By BOBBY SWEENEY
FULTON, NY – Billy Decker flew to the Highbank Holdup 100 victory with the Super DIRTcar Series at Fulton Speedway, holding off a late race charge from defending Series champion Matt Sheppard. The victory was Decker’s third consecutive triumph in the point-paying opener on the tour, and second Super DIRTcar Series win with the Mike Payne Racing team.
“It was tough sledding,” Decker said of the battles throughout the race. “I think if you were rolling you could go pretty good. Matt (Sheppard) came a long way and there was a lot of dicing. I could really carry some speed through the center of the turn and I think that’s what did it.”
Billy Whittaker and Brett Hearn led the star-studded field to the initial green, with Whittaker claiming the early lead. On lap four, Brett Hearn was able to roll around the outside of Whittaker, and set sail. Trailing the top two was Jimmy Phelps, Decker, Larry Wight, and Billy Dunn.
Hearn built up a solid advantage of nearly half of a straightaway early on, but by lap 25, the frontrunners hit lapped traffic. Phelps and Decker, now second and third, closed rapidly on Hearn, with Phelps knocking on the back bumper of the leader just a handful of laps later.
Phelps made a bid for the lead on lap 29, but Hearn continued to hold a small advantage. Decker briefly stole second the following lap, but surrendered the spot back as the top trio of drivers ran separated by no more than two car lengths. Further back, Sheppard and Wight battled for fourth, with Sheppard eventually coming out on top.
After 34 circuits, Decker finally and permanently secured the second spot from Phelps and locked his sights on Hearn’s machine. Decker’s first taste of the lead came on lap 38, as he nosed ahead of Hearn exiting turn two, but once again, Hearn was able to fend off the challenge. As Decker pressured Hearn, Sheppard snuck under Phelps for third.
As the lap counter ticked higher, Decker’s car got better. On lap 45, Decker nosed inside of Hearn as the leaders raced down the backstretch. Entering turn three, Hearn was boxed in up high behind multiple lapped cars, and Decker once again stuck a nose ahead. The pair battled side-by-side for over a lap for the top spot, but Decker would not be denied, securing the lead just before halfway. As Decker and Hearn fought for supremacy, Sheppard closed in.
“At stages I was, but there were parts of the race track he was better than I was,” stated Decker about Hearn. “I thought he got steered around quite a bit. The lapped cars raced him pretty hard.”
Once Decker cleared Hearn for the lead, the propellers kicked into high gear and the “Franklin Flyer” took off, quickly establishing a nearly two second lead. Sheppard continued his climb through the field, stealing second from Hearn on lap 55.
With 62 laps showing on the scoreboard, the only yellow flag was thrown off the event as Tim Sears Jr. slid to a stop in the middle of turns 1 and 2. Decker resumed progress when the field returned green, leading over Sheppard, Phelps, Hearn, Whittaker, and Wight.
However, Decker could not open up the same size lead he had before the caution flew, with Sheppard remaining within striking distance as lap 80 was completed. Like earlier, the battle for the lead tightened as the leaders reached the back of the field, with Sheppard closing to less than a car length with 15 circuits remaining.
As the leaders were shown two open palms by head starter Dave Farney, signaling just 10 laps to go, Decker entered turn three higher than he had previously been running in an effort to place a lapped car between himself and Matt Sheppard. Sheppard jumped at the opportunity, diving to the inside of Decker. The two leaders made slight contact, and Decker remained the leader. Both drivers cleared the group of lapped cars, and Decker was able to finally have some breathing room up front.
As the final laps clicked off, Decker had to fend off one final charge by Sheppard. As Decker took the white flag, he reached yet another group of drivers. Sheppard once more closed fast, but was unable to make a move on the final circuit. After 100 laps of battle, Decker claimed another Highbank Holdup 100 win over Sheppard, with Phelps, Hearn, and Larry Wight filling out the top five.
Sheppard tried, he just wasn’t good enough to make the move in the closing laps to take the win. He had a great car and opened the series on a high note.
“He was a little better at times and I think I was a little better at times,” Sheppard said of Decker. “We didn’t draw the best redraw number tonight, but we had a really good racecar. It’s a great night for us and a great start to the series. It was a fun race and the track was really nice tonight.”
Super DIRTcar Series Statistical Report; Highbank Hold-Up 100 at Fulton Speedway; Fulton, NY; April 29, 2017
Feature – (100 Laps) – 1. 91-Billy Decker ; 2. 9s-Matt Sheppard ; 3. 98h-Jimmy Phelps ; 4. 20-Brett Hearn ; 5. 99L-Larry Wight ; 6. 49-Billy Dunn ; 7. 109-Billy Whittaker ; 8. 14J-Alan Johnson ; 9. 44-Stewart Friesen ; 10. 25-Erick Rudolph ; 11. 62s-Tom Sears Jr. ; 12. 42p-Pat Ward ; 13. 19-Tim Fuller ; 14. 76-Bobby Varin ; 15. 21a-Peter Britten ; 16. 22-Brandon Walters ; 17. 88-Mike Mahaney ; 18. 6h-Max McLaughlin ; 19. 8-Rich Scagliotta ; 20. 43-Keith Flach ; 21. 7m-Mike Maresca ; 22. 83x-Tim Sears Jr. ; 23. 5h-Chris Hile ; 24. 8r-Rob Bellinger ; 25. 93-Danny Varin ; 26. 16-Mike Bowman ; 27. 66x-Carey Terrance ; 28. 21y-Yan Bussiere ; 29. X-Chad Phelps ; 30. 84-Gary Tomkins ;
Qualifying Group 1 – 1. 91-Billy Decker, 16.485; 2. 20-Brett Hearn, 16.694; 3. 21a-Peter Britten, 16.794; 4. 24-Jimmy Witko, 16.799; 5. 48t-Dave Rauscher, 16.826; 6. 1s-Beth Bellinger, 16.877; 7. 49-Billy Dunn, 16.911; 8. 8r-Rob Bellinger, 16.912; 9. 14j-Alan Johnson, 16.935; 10. 43-Keith Flach, 17.033; 11. 25h-Katelyn Hile, 17.209.
