Already a Super DIRT Week champion in the Sportsman and 358-Modified ranks, Matt Sheppard mastered the Moody Mile once again on Sunday afternoon, taking advantage of a soft tire by leader Jimmy Phelps with 10 laps to go to score the biggest victory of his career in the Rite Aid 200 Presented By Ferris & Snapper Mowers for Big-Block Modifieds.
The hottest driver on the DIRTcar Northeast circuit throughout much of 2009, Sheppard’s third straight Super DIRTcar Series victory was his 20th Big-Block win of the season and worth $50,000 for the talented 27 year-old from Waterloo, New York.
“Feels real good,” we’re the first words Sheppard offered to begin describing his most successful week in Syracuse that put an exclamation point on the best season of his Modified career. The second-generation driver with clear cut racing roots in Central New York closed out the ’09 campaign with seven tour triumphs and added a half-dozen Integra Shocks Fast Times along the way. “This is the place we want to be.”
“I told a lot of people in all the interviews before the race the same thing … we always put ourselves in position to win this race but something always happens. Just keep on getting in a good position and eventually we’ll win this thing,” figured Sheppard, who settled for second behind Frank Cozze in his fuel mileage machine last year and added a pair of 10th-place finishes after making his Syracuse Big-Block debut in 2001.
Second-generation racer Tim McCreadie made a late-race charge to secure runner-up honors in DIRTcar Northeast’s premier event, with past Rite Aid winners Tim Fuller, Cozze and Richie Tobias Jr. chasing ‘Super Matt’ across the line to close out the 38th edition on the historic New York State Fairgrounds one-mile oval in Syracuse.
Transmission trouble sidelined second-running Brett Hearn with less than 30 laps remaining, yet with his 20th-place finish yesterday edged Sheppard by just four points to register his record seventh overall Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Championship.
“Matt did everything he had to do, we just got lucky,” remarked Hearn, 51, who posted the first of his Super DIRTcar Series-high 103 wins in 1981 --- exactly 12 months before Sheppard was born. “That’s the way it works out sometimes, lose one but win one. This championship represents a huge body of work and commitment by our owners, sponsors and especially my crew. They give me everything and then some, that’s what makes the difference in a championship like this.”
Sheppard and Hearn entered Super DIRT Week XXXVIII enjoying the comfort of locking into fourth row starting positions from Rolling Wheels Weekend at the end of September. After Sheppard won the rain-shortened feature event on Sept. 26, he went on to draw third-place finisher Hearn’s number to put the Super DIRTcar Series top-two point earners at ease as they prepared for one of the most rigorous rides of the year.
While Fuller kicked off Super DIRT Week on Thursday winning the $2,500 American Traditions Motorsports Pole Award after a one-lap clocking of 30.300 sec. (118.812 mph), the guaranteed status for Sheppard (12th fastest) and Hearn (14th) was put to good use after Hearn was the fourth car out in Group 1 time trials and Sheppard was relegated to the third of five groups that totaled 76 cars.
It was Fuller’s third pole in the past four years, yet his first aboard his own proven Teo Pro Car re-skinned to carry the trademark blue Smith Bros. Concrete Foundations no. 74 Hudson Valley Concrete Pumping paint scheme. While giving up the point to front row partner Sheppard last October, the Edwards, N.Y. speedster took advantage this year as he out-gunned second starter Dale Planck under the initial green flag.
Fuller still had to wait patiently as an opening lap turn one crash that ended the day for race rookie Rich Scagliotta from New Jersey and New York States’ Capital District driver Donnie Corellis forced a complete restart in the afternoon affair. Fuller had no problem leading the way back under green with Planck, Pennsylvanian Randy Sherlock, Saturday’s ‘Salute To The Troops’ 358-Modified winner Billy Decker and Jerry Higbie next in line.
It took the leaders just 18 trips around the rain-ravaged fairgrounds oval to catch the back of the 47-car starting field, which was plenty of time for Sheppard to make his presence known in the front-five for the first time with Hearn trailing close behind. Little changed up front with after the first round of pit stops took place following a caution period for Canadian standout Stewart Friesen, who got caught up in the marbles and scraped the outside retaining wall in turns one and two on lap 26.
