By KEN BRUCE
The Short Track Super Series invaded the Big Diamond Speedway on Tuesday night for the annual “Anthracite Assault.” Billed as the North vs South, this race always draws the best from both series as they descended on the dirt track nestled up in coal country region. The war raged on for 50-laps this past Tuesday night and once the muskets stopped firing and the cannons stopped booming as quiet settled in over the battlefield emerging victorious through the dust was none other than Superman himself Matt Sheppard.
Sheppard once again asserted himself as the man to beat in 2019 on the STSS as he made his way to victory lane after starting all the way back in the 21st starting spot after winning the first of two consolation races. With the victory on Tuesday night, and with it being a combination North Series and South Series race, Sheppard is now the points leader in both regions.
“It was a lot of fun tonight,” beamed an excited Sheppard at his trailer after the race. “We drew the worst possible number tonight that we could and it wasn’t very pretty in the heat race, but we had a good race car and we caught some breaks being in the right place at the right time through traffic. A lot of that is due to having a good race car. When you get an opportunity to make a move you better have a car that is able to take advantage of it. A lot of things had to go our way tonight and they did. That’s why we’re standing here tonight.”
Although Sheppard won the race in the end, it was not your typical night for the driver of the HAS No. 9 team. The night started with Sheppard picking the worst available number in the pre-race draw forcing him to start dead last in heat number one. With passing at a premium early on in the night, Sheppard came up one spot short in his bid to qualify. Starting on the pole in the first consi, Sheppard easily won the race by almost a half a track easing the minds of himself and crew that the car was fast.
Starting 21st on the field, Sheppard knew he had his work cut out for him on this night if he was going to rack up another win on the season. Sheppard slowly picked his way through the field avoiding mishaps along the way and by lap 18 had put himself into the top ten.
When the caution came out on lap 19, Sheppard was up to the sixth spot and it was apparent to the large crowd on hand that Sheppard was on a mission and that he would be in the mix for the lead before too long. When the race resumed Sheppard kept up his assault and one lap later had moved into the fourth spot. One more lap and Sheppard was now third right behind the leader Ryan Godown and second place running Brandon Grosso. Another yellow slowed the race on lap 21 with Sheppard ready to pounce on the two leaders.
As the race resumed, Sheppard remained in third as a battle royale was going on in front of him between Godown and Grosso. Sheppard was content to ride in third as the laps ticked off waiting for the battle upfront to sort out so he could make his move. After a long green flag run, the yellow was once again out on lap 35 giving everyone a chance to catch their breath as the three leaders were putting on show. On the restart Sheppard made his move and went by Grosso for second and started to put pressure on Godown for the lead. One more lap and it was all over as Sheppard made his move on the inside through turns three and four to take the lead.
“I really think when Brandon (Grosso) started showing his nose on the top, that sort of spooked Ryan (Godown) a little bit causing him to move up a little,” said Sheppard as explained his winning move. “That was really the opening I needed. My car was working really well on the bottom and I think the longer the race went the better the car got.”
However, Godown wasn’t going down without fight and hung with Sheppard throughout the remainder of the race which was slowed by three more yellows in the last ten laps. Sheppard did manage to put some distance between himself and Godown through the last four laps of the race and went on to record his third STSS win of the year. The win was Sheppard’s 14th win of the year making him the runaway leader in total wins so far in 2019.
“With two wins in both the North and South series, it doesn’t really get any better than that,” explained Sheppard. “Other than losing the brakes at Thunder Mountain, the STSS has been good to us so far. We haven’t always drawn a good number going through the gate, but we’ve had good enough cars to over come that so far. There’s a lot of racing left this year and hopefully we can do a little bit better in that department, but as long as we continue to have good enough race cars we should be ok.”
Godown Hangs on for a Second-Place Finish
After chasing the STSS last year in both the North and South regions, Ryan Godown has changed his focus in 2019. This year Godown and the Searock Fabrications No. 26 team decided to forgo the STSS title hunt and instead chase the Super DIRTcar series. It was a move Godown and his team thought would be better for the way their team was constructed in 2019 by letting them concentrate on just running a big-block engine and not having to worry about the many engine combinations that are allowed in the STSS.
