OSWEGO, N.Y. – Matt Sheppard lived up to his ‘Super’ nickname Saturday afternoon, losing the lead of the Great Outdoors 150 358 Modified race to Mat Williamson before taking it back on a locked down, daytime track that made passing nearly impossible.
“I thought it was over when Mat got by,” admitted Sheppard post-race. “I thought I’d slowed down enough to protect the bottom but a lapped car got me into turn three at an odd angle and he got under me.
“Then a couple of laps before I got back by I noticed he was sliding up in one and two, so I decided to push the issue. I was actually surprised I got back by him.”
Sheppard then held off Williamson’s aggressive charges through the checkers, with Billy Dunn, Brett Hearn and polesitter Tim Fuller trailing them to the stripe.
Fuller led early on and many thought he was on the way to his second consecutive flag-to-flag win when the second running Sheppard first challenged him on the bottom a few times, then drove right by coming off turn four on lap 28, a move soon repeated by Dunn, up from seventh.
Williamson then began challenging Fuller, but a number of minor incidents drew yellows that kept him from mounting a serious challenge. But a lap 47 restart saw Williamson first get a run and put Fuller away, then do the same to Dunn to show second by lap 50.
Williamson then shot down Sheppard on lap 58, right after they’d caught the tail of the field again, with Sheppard duly impressing the crowd by taking the lead back six laps later.
By halfway, the race was effectively over, with the track locked down and the field running in single file, hugging the hub rail. Lapping was possible for the leaders, but never easy, though frequent yellows for flat tires and spins kept them out of traffic most of the time, in the process limiting Williamson’s chances to trap Sheppard in traffic.
Then a lap 79 caution period brought an edict from race control that the planned lap 125 shift to single file restarts was being advanced to that restart, making passing even more difficult.
“I liked that, because I had the preferred groove all the time, but it was tough on everyone else. Doing that always hurts the racing for the fans but it did limit chaos and was the fair thing to do,” said Sheppard.
At lap 100, Dunn, Fuller and Hearn trailed the lead duo, but Hearn soon edged Fuller for fourth, which effectively set the order of the top cars for the finish. Williamson played a tune on Sheppard’s rear bumper a few times in the waning laps but for naught.
“When you get that close to a 20 grand payoff, you have to go for it,” said Williamson. “I gave him a couple of shots but his back bumper was stronger than my front. I didn’t want to wreck both of us, so I settled for second.”
“I was just hoping that Mat wouldn’t turn me,” summed up Sheppard. “But he was good, just boosting me a little trying to move me up. It was his only shot at winning and he wasn’t dirty. He and Billy both had really good cars and I was lucky to win.”
The win, which marked Sheppard’s 38th of the season on 15 different tracks, came in a brand new Bicknell chassis with a borrowed W-16 spec powerplant.
As for third place finisher Dunn, he said he was, “Saving my tires the whole race. We had no idea how far they’d go, so I went hard for 30 laps, then rode. You couldn’t get off the bottom, so lapped cars were tough, but that’s daytime racing. Nobody likes rubbered up tracks but this year it was smooth and a huge improvement over a year ago.”
Peter Britten led the second five, with Pat Ward, Erick Rudolph, Stewart Friesen and Gary Lindberg trailing.
Mike Maresca, who advanced 10 positions from his 30th starting spot, won the $500 Hard Charger award, illustrating how difficult passing was throughout the field.