When Higbie shredded a right-rear tire to force out a fourth yellow flag, Planck, Decker, Cozze and McCreadie were among the contenders electing to stop on pit row with 40 laps complete. Fuller, Sheppard and Hearn took up top-three spots at the time ahead of Jimmy Phelps and Keystone State invader Rick Laubach.
Sheppard made a quick pit stop under yellow after veteran Pat Ward had a right rear tire blow out, yet as soon as the green lights reappeared on lap 57, this time it was ‘Super Matt’ stopping on the back stretch to slow the race pace for a sixth time. A call had gone out from JB Motorsports crew chief Mini (Andrew Perkins) alerting him to bring the no. 9s Xtreme Lubricants/Bicknell machine back in to tighten the lug nuts following an early race tire change.
When two-time Rite Aid 200 champion Jimmy Horton slammed the turn one wall on lap 60, popular Pennsylvanian Kenny Brightbill took advantage to make his first trip down pit lane, leaving just eight drivers ---Fuller, Hearn, Phelps, Laubach, Eddie Marshall, Vince Vitale, Alan Johnson, Craig Mitchell--- yet to put their infield crews to work.
A handful of laps later it was 1999 Rite Aid winner Kenny Tremont’s turn to bring out the yellow, resulting in the first change on the leaderboard when those same eight drivers stopped for gas and tires. Gary Tomkins inherited the top spot in the Doug Dulen-owned Honeoye Auto Parts/Bicknell ride under caution followed by Tobias, new Tomkins teammate Danny Johnson, Tim Hindley and Billy Dunn. Aside from Hindley, that group remained intact when the field reached the midway point.
And as soon as Tomkins crossed the line to complete lap 100, the Clifton Springs, N.Y. chauffeur became the owner of a brand new 2010 HT Max-Flex Troyer Chassis valued in excess of $7,000, with the hefty ‘Halfway Lap Leader’ bonus award presented in post-race ceremonies by Troyer Race Cars President Billy Colton. Planck filled in fifth to fill the front-five over the stripe while McCreadie, Ronnie Johnson, Decker, Justin Haers and Higbie occupied top-10 positions to head the group of 27 drivers still running on the lead lap.
With a new rule implemented for SDW ’09 that required teams to make a minimum of two pit stops ---at least one any time before completion of lap 100 on the racetrack and then a second pit stop any time after--- during the race, when Tom Sears Jr. slowed out of turn four with a flat right-rear to incur caution on lap 120, the pits suddenly became a hotbed of activity for every team. In a rare turn of events, the only car that remained trackside at the conclusion of lap 121 was Frenchman Martin Roy, yet he was a number of laps down thus keeping Tomkins atop the heap until Jimmy Phelps emerged as the third race leader the next time around.
The stage was now set for the final showdown in the 75-lap chase to the checkers that featured ’07 pole-winner and local favorite Phelps, series superstar Hearn, defending Rite Aid 200 champ Cozze, four-time race winner Decker and ‘Super Matt’ while pole-sitter Fuller, Ryan Godown, Planck, Haers and Tobias rounded out the top-10 for the lap 125 restart.
Stranded deep in the pack of parked cars during the final rush of pit stops, McCreadie fought his way back into the top-10 by lap 150, with the no. 39 Sweeteners Plus/Bicknell ride replacing Decker who had suffered through suspension problems the second half of the race in the LJL Racing no. 91 Gypsum Wholesalers/Bicknell entry. With 50 still to go, Sheppard settled into third behind Phelps and Hearn as Godown and Cozze contended for fourth.
Needing to finish 21st to clinch an unprecedented seventh Mr. DIRTcar Big-Block title no matter where Sheppard ended up, Hearn suddenly slowed in the no. 20 Wentworth Custom Homes-Kruger-WLR-BPG/TEO mount on lap 172 to open the door not only for Sheppard to assume second in the race but draw a tad closer to snatching up his first-ever Big-Block points crown. However, when Roy retired to the pits only a handful of laps later, Hearn had unofficially sewed up the coveted championship but the race on the track still remained to be decided.
With Phelps clinging to a seemingly comfortable lead, fate once more stepped in and a tire suddenly started going soft allowing Sheppard to charge past as the leaders raced down the back straightaway on lap 191. The 15th and final yellow flag unfurled two laps later as the H&H Motorsports no. 98H Wave Energy Drink-Mohawk N.E.-New England Race Fuels/Troyer limped pitside for the final time dropping Phelps to a disappointing 16th-place in the final rundown. In August a $17,500 payday was lost with just four laps remaining at Lebanon Valley and just last week Phelps lost his brakes to relinquish the lead for the second time Decker and lose out on a first-place prize of $20,000, this time with just one lap to go.
