By MIKE MALLETT
SYRACUSE, NY – Matt Sheppard celebrated his 2017 Super DIRTcar Series title two weeks ago at the World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. On Saturday night the Waterloo, N.Y., driver was honored at the series’ annual awards banquet along with several other drivers.
Sheppard scored the biggest check of the night picking up nearly $50,000 in cash and contingency prizes by virtue of his sixth series title and being named Mr. DIRTcar home track champion for the big-block Modified division for 2017.
“This feels just as good as the first one,” said Sheppard of his series title. “I think we got to a point where we took a different approach to the whole deal. We used to put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We worked hard night in and night out telling ourselves that we got to win this championship. We made the turn during the middle of summer and said, ‘screw it, let’s just go out and have fun and race.’ I feel like we had the most fun we ever had and we are winning the most races too. I don’t know if the two are going hand and hand with each other, but whatever it is, it is working for us.”
For Sheppard, it was his sixth career championship. He’s now tied with Jack Johnson while trailing only Brett Hearn in career titles with the Super DIRTcar Series.
“I grew up as a fan of the sport as a little kid growing up watching Alan (Johnson) and Brett (Hearn), Billy (Decker) and a lot of guys in this room, it’s just the pleasure of being to race with these guys now days,” mentioned Sheppard. “To do this day I can’t compare myself to being in the same group as those guys are.”
This title, out of all of them, was probably the most difficult for him to win. He was forced to regroup after a July incident, which has been well documented, that cost him three events worth of points. That changed the team approach. He went on to tie his record with 12 series wins on the season.
“It was a double edged deal,” commented Sheppard. “We wanted to work harder to prove we could get on top, but at the same time it took the pressure off as well. When you are not leading the points, sitting back eighth in points, you aren’t really worried about what happened. You are just going out and trying to win every night. That was literally what we did. That was the only way we climbed back into the chase. We went out and won as many races as we could.”
Bernard Back as 358-Modified Champion
Quebec native Steve Bernard claimed the title for the DIRTcar 358 Modifieds. Bernard, who missed the series event at Can-Am Motorsports Park to compete with the Super DIRTcar Series in Quebec, ended up winning three races with six top ten finishes while competing in nine events. It was good enough for the title. He beat Chris Raabe by a mere 12 points.
“This one is pretty special,” said Bernard. “We missed a race and never thought we would be in position to be in the championship, but with those three races, if we won the third won, we needed to do series. That’s what we did. We came with it. It’s always fun to win against Chris (Raabe) and all the other great guys that were running. We are really happy about it.”
Marcuccilli Sportsman Title Winner
Dave Marcuccilli earned his first career DIRTcar Sportsman Series Championship. The Cayuga, N.Y., driver won two times while on his way to the title. Overall he had 20 wins at 10 different race tracks to go along with the title.
“We had a lot of luck on our side,” commented Marcuccilli. “Things just went our way. We had some races we probably shouldn’t have won and we did. We had some that we should have won that we didn’t. It kind of swings both ways. It was just a good year. When things started clicking it was good.”
Yetman Also First Time Series Champion in Pro Stocks
It’s hard to believe that Rob Yetman’s DIRTcar Pro Stock series championship was his first. The five time Super DIRT Week winner had never been able to get it completely done on the tour. He did in 2017.
“It seemed like everything went our way,” commented Yetman. “We had a little something at the end there. What a year! It was non-stop digging in the garage. It was a non-stop effort. It was great.”
David Hebert (358-Modifieds) and Rocky Warner (Sportsman) won their respective division Mr. DIRTcar Championships titles…
Kyle Wilson won a drawing for a brand new crate engine…
The Elms family from Bear Ridge Speedway were honored for 50 years in racing…
Larry Wight earned the KSE Hard Charger award…
The Number One Speed Motorsports Safety Systems Rookie of the Year title in the Sportsman division went to Tyler Thompson while Cody Bleu earned the award for the Modifieds.