LAFARGVILLE, N.Y. – Matt Sheppard conquered the inaugural Thunder in the Thousand Islands 100 on Saturday night, driving to victory with the Super DIRTcar Series at Can-Am Speedway.
After starting from the outside pole, Sheppard defeated all challengers en route to victory and a $10,000 payday, including Jimmy Phelps, Erick Rudolph, Billy Decker, Billy Dunn and Mat Williamson.
Williamson’s brand-new No. 88 Buzzchew Chevy Big-Block Modified ride was stout and finished in Sheppard’s tire tracks for second place, while Dunn took advantage of a familiar race track where he’s won many races to round out the podium.
Challengers kept stepping up to the plate, but Sheppard was just too good on the five-eighths-mile, Northern New York speedway.
It had been ten years since the Super DIRTcar Series big-block modifieds turned laps at Can-Am Speedway, and it was the same story then as it is now: Sheppard in Victory Lane.
But despite picking up his seventh Super DIRTcar Series championship last year, Sheppard was not satisfied with how they closed the season. This year has started much stronger.
“It seemed like we couldn’t buy a win on the tour at the end of last year, with flat tire after flat tire after flat tire, but we brought a really good race car tonight,” said Sheppard. “We survived the attrition and a lot of restarts that we didn’t want to see. I was able to get it to the end and it feels good. It’s a great way to start the season.”
A huge crowd turned out in LaFargville, N.Y., for the return of the Super DIRTcar Series, and they did not leave disappointed.
“I really gotta thank the fans that came out tonight,” Sheppard added. “It’s nice to be able to race this early in April in upstate New York. What a night for it!”
Although Sheppard led from early on in the race until the checkered flag, he did not go un-harassed. First, the No. 9s had to get around polesitter Phelps, which he was able to do on the outside during an early restart.
While Phelps faded, Rudolph moved into the number two spot and mounted a charge against the defending champion. But Rudolph also faded and pulled pitside with five laps remaining.
Every restart had the fans on the edge of their seat.
“I didn’t know where to restart, on the top or the bottom,” noted Sheppard. “I made a lot of restarts work on the top. I wanted to move down. When Billy [Decker] moved that tire in turn four a little bit, that made my decision a little easier on where to make my restarts. After that I just wanted to try and stay smooth and keep the thing under me and not do anything stupid.”
When Gypsum Racing’s Decker took his turn to shoot for the top, Sheppard again weathered the storm. Eventually, Decker clipped a yuke tire on the inside of the track and had to be towed away with front end damage.
Dunn took over second place at that point and gave arguably the best run at Sheppard’s lead. Dunn was side-by-side with Sheppard multiple times but couldn’t complete the pass.
Late in the race, Dunn slipped up between turns three and four, which allowed an opportunistic Williamson to power into second.
“I think Matt [Sheppard] had the best car. The track changed a little more than we thought it would,” said Dunn. “We had a great car; We just came up a little bit short. We’re doing some stuff that we haven’t done with the big-block, so we are adjusting to that. We had a little bit of a home-field advantage in the heat races, but come feature time these guys figured it out.”
Williamson finished second, but was never able to give Sheppard a serious challenge for the lead.
The runner-up was pleased with his finish.
“It’s a very good start to the points race here. I can’t say enough about the guys who worked on this car tonight,” said Williamson. “It starts with Spot, he’s dedicated, and just wants to win. The effort that they put in is huge. I couldn’t do it without all those guys in the back.
“Matt [Sheppard] is going to be hard to beat this year, as usual. Hats off to those guys,” he added. “They’ve got their stuff figured out.”
Matt Sheppard, Mat Williamson, Billy Dunn, Justin Haers, Pat Ward, Larry Wight, Ryan Watt, Mike Mahaney, Ryan Godown, Michael Maresca, Dave Marcuccilli, Jessey Mueller, Dave Rauscher, Peter Britten, Erick Rudolph, Jack Lehner, Demetrios Drellos, Jimmy Phelps, Ryan Arbuthnot, Billy Decker, Tyler Trump, Rich Scagliotta, Jordan McCreadie, Tim Sears Jr., Max McLaughlin, Louie Jackson Jr., Tim Fuller, Danny Johnson, Lance Willix.