While Sheppard had the race in hand during the closing stages, the runner-up position wasn’t decided until the final restart when McCreadie slipped by Fuller with three laps to go. McCreadie ran out of laps trying to chase down Sheppard, cutting the gap to 2.7 seconds with the same distance separating third-place finisher Fuller.
“I knew it would’ve been tough to pass Jimmy on an open race track so I just kinda laid back, when we started getting into lapped traffic that’s when I would pick up the pace and try to put some heat on him and maybe get by that way,” remarked Sheppard, who played the same waiting game the previous year before watching in awe as winner Cozze circled the Syracuse Mile the last 129 laps on one tank of gas. “I saw he was starting to handle bad, starting to struggle so I actually backed off a little bit because I didn’t want him to shred a tire right in front of me. Just had to wait for the right time.”
“The track was tough, it definitely threw everybody a curve ball and a lot of guys were breaking. I really gotta thank my crew, I beat that thing through holes for 200 laps and it held together the whole time. I got into the back of somebody pretty hard in lapped traffic then a big chunk of clay hit and tore part of the door off, so it was pretty brutal out there today. We did a lot of work on pit strategy today but didn’t have to use it. There was some trouble (loose lug nuts) and I had to make an unscheduled pit stop, but after that just went for it at the end,” added Sheppard, who opened the season finishing dead-last in the Super DIRTcar Series show at Big Diamond yet stayed on course to top nearly every category aside from the final point standings.
Never climbing any higher than 23rd in nine previous attempts at conquering the same Moody Mile that his father ‘Barefoot’ Bob McCreadie mastered in the 1986 Rite Aid 200, it was a bitter-sweet return to his Modified roots in Central New York for ’06 World of Outlaws Late Model Series Champion Tim McCreadie.
“We got in some serious trouble with our last pit stop, played it right, just that congestion was tough,” lamented McCreadie, who earned a pole-position start in the 2001 Rite Aid 200 only to finish 38th after a broken oil line in the Finch Motorsports-Syracuse Frame Service/TEO entry sidelined the Watertown, N.Y. pilot through 94 laps. “I guess they don’t give an inch, that’s just the way it is so next time we’ll have to build bigger crash bars and come out of the pits harder.”
“We still had a good run, hats off to the guys at Sweeteners. I crashed an hour or two before qualifying (Thr.), everybody worked and clipped it from the radiator forward to put us back just in time (qualified 28th). The track was a little treacherous but I kind of like it with ice spots all over because it turns into a more handling and driving track instead of big horsepower.”
“This is just an exciting place. We go to the World 100 (LM) every year, that’s a great race too and I’d like to win it but this race right here is the one I’ve always wanted. Never even finished before today so if our finish from here on out goes up or stays the same I really can’t complain,” said 1997 DIRTcar Big-Block Modified Rookie of the Year McCreadie, now 35, who owns 18 wins in the Super DIRTcar Series and kicked off SDW ’09 with an aspiring 358-Modified series victory for owner Vinny Salerno in a satellite event Thursday night at nearby Brewerton Speedway.
Fellow WoO Late Model tour contender Fuller also cut his teeth on the DIRTcar Northeast Modified circuit, yet unlike McCreadie has plenty of finishes already tucked away at the fairgrounds in October. Maybe even more impressive than his victory in the 2004 Rite Aid 200 headliner, the ’05 Mr. DIRTcar Champion has averaged a 5th-place finish since capturing the career-elevating win for owners Bob and Michele Faust in their potent #M1 B&F General Machine ride.
“I’ve never seen an easy afternoon at The Mile, we were very fortunate to get out of here with a third,” said Fuller, 41, who has placed 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 7th the past four outings steering the same Teo Pro Car without a blemish. “I just wasn’t very good on cold tires and kept losing a couple cars per restart. Definitely didn’t want to see that last caution there, Timmy rolled right around with no problem. Once I got the tires warmed up I was as good as anybody else. I’ll still take third, though.”
