By BILL FOLEY
The DIRTcar Nationals are in their waning days as the Super DIRTcar Modifieds roared into Volusia Speedway Park, one of the fastest half miles in the nation, and when the dust had settled on night number one it was Max McLaughlin coming home with a win over Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen.
Max started on the front row and got the jump over pole sitter Erick Rudolph.
The 8H dominated the field, but in the closing stages Sheppard was beginning to creep closer and closer.
However, at the checkered it was McLaughlin’s third overall victory at Volusia.
Looking back on the night Max said, “It’s always tricky when you are starting on the front row because you know who the guys behind you are, but tonight with so many lapped cars everywhere, you got to go where they aren’t anyways. The restart could have been a little bit different because I didn’t know where they were and I didn’t feel that great anywhere. The car was so tight. I couldn’t run against the cushion in the grip and, I don’t know I just, I got to get this rotating a little bit better tomorrow.”
Late in the race Sheppard began to close and Max noted, “I ran out of tearoffs first of all. I really couldn’t see that much. Other than that, I was just really tight getting around the top. At the end I couldn’t run in the grip anywhere, so I was better off running in the black. With two to go I found another groove in the middle and I said, ‘oh man I should have done this the last ten laps.’”
From start to finish Max was in control, saying, “I drove around Rudolph at the start. Passing these guys anywhere is tough. You know the top 10 guys, but it was definitely tricky, but lapped car wise it was pretty racy for me.”
There was added emotion to the victory as car owner Al Heinke’s wife Judy has passed away recently.
Max said, “Everyone has been kind of down. Judy is pretty much a big part of this deal. Al lost his best friend. It’s tough and I can’t imagine how he feels. I want to dedicate this to her.”
Sheppard was closing at the end of the race and looking back at the race he never could gain the edge he needed at the moment he needed it.
He said, “I think we’d come and go throughout the race. I’d put together a couple of good laps and I’d have some bad laps and he would get away from me and vice versa. He was awfully good tonight. Ya know, an open race track at this place you can keep it rolling. He was going to be awful tough to beat from the front row. He is definitely good here.”
During his qualifying heat Matt had a concern about his motor and afterwards explained, “We had an oil leak and after the heat we tore it all apart and honestly couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. We checked a bunch of things with different stuff and threw a band aid at it. After coming home in second tonight we’ll get it back and see where it’s coming from. Florida hasn’t been good the past few years, but three seconds in a row to start the season, it could be worse.”
Friesen drew sixth for the main, gained third early and stayed there.
“We lost the speedway midway through the race and the then the car started to come back to me. We just wanted to keep our spot. It will give us something for our notebook,” he said.
Rudolph rallied for fourth and got off to a difficult start that put him a bit behind the eight ball.
Rudolph told Dirt Track Digest, it was “Lot better than last year on the first night we had a throttle stick and ended our week. We got a fourth place run tonight so we aren’t starting off the week that bad.”
Looking back at the beginning of the race he said, “I spun my tires, dropped back a few spots and played catch up the rest of the race, but I’m okay with the finish.”
Demetrios Drellos was strong early, but had to rally, pass Mat Williamson and hang on for the fifth-place finish.
When asked if he was happy with the finish, he said, “Yes and no. Happy that we rallied back after knocking the infield wall off and coming home with a bent race car to get back into fifth. I wish we could do better than that and I know we can do better than that. I was missing a little bit tonight and maybe come back better tomorrow.”
Talking about the car damaging, momentum killing incident, he said, ”I hit that infield wall coming out of four. I tried to get greedy. I was making good laps but made one mistake. We’ll put a new front axle in for tomorrow and everything will be fine.”
In the battle with Williamson he explained, “Ya know, we found our rhythm again and limped it home. We weren’t exceptional tonight and weren’t bad. I think our team could do better, but that is on me. We put ourselves in a good position, but I think we were a little too tight tonight. Maybe the new format or the smaller Late Model features didn’t slick up the track as much as I thought it would. It was a little grippier than I thought it was. “
So night one is in the books as 41 Modifieds made their way to the Sunshine State to kick off the DIRTcar season at Volusia.
Max McLaughlin has won his share of races down here and would like to add to “my little gator farm that I have at home” with more success this week.
Time will tell.