BARBERVILLE, Fla. – When the sun rose and heated up the Florida air Saturday morning, 50 laps at Volusia Speedway Park were all that separated Larry Wight from his third DIRTcar Nationals presented by Bozard Ford Big Gator championship.
Wight needed to finish 15th or better to prevent teammate Billy Decker from taking the title for himself, and he did much more than that when all was said and done.
Wight finished sixth, sandwiched between Decker in fifth and his other teammate Pat Ward, to secure a hat trick of Big Gators at Volusia and establish himself as an early-season favorite.
Championships are often won in the shop, as well as the race track, and the Gypsum Racing team knows that well.
“It’s a combination of good preparation, a good car, a good motor, and a phenomenal crew. Having a family to back that up and allow us to put in the hours and put in the time at the track and come down here,” noted Wight.
The Super DIRTcar Series pounded the Florida clay five nights in a row, and the track was different every night, which created challenging and dynamic racing.
“The track threw us for a loop tonight. We didn’t think it would get as slick,” said Wight. “We thought the top would be a little bit better so we tried to get the car freed up versus last night. I guess we should have left it a little bit snugger.”
Wight hopes he can bring home momentum and race data from Volusia to Can-Am Speedway to start another run at the Super DIRTcar Series championship.
Although it’s not the Big Gator, defending Super DIRTcar Series titlist Mat Williamson was more than happy the Buzz Chew Racing team’s efforts were rewarded with two feature wins during the week, including Saturday night’s $5,000 grand prize.
The race for the Big Gator championship probably would have come down to Wight and Williamson, had the No. 88 not suffered a broken left-rear shock on Thursday, which resulted in a 15th-place finish for the defending series champion.
“That Buzz Chew Chevrolet was pretty good. I think everyone in our pit area was disappointed with what happened Thursday night,” said Williamson. “It just made us work harder and show everyone what we’re made of.”
Only Williamson and Wight found Victory Lane at this year’s DIRTcar Nationals, but Williamson’s broken shock on Thursday and the Gypsum team’s dominance tipped the championship scales in Wight’s favor.
“That’s what championships are made of,” Williamson said. “Hats off to Larry [Wight] and his guys, they had a solid week. We tried our best and couldn’t beat them. It goes to show how good they are,” Williamson said.
The Buzz Chew Racing team struggled at the DIRTcar Nationals in 2019. They’ve been bound and determined to come back and succeed at Volusia. Bookending the week with wins and competing for the overall points title felt like redemption.
Runner up Jimmy Phelps and his HBR crew worked hard all week on their new Bicknell chassis and set up package.
“This is a new program for us with the chassis and coil-over suspension. We came down here with some stuff in mind that we wanted to play with,” said Phelps. “We got ourselves a little off track Wednesday and Thursday. It took until Thursday or me personally to figure out where I wanted to be on the race track. A top 5 last night and a podium tonight, we’re pretty happy with our progress.”
“We learned a lot. We got beat by the hottest guy on dirt right now,” Phelps added. “There’s nothing to hang our heads about. We learned a ton that we can take back north with us.
Another driver with early-week woes was seven-time Super DIRTcar Series champion Matt Sheppard. The driver from Waterloo, N.Y., recorded finishes uncharacteristically down the order throughout the week, but showed improvement every single night.
“We had a really good car tonight. We’ve been chasing this thing all week and we made a big stride tonight. We had a good car all night. Track position was very key,” said Sheppard.
And of course, there’s the part that no one from the northeast is looking forward to.
“Now we make the long trip home back to the snow.”
Brett Hearn also knows the fast way around Volusia Speedway Park. In fact, The Jet holds the record for consecutive victories, with five at the Florida oval.
While he didn’t win Saturday night, Hearn did pick up 12 positions to finish 11th after starting 23rd.
The first Super DIRTcar Series points race of the year takes place on Saturday, April 11 at Can-Am Speedway in Lafargville, N.Y. The event is a $7,500-to-win, 100-lap feature.
1. 88-Mat Williamson [$5,000]; 2. 98H-Jimmy Phelps [$2,500]; 3. 9S-Matt Sheppard [$1,500]; 4. 49-Billy Dunn [$1,000]; 5. 91-Billy Decker [$800]; 6. 99L-Larry Wight [$700]; 7. 42P-Pat Ward [$650]; 8. 4-Andy Bachetti [$600]; 9. 25R-Erick Rudolph [$550]; 10. 19-Tim Fuller [$500]; 11. 20-Brett Hearn [$475]; 12. 44-Stewart Friesen [$450]; 13. 7MM-Michael Maresca [$425]; 14. 44P-Anthony Perrego [$400]; 15. 19M-Jessey Mueller [$375]; 16. 21A-Peter Britten [$350]; 17. 30-Ronnie Johnson [$325]; 18. 3-Justin Haers [$300]; 19. 23-Kyle Coffey [$300]; 20. 111-Demetrios Drellos [$300]; 21. 83-Brian Swartzlander [$300]; 22. 46-Jeremy Smith [$300]; 23. 32-Jim Rasey [$300]; 24. 8-Rich Scagliotta [$300]; 25. 1G-Darwin Greene [$300]; 26. 30M-JoJo Watson [$300]; 27. 1-Billy Pauch [$300]; 28. 7-Rick Laubach [$300].
Hard Charger: 20-Brett Hearn (+12)