News, Notes and Quotes from the Freedom 76 – DTD Exclusive

By KEN BRUCE

It is never satisfying for Matt Sheppard to finish in second place at any race but Saturday night at Grandview Speedway, Sheppard was quite happy to have achieved just that in the running of the 50th annual Freedom 76.

“All-in-all, it was a good night for us,” cited Sheppard. “A lot of good cars went home tonight, and this is a tough place to race. We had some things go our way tonight, we had a good draw in our heat and the feature, and we just hung in there until the end and we came up one spot short.

Sheppard started from the fifth spot in the annual classic and was strong and in contention throughout the 76-lap main event. Sheppard worked his way past Brandon Grosso and Briggs Danner to takeover the second spot after a lap 12 restart and started to close in on leader Bobby Varin. A multitude of yellows slowed Sheppard’s progress as the HAS No. 9S was having difficulty on restarts. Strunk and Kressley were able to take advantage of Sheppard’s restart issues and get by the Waterloo, N.Y., driver putting Sheppard back to fourth. Once a few laps were run, Sheppard was able to get back up to speed and run the leaders back down. A charging Mike Gular put Sheppard back to fifth on lap 35 but that was as low as Sheppard would fall.

“The restarts just killed me tonight and I’m not really sure why,” explained Sheppard while enjoying an adult beverage after the long race. “It just wouldn’t fire on the restarts; it would just be so loose and then I would go right from loose to a little bit on the snug side and that was probably the difference in the race. I mean I got by Jeff (Strunk) once there and then the car pushed like a dump truck all the way across the track and he got back by me.  In hindsight that’s probably was what cost me the race right there. I think I could’ve got up there and got by Brett (Kressley) and maybe then the story would’ve been a little different.”




A lap 38 yellow proved to be the last yellow of the race and that played right into Sheppard’s hands as he now found himself in fourth after getting by early race leader Varin. The top four of Kressley, Strunk, Gular and Sheppard would run nose to tail as they all worked their way through lapped traffic. Sheppard’s car seemed to get stronger the longer the race stayed green and he was able to work his way past Gular for third and by a fading Kressley on lap 70. Sheppard immediately started to cut the distance between himself and leader Strunk but with only a handful of laps remaining ran out of time having to settle for the runner-up spot.

“It was still a good run for us,” said Sheppard as he put his night in perspective. “To come here on these guys turf with a dirt legal small-block with a spec intake, 650ci carburetor and everything, it ran pretty good but I think it might have lacking a little bit of power compared to what most of these guys run.

“We just needed more laps, I mean they dropped that last green and the top three put a straightaway on me but five laps later I could run them back down and run with them, but like I said before the restarts just killed me. If I could’ve held my own on a couple of those restarts, I think we could’ve been sitting in victory lane tonight.”

Strong Podium Finish for Gular

Winning the Freedom 76 race two years in a row would’ve been a dream come true for Mike Gular, the defending race winner put on quite a show coming from the 24th starting position to battle for the top spot ultimately finishing the race in third.

“It was a good run for us tonight,” cited a disappointed yet satisfied Gular after the race. “It’s so hard to get everything to go right for this race but we came pretty dam close tonight.”

Gular made his way steadily through the field early on after starting 24th.  He was heading towards the front.  When the caution came out on lap 21 he found himself just outside the top five. After a stop and go race early on due to cautions, we finally we able to see some green flag racing and when we did Gular kept moving forward passing Sheppard on lap 35 to move into the fourth and one lap later found himself in third when the final caution of the race was displayed.

From there on out the top four cars of Kressley, Strunk, Gular and Sheppard raced all under a blanket as they darted in and out of the lapped traffic. Gular and Sheppard swapped the third spot repeatedly with Sheppard finally able to move ahead for good with about 10 laps to go. Both Sheppard and Gular were able to get around former leader Kressley late in the race with Gular ending up in third at the finish.

“We had a really good car tonight, but for some reason it started to fade a bit in the middle of the race,” explained Gular. “I don’t know if it was me playing with brakes or if it was the track changing or even the tires, who knows for sure. Some of the other guys said they had the same problem mid-race. All-in-all, to start 24th and be on the podium, I am not complaining. I was up top trying to make that work because that’s where you had to be to get by with them running the bottom, but the car was just a little to tight to run up there and it eventually cost me when Matt (Sheppard) was able to get by me.

“Let me tell you this was a great field that was on hand tonight for the 76er. I would be willing to bet that this was the highest quality field of drivers that have ever been here for this race. The biggest names from New York and all the guys that are professional racers were here tonight. I know they might’ve had more cars years ago, but I definitely don’t think they had the caliber of cars that were here tonight. Just look at the Minuteman 20 tonight, there were cars in there that win championships that ended up going home and not making the race. Luckily, we had a guaranteed spot from winning last year so that made today not as stressful but when you are that dam close to winning it stings a little bit. Hey, we’ve been strong in these big races and were putting ourselves in position to win and hopefully we can get the next one.”

