By KEN BRUCE
It has not been the start to the 2020 season that Matt Sheppard had envisioned. Sheppard had an up and down start to the year down in Florida and when the Northeast season got underway at Georgetown, the HAS No. 9s team again had its issues.
Of course, we all know what happened to our season after that race as the Coronavirus pandemic took over shutting the racing world down. When we finally went back to racing at Tri-County Race Track in North Carolina and at the Cherokee Speedway in South Carolina Sheppard started to get things going. The car started to show speed, but luck just was not on the Sheppard’s side as the finishes showed.
When the team went further south to Chatham Speedway in Louisiana the Sheppard from the past started to show. Sheppard led every lap of every race both nights at Chatham except for the final turn on night one when a cut left rear tire relegated him to a second-place finish. Night two at Chatham was all Sheppard as he easily won the 75-lap feature and the $10,000 first place prize.
Fast forward to week later as the Northeast season started to open, and Sheppard seems to be rounding into form with second-place finish at Outlaw Speedway on Friday night. The following night at his new Saturday night home, the Orange County Fair Speedway, Sheppard led most of the race only to be held up by lapped traffic late in the race allowing Stewart Friesen to slip by on the last lap steal away the win.
Sunday Sheppard was back in his office racing at the Potomac Speedway in Maryland for race number two of the Bob Hilberts Sportswear STSS Velocita South Series.
Sheppard took the lead from Billy Pauch Jr on lap 15 then held off a late race charge from Friesen to take the win and the $5,200 winners share.
“It’s finally nice to get a little bit of luck going our way for a change and being on our side,” said a smiling Sheppard after the race. “We’ve had some good race cars the last couple of weeks here and we are finally starting to turn the ship around I feel. We’ve definitely had some bad nights early in the season, but we’ve also had nights where I felt we were a lot better than the results showed.
“I actually felt like we had a chance both nights at Tri-County but we didn’t finish either one of them. Then you have nights like tonight where you have a good race car right from the start. I really don’t think we touched a thing on it all night. We’re starting to get it rolling, we had a good race car last night at Middletown for their first night and it just feels good to string some good finishes together. I mean, hey we lost to Stewie last night but I had to pass him twice to get to the front so that’s always a good thing as strong as he is right now. I think we’ve had two wins and three second-place finishes in the last five races so we’re right there night in and night out and that’s where we want to be.”
Starting in the ninth spot in the 50-lap main event, Sheppard showed his strength early on but it was a move he made on a lap eleven restart that paved the way for Sheppard to work his way to the lead.
Restarting fourth behind leader Billy Pauch Jr, Stewart Friesen and Larry Wight, Sheppard was able to vault his No. 9s to second at the drop of the green and then four laps later work his way past Pauch Jr to take over the lead.
“I don’t really know what to about what happened there, I mean it was totally unexpected,” explained Sheppard. “I got a good restart and I just wanted to roll in there next to Larry and I was hoping I could turn and follow him off the bottom of two and man I rolled into one and the car stuck so hard I was able to pick up the throttle and get in between him and Stewie. I was like ‘holy cow’ and it just opened up and honestly it surprised the heck out of me. The car was really rotating good and I was able to get down there where the traction was coming out of two and down the backstretch and this thing would just go. It’s just one of those nights when everything went our way and the way our season started; we will definitely take it.”
You think of Sheppard with all the wins, championships and money won and you say to yourself this is a driver that never lacks confidence but we are all human and when things aren’t going your way you start to wonder and some doubt always sets in. With a couple of wins now under his belt along with some other top finishes, Sheppard is now ready to heat up along with the weather as the summer months approach and racing starts to pick up in our region.
“Winning the last race In Louisiana was a big boost for the team,” said Sheppard. “I mean we tore up a ton of equipment down there in Tri-County and honestly, still haven’t recovered from all of that. There is still a lot of bent up stuff in the shop and I owe probably half the people in the pits here some parts. Hopefully once we get back to the shop, I can get a bunch of that stuff ordered and get back on track here. What was really surprising was when we left to go down there (Tri-County), nothing was going to be racing up here for quite sometime and then all of a sudden we get home and all hell breaks loose and here we are racing four nights in five days. It’s been crazy for sure, but it feels good to be running well and having all the cars drive nice. It gives you a good feeling when you start to race a lot.”
Friesen Forced to Settle for Second Place
There is no question that the hottest driver racing a Northeast dirt Modified these days is Stewart Friesen. Coming off a win the night before at Orange County Fair Speedway after passing Sheppard within the last couple of laps. Friesen was poised to take home another trophy, especially after drawing the pole position for the feature event at Potomac.
Friesen led the first few laps before being passed by Billy Pauch Jr on a lap four restart. A lap eleven restart saw Friesen drop back to third after eventual race winner Sheppard worked his way by the Gander Outdoor Truck Series driver.
Friesen was able to work by Pauch Jr to get back to second but unlike Saturday night, the Sprakers, N.Y., driver had nothing for Sheppard on this day having to settle for a well earned second-place finish.
