By JARRAD WAKEFIELD
RANSOMVILLE, NY – Ransomville Speedway’s Summer Nationals event returned triumphantly for the first time in three years. The Super DIRTCar Series has had the event on the schedule for the past three years but has lost the event two times. In 2019, the event fell to rain, and in 2020, the event fell to the pandemic. However, a warm and muggy day greeted a packed grandstand and pit area in Ransomville as forty Modifieds filled the pits to try and claim the coveted Summer Nationals crown. However, no one had enough for Matt Sheppard, who claimed the Summer Nationals event in a dominant late-race performance over Peter Britten and Stewart Friesen.
It was an all-Matt front row, as ‘Money’ Mat Williamson and ‘Super’ Matt Sheppard led a 26-car field to the green flag for one-hundred laps around the ‘Big R’. Williamson quickly advanced to the lead, which he held for most of the early running. Williamson, who has been a Ransomville 358-Modified regular for most of his career including this year, used his extensive experience to work the middle groove to a multi-car-length advantage over Sheppard and Stewart Friesen. Friesen started sixth and worked his way around Larry Wight on the second lap to take third away early.
The battle for the remaining spots in and just outside the top five was fierce all race long. In the early segments of the race, it was a tale of series invaders versus the hometown heroes. Larry Wight and Matt Farnham held onto fourth and fifth respectively, but both faced challenges from Garrison Krentz and Peter Britten early on. Britten slipped by Krentz for the spot, leaving Krentz and Mike Mahaney to fight their own battle for seventh, which let Wight, Farnham, and Britten pull away.
Krentz would lose the battle for seventh and effectively his race however, as he was the cause of the race’s first caution. The left-rear suspension on his No.56 Modified collapsed as he entered turn three, causing him to slow and bring out Dave Farney’s yellow flag. Krentz had impressed all night long, with his night highlighted by a three-wide power move in his heat to go from sixth to second in his heat. Krentz is one of the latest drivers to move up from the Sportsman class to the Modifieds, and has already seen success elsewhere, but tonight would not be his night.
The restart came on lap fourteen, and it would become a short-lived battle of the Matt’s. Williamson seemed to run out of kryptonite on the restart, as Sheppard fired off better than Williamson to take the lead as the field worked out of turn two. Sheppard, Williamson, and Friesen would again pull away as the battles around the top five mentioned earlier once again heated up. Britten had a great restart, where he was able to pass Farnham and Wight to claim 4th by lap fifteen. Farnham would be shuffled back as Wight and Mahaney battled for the last spot in the top five for many laps.
The field would be slowed down just a few minutes later at lap eighteen, as Chad Brachmann broke on the back straightaway. The restart came four laps later on lap twenty-two, and Sheppard would yet again jump out to the race lead. Britten continued to work his restart magic, as he would sneak around the fan favorite in Friesen to claim third as the field entered turn one.
The race then found a rhythm as laps twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty clicked by in a matter of minutes. The top five tightened up as Sheppard started to catch lap traffic. Lap traffic proved to be difficult to handle on this night at Ransomville, as the track began to lock down about a half-groove off the bottom. The top five saw many attempts to pass but only one was successful. Chris Hile, the longtime modified competitor but Super DIRTCar Series rookie worked his way around Mahaney to enter the top five on lap forty-eight. Demetrious Drellos and Matt Farnham had a long battle for seventh behind the leaders. Despite making multiple valiant attempts, Drellos could not pass Farnham for seventh.
The race would then see the first of what would become many tire problems, and the first one hit one of the local heroes. Mat Williamson’s Buzz Chew No.88 slowed off turn four with a flat right rear tire. The rubber laid down on the Ransomville track surface was evidently chewing through tires. Rex King would pull pit side under the caution, also sporting a flat right rear tire. Jack Lehner came in with a rear tire that wasn’t flat yet but was damaged and going soft in a hurry.
After the calamity in the pits, the field went back racing on lap sixty-five but then immediately went back under the caution flag as Kevin Root was turned around in turn three on the attempted restart. This yellow was welcomed by Billy Decker, as the Franklin Flyer joined the list of right rear tire failures. Jordan McCreadie, in a small block, also came pit-side, but with the first left rear flat of the night.
The field would successfully restart on lap sixty-nine, with the status quo top three of Sheppard, Britten, and Friesen holding strong. Further back, Demetrious Drellos was mounting a challenge on Erick Rudolph for sixth place. However, Drellos’s right rear wanted nothing to do with passing Rudolph, as it went flat on lap eighty-two to bring out yet another tire-induced caution. Drellos nearly slammed the turn four wall, but managed to prevent the car from sliding too far up the track in a herculean save effort.
The restart came quickly on lap eighty-five, but the field would be slowed on lap ninety as James Sweeting lost his right rear tire going down the backstretch. The field made it a lap on the ensuing restart before Tim Sears Jr. lost his right rear tire on lap ninety-one. Another restart and another lap clicked off until Kevin Root’s right rear joined the blowout party to bring out another yellow on lap ninety-two.
The field restarted on lap ninety-two, and as the leaders took the white flag it seemed that everyone had outlasted the rubbered track surface. However, Chris Hile’s right rear blew out to bring out a caution on lap ninety-nine, coming as a heartbreaking end to the Series rookie’s excellent night overall. Despite Britten’s best efforts on the ensuing green-white-checkered restart, Sheppard would keep the tires underneath him to hang on for his second Summer Nationals crown in the last three races at Ransomville, with Britten and Friesen in tow.