“At the end of day, the 360 motor we ran tonight has won a lot of these Deyo races but unfortunately it is not the way to go anymore,” mentioned Godown. “Von Dohren beat us on Friday night using a 430 cubic inch motor and tonight Sheppard won with a 430 and a 430 finished third (Williamson). I just can’t justify spending $40,000 on a motor to run ten races and that’s about where it’s at. Plus, the fact that these 430’s/440’s just don’t last as long as a big-block. I can get 2000 laps out of a big-block and with those motors you are lucky to get 1000 laps, so it forces you to pick your poison. I just don’t like the direction it’s going so that’s why we decided not to run the whole STSS this year, plain and simple.”
With Big Diamond Speedway being one of Godown’s home tracks along with New Egypt Speedway, Godown knew he would be competitive with his knowledge of the speedway. Picking a good number after the driver’s meeting, Godown was able to start upfront in his heat race and came home with a runner-up finish to garner a spot in the redraw for the feature. Godown’s good luck on the night continued as he picked the pole starting spot for the nights 50-lap main event.
Godown jumped to the lead at the start of the race and held off a hard charging Brandon Grosso through the middle portion of the race. Godown continued to lead as the laps ticked off until Sheppard was able to get by Godown with an inside move.
At the night’s end, Godown was happy with the team’s second-place finish as the team begins to prepare for a busy schedule ahead in the coming weeks.
“We knew coming through the gate tonight that we were at a disadvantage running the little 360 open small-block and we were just hoping for some good luck which we got,” said a happy Godown as he talked about his night. “We had a good heat race and made the redraw then we were lucky to draw the pole for the race. We just had things go our way tonight. I was trying to conserve as much as I could early on then I saw how good Brandon was on the top and I knew I was going to have to get up there at some point. If not, Brandon was going to roll right by us. Then I saw Sheppard was in third and I knew I was giving up the lane he wanted to use. Matt very rarely passes you on the top but I knew if I didn’t do that both of them were going to get by me. I really didn’t want to go up top too early because I was worried about getting a flat. I had a lot of fun tonight running side-by-side with Brandon, he’s a good kid and is getting better all the time.”
HardCcharger Mat Williamson Grabs a Podium Finish
Mat Williamson has raced on many tracks in the Northeast over his short, but stellar racing career. One track Williamson had never raced on was the Big Diamond Speedway. Tuesday night was the first time ever the St. Catherine’s Ontario driver had ever taken a lap around the dirt oval. Williamson was on hand for last season’s race ready to go before the skies opened forcing the cancellation of the event.
“Racing here was pretty cool,” mentioned Williamson. “When we were here last year we drew number five and the race was rained out. This year we drew way down the list, but I enjoyed racing here tonight. I was told to watch out for lighting but the extra lights they put in make it very comfortable to race. My only thing is that I think the track is too fast, especially for the heats. When it is like that it is very hard to pass but it was nice and racy for the feature. You can’t say there was no passing in the feature with Matt coming from 21st and us from 25th. I think when we come back next year they should make this a timed hot laps race instead of a draw race. This track is much more suited for that.”
Just like Sheppard, Williamson was the victim of a bad draw and failed to qualify through his heat race. Williamson and the Jeff Behrent owned No. 3 team knowing they had a provisional to fall back on so the team used the consolation event as a test session knowing they would be in the feature race.
Williams starting way back in 25th slowly worked his way toward the front and at the end of the 50-lap main event found himself parked on the front straightaway alongside of Sheppard and Godown with an impressive third-place finish. Williamson’s march from 25th to 3rd also won him the hard charger award for the night.
“I can’t blame it on not having a good time trial because when we went to Georgetown we sucked in time trials but today was a draw race and that hurt us,” said a happy Williamson standing by his car afterwards as it was going through post-race tech. “I’ve never been here before and on the first lap of our heat race I got up and over the cushion and we had to work on it from there. Luckily we had put ourselves in a position to get a provisional so we relied on that causing us to not have to race as hard in the consi which was nice. We kind of used that as a hot lap session. We tried some stuff in the consi and the team never gave up and that’s what you need as a driver. We definitely didn’t want to start 25th and we passed some good cars, but we caught some breaks as well. We had some really good restarts and you have to have them in these races. Like I said we caught some breaks, there were drivers that I couldn’t get by and they had some misfortune allowing us to get by and get a good finish.”
