By Bill Foley
Matt Sheppard became the 2023 SummerFast champion on Wednesday night as he outdistanced the Super DIRTcar Series field at the Land of Legends Raceway.
The win, combined with his runner-up on night one at Brewerton, easily put the title in Sheppard’s hands in the abbreviated series (Fulton rained out on Tuesday).
A banner field of 37 big-block Modifieds invaded the Paul Cole-promoted speedway, and by the time it was over, it was Sheppard in victory lane, who has won more than his share of features at the track.
The night started out with a fast time of 17.756, and he brought the HAS No. 9s home in front of the Case No. 1 Engine Oil heat one.
After the draw, Matt started third on the grid.
In the very early going, it appeared he was holding back and consistently ran in third behind Mike Mahaney and Jack Lehner.
However, that was not the case, as Matt told Dirt Track Digest, “I really just took what I could get. I basically ran as hard as I could the entire race.”
The early race battle between Jack Lehner, Mahaney, and Sheppard was intense.
After swapping positions several times, Matt went on top for good on the 25th circuit.
Not only was he battling a solid field of Super DIRTcar Series competitors, but the track conditions were a bit different.
Reflecting on that, he said, “Ah, different is the new norm here. I don’t know. I’ve been here like five times this year, and I think the track has been completely different every time I’ve been here.”
Continuing, he noted, “It was very interesting. I don’t know what they had going on on the frontstretch, but maybe they had some kind of demolition derby during the fair or something. They had it all torn up. And that was pretty interesting.”
The rest of the track wasn’t similar; as Sheppard explained, “It’s pretty slick everywhere else, but the frontstretch definitely had some character.”
Asked about his drive to victory and if he did anything special to get past Mahaney
“Not really; I think the top just started burning off a little bit, kind of got back down on the bottom, and just took the shorter way around,” Matt said. “And I was able to beat him up off of four. I had really good side bite, and I could get stuck a little quicker. I think they might have had a little better straight line traction and kind of even out, but you know there’s spots on the racetrack where each one has kind of an advantage, but I was able to get by him, get cleared, and kind of just did my best to try and get through traffic. It wasn’t easy.”
Sheppard was able to get into a rhythm and said, “Everything went our way; we drew a good number; there weren’t very many cautions; the field was able to get strung out a little bit; and I was able to get the lead through traffic cleanly and brought it home the win.”
Continuing, he noted, “We certainly weren’t blowing by lapped cars by any stretch of the imagination. We had to work to pass everyone.”
In summarizing his third SDS win of the year, Matt noted, “You know we’ve had five seconds on tour this year. We’re just happy to see the checkered flag.”
He felt his car was pretty on spot and said, “We are happy with the card night. Yeah, I mean, it was really good all night long. I feel like it could have been a little better in the feature. Well, we’ll talk about it. We had a good run here last time when we ran second to Timmy Fuller, and I feel like everything we needed to correct that night we corrected, but then we also lost a little of the things that were good that night, so it’s a heads-up balancing act for sure.”
Did the win help ease the late pass loss to Williamson on night one of SummerFAST?
Matt said, “Yes and no. I mean, you don’t like that you lose them like that. It’s part of racing, and you know, when you’re struggling at the end of the race and cars are just going away, you’re playing Russian roulette.”
Well, there was no game of chance on Wednesday night, as he finished six seconds ahead of Mahaney.