By TOM SKIBINSKI
CANANDAIGUA, NY – The ‘Super Spectacular’ resulted in a return to victory lane for former hometrack hotshot Danny Johnson, with the ‘Doctor’ scoring his 81st career win at the Ontario County Fairgrounds oval.
“The car was good all night and good at Cornwall last (series) race, hopefully we get on a roll and keep going,” remarked Johnson, 58, after collecting $6,000 for his first series win in five tour starts this season. The two-time SDS champion set fast time in his group qualifying, copped his heat race and then drew the pole-position before leading all 100 laps in the headline ‘Liberty 100’ presented by Honeoye Auto Parts.
“I’m just ecstatic for George and his wife Tammy and everybody that’s helped out, just a fantastic night for all of us,” said Johnson, after logging his 87th series (2nd all-time) victory —5th at LOLR— aboard the familiar orange no. 27J Shakelton Auto & Truck Parts-Deckelman Trucking/Bicknell entry with a Kevin Enders-prepared powerplant under the hood. It was also the first SDS win for Johnson’s first-year car owner George Shakelton in his first-ever trip to the hallowed half-miler now under the promotion of Paul Cole.
Following a one-year layoff from the series, the Modified main amounted to a customary clash between Super DIRTcar Series stars and hometrack heroes, with LOLR regulars holding down five of the top-six spots in series points entering the event. Johnson paid little attention to the pre-race hype, leaving fairgrounds faithful Matt Sheppard, Peter Britten, Billy Dunn, Max McLaughlin, Jimmy Phelps and Erick Rudolph in the dust from the drop of chief starter Dave Farney’s initial green flag.
A left-rear flat tire on Kyle Coffey’s mount incurred an early caution period on lap four yet when series follower Billy Whittaker stopped on the homestretch infield to force out a second yellow flag 40 laps later, older sibling Alan Johnson (15th) was the last driver scored on the lead lap as the ‘Doctor’ continued to operate on all cylinders.
Young Canadian challenger Mat Williamson worked his way around Pat Ward for second on lap 17 while NASCAR Camping World Truck Series contender Stewart Friesen and Sheppard diced for third and fourth-place slots from lap 35 on. Sheppard finally secured the show position on the lap 56 restart following the caution for Whittaker and set his sights on the front-runners for the second half.
Johnson maintained his advantage throughout despite heavy traffic forcing the Rochester native to change his line as the laps dwindled. Williamson closed to within five car-lengths on a couple occasions yet held on for a 10-car deficit as the lead duo crossed the finish line. Sheppard was unable to defend his sacred home soil when the final checkered flag fell, settling for third ahead of weekly foe Britten. Friesen, Brett Hearn, Tim Fuller, Dunn, McLaughlin and Phelps completed the final top-10.
“We’ve come here for many years, what a place to do it,” added Johnson, alluding to his landmark 600th career victory that his crew informed public address announcer Shane Andrews of in victory lane. “Its nice to have a great car like this, and it was definitely the car. Can’t be any more happier with what we had tonight.”
“The driver can only drive what he can drive, if the car ain’t good it ain’t good and I had an excellent car tonight. The middle (lane) was really good for me although a couple spots low in turns three and four were tough to get through. 100 laps was a long race, just glad to finally see it get over,” added Johnson, a four-time points champion at LOLR, who won his first-ever Big-Block feature at Canandaigua in 1979 with the 80th added in July of 2013. His latest winning BRP car utilized a unique ‘four-coil, short rear-end radius rods, left-side panhard bar’ set-up that took advantage of Canandaigua’s uncharacteristic black slick track conditions from top to bottom to get the job done.
Hauling east from across the border in St. Catharines, Ont., Williamson was content with a runner-up tally after participation in the show was an uncertainty earlier in the week.
“Picked up this motor on Tuesday, put it in yesterday (Wed.) but still weren’t even going to come here, just didn’t have it in the car the right way, the way we wanted, and it had some oil leaks,” divulged Williamson, 28, with a pair of series wins to his credit at Merrittville (Ont.) Speedway (2015) and last year at the Charlotte (NC) Dirt Track in November. “We worked things out, finally got the motor in last night and the hard work paid off. Can’t thank Doug (Holmes, engine builder at Finger Lakes Auto Machine, Auburn) enough for providing such a powerful piece.”
“This place is just awesome, there are so many grooves to race on. Its smooth and slippery, not dusty … makes you wanna come back often.”
“Danny’s one hell of a race car driver, tough to beat a guy like that, he’s got a lot of laps at this place and the guy (Sheppard) in third isn’t too bad either. I’m pretty happy to be with both these guys here (podium) and happy we had a good car tonight. I know we’re good enough to run with these (series) guys now, we have a good car with a good shock package. Still, I’ll take a second to (Danny) any day,” added Williamson, with 10 wins circuit-wide in 2018.
Himself currently the winningest driver in the Northeast with 19, Sheppard’s third-place finish increased his SDS points lead while keeping the Waterloo driver atop Canandaigua’s standings ahead of Phelps, Rudolph, Dunn and Justin Haers. He also garnered the overall Billy Whittaker Cars & Trux Fast Time award worth $100.
“Was a good night for us but Danny and Mat were really good, they were the class of the field by far,” stated Sheppard, who turns 36 next week in quest of a fourth straight Super DIRTcar Series Championship. The second-generation standout has also claimed the past seven track titles at LOLR. “We were pretty darn good too, just ddin’t have anything to run with them so its no big deal. We’ll work on our car and program, and hopefully get a little better.”
“Its a good start to a long week and a long weekend. The track was slick tonight and Utica is probably going to be the same on Sunday. Hopefully we can learn something from tonight that we can apply to Utica. We have a big weekend here so we’ll just keep on rolling,” added Sheppard, who has two SDS wins in 2018 at Cornwall (Ont.) Motors Speedway and Brewerton Speedway along with a non-point series victory at Volusia Speedway durig the Florida DIRTcar Nationals in February.
Super DIRTcar Series ’18 journies east to Vernon, N.Y. for round six on Sunday, July 8 when Utica-Rome Speedway stages the Freedom Fighter 100. The tour continues Tuesday at Outlaw Speedway in nearby Dundee.
Liberty 100 Results:
1. 27J – Danny Johnson; 2. 6 – Matt Williamson; 3. 9s – Matt Sheppard; 4. 21a – Peter Britten; 5. 44 – Stewart Friesen; 6. 20 – Brett Hearn; 7. 19 – Tim Fuller; 8. 3r – Billy Dunn; 9. 6H – Max McLaughlin; 10. 98H – Jimmy Phelps; 11. 42p – Pat Ward; 12. 11J – James Sweeting; 13. 3 – Justin Haers; 14. 91 – Billy Decker; 15. 14J – Alan Johnson; 16. 8 – Rich Scagliotta; 17. 96 – JF Corriveau; 18. 23 – Kyle Coffey; 19. 77 – Lance Dusset; 20. 22g – Gil Tegg Jr.; 21. 21p – Derrick Podaiablo; 22. 63 – Adam Roberts; 23. 25 – Erick Rudolph; 24. 5H – Chris Hile; 25. 109 – Billy Whittaker; 26. 48t – Dave Rauscher; 27. 7x – Steve Paine; 28. 34 – Andrew Ferguson; 29. 12 – Brian Sage; 30. R2 – Rusty Smith