Brandon Grosso Impressive Until the End
Brandon Grosso and his team have struggled throughout most of 2019. Needing a good run, Grosso was on a mission on this night coming from deep in his heat race to finish in a redraw spot for the feature event. Starting the feature in the seventh spot, Grosso was on move quickly and by lap seven was running second. Grosso immediately started to run down leader Godown. Multiple cautions put Grosso right on Godown’s rear bumper and when the race had it’s longest green flag run of the night during the middle portion of the race the two New Egypt Speedway regulars put on quite a show for the fans as Godown continued to hug the bottom with Grosso trying to use the outside lane to get around the leader. Grosso continued to pound the outside groove and was able to get alongside Godown but Godown would always have the drive off the corner to stay in front. Eventual winner Sheppard would end up getting by Grosso as well as some others with Grosso ending up finishing a disappointing eight.
“I had second and was probably going to be able to get Ryan (Godown) eventually,” a disappointed Grosso explained. “I didn’t need that restart there with around 15 to go, that’s for sure. We were really starting to put the pressure on Ryan and I thought I had him there a couple of times before that, but on the restart Matt (Sheppard) got by me and then Duane Howard got into me a little bit and I ended up losing some spots. After that I was just trying to make it to the end because we had a tire going down making the car tighter and tighter. With five to go I was just hanging on. Our season hasn’t gone good at all so far this year. The cars have been good, but we just seem to catch a break whether it’s been drawing bad or getting involved wrecks. It sucks, but we’ll be ok. There’s still plenty of racing left to turn it around.”
Anthracite Assault Nuggets
Thirty-seven Modifieds signed in for the night’s action under perfect weather conditions. Rick Laubach, Mike Mahaney, Mike Gular and Jeff Strunk won the four heats with Matt Sheppard and Craig Von Dohren winning the two consi’s…
Jimmy Horton made a return to Big Diamond after flipping wildly over the third turn wall last Friday. Horton came back to the speedway driving his old Bicknell car from last year after destroying the DKM Cyclone chassis that he raced with last Friday. Horton had a solid top ten effort until pulling off with two to go with a flat tire. A new DKM Cyclone chassis is on order for Horton and should be ready soon…
Winner of the first two races this season at Big Diamond Speedway Craig Von Dohren struggled all night in the Dick Biever owned No. 14S. Von Dohren was battling for a qualified spot in his heat race when a right rear tire exploded forcing him to the pits. Von Dohren did win his consi but struggled throughout the 50-lap feature only able to finish in 12th…
Last week’s STSS North series winner at Thunder Mountain Billy Decker was the first car out of the race finishing last…
Mike Gular backed up his second-place finish in last Friday’s “Money in the Mountains” with a solid fifth place finish on Tuesday. With his finish, Gular is now only 12 points behind leader Matt Sheppard in the STSS North region…
Qualifying for the main event was at a premium with names like Brian Malcolm, Matt Stangle, J.R. Hurlbert, Billy Van Pelt, Frank Cozze, Mike Kolka, Brett Kressley and Tim Hartman Jr all not making the field…
After four events so far, Matt Sheppard leads the way in the STSS South region over Jeff Strunk, Craig Von Dohren, Ryan Watt, Jordan Watson, Billy Pauch Jr, Mike Gular, David VanHorn, Stewart Friesen and Anthony Perrego…
In the STSS North region, it is also Matt Sheppard leading the way over Mike Gular, Matt Williamson, Stewart Friesen, Andy Bachetti, Billy Decker, Anthony Perrego, Mike Mahaney, Dan Creeden and Craig Hanson…
Next up for the STSS South region will be the $10,000 to win “York County Nationals” at BAPS Motor Speedway on Sunday July 14th. In the North region the next scheduled race will be on Wednesday June 19th at the Outlaw Speedway as part of the “Outlaw Showdown”…
As always I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25 for any questions or comments.