“We got the lead, got around Mat, and I just had to try and keep the car straight,” said a triumphant Sheppard post-race. “When we got into lap traffic, I kind of just let them be and just tried to ride behind them for a bit. I still knew it was going to be a struggle to get to the end regardless, but we made it. We’ve been on the other end of this deal before, it’s not fun when you lose a tire running up front.”
The Ransomville win capped off a strong weekend for ‘Super’ Matt, who brought home a third place finish in the Short Track Super Series event at Fonda on Sunday.
“It’s nice to get this win,” said Sheppard. “This place has been a thorn in my side for years. We finally won here in 2017. We’d always bring a good car here and end up not drawing very well, which isn’t ideal when the track locks down. It would just turn into a miserable night where we had a fast car but nowhere to really use it. We just needed some things to go our way, and tonight they did.”
Peter Britten ran one of his most solid races of the year to bring home a strong second place finish.
“It helped us a lot being up front when the track locked down,” said Britten post-race. “We had a good car, and we just had to start conserving to be safe. You can’t really back off too much however, or a guy like (Stewart) Friesen will blow right back by you. I just made sure I was looking after the car with the track being how it was. When you pull back like that often you find more speed than you would if you ran the car hard.
“The cautions at the end do get a little worrying,” said Britten. “You start thinking of things like ‘Man, am I going to be light’ with all of the caution laps we started to run at the end. It gets tough when the track rubbers that much because you effectively lose almost all of the grip that was there, it’s really easy to blow through rubber on a surface like this. I had to force myself to not run the bottom, since the rubber was more in the middle. I caught myself running too low a few times, not running the bottom on a locked-down track like this goes against your instincts while driving sometimes.”
The second place is another indicator of the solid season that the Australian driver is having, despite the major offseason change to a Bicknell chassis.
“We ran really well at the start of the year in Volusia, but that’s not always a good indicator of how you’ll run up here”, said Britten. “For the most part though, this year we have been fast everywhere we’ve gone. Some nights we’ve missed the setup or had something happen. We’ve been in contention almost everywhere we’ve gone this year.”
Stewart Friesen was looking to win his fourth Summer Nationals in five races but would settle for third as he prepares for the Knoxville NASCAR Truck Series race this weekend.
“The mindset was to keep the tires in good shape all night,” said Friesen. “We got close to Sheppard early on before he got around (Mat) Williamson on one of the restarts. The clean air helped him get away from us, and from there it was all about saving our stuff. When I saw Williamson get his flat, I thought about coming in and changing a tire, but we stayed out. The guys who had to change tires just couldn’t go anywhere in the back, so we stayed out and held the track position.”
The first Summer Nationals in three years is a welcome one for Friesen, who for a long time called the Ransomville Speedway his home. The Friesen family and the Speedway’s history have been intertwined for decades.
“It’s a great feeling to be back here,” said Friesen. “I get to see all of the guys I grew up racing with here. I wish my Mother and all my family back in Canada could be here. Hopefully, the border opens soon so they can come out to the track soon.”
The Super DIRTCar Series rolls into Albany-Saratoga Speedway on Tuesday, July 13th for the Horsepower Hundred event rescheduled from June 22nd. The next week, the Series runs the rescheduled Liberty 100 with the Empire Super Sprints at Land of Legends on July 20th.
RACE RESULTS: 36th SUMMER NATIONALS and Mike Bonesky Memorial Night
Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modifieds: MATT SHEPPARD, Peter Britten, Stewart Friesen, Mike Mahaney, Erick Rudolph, Justin Haers, Ryan Susice, Matt Farnham, Larry Wight, Jimmy Phelps, Billy Decker, Max McLaughlin, Brandon Walters, Derrick McGrew, Demetrios Drellos, Jack Lehner, Mat Williamson, Rex King Jr, Kevin Root, Tim Sears Jr, Chris Hile, Adam Pierson, James Sweeting, Jordan McCreadie, Chad Brachmann, Garrison Krentz
Failed to Qualify: Todd Root, CG Morey, Dave DiPietro, Eric Gabany, Gary Tompkins, Kyle Coffey, Jonathan Reid, Steve Lewis Jr, Ricky Richner, John Smith, Olden Dwyer, Greg Martin, Robbie Johnston, Marcus Dinkins, Dave Rauscher
Qualifying Heats: Billy Decker, Matt Sheppard, Stewart Friesen, Mike Mahaney
Last Chance Showdowns: Derrick McGrew, Tim Sears Jr
Fast Time: Matt Sheppard (17.281sec)
Investor’s Service Sportsman: SCOTT KERWIN, Brett Senek, Brett Martin, Austin Susice, Zach Sobotka, Dylan Duhow, Alex Payne, Adam Hilton, Andrew Smith, Jordan Moden, Noah Walker, Dave DiPietro, Cameron Tuttle, Derrick Borkenhagen, Ricky Thompson, Brian Harris, Derek Wagner, Justin McKay, Tim Nies, Cliff Gregg, Mike McCarthy, Zach George, Clayton Cain, Jim Harbison, Tyler Murray
Qualifying Heats: Scott Kerwin, Brett Senek, Zach George
About Ransomville Speedway: Ransomville Speedway is located on Braley Road in the hamlet of Ransomville, just 20 minutes from Niagara Falls and Lockport. “The Big R” is a 3/8th-mile DIRTcar sanctioned facility that is the Home of the Summer Nationals. Ransomville also features a 1/16th -mile Go-Kart track for action on the “Little R” on Thursday nights! For more information, please visit us on the World Wide Web at www.ransomvillespeedway.com as well as follow us on Twitter @Ransomville and like us on Facebook. You can also contact the speedway by phone by calling (716) 791-3602 or (716) 791-3611.