DUNDEE, N.Y. – Matt Sheppard had not initially planned on running Black Rock’s Empire Finale, but when the event got postponed a week, he and his team found their way back to Dundee to once again prove their dominance in Yates County for 2012.
Sheppard, of Waterloo, N.Y., scored his third win of the year at BRS Saturday afternoon in as many starts, driving around the outside of Stewart Friesen on lap 59 for the lead and never looking back to claim the $6,000 Empire Finale, presented by American Race Tire.
“It’s just been so fun racing here this year,” exclaimed Sheppard in victory lane. “For some reason when we come here we’ve been really good. It’s a lot of fun.”
Sheppard won his heat race and redrew the fourth starting spot for the 77-lap feature, but struggled early on to move forward. He was able to take second place by lap 23, but on a lap 35 restart, he fell back to sixth place; it was a setback that ended up providing him the secret to the win.
“I got confused,” admitted the driver of the Jeff Brownell-owned No. 9s. “I thought we were coming to the white and apparently we were coming to the green and I fell way back. When that happened I started to work the top side and I said ‘hey, this isn’t so bad.’ If I hadn’t have messed up on that restart I probably never would have tried the top and would never have won this race.”
Early on in the race, the bottom line was pretty much the only groove to use. But as the race wore on, that line got beat up and allowed the grooves to equalize. In addition, Friesen had begun to use up his tires a little more than he wanted with his Big Block combination, and made himself vulnerable.
Sheppard had driven back up to third place for the single-file lap 58 restart, which allowed him to drive to the top around Pat Ward and then chase after Friesen, who was unaware the top line was getting better.
Once Sheppard took the lead, he easily cruised to the win. His $6,000 payday made this day only better, as he quickly exited the BRS pit area to claim his third straight Super DirtCar Series Championship in Syracuse.
Friesen would settle for second. The Canadian was still pleased with his effort in Jake Spraker’s No. 1J. He was another driver that not only got one last race in, but would then take off to his banquet soon after.
Perhaps the story of the day was Eldon Payne Jr., who went came from the back of the pack on three occasions to finish in third, by far his best result of the year. Payne was elated in victory lane, stating that it felt like a win in his new Teo.
Payne would just get by Tyler Siri on the final circuit, who would cross in fourth. Siri ran in the top five all day. One driver that did not was Alan Johnson, who fell as far back as 15th but came back up to round out the top five.
A total of 34 modifieds signed in to the pits on the cool fall afternoon. The race was slowed by 10 cautions, but none were for major crashes. The show moved along for all of those drivers that had to go to their banquets, with Matt Sheppard crossing underneath the double checkered flags at 3:18 P.M.
To end the night, the track was saturated for the 4th running of the “Big One” enduro. As always, it was a wild event, featuring 71 cars this year and including some wild changes of fortune.
Defending winner Dave “Mitch” Boylan took the lead on lap five and would pace the field for much of the first half of the 100-lap event, but on the 46th circuit, his No. 41 suffered a terminal mechanical failure and ended his bid for a repeat. Street stock front runner Jonathan Carpenter inherited the lead, but after he cut his right front tire on lap 67, it brought a host of names back in to the mix.
Zak Petrie held the lead from laps 69 to 84, but George Rushlow, of Freeville, N.Y., ran him down in his Honda Civic and took the top spot on lap 85 when Petrie slid up the track in his No. 13z. Rushlow, a former modified driver at BRS in the early 90s, would drive away in the closing laps to claim the major payday.
“Last year I got out in front briefly but I just had beaten up the front end too much. This year I knew I had to stay out of trouble to have a chance,” noted Rushlow in victory lane.
Petrie would hang on for second place. Third place was Bill Werner, the first driver to win “The Big One” back in 2009. Werner was four laps down to the top two. Rounding out the top five was youngster Kendall Crout and modified and sportsman regular Jim LaRock.