“It sucks to finish second after starting on the pole tonight, but it is what it is I guess, Matt has these short tracks figured out,” said a disappointed Friesen working on his car while awaiting tech. “We were searching and just missed it a little tonight. The track was more gritty and abrasive than we thought it was going to get. It was still a strong run for our Halmar team.”
Friesen went on to talk about the track itself and how he felt it related to other dirt tracks he has raced on.
“This was a tough track,” explained Friesen. “It’s a mix between a small Lebanon Valley and Woodhull. It’s a short track with heavy braking zone, I don’t know if we just missed on the gear or whatever, but I just couldn’t get off the corner good. Halfway down the straightaways I ended up going too fast to make corners and that caused us to burn up our brakes a little. These Willwood brakes are the best in the business and we beat on them all race long, and they stayed with us to the end.”
Pauch Registers a Podium Finish
Billy Pauch Jr., and the Holsten Racing No. 96 have been very fast all season long and Sunday at Potomac was no different. After taking the lead on lap four from pole sitter Stewart Friesen the team looked like it was poised for it’s first win of the season.
Unfortunately for Pauch, it was not to be as a very fast Sheppard worked his way by on lap 15 to take the lead. Friesen did end up getting back by the Frenchtown, N.J., driver for second on lap 19 relegating Pauch to third where he ended up finishing.
“We were very good tonight, not as good as those guys but it wasn’t a bad run,” explained Pauch while downing an adult beverage in the team’s hauler post-race. “We started fifth and went forward, we just have to be a little bit better. It was a good night for the team, we had a good draw, a good heat race, a good finish and that’s how you get some momentum going from there. I’m good with a little bit of brown on the track but when it gets to that black, those guys are really good.”
Pauch talked about his pass for the lead early on also about the many yellows that permeated the first portion of the race.
“I got a good jump on Stewie there and I think I startled him pretty good. I think he didn’t know there was anything on the top there at all,” explained Pauch. “We got rolling decent after taking the lead but there just so many yellows. I think if the yellows didn’t come out, I think Matt still would’ve got me, but I think Stewie would’ve had a harder time. Stewie ended up getting me while I was just searching up on the top, but you have to keep trying things.
“These guys are good, and we’ll rebound and bring this this to Big Diamond on my birthday June 16th. Our cars have been fast all year, including my car last night. These cars are all similar, so we hope that’s what keeps us rolling and gets us out of the gremlins. Like last night, we had stupid stuff happen and we had stupid stuff happen down south. I’ve said all season we would be really good and once we get that stupid stuff that’s been happening to stop and when we get those gremlins out of here, we’re going to be really good.”
Larry Wight and Ricky Elliott Working Together on Simpson 12K
Larry Wight made the long haul down to Potomac Speedway after running at the Land of Legends Speedway on Saturday and was able to leave with a very respectable fifth place finish. Wight running the Gary Simpson No. 12K TEO car, with former driver Ricky Elliott turning the wrenches, was fast early on but started fade a little at end but still hung on round out the top five.
“We were just way too loose and when we came in after the race, we had a flat right rear tire,” mentioned Wight after just finishing a post-race conversation with Elliott. “That thing (RR tire) was bald after the race and everyone else’s tires looked a lot better so we think it was going down for a while. It was just getting too hot wearing itself out so that’s probably what our biggest problem was there towards the end.
“I kept dialing some front brake into it because I just couldn’t get into the corners straight enough to roll around like those guys were. This is really the first time we’ve run this car. We did run it as a backup once and we learned some stuff we need to do with it. Hopefully we’ll be ready for the next race. Anything Ricky (Elliott) is involved in is good. Ricky likes to experiment with things just like I do so we make a good team as far as that goes. We just have to make sure we are covering our notes and realize what worked and what didn’t work and keep building off that.”
Potomac Pit Notes:
There were 22 Modifieds on hand at Potomac with the three heats going to Pauch Jr., Sheppard and Alex Yankowski…
Jimmy Horton and the Halmar Racing No. 43 debuted a brand new DKM chassied car on Sunday, unfortunately the team was involved in an early race multi-car tangle ending their night early…
Richie Pratt Jr and the Danny’s Pizza Pizazz team had a rough day after the No. 51 developed motor troubles in warm-ups quickly ending their day…
Tyler Dipple had a rough heat race after suffering two left rear flats. The team rebounded in the feature and came home with a solid seventh place finish…
David VanHorn had a solid top ten run going in the feature when the car broke on lap 33…
Rick Laubach had issues in his heat race and pulled off. The team was able to start the feature but just ran around the back of the field early on before pulling off altogether…
Danny Bouc was fast early on but ended up spinning into the infield after some hard racing with Sheppard. It looked like Bouc was going to be okay but ended up hitting a yuke tire ending his day…
Next up for the STSS will be the Anthracite Assault at the Big Diamond Speedway on Tuesday June 16th. This event will be a duel series event. It will be the third race in the South Region and will serve as the opener for the North Region…
If you have any questions or comments, I can reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25