“It doesn’t matter how you get there, it’s what you unload out of it,” offered Sheppard with a knowing grin. “I liked having a dually, as it’s a lot easier to maneuver and the new car was good.”
“Good” is an understatement as the No. 9s notched first-, second-, third- and fifth-place finishes to claim the prized Gator Championship trophy.
“Yeah, we were pretty good right out of the box,” recalled Sheppard. “I went with the same mindset as always. I want to win as many races and championships as I can. But now, the schedule has to make sense for us. I can’t chase every possible race like we used to. I’m equipped for big-block races on Hoosier tires, so that’s what we do.
“At the end of the day, my performance speaks for itself,” Sheppard noted. “The last couple of years, I wasn’t happy with our consistency and overall performance on the Super DIRTcar Series. This year has been the complete opposite. We’ve won over half the races and only had three finishes out of the top four through September.
“I wanted to be able to put it all together — the people, the parts, the car design — I wanted everything to be exactly what I wanted,” Sheppard continued. “My engineering degree helps, as I use it every day without thinking about it. It’s a big help when I’m working with the parts suppliers or the guys at Bicknell on car designs, but making all this work was mostly a matter of getting my ducks in a row and keeping them there.”
One of the crew guys who went with Sheppard’s new team is Randy Kisacky, an engineer by trade, who has been a factor in many drivers’ success.
“I’ve raced with a lot of good guys and Matt is the total package,” Kisacky said. “I’ve worked with Alan Johnson, Gary Tomkins, Jeff Heotzler and a bunch of others and he’s as good a driver as anyone I’ve worked with. He’s a smart and calculating driver, but he’s also incredibly good mechanically and basically does all his own work. He has the engineer mentality and thinks things through, which is probably why we hit it off so well.
“Leaving HBR was tough for me, as I’d been there 10 years, but Matt called and said it would be nice if I could help him,” Kisacky said. “I figured I’d enjoy it and I wasn’t disappointed. I expected we’d run good and win right off. You can’t predict luck but we both have a lot of experience. And we got a pleasant surprise with Chuck Cici’s engines. He’s been off this series since he was with Matt before, but his engines ran even better than we expected. A lot of people will be calling out to Ohio for engines for next year.”
By midseason, Cici had a variety of engines together for Sheppard’s team and “Super Matt” credits them for a lot of his success.
“What’s great about Chuck is that he’s always willing to do the work. If I want a cam change, he just says, ‘Get it out of the car and out here to me.’ I’ve changed the most motors ever this year, getting it to drive the way I want it,” Sheppard explained. “We’ve got four motors now and they’re all spot on. Horsepower is good but driving good is better. We found a combination that time trials good, which always makes the night easier, but they’re also really good when the track slicks off.”