By KEN BRUCE
Mat Williamson and his Buzz Chew Motorsports team picked up where they left off at Volusia Speedway Park in February in winning the opening race of the 2023 Super DIRTcar Series Sunday night at Bridgeport Motorsports Park.
Williamson followed race leader Darren Smith who had taken over the lead when pole sitter Matt Sheppard suffered a flat tire on lap two. Williamson had a brief stint in front on lap 35 when he went by Smith, but it was only short lived as Smith moved back in front. Williamson continued to stalk the leader until lap 63 when he made his bid for the lead stick. Williamson held off a late race charge from Matt Stangle to take the win and the $7,500 first place prize.
“I saw that (Matt) Stangle was coming on the top and with about eight laps to go I started to get complacent,” cited Williamson at the team’s hauler after the race. “At that point, I just wanted the race to be over. I obviously didn’t want to lose the race and I couldn’t see Dave (starter Dave Farney) flags telling me where he was. I knew the top in three and four were better because that’s where Darren (Smith) was out there pulling away from me and I probably should have been a little smarter as a driver and went to the top. Thankfully we were able to get the win.”
Racing at Bridgeport was tough on this night as the track crew is still trying to get a handle on the new clay they put down over the winter and then you add in the fact of heavy rain on Saturday night, it certainly gave the track some character.
“Bridgeport is a challenging racetrack and I do enjoy racing here,” mentioned Williamson. “As much as we are in pain tonight, all the drivers and it was rough. They had a lot of challenging conditions with the weather and it only being the second time on the new clay. Doug (Rose) has a great facility here and I feel like it is probably a bad time of year to come here with the weather the way that it is but when we came here before in July it was super smooth and slippery, and you could race all over the place. I do look forward to coming back to Bridgeport.”
Williamson has mentioned before that he doesn’t feel like he races the big-block car enough and sometimes it takes him some time to get comfortable enough to win races. With Sunday’s “Battle of the Big-Blocks” win, it was Williamson’s fifth win out of the last seven Series races. Needless to say, I think that reasoning is no more.
“There is not that much different really,” explained Williamson. “I do a lot of things at Merrittville (Speedway) to simulate what I do with the big-block. Merrittville is close to home and it’s easy in and out, get there at 4:30 and be home by 11:30, unfortunately tonight I won’t get home until 4:30 in the morning but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I like to use Merrittville as a test for what we do with the big-block and a lot of it pays off but last year at Georgetown we hit on somethings in Jeff’s car (Behrent’s No. 3) and I don’t think we have lost more than two or three races since then. It’s been a pretty cool start to the year after a strong ending last year and hopefully we can keep the deal together and keep clicking off wins. Next race is at Middletown and Matt (Sheppard) has been really good there so that will be a test for us, but we will make some adjustments and see how it goes.”
Stangle Finishes Second by a Nose
One more lap, that is all Matt Stangle thought he needed to pull off an upset win in the Battle of the Big Block SDS Sunday at Bridgeport Motorsports Park. After getting past Darren Smith for second, Stangle took off after leader Mat Williamson and using the outside was able to close the gap to the leader. After taking the white flag, Stangle tried the outside in turns one and two but lost ground to Williamson but not to be denied, Stangle ran it hard into turns three and four and as the leaders exited the corner Stangle was able to get alongside the leader only to come up a nose shy at the finish. For Stangle it was his third second-place finish in his last three races.
“These second places are good, but I just want to win,” commented Stangle after getting out of his No. 6 Modified. “The last couple of weeks our cars have been really good and this whole season for that matter. We have been having good finishes but just can’t seem to get the job done and win one of these.”
Stangle was strong from the start of the night until the checkered flag flew but it was challenging for the Neshanic Station, N.J., driver.
“The track was rough out there and every time I thought I had a good run going, I would hit a rut the wrong way and get out of sorts and lose a couple of spots or at least lose ground to whoever was running in front of me. The last few laps I was able to get some good runs through turns three and four but then I would lose it all in turns one and two and then some laps when I thought I got through one and two okay, I would mess it up in turns three and four. I just couldn’t seem to be able to put together a complete lap. On the last lap I saw that Williamson was going to the bottom to lap (Jack) Lehner and it opened up the top for me coming out of the turn and I gave it all I could but just came up short. The more we run these big block races, the better I get and am looking forward to the next one.”
Billy Pauch Jr Charges from 22nd to Finish Third
The night didn’t start out well for Billy Pauch Jr. Pauch was not fast in hot laps nor in his time trial group forcing him to deal with a bad starting spot in his heat race. Pauch came up one spot short of qualifying in his heat relegating him to running one of the night’s last chance qualifiers. Pauch was able to pull off a win in his last chance qualifier, lining him up 22nd for the 75-lap main event.
Pauch was a man on a mission throughout the Battle of the Big Block race and drove his Kid Racing No. 15 to a third place finish putting him on the podium. For Pauch it was his second consecutive third place SDS finish at Bridgeport Motorsports Park.
“I really wanted to fire myself after my qualifying effort tonight,” said Pauch after the race. “In the end that probably helped us with having to run the consi and getting those extra laps to make us better for the feature. Unfortunately, I was forced to use up my tires getting up there and probably had the worst tire there at the end of the race. But in full disclosure, as bad as I have been in the last couple of weeks, it felt good to have a good run.
“I thought we had a good car and set-up for Big Diamond last week and brought that here tonight with this car but it just didn’t work with the big block. It was just way too tight and I couldn’t rotate the car to save my ass. So, we made some changes and freed it up some and it came to life. This car has been so good that I don’t want to get rid of it and will probably take it to Georgetown the next time instead of the one we took the last time there. I think with this car in the last five races I have two wins, a second and two thirds with it.”
Coming off a major back injury at the end of last season, 75 laps at Bridgeport last night made for a sore driver after the race.
“Definitely need to take some Advil tonight,” joked Pauch. “I don’t think it is any rougher than it was last year, but you can’t go around the holes, if you can get a top here you can at least go around the holes I am not bitching, it’s just the way it is this early in the season. The weather has sucked, and I have always said we start racing too early.”
Solid Fourth Place Finish for Gular
For a driver that hasn’t had much success at Bridgeport Motorsport Park since they introduced the new configuration, Mike Gular finally was able to come out of the night with a good finish. Gular ran with the leaders all night long and finishing fourth was a good outcome for the Boyertown, PA driver.
“Yeah, we’ll take it for sure,” said Gular. “The track had character and made for some interesting racing. Going out for the feature we didn’t really know what to do with our tires since we don’t have many laps here, so we guessed on that, and I think we got it pretty close.”
Gular had the Terry Fastnacht No. 2A on the move and if it wasn’t for a little issue late in the race, the team’s finish could have been even better.
“We were running pretty good there and then we picked up a bad vibration in the car around lap 50,” mentioned Gular. “I kind of settled down there and wasn’t catching them, then Stangle surprised me and went by me before I could get back up on the wheel, so I guess that is my fault, but I think his car was better there towards the end. But we’ll take a fourth in a SDS race with all the big teams from New York.”
As mentioned before, Gular and his team are taking a laid-back approach this year and it seems to be helping out the team tremendously as shown by the results so far.
“Doing that and having the right people in place is a big deal as well,” explained Gular. “We have some new crew guys that are real go-getters and are really into and want to do it and that’s what we need. Having Ron Seltman as a crew chief has been great, he has been doing our shock through his Fast Forward Shocks business and that has been helpful to us.”
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