Makin’ Tracks: Utica-Rome Night of Legends Legendary Sheppard Performance – DTD Exclusive

By BILL FOLEY

“I was out cutting my grass at three o’clock this afternoon and I had zero plans to run this race (358 King of Dirt Mods) tonight. C.G. called me and I’m thankful he put me in the car tonight,” said Matt Sheppard at approximately 12:30 a.m. Monday morning in victory lane at the Utica-Rome Speedway.

Sheppard earlier in the night had a nine second win in the regular Modified division after electrical problems had forced him to exit the track during his heat. However, obviously they found and corrected the problem as he captured a record fifth straight Modified win, seventh of the season at UR and 39th overall at the track.

No one really gave it much thought that Matt would win his 40th career feature a couple hours later, but he did.

Of his first KoD win Matt said, “I had to work out there tonight as the track was pretty racy. You could run the top, middle or bottom and you can run these small-blocks to death out there.”




He got second place Erick Rudolph jammed up in traffic and the next thing you knew is the 14 Crash Palace car was in front on lap 23 and he eventually won by 1.5 seconds.

It wasn’t the easiest night for Sheppard in the regular Mods as he was scheduled to start 24th in the main after those heat mechanical woes.

By lap six he was fifth…yes fifth.

He took the lead on the 14th lap from Tim Fuller and the rest was history.

According the UR historian Doug Zupan five straight wins is a new record as four straight had been previously accomplished by Ed Flemke in the asphalt days and Steward Friesen.

Long Night at UR

Sometimes you just know that no matter what happens that a night is going to be a long night.

Three KOD series along with the house Modifieds were on the schedule. Toss in a make up 30 lap Pro Stock event and add to that 24 Mods, 47 Sportsman, 23 Pro Stocks, and 29 358’s and you end up with three Sportsman consis to go along with full heats and 30-35 lap features.

It was going to be a long night and at 12:30 a.m. the fans headed out.

This was a huge show and the pits were jammed.

Things started about 15 minutes late as group time trials were on tap for three of the four classes.

There was no intermission and if fans wanted something to eat they had to wander down during a division they weren’t interested in.

Legends Night

Bill Henry, Frank Mathalia and Bernie Miller are Utica Rome legends who raced at the facility when it was a quarter-mile asphalt speedway.

They talked a bit about those days with announcer Mike Mallett and track owner Bill Shea explained his connection with each of the drivers.

I thoroughly enjoy nights like this as many tracks never recognize the pioneers of the sport and today’s younger fans have no idea who many of them are. I think Legend Nights are a very important aspect to the sport and I really wish there were more in this area.

I’ve seen some tracks in Jersey and downstate who do these types of events and make them really special.

It was fun seeing some of the cars parked in the midway area including the home built 41 that Bernie Miller won the Dogwood 500 at Martinsville with. In fact he went to that race all alone and won one of the legendary grandfather clocks that goes to the winner and had to figure out how to get it home.

Frank Mathalia talked about the New Yorker 400 with cars that had no power steering and the equipment was a monster as he noted even as a young man he was thoroughly exhausted when the race was over.

Pit Stops

Different Mods in the field included Rich Price, Bodie Bellinger, Cody Bleau, Shawn Pangman, Greg Doust, Erick Rudolph and Don Ronca…

Rudolph had a pretty good night with fourth in the Mods and runner up in the 358’s. He was disappointed as runner up in the 358’s and noted, “I had a good run, but caught traffic quicker than I anticipated. Matt and I were comparable speed and maybe if I had handled traffic better things would have been different. I am glad we were here tonight and I’m looking forward to the Super Dirt Week show here.”…

KoD really brings Sportsman and Pro Stocks to the track and this has to be one of the best traveling series I’ve seen (but I said that last year). Many drivers from the Eastern part of New York as well as Connecticut and Vermont who don’t usually haul to the “Action Track of the East.”…

Pro Stocker Rob Yetman wins everywhere, but he captured his first KOD win in the make up main…

Cousin Luke Horning put on one heck of a show in the first PS main. He got caught up in a melee at the start, went to the rear, got in trouble with 12 laps to go and went to the rear again and finished third. He passed more cars than anyone all night long…

In the 358 heat Rudolph got Sheppard at the line for the win. Sheppard made up for it later in the night…

Mike Mahaney broke even before the big-block main started as he stopped in the backstretch on the pace lap…

Mod main was fun with Pat Ward and Tim Fuller battling for second…

Jeff Taylor, first year Sportsman driver, raced his way into the feature in the consi and in the main he spun out in a crowd on the first lap, did a 360 and kept going…

Matt Janczuk came out of the consi for second in the Sportsmen KoD main…

Rocky Warner is simply unbeatable at UR as he ran away with the Sportsman race…

Pro Stocker Dan Older started on the pole for the second main, but got in trouble in turn four on the first lap and had to go to the rear of the field…

Nick Stone got turned around by Yetman on the 19th lap while leading in the second LM race and spun in front of the entire field…

Cousin Luke (Horning) appeared headed for a win, but with 10 to go Chuck Dumblewski raced to the front and won his first KoD Pro Stock main thus relegating Luke to second. Mike Welch third as he had a consistent night. Luke got third in the first main…

The 358 main started around 11:30 and they just couldn’t get it going. Elmo Reckner hit the tires in the backstretch, Alan Johnson broke and slowed at the west end, a pile up collecting Warner, Mike Sabia, Reckner, Kevin Poitras and Matty DeLorenzo brought out a yellow, Doust spun out, and Maresca spun all before lap five…

On lap 10 Jessey Mueller caught a yuke tire in four, flipped completely over, brought out the red and he then fired it up, drove to the pits and returned to continue the race. Fans went wild…

Early battle for the lead between Mike Mahaney, leader Rudolph and Sheppard was spectacular…

Marc Johnson came on strong late as he and Mahaney had a good one going for third. Marc settled for third while Mahaney was fourth and Jeremy Wilder fifth…

Ron Davis III was in the Joe Abass Small Block started 16th and passed a half dozen cars on the first lap as the field bunched in the back stretch. In only his second 358 race and he came home sixth…

Davis took a wild ride early in the Sportsman main as he flew over the front end of Connor Cleveland. It was a lot of air time. He had to settle for eighth…

High quality Sportsman field with Dave Marcuccilli, Chad Edwards and David Schilling third to fifth…

Chris Mackey came home sixth in Sportsman event…

Robbie and Beth Bellinger absent from action. Robbie lost his only other motor on Friday night at Brewerton…

Some of the different 358’s in the pits from the previous KoD show included Sheppard, Ronca, Tyler Meeks, Lance Willix and Rocky Warner along with Greg Doust…

Bobby Varin started at the tale end of the KoD 358 field along with Matty DeLorenzo, but they drove up for solid finishes. Varin came home eighth and and Matty D ninth…

Racing should return more to normal next Sunday with a regular four division show…

KoD Mike Warren joined the announcing team for the night. There was lots of work for all three announcers…

Any notes, comments or news send along to foley395@hotmail.com.