WEEDSPORT, N.Y. — The happiness in Matt Sheppard’s voice told the story of his triumphant run in Wednesday night’s 75-lap DIRTcar 358-Modified Series feature at Weedsport Speedway.
“I’ll tell you what,” Sheppard said. “It’s good to be back at Weedsport.”
Indeed, Sheppard, 31, of Waterloo, N.Y., shined in a NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT XLII special that returned competition to the high-banked, one-third-mile oval for the first time since last year’s Super Bowl of DIRTcar Racing. The DIRTcar Northeast circuit’s flagship track sat idle in 2013 until its recent purchase by noted Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modified team owner Al Heinke and reopened to a packed house of fans.
A winner of 15 career DIRTcar Big-Block Modified features and the 2010 points title at Weedsport, Sheppard showed that he hasn’t forgotten the fast way around the bullring. He marched forward from the sixth starting spot to take the lead from polesitter and race-long pacesetter Brett Hearn on lap 24 and never looked back en route to a $4,000 score.
Sheppard steered his Jeff Brownell Sr.-owned Bicknell car under the checkered flag 1.353 seconds ahead of Danny Johnson, who slipped by Jimmy Phelps off turn four on the final lap to steal the runner-up money. Johnson advanced from the 14th starting spot in his familiar orange No. 27J.
Phelps, who drives Heinke’s No. 98H on the Super DIRTcar Series and played a pivotal role in preparing the Weedsport facility for action after Heinke’s purchase of the speedway, settled for third after starting third and running second behind Sheppard from lap 36 until Johnson’s dramatic pass on the last circuit. Hearn faded to fourth at the finish after leading laps 1-23 and Mike Mahaney placed fifth.
“It was big to win this tonight,” said Sheppard, who kept his rivals at arm’s length throughout the 40-lap run of green-flag racing that ended the race. “This place has been sitting so long, it’s kind of a like a showpiece. It’s a piece of DIRT Motorsports history and it felt good to get back out there. It felt like I picked up right where I left off (when weekly racing ended two years ago).”
Sheppard’s victory continued his standout 2013 campaign, giving him 22 wins and 61 top-five finishes in 85 overall starts. It was also his fourth win in five DIRTcar 358-Modified Series starts this season.
“I don’t know why we’ve been so successful (in small-block shows) because my car owner will tell you – I don’t really like running these things,” said Sheppard. “I wish we didn’t have (a small-block), but man, we’ve been awful good in them this year. I guess I can’t complain.”
David Hebert turned the overall fastest lap of the group qualifying session at 16.056 seconds.
Rocky Warner emerged victorious in the evening’s companion 30-lap DIRTcar Sportsman Series feature after grabbing the lead from Cody McPherson on lap 11 and holding off Dave Marcuccilli for the remainder of the distance.
Matt Sheppard, Danny Johnson, Jimmy Phelps, Brett Hearn, Mike Mahaney, Dale Planck, Larry Wight, Tim McCreadie, Pat Ward, Danny O’Brien, Ryan Godown, Ryan Susice, Mike Bowman, Justin Haers, Alan Johnson, David Hebert, Vic Coffey, Roy Bresnahan, Mat Williamson, Erick Rudolph, Chad Chevalier, Brandon Easey, Mario Clair, Ryan Arbithnot, Brian McDonald, Stewart Friesen, Carey Terrance, Justin Wright, Chad Brachmann, Shawn Donath