By BILL FOLEY
Stewart Friesen opened the 10th anniversary season for the Short Track Super Series with a narrow victory over Matt Sheppard as the new year kicked off at All-Tech Raceway on Wednesday night in Florida.
As the laps wound down the 44 started showing some telltale smoke and there seemed concern that maybe the team might not eventually end up in victory lane.
Friesen said, “I felt it lay down a little bit, but it just seemed to change pitch. So, we probably lost a cylinder there. There is coolant on the header. So maybe it’s just a head gasket that we can work on here. We have a back-up.”
Continuing, he said, “It feels pretty darn good to start off the season with a win. I have to thank many of our supporters, Halmar International. Ferris Mowers is on board with us this year so a big thanks to them. Statewide Fence came on board and Jimmy Defovio just for the tour and we appreciate their help and obviously Palmer Service. We got the win, but we got to go to work. I don’t think it was worth stopping as it laid down just a little bit. It’s not super catastrophic, but we will see.”
The race seemed to break Friesen’s way as he explained the yellow coming out as the leaders approached heavy traffic.
Reflecting on the race, Stew said, “We were coming up on lapped traffic and they were racing three-wide. It was getting pretty wild. I was glad to see the yellow, but then seeing Matt (Sheppard) next to me I didn’t know if I should take the top or the bottom. The first restart I took the top and it went well and I was able to get back in the rubber.”
However, it was the luck of the draw that put Friesen on the front row and looking at his heat as he said, “It was wild. This track is tough. It is slick and greasy and the lane changes quite a bit. Even before the feature it would be good down low on one lap and up top the next. It’s fun racing and it’s a fun surface. We have a couple more nights of racing.”
Sheppard’s draw wasn’t as fruitful as Friesen’s as the 9s rolled off ninth.
He appeared to have a chance to close in, but at the midway point just as the leaders hit traffic the yellow came out and it wasn’t until three laps to go before that situation arose again.
Matt said, “We had a really good car tonight and came up with second. It worked for us. We had a good draw and a good night. We moved forward and hopefully it will be better tomorrow night.”
Third place was a relative surprise as high school senior Alex Payne came from 13th and put on a show rim riding around the All-Tech track.
Alex said, “We had a good car all the way around and I was hoping to get closer, but between three and four I really felt I could pick up a lot of spots along the way on the top and it was good up there. I felt the track come in there and then fell in line. It was pretty good after that. This place is weird. Something like I have never been on before.”
David Schilling had an eventful night and throughout the feature ran right up toward the front of the field.
He settled for fourth and was disappointed, saying, “I was definitely disappointed. I should have finished in third. I made mistakes on restarts and let guys get around me. I just misjudged some of my lines there. Overall, we had a good enough car to run up front which is always good, but the driver just needs to do a little bit better job next time.”
A late race rally by Erick Rudolph resulted in a fifth-place finish.
He’s run here before and usually by the end of the night finds himself in a decent finishing position. He said, “We’ve had a good share of good runs here. Opening up the week with a fifth place is pretty decent and something to build off of. Hopefully tomorrow we can do a little better and put ourselves in a better position come race time.”
In regard to the 30-lap feature he said, “It seemed like I was able to move around good early and then the track kind of locked down a little bit and it was hard to pass out there. I was disappointed with our heat race performance, but we made the best of it and that is all you really can do. You have to realize that tomorrow is a new day, we’ll be at the same place and hopefully do a better job in our heat race and better track position wise. Our feature set up pretty good here. We just have to get through the heat race.”