By MIKE MALLETT
VERNON, NY – Mat Williamson did something not many drivers can say they’ve done in their careers. He passed both Stewart Friesen and Matt Sheppard to take a checkered flag at the Utica-Rome Speedway. Williamson came on late to win the Super DIRT Week Pre-Game 100 for his first career 358-Modified DIRTcar Series win. He earned $4,000 for the victory.
“This is pretty cool to win it at some place that we don’t race regularly,” cited Williamson when asked about winning his first series win. “This gives us some momentum going into Weedsport (Speedway) tomorrow and Brewerton (Speedway) Thursday. We’ll see what we can do.”
Utica-Rome regular Marc Johnson brought the field down for the start of the main-event. He raced alongside Quebec invader Mario Clair for the first circuit of the race and got the better of him as they came off of turn four to complete lap one.
Johnson dominated the race for the first 10 laps while Steve Bernard diced it out for the second position with Clair. Bernard eventually took second on lap 10 before then racing around Johnson for the lead on lap 13. He did it on the outside of turns three and four. A lap later caution was needed as Gary Lindberg’s night came to an end as he got off the speedway in turn three after destroying the front of his mount.
Bernard resumed his hold on the top spot as the race got back up to speed. Johnson was now in a position where he had to deal with pressure from the speedway’s all-time wins leader Stewart Friesen. Friesen put the heat on Johnson for multiple laps before taking second on lap 22.
Friesen chased Bernard for the next several trips around the speedway looking for the fast lane. Bernard stayed up on the cushion while Friesen worked the middle and the bottom of the track searching for a faster groove. While that duo raced at the front Matt Sheppard was working up through the competition after starting eighth to take over third on the 27th lap.
Carey Terrance slowed the pace of the race as he spun off the speedway in turns one and two on lap 34. This put Friesen alongside of Bernard for the next green flag. He took full advantage of the opportunity as he screamed by Bernard on the bottom of heading into turns one and two when the field got back up to full power.
Bernard kept the pace up staying with Friesen while being hounded by Sheppard. Eventually the mounting pressure from Sheppard was too much to bear. Sheppard drove by Bernard on lap 55 to take second. At that point Friesen and Sheppard raced away from the field with Williamson now just cracking into the top ten.
With only 30 laps remaining in the feature, Williamson had moved up and sat seventh in the running order. It was at this point his pace began to get quicker. The St. Catherines, Ont., driver started picking off cars in rapid fashion moving his way into the top five by lap 80.
Friesen and Sheppard stayed out front as attention turned to the battle for third. Bernard and Chad Brachmann swapped the position multiple times before Williamson drove by both of them through the middle on the 83rd circuit at the exit of the fourth corner. He was three-quarters of a straightaway behind the race for the lead.
“We just started rolling the middle of three and four and it was almost like it took rubber,” commented Williamson. “I don’t know if this thing was that hooked up or what. About 20 laps into this things I was ready to pull in and call it a night. We were racing with about the 15th, 16th and 17th place cars. I don’t know where the speed came from. We were terrible the first 50 laps. Then it was like we had a jet button in this car.”
Williamson charge was quick. He made up nearly a half of a second a lap catching the leaders by lap 87. Two rotations later the 13th place starter was in the mix with Sheppard and Friesen. He got to the outside of Sheppard coming off of the second turn and then went through the middle of turn three and four to take the lead away from Friesen in traffic as Sheppard dropped out with smoke coming out of his C.M.E Incorporated ride.
“Man, them guys are the best in the business,” he said in reference to Friesen and Sheppard. “When I was a straightaway behind them I didn’t think I had anything. Then they caught lapped traffic and it was almost like I was getting better and they were getting worse. We just came on at the right time.”
It was smooth sailing for Williamson from there in his Bicknell ride that was supported by four Integra Racing Shocks. He led the rest of the way for his first win at the half-mile facility.
Friesen’s night ended in second. He was good, but just not good enough to keep back the hard charging Williamson. He admitted the team has some more work to do in order to get better for competition at Oswego Speedway later in the week.
“I was cruising along but I knew we were in trouble there when I really couldn’t get the lappers out of the way quick enough,” stated Friesen. “We were really good at the start. The Halmar team was good. I think we lost the right front and got a little bit tight. We started sliding around and searching and Mat was lights out. That was good though.”
Erick Rudolph made it all the way from 15th to finish in third. It was a dogfight for the Ransomville, N.Y., to get on the podium. He was satisfied with the effort in the post-race interview.
“We got a few spots there the last 20 laps or so,” said Rudolph. “We got a little homework to do. All-in-all we started this week off pretty good with a top three. That is nothing to be ashamed of here.”
Bernard, the 358 DIRTcar Series point leader, finished in the fourth position while Brachmann’s three hour tow to the speedway resulted in a fifth place finish.
Brachmann set fast time overall in time trials with a lap of 19.203. Heat race victories were earned by Friesen, Bernard, Brachmann, Clair and Sheppard. Three consolations were necessary for the 47 cars in attendance. Those 10-lap races were won by Alan Johnson, Lindberg and Ryan Susice.
358-MODIFIED SUPER DIRTCAR SERIES FEATURE FINISH (100 LAPS)-MAT WILLIAMSON, Stewart Friesen, Erick Rudolph, Steve Bernard, Chad Brachmann, Marc Johnson, Billy Dunn, Pat Ward, Ryan Susice, Mike Maresca, Ryan Arbuthnot, Ron Davis III, Alan Johnson, Mike Bowman, Alex Therrien, Lance Willix, Tim Sears, Jr., Mario Clair, Bobby Herrington, Brett Hearn, Jordan McCreadie, Chris Raabe, Michael Parent, Matt Sheppard, Simon Harvey-Perrault, Rick Richner, Ryan Godown, Carey Terrance, Larry Wight, and Gary Lindberg. DNQ-Tommy Flanagan, Taylor Caprara, Rob Bellinger, Dave Allen, Louie Jackson Jr., Nick Webb, Billy Whittaker, Demetois Drellos, JF Corriveau, Allan Therrien, Kevin Poitras, Aaron Jacobs, Brandon Sweet, Corey Wheeler, Shaun Pangman, Randy Green, and Skylar Sheriff.