Nice Fifth Place Run for Bobby Varin

Although Bobby Varin does not get many chances to visit and race at the Grandview Speedway, the Sharon Springs, N.Y., driver loves to come down here and race in the annual Freedom 76. It is a race that Varin looks forward to each year. This year Varin and veteran car owner Tom Umbenhauer teamed up for the annual classic bringing home the No. 5 in the fifth position after leading laps early on.

“It was a good race and we had a lot of fun today so I can’t complain one bit,” mentioned Varin sitting by his car after the race. “The car was real good early, but as the track went away, we got a little twitchy and a little tight and it was just difficult to keep the momentum up. I tried searching around a little bit and I started to come back strong there towards the end a little bit. We were strong at the beginning of the race and also at the end, but the middle part of the race the car got a little funky.

“I like running this race and Tommy (Umbenhauer) is a great guy to run for and all of his guys down here did a real good job putting this race car together for me to run tonight. I like running for the small teams, it gives us a little bit of excitement and I had a blast here today.”

Grandview Granules 76er Style

69 total 358’s signed to compete for the big money on Saturday with the six heat races being won by Andy Bachetti, Cory Merkel, Ryan Godown, Frank Yankowski, Anthony Perrego and Ryan Lillick. The two consolation races were taken by Ray Swinehart and Billy Pauch Jr…

Craig Von Dohren (2020 points champion), Brett Kressley (Forrest Rogers winner) and Mike Gular (2019 Freedom 76 winner) were all guaranteed starters for this years Freedom 76…

The unique qualifying format used for the 76er features a mini 20 lap feature named the Minuteman 20 for the drivers who finish fifth and sixth in the heat races along with the top three out of each consolation race. There are always some big names that sprinkled the lineup but this year the lineup for this race would be a great feature race at any track.

Michael Maresca was the winner of the MM20 followed by Duane Howard, Max McLaughlin, Keith Hoffman and Ryan Krachun which is a very stout top five for any race.

Ryan Godown was the winner of the $1000 to win 10 lap cash dash over Craig Von Dohren and Anthony Perrego sponsored by Kirsten Snyder Web Design and Photography…

With Larry Wight deciding to stay in New York and race at the Land of Legends Speedway Saturday night, Anthony Perrego filled the seat of a second Brett Kressley car. Perrego looked strong while running away with his heat but experienced troubles in the main event ending with a DNF…

Michael Maresca who won the MM20 was driving a backup No. 117 for Kevin Hirthler. Maresca finished in the 14th place…

The list of drivers not qualifying on Saturday would make any track happy to have them race in a feature race. Those not qualifying include the above mentioned Ryan Watt, Rick Laubach, Billy Decker and Billy Pauch Jr along with Neal Williams, Corey Cormier, Danny Creeden, Alex Yankowski, Craig Whitmoyer, Kyle Weiss, Ryan Grim, Kevin Hartnett, Brian Hirthler, Tyler Dippel, Dominck Buffalino, Ray Swinehart and Matt Stangle just to name a few…

Duane Howard was the winner of the $500 hard charger award courtesy of Bobby Gunther-Walsh Racing…

After a third-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway in the ARCA Menards series, Max McLaughlin made the drive north to strap into the driver’s seat of the Rochinski Enterprises No. 20R for Saturday’s Freedom 76 in place of the injured Nick Rochniski. McLaughlin qualified for the main event finishing in the 22nd position…

Stewart Friesen was scheduled to start the race in the 25th spot, which was bad enough, but after driver introductions were done, Friesen was forced to make a pit stop relegating him to the tail of the field to start the race. Friesen gave it his all but was only able to get as high as eighth at races end…

Frank Yankowski developed a fuel issue in the cash dash forcing him to be pushed into the pits. Fortunately, the team was able to fix the issue in time for the feature event…

Big Dave Dissinger was back behind the wheel of his No. 88X which is the car the Craig Von Dohren normally drives at Big Diamond. Dissinger was able to qualify for the 76er ultimately finishing the race in 21st…

Modified great and current promoter of Orange County Fair Speedway Brett Hearn was seen walking around the pits on Saturday night…

A big shoutout to the Theresa Rogers, Tina Rodgers, Kenny Rogers, the entire Rogers family and the staff at Grandview for another awesomely run Freedom 76. Everything seemed to go smoothly during the day with not too many issues as the cars went through pre-race tech inspection…

Congratulations to Modified driver Kevin Hirthler for winning the Sportsman 38er on Friday night as part of the Freedom 76 weekend. Hirthler won the race over fellow Modified drivers Brett Kressley, Mike Gular and Steve Davis. Personally, I am not in favor of modified drivers running in this event, but as long as the track allows them to compete, I do not blame them one bit…

If you have any questions or comments, I can reached by email at dirtracefan25@hotmail.com or on Twitter @dirtracefan25