By KEN BRUCE
YORK HAVEN, PA – Matt Sheppard has always given the fans a lot to talk about during his career, especially in the past two or three years. Whether it be dominating runs or a little controversy (e.g. Larry Wight) the Waterloo, NY driver is always in the spotlight. What Sheppard has done the past few seasons driving his northeast Modified has not been seen since the early days of Billy Pauch, Doug Hoffman and Brett Hearn. It is almost impossible to think that a single driver can win over 40 races a year in this day or age. Yet, Sheppard has done that with over 40 wins last season and on pace to equal or pass that mark this season. There have been some remarkable runs over the past two seasons Sheppard with the most memorable win being the Billy Whittaker’s Cars and Trucks 200 last season at Oswego Speedway during Super Dirt Week when he passed Peter Britten on the last lap to take the big win. However, last night’s run at BAPS Motor Speedway has to rank right up there on the list.
Sheppard driving the Hurlock Auto Speed No. 9S has been on its game this season driving on the STSS South series with a win and a pair of runner-up finishes through three races which has made Sheppard the points leader in the series. Sunday night in sprint car country, Sheppard once again showed why he is the car to beat this season on the STSS South trail.
“We were fortunate tonight that we had a really fast race car and the race track was racy,” stated a happy Sheppard standing next to his winning car in the pits afterwards. “There were guys using the top and the bottom and I guess that was the key tonight having a racy race track. I’ve been to some really un-racy race tracks lately and it was nice to get back on a track you could pass on.”
Sheppard started the race in the sixth spot and was on the move early on as he worked his way to the lead on lap 12 and immediately started to pull out to a commanding lead. Most of the crowd was probably thinking that the race for the win was over at this part. However, a stark turn of events took place a few laps later as Sheppard pulled up lame on the front stretch as the field was coming around to complete lap 17 to bring out the yellow. What was thought to be a flat tire turned out to be mud packed into the right rear tire after the mud plug had fallen out laps earlier causing a major vibration on his Bicknell chassis.
“It’s kind of funny that a few laps before it that I seen a mug plug laying up in the cushion in turns one and two and was kind of wondering if it was mine or not and a few laps later I found out it was. It packed the right rear tire full of mud. I had to come, the car was vibrating so bad that I couldn’t drive it. So I told them to get the mud out and get another right rear ready with a solid cover ready to roll so on the next caution we came in and switched it.”
Sheppard returned to the field after the green had already waived placing him well behind field, but the team caught a break when the yellow flag waived once again. This allowed Sheppard to duck into the pits again to replace the right rear tire with a wheel that had a solid mud cover on.
From this point on in the race Sheppard put on a show to remember. In a span of just over ten laps Sheppard went from the rear of the field to second when he passed Ryan Godown on lap 33 and then set his sights on leader Stewart Friesen. Just as Sheppard was making his move on Friesen for the lead, the caution was put out on lap 35 and on the restart, Sheppard blasted around Friesen for the lead. Once in front Sheppard had no problem as he weathered one more restart to take the well-earned win.
One of the things I was able to notice on the Sheppard car was his ability to get a huge launch off of turn two and blast by his opponents.
“I was able to float the car thru the corner and once that thing would hook up I could just lay that thing on the floor and it would go. We had really good forward bite tonight and that made a big difference.”
When I talked to Sheppard earlier in the year at the Motorsport Show after it was announced that he would be running the STSS South series, he wasn’t sure how it was going to go due to not running some of these tracks that make up the series. But after four races with two wins and two runner-up finishes it has all seemed to be going very well.
“Yeah, I’ve been fortunate that both of the tracks we haven’t been to in about fifteen years (Delaware and BAPS) we’ve been able to win at this year. Maybe that’s the key and not have to come here too often. But you know, they’ve been good race tracks and we have a really fast car.”
I asked Sheppard if he liked running these bigger tracks down here on the STSS South series and his response was.
“I guess I like any track that I am standing in victory lane at.”
Watt Thrills Crowd Coming From Back to Podium
Even with the thrilling run to the front Sheppard was putting on, it was Ryan Watt who had the crowd hooting and hollering as rode the outside to a third-place finish after being involved in a couple of incidents throughout the race with the last being on lap 21.
“We got involved in that tangle early on and went to the back,” said a happy Watt. “Coming back through the right rear tire started going flat and we had to pit to change that and go to the rear again and we came back up to finish third. At that point I was just hoping we could get a top ten out of it. I knew we had a decent car and it helped that the track dried out a little bit. Early on it was definitely too tight and with the fuel load it was hard to get going but once it dried out it was better, and we were able to get towards the front.”
Watt is considered a hometown favorite here at BAPS and that was apparent with the amount of fans sporting Ryan Watt racing apparel as I was walking amongst the crowd. I am pretty sure if Watt could’ve completed his mission and passed the two New York invaders Sheppard and Stewart Friesen to pull off the win the crowd would have exploded with applause.
