MIDDLETOWN, NY – Hallowed ground.
The 104th season of stock car racing at historic Orange County Fair Speedway opened Saturday with the ‘Hard Clay Open’ for the Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series (STSS) Fueled By Sunoco and the sport’s most dominant driver – Matt Sheppard – reached Bicknell Racing Products/American Racer Victory Lane.
Sheppard, of Savannah, N.Y., utilized a late surge to win the 50-lap lid-lifter for the STSS Ollie’s ‘Elite Series’ and River Valley Builders North Region.
The victory for Sheppard – his 32nd with the series – was worth more than $12,000 from a pay structure nearing $60,000.
It was, notably, Sheppard’s first Sunoco Race Fuels checkered flag utilizing the Wegner Automotive LS 427 ‘Weekend Warrior’ engine listing for just over $22,000.
Sheppard drew 12th – the worst available in the Beyea Custom Headers Redraw – but started 11th after Max McLaughlin relinquished his starting position due to engine issues in qualifying.
Sheppard took the lead 11 laps from the finish, clearing Larry Wight, who had a pair of stints at the front of the field.
Once in front, ‘Super Matt’ survived a final caution with three laps remaining for his third consecutive ‘Hard Clay Open’ top prize.
From his outside front-row starting position, East Greenbush, N.Y.’s Bobby Hackel IV led the opening 10 laps before Jimmy Phelps split Hackel and Billy Decker on lap 11 in turn two, moving the HBR No. 98H to the front of the field.
Phelps set the pace for eight laps prior to Wight taking over with 31 laps remaining around the Legendary House of Power.
As Wight led, the ‘Sensational’ Jimmy Horton cut through traffic, putting the Halmar International No. 43 into the top spot on lap 26 after an extended pursuit of the lead.
Horton initially opened a sizable lead before smoke appeared from the back of his car. The New Jersey legend’s pace slowed before he turned the lead back over to Wight on the 34th circuit.
Wight’s time out front was short-lived. ‘Lightning Larry’ turned over the lead to Sheppard on the 39th lap.
Sheppard received $12,350 including $300 from CXM Floors as the top-finishing Orange County regular and $50 for picking the worst number in the Beyea Custom Headers Redraw.
“We finally strung some green laps together again and I felt like I kept getting a little bit better,” Sheppard said. “Luckily my car was maneuverable enough. I got to a point where there was some moisture in the middle and that really helped in lapped traffic.
“It seems like you’ve got to get your car versatile here. It’s one thing to be fast when you are out front but when you get to traffic you’ve got to be able to pass them.”
Sheppard felt Horton could have been the winner if not for his issues.
“He definitely was the car to beat,” Sheppard said of Horton.
Fulton, N.Y.’s Wight held on for second, worth $6,300 including the Rock Fantasy Halfway Leader Award. Mat Williamson of St. Catharines, Ont., climbed to third in the Behrent’s Performance Warehouse No. 3 after starting 13th on the initial lineup. Bohemia, N.Y.’s Dillon Steuer was a solid fourth in the Zubi’s Racing No. 17z and Jack Lehner of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., rallied from 14th to finish fifth.
Placing sixth through 10th, respectively, were early leader Phelps of Baldwinsville, N.Y.; Max McLaughlin of Mooresville, N.C, who started last after losing an engine in his Qualifying Race; Danny Bouc of Pipersville, Pa., who was a steady eighth in his first ever Orange County feature event driving the Wegner Automotive-powered No. 6; 21st-starter Peter Britten of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; and pole starter Billy Decker of Unadilla, N.Y., aboard the Jeremy Smith Racing No. 91.
Fifty-six STSS Modifieds checked into the pit area, with four 15-lap Qualifying Races won by Quebec’s Steve Bernier, a smoking McLaughlin, Decker and Sheppard. Last Chance Races went to Britten and Corey Cormier.
The STSS returns to action on Tuesday, May 9 (rain date: May 10) at N.Y.’s Accord Speedway with River Valley Builders North Region Modified Event No. 2 (50 laps, $6,000 to win) plus STSS Crate 602 Sportsman Precision Hydraulic & Oil North Region Event No. 1 (25 laps, $1,500 to win).
