“Jersey Jet” Holds Off “Liquid Lou” for Big Jackpot
Payne left the table Atlantic City more than $6,000 richer, and just like The Gambler in Rogers’ song, he played the game and he played it right.

one last run low off the final turn and nearly pulled even.  But, like The Gambler, Payne never counted his money while he was sitting in his racecar.  There was plenty of time for counting when the checkered flag flew, as Payne became the first-ever repeat winner of the Atlantic City TQ Midget event.

“I grew up in this place,” said Payne.  “My Dad’s cars raced here for an awful long time.  His car actually holds the record here for coming from 23rd to win back when it was real racing here.  This is kind of rough, bang and survival of the fittest racing.  Just to be on the list with my dad is a big accomplishment, but to get two of them when I’m racing with the best of the best, is incredible.”

Payne jumped out to the lead from his outside-pole starting position and checked out to an early lead.  Several early cautions dashed the hopes for victory for several pre-race favorites, including dirt Late Model standout Rick Eckert, Northeastern Modified star Ted Christopher and DIRT Modified and former Atlantic City winner Jeff Hoetzler among others.  Cicconi steered clear of all the carnage early to pick his way to second by lap 15. 

From there, it was a two-man battle for the biggest jackpot of the weekend.  Cicconi and Payne are no strangers to one another, as they have put on similar tussles for many years around the Northeast.  Still, the two combatants are good friends, and the mutual respect showed, as they made contact at least once a
Just like the infamous Gambler in the classic Kenny Rogers song of the same name, “The Jersey Jet” Joey Payne has made a life of reading people’s faces.  He could tell what his competition was going to do by the look in their eyes, as evident by his countless victories in NEMA Midgets, ISMA Supermodifieds and other Northeastern open-wheeled racing series.

Of course, Payne knew exactly what kind of competition he was anteing up against Saturday night in the 40-lap “Gambler’s Classic” TQ Midget race, held indoors at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  His stiffest competition was “Liquid” Lou Cicconi, the 2006 “Gambler’s Classic” champion.

In the final laps of Saturday night’s feature, Payne and Cicconi put on an epic duel to the finish.  Payne led throughout the race, but Cicconi patiently worked his way through the field despite the numerous early-race cautions to close to Payne’s bumper after halfway.  Payne, the 2004 Gambler’s Classic champion, withstood several shots to the bumper from Cicconi under green, then had to hold off Cicconi on two late restarts that Cicconi was nailed for jumping the starts. 

It all set up a dramatic final lap, as Cicconi gave Payne
corner over the final laps, but never was the contact enough to wreck one of them or both. 

“I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else,” said Payne.  “Last year we were racing for the win too, but I blew up and he went on to win.  I couldn’t have been any more proud of him.  I gave him a big kiss in victory lane, too.  This time my engine wasn’t blowing up.  We raced with him wheel to wheel for the win. 
“We touched a little bit on the starts, but indoor racing is a full-contact sport.  He knew it wasn’t intentional and he got into me a couple times and I knew it wasn’t intentional.  We have that much respect for each other that I knew he wasn’t going to get bumped out by him.  Half of the guys in the field I would be leery racing against, but not him.”

For Cicconi, finishing second was not at all a disappointment.  Instead, the biggest pain he felt after the race was the charlie horse he got after the bottle of champagne that he sprayed on his buddy in victory lane fell was dropped on his lower leg during the celebration.

“I didn’t bump him to bump him,” said Cicconi.  “We just rubbed.  There was no intention to wreck him, just to get him out of shape.  Joey Payne and I are close friends and we go way back.  He even drove for me for a while.  I would never rough him up and I know he wouldn’t do the same to me.  The guy is like family to me.”

Even though he came up short, Cicconi showed every card in his hand in his shot at a repeat victory.  On two straight late restarts, Cicconi got the jump on Payne on the high side, but race officials threw an immediate
caution to level out the starts.  When the officials finally saw the even restart they wanted, Cicconi settled into second, ahead of eventual third-place finisher John Blewett III, but never gave up his pursuit of the victory until the checkered flag.

“I thought I had timed them perfectly, but they didn’t like the fact that I got an advantage on him at the start,” said Cicconi.  “It definitely made it a more even race for the fans, so I guess I can’t blame them.
Cicconi was slightly injured by the post-race celebration.  He limps into the infield with 51's Matt Kentfield here.  (51)
Lou Cicconi climbed the wall chasing Joey Payne (Top - Jim Smith Photo), but was right there cheering his competitor on when Payne won the race.  (Bottom - 51 Photo)
Ken Butler, III recieves the 51 Designs Most Popular Driver Award from 51's Amy Hayes. 
“I absolutely would’ve had him, though.  I was much faster than him through the corners.  He was getting a little tight in the middle, but I couldn’t get enough momentum on the high side to pass him.  I could get up to his wheels, but that was it.”

“They were sort of waving the flag at me, telling me to take it easy coming off the corner for the restart,” said Payne of the late restarts.  “I took my time, and I got snagged.  I wasn’t sleeping, but I was trying to do what they were telling me to do and Louie got me.  He wouldn’t do it again though.”
Payne gets sideways on the way to the checkers.  (51 Photos)
Mod ace John Blewett, III ran third at Atlantic City (Left), Payne salutes the crowd after his victory. (Right).  (51 Photos)