Qualifying Group 2 – 1. 8-Rich Scagliotta, 16.583; 2. 109-Billy Whittaker, 16.801; 3. 16-Mike Bowman, 16.963; 4. 62s-Tom Sears Jr., 16.965; 5. 21r-Ryan Jordan, 16.983, 6. 21y-Yan Bussiere, 17.058; 7. 6h-Max McLaughlin, 17.105; 8. 88m-Mike Mahaney, 17.160; 9. 66x-Carey Terrance, 17.161; 10. 02 Roy Bresnahan, 17.555; 11. 88a-Joe August Jr., 18.072.
Qualifying Group 3 – 1. 76-Bobby Varin, 16.812; 2. 42p-Pat Ward, 16.817; 3. 93-Danny Varin, 16.856; 4. 83x-Tim Sears Jr., 16.871; 5. 22-Brandon Walters, 16.909; 6. 25r-Erick Rudolph, 17.044; 7. 96-JF Corriveau, 17.232; 8. 5h-Chris Hile, 17.332; 9. 21g-Cody Graham, 17.840; 10. 19-Andy Noto, NT.
Qualifying Group 4 – 1. 9s-Matt Sheppard, 16.878; 2. 99L-Larry Wight, 16.892; 3. 98h-Jimmy Phelps, 16.962; 4. 19-Tim Fuller, 17.031; 5. X-Chad Phelps, 17.052; 6. 84-Gary Tompkins, 17.075; 7. 7m-Mike Maresca, 17.127; 8. 44-Stewart Friesen, 17.237; 9. 55-Matt Hulsizer, 17.338; 10. 34-Andrew Ferguson, 17.502.
Heat 1 (8 Laps – Top-5 Finishers Transfer to A-Feature; Top-3 Redraw) – 1. 20-Brett Hearn; 2. 91-Billy Decker; 3. 49-Billy Dunn; 4. 21a-Peter Britten; 5. 8r-Rob Bellinger; 6. 14j-Alan Johnson; 7. 43-Keith Flach; 8. 24-Jim Witko; 9. 48t-Dave Rauscher; 10. 25h-Katelyn Hile; 11. 1s-Beth Bellinger.
Heat 2 (8 Laps – Top-5 Finishers Transfer to A-Feature; Top-3 Redraw) – 1. 109-Billy Whittaker; 2. 62s-Tom Sears Jr.; 3. 21y-Yan Bussiere; 4. 88-Mike Mahaney; 5. 8-Rich Scagliotta; 6. 16-Mike Bowman; 7. 66x-Carey Terrance; 8. 21r-Ryan Jordan; 9. 02-Roy Bresnahan; 10. 88a-Joe August Jr.; 11. 6h-Max McLaughlin.
Heat 3 (8 Laps – Top-4 Finishers Transfer to A-Feature; Top-2 Redraw) – 1. 42p-Pat Ward; 2. 76-Bobby Varin; 3. 25-Erick Rudolph; 4. 5h-Chris Hile; 5. 93-Danny Varin; 6. 83x-Tim Sears Jr.; 7. 22-Brandon Walters; 8. 96-Jean-Francois Corriveau; 9. 21g-Kory Graham; 10. 19x-Andy Noto DNS.
Heat 4 (8 Laps – Top-4 Finishers Transfer to A-Feature; Top-2 Redraw) – 1. 99L-Larry Wight; 2. 9s-Matt Sheppard; 3. 98h-Jimmy Phelps; 4. 19-Tim Fuller; 5. 44-Stewart Friesen; 6. X-Chad Phelps; 7. 84-Gary Tomkins; 8. 7m-Mike Maresca; 9. 55-Matt Hulsizer; 10. 34-Andrew Ferguson.
Last Chance Qualifier 1 (10 Laps – Top-3 Finishers Transfer to A-Feature) – 1. 14j-Alan Johnson; 2. 66x-Carey Terrance; 3. 16-Mike Bowman; 4. 43-Keith Flach; 5. 21r-Ryan Jordan; 6. 24-Jim Witko; 7. 02-Roy Bresnahan; 8. 25h-Katelyn Hile; 9. 1s-Beth Bellinger; 10. 88a-Joe August Jr.
Last Chance Qualifier 2 (10 Laps – Top-3 Finishers Transfer to A-Feature) – 1. X-Chad Phelps; 2. 83x-Tim Sears Jr.; 3. 84-Gary Tomkins; 4. 55-Matt Hulsizer; 5. 22-Brandon Walters; 6. 6h-Max McLaughlin; 7. 96-Jean-Francois Corriveau; 8. 7m-Mike Maresca; 9. 21g-Kory Graham; 10. 34-Andrew Ferguson.