To learn more about the Short Track Super Series Fueled By Sunoco, visit www.shorttracksuperseries.com, e-mail email@example.com, check out ‘Short Track Super Series’ on Facebook or @ShortTrackSS on Twitter or Instagram.
The Short Track Super Series is presented by American Racer/Lias Tire, Sunoco Race Fuel, FloSports, Bob Hilbert Sportswear, Rent Equip/Party Central, BDR Speed, Bicknell Racing Products, Ollie’s, Penske Racing Shocks, Wegner Automotive, River Valley Builders, Behrent’s Performance Warehouse, DIG Race Products, Velocita-USA, Franklin Products, Design for Vision & Sunglass Central, Belmont’s Garage, Quality Drywall, Precision Hydraulic & Oil, Prime MAC Tools, F.X. Caprara Car Companies, Algonkin Motel, Beyea Custom Headers, Dirt Track Digest, EIBACH, Electric Neon Custom Signs, Fastline Performance, Flach Performance Products, Henry’s Exhaust, Hig Fab, Schultz Racing Fuel Cells, Spyder Filters, Superior Remodeling, Teo-Pro Car, VAHLCO & Wilwood.
‘HARD CLAY OPEN’ RESULTS SUMMARY – ORANGE COUNTY FAIR SPEEDWAY SATURDAY, April 8, 2023
‘Hard Clay Open’ Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series Fueled By Sunoco Ollie’s Elite Series/River Valley Builders North Region Round No. 1 Feature Finish (50 laps): MATT SHEPPARD, Larry Wight, Mat Williamson, Dillon Steuer, Jack Lehner, Jimmy Phelps, Max McLaughlin. Danny Bouc, Peter Britten, Billy Decker, Marc Johnson, Andy Bachetti, Bobby Hackel, Alex Yankowski, Billy Van Inwegen, Mike Mahaney, Danny Creeden, Neil Stratton, Corey Cormier, David Schilling, Tyler Dippel, Chris Curtis, Francois Bernier, Michael Trautschold, Tanner Van Doren, Jimmy Horton, Darren Smith, Craig Mitchell, Anthony Perrego, J.R. Hurlburt.
Did Not Qualify: Charles Loiodice, Richard Smith, Shane Jablonka, Josh Allen, Chad Brachmann, Mike Kolka, Kevin Root, Matt Janiak, Melvin Schrufer, Roger Henion, Jr., John Brown, Chris Stevens, Rich Eurich, Daniel Morgiewicz, Ryan Walther, Jerry Higbie, Steve Bernier, Tanner Siemons, Derek Bornt, Bob McGannon, Dylan Scribner, Joey Coppola, Shawn McPhee, Will Shields, Nick Plumstead.
American Racer/Lias Tire Bonuses (FREE Tire Certificate): Max McLaughlin (seventh) & Bobby Hackel (13th)
BDR Speed Bonus ($50 Gift Card): David Schilling (20th)
Behrent’s Performance Warehouse Bonuses ($50 Gift Cards): Dillon Steuer (fourth) & Peter Britten (ninth)
Beyea Custom Headers Redraw Bonus ($50): Matt Sheppard (Redrew 12th) CXM Floors Top Orange County Regular ($300): Matt Sheppard
EIBACH Springs Bonus ($100 Certificate): Jimmy Phelps (sixth)
Hard Clay Observer Hard Luck Award ($315): Kevin Root
Henry’s Exhaust Power Position ($50 Certificate): Marc Johnson (11th)
Midnite Auto Parts Hard Charger ($300): Marc Johnson (28th to 11th)
Penske Racing Shocks Bonuses: Matt Sheppard (first – $150 certificate); Larry Wight (second – $75 certificate); Mat Williamson (third – $50 certificate); Billy Decker (10th – $25 certificate)
Rock Fantasy Halfway Leader ($300): Larry Wight
Wilwood Brakes ‘Lucky 7’ Bonus ($100 Certificate): Max McLaughlin (seventh)