By Mike Mallett
Matt Sheppard and Mat Williamson just can’t shake one another.
It seems like night in and night out, the pair ends up close in the final tally. Whether it’s Williamson passing Sheppard late or Sheppard driving away with Williamson second, they just find a way to finish in close proximity to each other when the checkers fall. As a result, the duo’s locked into a tight points battle, with only 60 points now separating them at the top of the Super DIRTcar Series standings as the summer starts to draw to a close.
Tuesday night, Sheppard came into the Ron Martin Memorial Summer Nationals at the Ransomville Speedway with a 64-point lead; he left with only a 60-point margin, even though he beat Williamson by finishing second in the final running order. Williamson did enough by setting fast time and winning his heat to go along with a third in the feature to gain a couple of markers on Sheppard.
“I think we ended up losing because he got fast time,” said Sheppard. “We had a respectable night in the final rundown per se, but we came in here and we definitely didn’t lose our ass. We come out of here with a few bucks, and we’re one race closer to the end.”
Williamson looked forward to Ransomville. It’s the only visit the series makes to his western New York stomping grounds. He was hoping for more, but a point gained is a point gained at the end of the day.
“That’s the way it’s been all year with me and him,” said Williamson about the point battle with Sheppard. “He time trials really good, heat races really good; I’ll win the feature and he gains points on me. I’d like to see at the end of the year the feature race points and see who got more feature race points, because I think it’d be closer than it is right now. Obviously, Matt’s really good and tough to gain anything on. We’ll take what we gained tonight.”
Sheppard Misses the Mark, Maybe: At the end of the night, Sheppard wasn’t sure if the Hoosier 300 compound or the 400 was the right call. He was still scratching his head. The softer tire let him get out of the gate quicker and set a good pace. Late in the race, Erick Rudolph drove by with a harder compound for the win.
“Eric was good,” said Sheppard. “I don’t know about the tire choice for us. It’s kind of a weird deal because it got us out front, got us in clean air, and got us a lot of clean laps. You know what I mean? We just couldn’t hold on. I’m not saying it was the wrong tire choice for us, but it was definitely the right tire at the end.”
Rudolph definitely had one up on Sheppard, as he’s been to Ransomville multiple times, while Sheppard has to go back on his notes from the 2022 event.
“Home track definitely played into it,” said Sheppard. “We come to these places once a year. You talk to some of the locals, and they say one week you run 300s and one week you run 400s. It’s tough to make a decision against two guys that race here an awful lot. Before we went out for the feature, some guys were checking tires in the lineup shoot. Guys said just about everybody they checked had a 300 on other than Rudolph and Williamson. That didn’t really give me a very comfortable feeling.”
Slow Start, Fast Finish for Williamson: The opening lap of the 75-lap feature wasn’t the best for Williamson as he dug the right side frame rail into the track in turn three. That got him up and into the wall. He didn’t do damage, but it made him have to work even harder to get up front.
The race saw a lot of cautions early, but once things got rolling with a lot of green flag laps in the second half of the race, the Buzz Chew No. 88 got rolling. He eventually got to third.
“We went with a 400,” said Williamson. “I fired off good, but then when the cautions started coming out, I would get killed on them restarts. It seemed like I needed a really long run to get rolling. At the end, we got it, but the track was kind of single-filed at that point, so it was tough. I think we made the right call on tires. I’m not sure if we would have gotten up to the front if we would have been able to maintain, but either way, it was a good race for us.”