By: Jarrad Wakefield
Former Outlaw track regular Matt Sheppard danced his way up through the field on a chilly Tuesday night to take the $5,000 payday in the ‘Outlaw Showdown’. It was Sheppard’s second Short Track Super Series River Valley Builders North Region win, good enough to move him to second place in the points standings behind Danny Creeden.
Larry Wight and Billy Decker brought a 27-car field to the green flag. The ‘Franklin Flyer’ flew around Wight on the topside to take the early lead but Decker was unable to stretch his lead, as the yellow flag flew for a stopped Derrick Podsiadlo in turn four. Decker once again pulled ahead of Wight after a quick restart and the two pulled a small gap on Danny Tyler in third. Tyler faced heavy pressure early from Brady Fultz before Alex Payne and Stewart Friesen charged into the battle. Payne held off Friesen early for fourth and showed Tyler a nose a few times before another yellow flag for a backwards Pat Ward on lap eleven ended that battle.
On the restart, Friesen got around Tyler, Payne, and Wight in a power move to briefly take second. ‘Superman’ Sheppard had an even stronger restart. Sheppard got around everyone but Decker to take second, leaving Friesen third, Wight fourth, and Payne fifth. Jeff Daugherty went off the topside of turns three and four to bring out the first of two cautions on lap fifteen. As the field worked through turns one and two on the first restart, one of the top five cars caught a small uke tire and brought it out onto the speedway. Just about every car on the inside line had to take evasive action, but a few were not so lucky. Cory Costa hit the uke tire hard enough to collapse the front end, which turned his car right down into the path of Jeff Daugherty, and the two made contact.
The second time was the charm for at least a few laps as the field came to green once again. This time, Sheppard powered underneath Decker to take the lead for good. Larry Wight’s strong run ran into problems not long after the pass with a flat tire on lap 21. The slow Wight in turns one and two brought out a caution. The restart was not kind to Wight either, as Wight was collected with a spinning Jerry Higbie to bring out another caution.
The next restart brought the longest green-flag run of the night. Sheppard once again pulled away from Decker, who, at the time, was not facing challenges from Friesen. Friesen eventually made the move pay off after multiple attempts to take second before five-to-go. The battle for fourth and fifth was intense. Payne allowed Mat Williamson and Danny Johnson to slip by, moving Payne back to sixth. Williamson was comfortable in fourth from there, but Johnson and Payne were not done battling. The two raced side-by-side for about a dozen laps, which was enough time to allow Brett Haas into the fray. Haas looked like one of the fastest cars all night and showed his speed by catching Johnson and Payne off-guard to take fifth.
Williamson’s fourth-place run ended with the final caution on lap 46, as the right rear tire gave out. Johnson also went pitside during the caution with the same problem. On the restart, Sheppard, Friesen, and Decker drove away to finish one-two-three at the checkered flag, followed home by Haas and Payne to complete the top five.
Sheppard’s win came as no surprise to any of the Outlaw faithful. Sheppard has been dominant at the high-banked 4/10ths mile for years, regardless of what ride he was in at the time. The race ended at just the right time for Sheppard, as the right rear went down on the No.9s in victory lane.
“We were really good on restarts, so I tried to make up as much ground as I could there”, said Sheppard. “I knew we had to get to the front quickly. Once we got there, I was trying to keep the car pointed as straight as possible to protect the tires. We got to the lead fast enough and kept it straight enough to make it to the end.”
Stewart Friesen battled his way up through the field to take second. It seemed like the No.44f was a class above the field, but not a class above the No.9s on this occasion.
“We battled to get to the redraw in the heat”, said Friesen. “Sheppard was just a little bit better there at the end with a clean track. We started to free up near the end, so we found some nice things for the notebook. We’re happy with the run, just wish we were one better tonight.”
“It’s awesome to see such a strong car count with the way things are right now in racing”, added Friesen. “There’s a lot of strong local talent here that we’ve been watching. There’s a lot of up-and-comers too that we’ve been watching.”
Billy Decker brought his Jeremy Smith Racing No.91 home third in another strong run for the Franklin Flyer.
“We grained up our tires a little bit with how the track was tonight and started to free up”, said Decker. “We fired off really well on the start and restarts”.
It’s been in some ways a new beginning and in other ways just a small change between Decker and crew chief Scott Jefferies this year. Decker has run many races for Jeremy Smith in the past, but this is the first year of the partnership going ‘full-time’.
“We’ve got good equipment”, said Decker. “I’ve been driving for these guys for a few years now. We haven’t clicked on a few things yet, but that’s been a product of last year where Scott and I were struggling a little bit. We pop out a good finish every now and then, we just need to find a little consistency.”
The Short Track Super Series North Region returns on June 7th for the Battle At Bloomsburg combined North/South Region event, paying $7,000 to win at the fairgrounds speedway.
Tempers flared early in the night after contact between David Schilling and Darren Smith sent Smith for a hard ride into the wall off turn four. Schilling and Smith were racing for a transfer spot on lap one of the first heat when Schilling got a push up the hill, which left Smith with nowhere to go. Smith let Schilling know of his frustrations with a few gestures. The No.12 for Smith took some heavy damage in the rear end, ending the night entirely for the second Jeremy Smith Racing car. It’s a tough break for Darren Smith, who was coming off a career weekend. He finished third at Utica-Rome Friday, and took the checkers at Thunder Mountain on Saturday.
2 cars showed up to the Outlaw Speedway on bars. Only one made the feature, and that was last years’ feature winner Steve Paine. Paine pulled off early with a problem on the No.7x to finish 26th. Jim LaRock was driving a second car No.88 car for owner Herb Wright, but he was unable to qualify for the event. The bar cars seemed to be strong through the center of the corner on this night, but with the top being the preferred line all night long, the coil cars generated way more drive off. If the track developed like it did for this race last year with the bottom being the faster and smoother line, I think the bar cars likely would have found more success.
The youth movement is in full-swing at Outlaw Speedway. Alex Payne finished fifth, after winning the weekly race on Friday and taking a top-three at Land of Legends on Saturday. His modified career is off to a strong early start. Ajay Potrzebowski Jr. had a bit of a difficult night in the feature but was very fast in the heat race. Potrzebowski finished second after showing eventual heat winner Larry Wight a few doors and noses throughout the 8-lap distance. Potrzebowski found himself getting caught up in the chaotic mid-field pack in the feature and came home fourteenth. An incident after the checkered flag left the No.72 with damage, but it was still a strong showing. There’s a bright future in modified racing with these two drivers rising out of the southern tier.
Motor problems struck a few drivers at Outlaw Speedway in the modified and sprint car portions of the night. Frank Cozze loaded up after hot laps when the engine threw in the towel on the No.401 ride. Parker Evans appeared to lose his 360 engine in spectacular fashion while running second in a heat race, throwing up a massive cloud of smoke. With the ongoing parts shortage, it’s a tough break for these drivers to lose powerplants. I’ve heard from a few sources that engine parts are in very short supply, with some pistons taking upwards of 20 weeks to be delivered.