Notes, Quotes and More from Utica-Rome’s Super DIRTcar Series Event – DTD Exclusive

By JORDAN DELUCIA

One-hundred laps around a half-mile dirt track in an 800-horsepower big-block modified can go by quickly, but a lot is bound to happen when the Super DIRTcar Series (SDS) comes to play…

Sunday night’s “New Yorker 100” started out generally uneventful, with Matt Sheppard taking control on lap one from outside the front row. By lap 15, Billy Decker moved to second, Pat Ward third, Tim Fuller in fourth and eventual winner Stewart Friesen rounding out the top five.

Sheppard would hold the lead for a little while, but it wouldn’t last, as Decker was noticeably gaining on him come lap 35. Decker made the move on lap 38 out of turn two and down the backstretch around the outside of Sheppard for the lead. One circuit later, Sheppard brought out a yellow for a right-front flat tire.

On the lap 47 restart, Ward passed Decker out of turn four to grab the race lead, as Friesen continued his charge to the front, moving to third. At lap 50, Friesen would make the pass to take the second spot away from Decker. Five laps later, he would pass Ward for the lead and not relinquish it, leading the next 45 consecutive laps and taking the checkered for his first SDS victory of the year.

“It’s pretty cool, this is probably one of the hardest tracks we go to all year, as far as technicality and challenge,” Friesen said. “To get one here is pretty awesome.”

Utica always slicks-off by the end of the night. Every week. There’s simply no escaping it. However, for a seasoned veteran like Friesen, he knows exactly what to expect and how to adjust.

“It was very even, very slick. There was a little bit of bottom that I was trying to work early; once I gave up on that and started rolling around the middle,” he said. “That caution there where we restarted fourth, I just found something on the top and was able to use that for a little bit and get us out front.”

Car setup is also key on, what Bill Foley would refer to as, a “New York slick” racetrack. Balancing out the car to be able to run on all three grooves seemed to be what Friesen’s crew aimed for on Sunday.

“We were decent so we just tried to keep it balanced. Anything we did to the back, we did to the front,” he explained. “Made sure the tires were good for 100 laps…”

Pat Ward lead a handful of laps until Friesen got by him, just past the halfway mark, putting the Gypsum Express number 42p across the line in the runner-up spot. He said his night was “uneventful,” as his car ran top-five the entire race.

“The car took right off from the start, we were running with Matt and Billy,” Ward said. “Matt must’ve had a flat and I got the jump on the restart pretty good. I thought I was alright, but here comes Stewie…”

The slick track conditions didn’t seem to bother Ward either, as he spent some race time in each of the three grooves as well.

“If you had a good car, you could just about go anywhere,” he said. “Best the track’s been all year – with all that rain, I don’t know how they did it, but a heck of a job to the crew on that. It was pretty racy.”

Tim Fuller rounded out the podium with a third-place finish. Utica isn’t exactly his favorite SDS stop of the season, but a third-place was enough to satisfy him.

“It was a good run for us – this isn’t my favorite place,” he said. “I’ll see it as a successful night, considering how I go here.”

Fuller’s new ride aboard the Graham Racing team for 2017 has been all about improvement – something he makes progress on every week.

“We’re just messing around with this car and trying to make it a little bit better,” Fuller said. “We aren’t doing everything the way everybody else is doing it – we’re trying to learn something to use for the future.”

Other Notes

As everybody has probably seen and/or heard about by now, Matt Sheppard and Larry Wight scuffled boots at the edge of turn three after they came together on the backstretch late in the race, sending Wight end-over-end multiple times, destroying his racecar.

Sheppard was the first to unbuckle and jump from his machine; he sprinted over to Wight’s ride and actually pulled him out of the cockpit, body-slamming him to the ground and putting him in a helmets-on headlock until safety officials arrived to break it up. Both drivers were escorted back to the pit area, the track was cleared of the wreckage and the race was resumed…

At the conclusion of the race, New York State Police Troopers arrived at the track to speak with Wight and his family. By this time, Sheppard and his team were packing up and leaving the track…

As of Monday, July 3, DIRTcar officials have already handed down the disciplinary actions on Sheppard and his team, fining them $1,000, docking championship points and even issuing a week-long suspension from racing at any DIRTcar-sanctioned track and a two-race SDS suspension…

The track surface surprisingly went untouched after the heat races. Normally, some sort of track maintenance occurs during the intermission, but the track crews decided to leave it the way it was after all qualifying events were completed…

Pulling double-duty, especially on a night where one of the features is 100 laps, can be very exhausting. On Sunday, there were three drivers in the field that did it in their sprint car and big-block, and one more who would have done it if it weren’t for an engine expiration…

Larry Wight was actually set to do double-duty three nights in a row – the first at Brewerton on Friday, second at Fulton on Saturday and again Sunday at Utica. Unfortunately for him, the engine let go in his sprint car while leading his heat race at Fulton, so the 99L sprinter was nowhere to be found on Sunday…

The father-son duo of Bobby and Danny Varin raced in both main events on Sunday, with Danny taking the runner-up spot in the Empire Super Sprint (ESS) feature and winning the overall CNY Speedweek championship over Matt Tanner and Mike Mahaney. He also finished fourth in the New Yorker 100. Meanwhile, Bobby took a fifth-place in the ESS feature and a 13th in the SDS event…

Finally, it was Mike Mahaney’s turn to go back-to-back with the sprints and mods. Unfortunately, he did not have the night he was looking for, as he dropped out of the ESS feature after just two laps with an apparent mechanical failure. In the SDS main event, he posted a 17th-place finish…

Modified heats were won by Larry Wight, Matt Sheppard, Tim Fuller and Stewart Friesen.