“We weren’t that good in timed warmups tonight,” stated Watt. “In the heats we were a little better but still mediocre. We were off about a half a second to those guys on speed. So, we made some drastic changes to the car for the feature. It was something we never tried before and we figured it was either going to work or not work. It still was tight and a little bit of a handful, but it was able to work pretty good up on the top.”
Strong Run for Ryan Godown in the LAB No. 5 Car
I have to say that I was somewhat surprised when the Godown crew unloaded the iconic Dieter Schmidt No. 5 off of their hauler for the night’s action. Godown usually runs the Searock Fabrication #26 outlaw car in most of the STSS events but thought tonight the big-block might be the way to go.
“We talked about it over the week,” stated Godown. “And we all thought that using the big-block might be the way to go for tonight. Plus, this is a very good car and we wanted to do some racing for Dieter and get some laps on the car. This is the new Troyer TD4 that we brought out for Florida and we’re still trying to learn some stuff about it.”
Godown led early on but was no match on this night for the New York duo of Sheppard and Friesen as he motored the car to a fourth-place finish missing out on a podium finish late when Watt got by him on a restart.
“We had a good car tonight, I thought we were a little tight in the beginning and the last fifteen laps it started to free up. We probably should’ve gone with a different shock package,” mentioned Godown. “It was pretty good and I can’t complain. This is only the fourth or fifth time out for this big-block car and we’re making gains on it. We started third and we lost to the two top dogs who are winning everywhere, Watt got me on the restart there up on the cushion, but we finished fourth and we’ll take what we learned and come back better for the next race.”
Surprise BAPS Visit from Mike Maresca
When I saw Mike Maresca climb out of his hauler to sign in for the night’s events I have to say I was quite surprised to see the young driver down this way. Maresca, driver of the Saint Lawrence Radiology No. 7MM was a rookie last year on the Super DirtCar Series but has concentrated most of his racing this season competing in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series. Maresca hasn’t left the Modifieds out all together and has been making an occasional start here and there.
So, seeing the young driver making a start down here in Pennsylvania Sprint car country was definitely a surprise.
“It’s been awhile and I’ve never been down this way to race before and I am looking forward to it,” he said.
Maresca has been plying his trade in the WOO Late Models this year and talked about the season he has had so far.
“It’s been going really well so far this season. We’ve had a lot of top three’s, a couple of wins and we have a couple of wins in the Modified as well, so it’s been a pretty good year so far. It’s been a lot of fun traveling around this year and going to a lot of different tracks. I don’t think I’ve been to the same track twice more than a couple of times this year. We’ve been learning a lot and hopefully that will pay off as we go on later in the year. It’s been fun for sure going to all the different tracks and I enjoy it although there are some tracks that I say why the hell am I here!”
Plans for Maresca to return to the Modified ranks for some of the bigger paying races at end of the year are up in the air right now.
“We would like to make some of the bigger shows later in the year. A lot depends on where we’re at in the late model points and how we are doing. I would like to get to Super DIRT Week, but we’ll see and we probably won’t make a decision on that to right before. The car will be ready, but we have to wait and see for now. I really like the Modifieds and hope to be able to race them some towards the end of the year.”
There were 35 Modifieds signed in for action on the night. Heat races were won by Andy Bachetti, Stewart Friesen, Rick Laubach and Matt Sheppard. Wade Hendrickson won the consi…
Provisionals for the feature event were awarded to Anthony Perrego, Doug Manmiller and Jared Umbenhauer…
STSS regular Anthony Perrego had a night he would like to quickly forget. The Superior Remodeling No. 44 had issues in the heat forcing him to the pits. In the consolation race Perrego also had issues forcing him to use a provisional to get in the feature event. Perrego looked to have his problems worked out in the feature as he was moving up in the running order but once again misfortune struck as Perrego slowed to bring out the yellow on lap 35, done for the night…
Rick Laubach had a strong run going in the Ryan Kerr No. 1K only to slow to a stop on lap 33 ending his good run…
Jimmy Horton had an okay night going on making a nice move in his heat race to go from fifth to third to make it into a redraw spot for the feature. Starting fourth, Horton had a decent top ten run going before being involved in a mid-race tangle in turn one breaking a shock tower ending his night….
A nice gesture after the races from one of Matt Sheppard’s sponsors Givens Produce who brought along a skid of watermelons to hand out to the fans in the pits afterwards…
Next race for the STSS South series will be the “Blast at the Beach” at the Georgetown Speedway on Tuesday August 28th. This event on MAVTV will be the first ever nationally televised race in the short history of the STSS…
The perseverance of the race reward has to go to Jojo Watson and the Blue Hen No. 30M racing team. Watson was involved in multiple tangles during the main event and still able to grab a ninth place finish at night’s end…
As always, I be can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25 for any questions or comments.