By KEN BRUCE
There are not many tracks at all in the Northeast that Matt Sheppard has not won at. The only two that come to mind for this writer are Accord Speedway and Bridgeport Motorsports Park. Sheppard has come close on occasion but was just not able to close the deal. However, last night Sheppard was able to cross one of those tracks off his list when he dominated the 50-lap Battle of the Bullring race at the Accord Speedway. It was a race and a track that Sheppard has been after for a long time.
“We finally got one here,” said Sheppard. “It took some doing to do it, it was similar to Bridgeport, and we thought I was going to get my first win there a couple of weeks ago but I got a flat tire so I was certainly counting down the laps and was very happy to see that checkered flag.”
A lap six restart saw Sheppard give it his all to get by then leader Mat Williamson, but Williamson was able to prevail and maintain the lead. The following restart on lap 13 provided another opportunity for Sheppard and this time the driver out of Savannah, NY completed his mission.
“That was tough because you really wanted to be on the bottom getting into (turn) one,” explained Sheppard. “Then the top started to get a better launch on the restarts, it just seemed a little smoother out there. There wasn’t as much traction, but you didn’t seem to hop the car as much and you got a pretty good start out there. It just happened to work out in my favor, he (Williamson) kind of got the leader screwed there thinking the bottom was the place to be on the restart but the top just got better, and I was able to get around and get out front. Eventually with so many yellows they went single file which took the heat off me.”
Tuesday night’s race at Accord was the first race of the year in 2023 after last Friday’s races were canceled due to saturated grounds. Having reconfigured the track and putting new clay down over the winter, plus the fact there has been so much rain in the Northeast the past month, it made track conditions very tricky to say the least.
“I was kind of expecting the single file restarts to happen at some point due to the track conditions but all in all we survived until the end and the car held together,” mentioned Sheppard. “I really think the new track layout is better and it is going to produce some better racing. I think the people kind of know how the track is really going to be in (turns) one and two. You can race all over in turns one and two and the backstretch is so wide that you can come off the turn low, middle or high. It is definitely a lot more racing room. It’s certainly a work in progress and it will be interesting to see what happens when they get the surface straightened out. Man, if they can get some good clay on this it will be a really cool place to race.
“It was a tough night for Brett and Accord with the conditions. We saw the same thing at Bridgeport, it is probably not really wise to run a big series race or a traveling series on a new configuration that hasn’t been proven to be any good. Going back to Bridgeport, they had one unsuccessful show before our show and that was not a treat and with all of the rain it just wasn’t a good combination. I guess they had a practice here and it was pretty rough, and they never raced again but here we are. It would be nice to see these tracks get in a week or two or racing before they bring us to town, but I guess I shouldn’t complain because if anybody had a good night it was me.”
Bolted under the hood of the Bicknell chassis No. 9S was the Wegner weekend warrior motor. For Sheppard it was the second time he had run the Wegner motor with both times ending in victory lane on completely different shaped tracks. Sheppard first ran the motor at the Hard Clay Open at Orange County Fair Speedway which we all know is a big five-eighth mile track with long straightaways and tonight at Accord which is a very small bullring. Both times the motor has done its job and come away with wins.
“They are a good running motor, those little Wegner engines, ” Sheppard cited. “I think you definitely want to pick and choose where you run them, but it has worked out both times we’ve run it. Honestly tonight I thought we had a little too much gear in it making me spin the tires more than I wanted to but it runs pretty darn good. It got the job done tonight for sure. I am sure the car took a beating tonight, but it looks pretty good from here. All in all, it was a good night for us, and I am happy to get a win here and cross it off the bucket list. I think we only have a couple of more to go with those being Bridgeport and Airborne.”
Williamson Hangs on for Second Place Finish
Mat Williamson led the first 16 laps of tonight’s Battle of the Bullring but ultimately lost the lead on a restart to Matt Sheppard. Williamson held off a late race challenge from Billy Pauch Jr to hold on and finish in second.
“We tried to keep the wheels under it tonight, the car is pretty beat up cosmetically and I can only imagine what it looks like inside and underneath,” mentioned Williamson. “It was just a thing of track position. I think if I could’ve kept the lead over Matt (Sheppard). I don’t think he would’ve won, obviously that’s how it works. It was really disappointing when they went single file after we got passed for the lead on a double file restart but what are you going to do? Glad we made it out of here tonight with a second place and we can roll it in the trailer, although we might have to bend a few things back to make it fit.”
Williamson also commented on the new track layout and sees the potential the track has for some good racing.
“I think the new layout is good and it will race really good once the track smooths out,” explained Williamson. “It’s tough to say but I probably have the furthest drive in the pit area, and I wouldn’t have been upset if they said to come back on a different date when the track was figured out. I think if we did that it would have put on a better show for the fans but that is a no win situation. Some of these fans couldn’t have come back and some of the racers maybe couldn’t have come back. It’s a tough position for Brett and the track owner (Gary Palmer) to be in. I give them all the credit for trying to make the track smoother all night and you have to respect that.”
Perrego Race to Third with Borrowed Motor
It was a long night for Anthony Perrego. Saddled with a bad draw the Montgomery, NY driver failed to qualify in his heat. Perrego, a two-time winner of the Battle of the Bullring, made the cut through the last chance race and lined up to start the 50-lap main event in the 21st spot.
Perrego drove a strong race to bring the Brian Smith car home with a third-place podium finish when Billy Pauch Jr suffered a right front flat tire with only two laps to go.
“Once in a while these bad heat draws catch up to you, but we were able to escape some mayhem there and get rolling a little bit there,” said Perrego. “We got into the top five and were just hanging on there, then Pauch Jr and Mat (Williamson) got together and Pauch got a right front flat, and we were able to sneak into third.”
“I really like the new layout, it sure is different. They made this place like Five Mile Point, and I think if they can get the track smoothed out and get a couple of weeks on it, I think it will be pretty decent. To come here for the first race of the year with all of the rain we had, I didn’t know what to expect.”
The Brian Smith No. 44 racing team has suffered some early season engine woes and if it wasn’t for another car owner, Perrego might have been forced to miss last night’s race.
“Butch (Butch Getz, owner of the No. 15G driven by Duane Howard) hooked us up for tonight and I cannot thank him enough,” stated Perrego. “Thanks to him and I am glad we got to show something for it because the motor ran pretty damn good.”
For any comments or questions, I can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @dirtracefan25