Makin’ Tracks – Utica-Rome Ward-Sheppard Celebrate – DTD Exclusive

By BILL FOLEY

The difference is amazing to see.

Utica-Rome fans were treated to a Modified doubleheader on Sunday and both were a little different.

Pat Ward and Matt Sheppard captured 30 lap victories. For Pat it was the first win of the year anywhere and his 25th career checker at UR. Meanwhile, Sheppard has won just about everywhere he runs, is top in points and apparently headed for yet another UR track championship (barring something totally unexpected happening).

Both had different routes to victory lane on this Sunday night as one has years of racing ahead and the other is treasuring each and every victory that comes the way of a successful veteran racing driver.


Pat climbed out, took both hands pounded the top of his car, stood high up celebrating the checker flag and had a smile that could be seen from the tower.

Ward was driving a car that was badly bent up on Friday night at Brewerton and it ran well.

Pat understands the meaning of victories as he noted they are coming a bit harder due to the extreme competition of the Modified division. You can see he treasures these moments and he allows himself to thoroughly enjoy them.

Ward does get a hand from folks, but not only does the bulk of the work himself, but drives the hauler to and from the track.

The car that was parked in victory lane, just 36 hours before had been on the back of a tow truck.

Pat said, “The whole front clip have been bent five inches. I patched it and welded it. It needed shocks and I took the body panels off last year’s car to get it ready. I got to the garage at 6 a.m. on Saturday and didn’t really know how bad it was until I took the nose off.”

To think it was in victory lane on Sunday night was a tremendous accomplishment.

Sheppard is one of those young lions who still have plenty more wins ahead of him. He is surrounded by a entourage of supporters and in victory lane the car was not to be seen as it was covered with bodies.

You had to get the feeling that after Matt came up one spot short in the first main that he was going to be the force to be reckoned with in the second.

Coming off the track after the Pro Stock interview starter Matt Burdick asked, “Who’s going to win the Modified race?”

Without hesitation I said, “There’s no way Sheppard is going to lose this.” I just had a feeling that career win 35 would be in the offing for the 9s.

In victory lane Matt said, “Tim was real good and Pat was real good tonight, but the car was great all night long. It was spot on. I really enjoy coming here on Sunday night and we had fun tonight.”

And have fun he did as he had a 5.176 second lead over Tim Fuller while third place Rob Bellinger was 11.076 seconds back.

Alan Johnson a Bit Concerned

After finishing fourth in the first Mod main it appeared Alan Johnson was off to a good night.

However, as the heats rolled out just three laps in the 14j was heading to his trailer and he came back out for the feature starting 19th and came home 11th.

When asked what happened to the car to force it pit side Alan said, “Nothing, but the motor isn’t competitive enough for Utica-Rome.”

As he discussed the motor situation further he explained, “We have our primary motor, but it won’t be ready for a month. We probably are going to cut way back on racing this year.”

Alan has had a solid year and has feature wins to his credit, but recently announced that the team was going to pick and choose the special shows because of financial and equipment concerns.

Rob Bellinger Stumped

Robby Bellinger had gone over the bank in the first feature and exited, but in the second he had a well driven third to finish off his night. He was running a “peanut” motor after losing his primary on Friday at Brewerton.

However, that excursion off the track at the west end was a bit different and it seemed to take safety crews a long time to get Rob back up and into the pits.

The car stayed on all fours and Robby explained what exactly happened.

He said, “The car was stuck on a tree stump. It destroyed the right rear wheel, ripped the panhard mount on the inside and caused a little body damage, but nothing too bad.”

A car caught on a stump is a first.

Hutchings Shows Dedication

Claude Hutchings Jr. has come a long way since as a teenager he drove a Four Cylinder around the Brewerton Speedway.

He’s been a Race of Champions Sportsman champion and still runs an Open Sportsman successfully at Afton on Friday nights.

Well, during the SDS Utica-Rome show things got crowded at the end of the back stretch and his 84jr went soaring through the air.

By the time the dust had cleared it was totally destroyed and there were thoughts that the Big Block effort might be over.

His dad said, “The frame was gone. We called Bicknell, but they were off Monday and Tuesday. I got a hold of them on Wednesday morning and at 10 a.m. Thursday we went to get the new frame. He had given me a price for the frame, but I said I would think about it. A short time later I called him back and said we would do it.”

The chassis arrived in the garage a week ago Thursday and this past Saturday it was a completed race car.

Claude Sr. admits it is difficult and expensive to try to run against the better funded teams. He’s not totally sure what the future will hold, but the dedication and determination were on display the past week and on Sunday night as a new 84jr was in the pits.

Claude Sr. was rewarded by watching his son come home with a solid third place in racing against two of the best Pat Ward and Matt Sheppard. In fact Sheppard didn’t get past him until the closing two laps for the runner up spot.

The 84jr. team should have gone home happy.

Pit Stops

Claude Hutchings Jr. finished third in the first Mod main of the night. He led for 17 laps before Pat Ward got past him…

Mike Mahaney got to fifth in the first feature, but dropped out on the second lap with mechanical problems…

Matt Sheppard had a second and first on the night. He got the runner up in the rained out main on the 29th lap as he got under Hutchings. Ran away, and I mean ran away, with the second main…

The Mike Martin Memorial was well attended with 30 cars taking the green for the Sportsman.  Some regulars weren’t happy that this was a draw point race. It paid $1,000 to win and it was hoped some new faces would show up to test for the Ultimate Sportsman Show this coming Sunday. Mike has been involved with A.J. Filbeck, Matt Janczuk and Jake Spraker among others. His wife Carol, family and friends were on hand. The group also supplied checker flags and popsicles to the youngsters of the Junior Fan Club.

The top 12 redrew with Rocky Warner and eventual winner Dave Marcuccelli side by side in row six…

Scott Duell qualified in his heat, but was too light and started 30th in the main…

The late race side-by-side between Warner and A.J. Filbeck was fun to watch…

Kyle Inman put on a tremendous run as along with birthday boy Kevin Root battled furiously at the front of the field to put on one heck of a show…

Jeff Taylor’s team did plenty of work on his 11t after heavy damage sustained at Brewerton on Friday night…

Matt Janczuk started 29th and finished a respectable eighth with a solid run through the field…

Marcuccelli won by 1.839 seconds over Inman. It was Inman’s best run of the year at Utica-Rome…

Brent Joy and C.J. Castelletti were unable to start the main. Joy had his front end bent up in a skirmish between one and two in a heat…

New Mods pit side were Joel Thomas and Jack Lehner…

Darwin Greene had two Mods and ran one in each feature. One usually driven by Ken Sparks at Fonda…

Sportsman driver Stephen Denton spent the last two weeks trying to solve brake problems on the 44c…

Well, Pro Stocks field is short of cars as eight turned 20 laps and as expected Mike Welch ran away…

The interesting racing came between Aaron Page, Mike Kazlauskas and Jim Normoyle as they fought for fifth place…

Shane Henderson was solid in second, but just had nothing for Welch…

Nice to see Bill Knapp and Ernie Staelens finish third and fourth. They are two loyal and dedicated drivers…

After Matt Sheppard and Tim Fuller dominated their heats there might have been an expectation of a decent battle in the final Mod main of the night. That expectation was never realized as on the 19th lap Sheppard caught Fuller and simply ran away…

Mods not returning for the rained out event were Jessey Mueller, Jim Nagle and C.G. Morey.

As always comments, news and thoughts to foley395@hotmail.com. I ask, but never receive anything.