By BILL FOLEY
The 50-lap big-block Modified race at Weedsport had just one pass for the lead and maybe, just maybe there might have been another. But we’ll never know.
Surprise, surprise, surprise Matt Sheppard won yet another feature event.
He made it look quite easy after taking the lead on a restart on the 20th lap as he rushed from the outside of the front row to out drag his buddy Anthony Perrego to the first turn.
Certainly there were times traffic gave him fits as the race progressed, but in the end he won comfortably to capture the season opener at Weedsport.
The track is running a rather limited schedule this year so it was anticipated there would be a good field of cars and 35 pulled through the pit gate for four heats, two consis and a 50 lap main.
Perrego continues to get better and better with each return visit to Weedsport. Last year he seemed to pick up a position or two every time he came to Central New York and he probably was okay with a runner-up as he held off Erick Rudolph at the end.
While Sheppard started third and Perrego from the pole, third place Rudolph came off the line in ninth, worked his way to fifth by 25 and third by the 50th. He gained ground on Perrego, but in the end settled for the final spot on the podium. He found his way to third after stalking Larry Wight for several laps and moved inside of the 99L for fourth on the 30th lap.
He worked hard for third as upstart Darren Smith was putting on a rim riding, hang it all out show. Darren, who has received quite a bit of mentoring from Billy Decker, is much improved. He started fourth, fell back to eighth and then started the quest toward the front.
Halfway home he was fourth behind Sheppard, Perrego and Wight.
Lap after lap he chased Larry and on the 28th circuit made the pass to get to third. However, as the laps wound down he came up on two lapped cars and found himself boxed in. Rudolph was coming strong and the four cars just stuck together for a few laps. Finally Rudolph’s experience paid off and he got to third.
Smith still had high hopes, but in the end found himself in eighth. He didn’t deserve it. He drove much better than his finish shows.
Larry Wight and Jimmy Phelps completed the top five.
Chad Phelps Troyer finished sixth and early one spent plenty of time racing against his cousin Jimmy as they ran lap after lap together.
Tim Fuller was seventh, Smith eighth, Billy Dunn ninth and completing the top 10 was 19th starting Max McLaughlin.
The battle that appeared to be race long didn’t last long at all as Mat Williamson was closing rapidly on the No. 9s for second as Perrego led, but coming off two contact was made as the front end of the 88 got into the rear end of Matt’s car.
The end result was a tow truck was needed for the broken front end on the Buzz Chew No. 88..
Four heats with five cars qualifying set the stage for the feature.
Heat one saw Chad Phelps and Williamson on the front row and that is the way they finished. Rudolph, Peter Britten and Dylan Zacharias went to the main.
Sheppard and “The Doctor” went to the draw from heat two while Jimmy Phelps, Chris Hile and small-block competitor Dave Marcuccilli went to the A.
The fifth pace battle in this one was spectacular with Marcuccilli getting past Adam Roberts on the white flag lap as Ronnie Davis III was right there as the trio fought for the final qualifying spot.
Smith and Wight went one-two in the third.
Darren was in control throughout, but Larry, who started fifth, really had his hands full with then runner up Billy Dunn. The 99L headed for the inside in turn three, made contact with Dunn and pulled off the “going to the draw” pass. Dunn, Tanner VanDohren and McLaughlin completed the qualifiers.
The final heat saw Perrego and Fuller get the draw spots while Jack Lehner, Tim Sears Jr. and big-block rookie Jessica Power all getting to the feature. For Power it was her first ever Big Block feature qualifier. Tim Sears continues to get bad draws, but comes up with solid results as he finished fourth from eighth.
Three from each consi saw new Big Block driver Todd Root win one and Alex Payne (who unfortunately was the first car out of the main) win.
Matt Caprara, Ronnie Davis III, Dalton Slack (who was seeing the track for the first time) and J.F. Corriveau completed the qualifiers.
DNQ’s were Pat Ward, Tyler Trump, Sean Beardsley, Dave Allen, Kevin Root, Zach Payne, Eldon Payne, Adam Roberts and Alan Barker as well as Cass Bennett (who never got out for a heat).
Overall it appeared a relatively calm night with racing starting at 6:15 p.m. and being completed by 8:30 p.m. with three All Star heats, four Modified prelims, a Sprint dash, Sprint B-Main, two Modified consis, a 30-lap Sprint feature and a 50-lap Modified main as well as the necessary breaks for concessions and rest room visits.
Fans were headed home earlier than anyone could have imagined with an efficiently run show.
Next Sunday many of these drivers, as well as a few more, will be in competition for the 100 lapper at Weedsport and then the track goes dormant for several weeks.