CONCORD, N.C. — Mat Williamson did not expect to be in this position.
The 29-year-old native of St. Catherines, Ontario, stood on stage at the conclusion of Saturday’s Can-Am World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, where he was honored as the Super DIRTcar Series big-block modified champion.
It was just another surreal moment for Williamson in a season filled with them.
“We went through a lot this year. We’ve won some big races that I never thought we’d win and I put them on the pedestal where I’d never win them,” Williamson said. “That’s what led us into today.”
This year marked the first season for Williamson behind the wheel of team owner Buzz Chew’s No. 88 big-block modified. The team had parted ways with previous driver Mike Mahaney and hired Williamson because Chew saw something in the young Canadian he thought could elevate his team to the next level.
“We kind of felt that he was probably the one to bring us around to where we needed to be,” Chew said. “We’re willing to work and spend the money to be here. We looked hard and we thought he could be the boy and he is. He’s got a lot of talent.”
As it turned out, Chew’s instincts were right on the money.
Williamson’s season shifted into high gear in August when he banked a $100,000 payday in the 100th Anniversary Race at New York’s Orange County Fair aboard a car owned by Jeff Behrent.
That race — in many ways — seemed to be the catalyst that launched Williamson’s Super DIRTcar Series season into overdrive despite it not being a DIRTcar-sanctioned event.
A few weeks later, Williamson scored his first Super DIRTcar Series triumph of the season at New York’s Brewerton Speedway. He followed that up by winning again the next day at Mohawk Int’l Raceway in Akwesasne, N.Y.
“He just gained confidence and that’s all he needed because he has the talent,” Chew said. “The better he drove, the more Spot (crew chief Ron Ste-Marie) worked on it to get it to go better and it just clicked.”
Williamson got hot at the right time and kept the momentum going during Super DIRT Week, where he collected a victory in the DIRTcar 358 Modified event at Brewerton (N.Y.) Speedway on Oct. 10 and a win in one of the Triple 30 features at Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway ahead of the Billy Whitaker Cars 200.
Sure enough, Williamson’s hot streak continued with a $50,000 victory in the Billy Whitaker Cars 200. That win proved pivotal as Matt Sheppard, the reigning series champion, failed to finish the race after a mechanical problem. That allowed Williamson to significantly close the gap on Sheppard in the race for the championship.
“We were right on Matt Sheppard and we said if things go right and we have some luck, we may be able to pull this off,” Chew said.
Sheppard won at Brockville Ontario Speedway on Oct. 18, but Williamson was still hot on his heels, only six points behind Sheppard entering the Can-Am World Finals.
Three good nights of racing — and perhaps a little bit of bad luck from Sheppard — was what Williamson needed to win the championship. That’s exactly what Williamson got during Friday’s big-block modified feature, when Sheppard was forced to pit early with a flat tire.
Williamson finished fifth in Friday’s feature while Sheppard rebounded to 10th, giving Williamson an 18-point advantage going into Saturday’s finale.
One way or the other, Saturday was going to make or break Williamson’s season.
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