BARBERVILLE, Fla. — Two victories during last year’s DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park proved to be a harbinger of great things to come in 2010 for Matt Sheppard.
The 28-year-old DIRTcar big-block modified sensation from Waterloo, N.Y., is hoping to follow the same template in 2011 when he once again heads south to kick off his campaign with four consecutive nights of non-point Super DIRTcar Series action Feb. 16-19 as part of the 40th annual event.
“I feel great about how we started out last year at Volusia and then carried that momentum into the season back at home,” said Sheppard, who captured his first Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Big-Block Modified championship last year. “We’ll try to do the same thing this year. It’s a new season and anything can happen, but we’re just gonna keep doing what we’ve been doing and see if we can keep it going.”
Sheppard will have four chances to reach victory lane at the half-mile Volusia oval during the DIRTcar Nationals. The DIRTcar big-block modifieds are scheduled to run 30-lap, $2,000-to-win features Feb. 16-18, before closing the meet with a 50-lap finale paying $5,000 to win Feb. 19.
Last year’s big-block modified competition at Volusia saw Sheppard win twice in three starts (one race was rained out), highlighted by his triumph in the extra-distance series closer. He finished sixth in the DIRTcar Nationals opener and then scored back-to-back triumphs, propelling him to the event points title for the first time.
Sheppard registered his first victories at Volusia last year, breaking through after coming close to a checkered flag several times in 2009. He set the stage for his 2010 success the previous year with finishes of second, third and fourth as well as a heartbreaking near-win in the week’s big-block opener.
“We were really good down there at Volusia (in 2009),” said Sheppard. “I think we were fast enough to win every night, but we drew a lot of bad starting positions and some stuff happened when we were actually in good position. I remember that first night I was trying to pass Pat Ward for the lead with a few laps to go, but we bumped together and I got a flat right rear (relegating him to a 16th-place finish).
“Last year we went back with the exact same deal (as 2009) and things worked out a little bit better for us.”
Sheppard plans to compete in this year’s DIRTcar Nationals behind the wheel of the Jeff Brownell, Sr.-owned Xtreme Lubricants Bicknell he debuted in last November’s Lowes Food World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s virtually a twin to the machine he drove last year at Volusia.
“Volusia is super fast,” said Sheppard. “It’s more high-speed than most of the tracks we run at up here (in the Northeast), so we have to run a different setup there because of it. “It’s a lot of fun to race there because it’s a big, wide track and you can run all over it, but you still gotta have a good car, a good motor and a good setup.”