Sargent rebounding to finish 5th.
BOBCAT OF HAMILTON DIRTcar 358 MODIFIED FEATURE (50 laps) Pete Bicknell, Scott Wood, Chad Brachmann, Mat Williamson, Larry Lampman, Eric Rudolph, Chris Steele, Mike Bowman, Tim Jones, Mark D'Ilario, Danny O'Brien, Todd Gordon, Travis Braun, Bill Bleich, Fred Carleton, Scott Kerwin, Ken Cosgrove, Chad Chevalier, Matt Billings, Rob Pietz, Shayne Pierce, Ken Winfield, Rick Hoctor, Tom Flannigan, Rick Richner.
ORIGINAL PIZZA LOGS DIRTcar SPORTSMAN FEATURE – (40 laps) Cody McPherson, Brandon Easey, Brad Rouse, Gary Lindberg, BJ Willard, Greg Panunte, Justin Sharp, Jim Johnstone, Brent Begolo, Mark Chiddy, Jason Farraway, Austin Wood, Dave Flannigan Jr., Larry Czinege, Jesse Penner, Rob Knapp, Paul Jorgenson, Pat Sonnenberg, Robert Baker, Jason Moore, Travis Miller, Joey Mastroianni, Jessica Power, Martin Landry, Ron MacAulay, Paul Williamson, Adam Leslie, Kaven Poliquin.
HOOSIER STOCK FEATURE (30 laps) Kevin Knapp, Rob Murray, Brad Sheehan, Jeff Dayman, Ken Sargent, Billy Hogue, Chris Crawford, Jim Lampman, Devin Habiuk, Charlie Lynch, James Thompson, Aaron Wiley, Terry Ronning, Kameron Kocarik, Cory Turner, Chris Duchene, Richard Champigny, Jason Fontaine, Dave Small, Bryce Richardson, Chris Schneider, Tim Zack, Peter Reid, Tyler Anderson, Evan Curtis.From Jim Irvine / Merrittville Speedway