“Syracuse is Syracuse, people drop out here and have misfortunes. We couldn’t pass as good as last year or the year before but the weather hasn’t been the greatest either. Steve (Hastings) and Joe (Knoth) brought two top-notch cars here, it’s a good deal, perfect for me. In my life I’ve never run a motor like that down the straightaway, actually I had a little bit too much power. So all in all it was a decent Super DIRT Week I’d say. We’ll take our top-3 and make a run at it next year,” Fuller figured.
After receiving word that he officially won the overall Hoosier-VP Mr. DIRTcar Championship for the third time in the new millennium, Hearn came out on the frontstretch stage to pose with World Racing Group CEO Brian Carter on the landmark occasion.
“Until you go through an experience like this week, I don’t think you ever know how much of a relief it is to have this (Mr. DIRT) over,” said Hearn, who garnered his first Mr. DIRTcar title in 1990 and has been among the pre-season favorites to repeat every year since. 2009 marks his second championship in three years for the Madsen Motorsports Team. “There were less than 21 cars on the track when we dropped out, it was unfortunate because we had the car in the right position to win the race. My guys did a great job with the strategy and got us in a good position, we had a really good race car all day long.”
“(Transmission yoke) is the kind of thing that’s happened over and over. Since our last win (1995) here we’ve had these failures on parts we use all year long and never have anything go wrong. I don’t know what the deal is, man … I guess we’re jinxed. I kept looking at the laptop (computer) screen waiting for it to change from 20th to 22nd, then watching as the no. 98 car got a flat at the end and Matt moving into the lead. Definitely nerve-racking today,” added Hearn, after wrapping up the title that now puts him all alone ahead of six-time Mr. DIRTcar Jack Johnson, who missed competing at SDW for just the third time since its inception in 1972, winning in both 1979 and 1984.
With Super DIRT Week now officially in the record book, all eyes turn to the 34th annual DIRTcar Racing Northeast ‘Night of Champions’ on Saturday, November 14 at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, New York. The banquet will honor 2009 champions in the Super DIRTcar Series Modified (Brett Hearn), 358-Modified, Sportsman and Pro Stock divisions. 358-Modified and Pro Stock classes crown champions next weekend at Brockville Ontario Speedway while the final Sportsman points show is scheduled for Saturday, October 24 at Black Rock Speedway.
Super DIRTcar Series Race #20 – New York State Fairgrounds,
October 11, 2009
“Rite Aid 200 Presented By Ferris & Snapper Mowers” Modified Event Summary
FIN STR CAR# DRIVER LAPS $WON$
1 7 9s Matt Sheppard/Waterloo,NY 200 50,000
2 28 39 Tim McCreadie/Watertown,NY 200 25,000
3 1 74 Tim Fuller/Edwards,NY 200 15,000
4 36 44 Frank Cozze/Wind Gap,PA 200 10,000
5 42 usa1 Richie Tobias Jr./Anneville,PA 200 6,000
6 35 84 Gary Tomkins/Clifton Springs,NY 200 4,000
7 5 66 Jerry Higbie/Newburgh,NY 200 3,600
8 32 2rj Ronnie Johnson/Duanesburg,NY 200 3,400
9 9 1th Tim Hindley/Monticello,NY 200 3,200
10 46 93x Craig Mitchell/Wappingers Falls,NY® 200 3,000
11 34 99 Ryan Phelps/Fulton,NY 200 2,800
12 29 19 Kenny Brightbill/Sinking Springs,PA 199 2,600
13 25 56 Vince Vitale/Phoenix,NY 199 2,400
14 16 111 Shawn Donath/South Onondaga.NY® 199 2,200
15 26 26 Ryan Godown/Ringoes,NJ 197 2,000
16 6 98h Jimmy Phelps/Baldwinsville,NY 193 1,900
17 21 3 Justin Haers/Phelps,NY 184 1,800
18 2 77x Dale Planck/Cortland,NY 179 1,700
19 3 91 Billy Decker/Unadilla,NY 176 1,700
20 8 20 Brett Hearn/Sussex,NJ 172 1,700
21 14 90 Martin Roy/Napierville,QUE 165 1,600
22 30 43 Keith Flach/Ravena,NY 163 1,600
23 38 49 Billy Dunn/Watertown,NY 152 1,600
24 11 88 J.R. Heffner/Stephentown,NY 150 1,600
25 23 19h Chris Higgins/Syracuse,NY 149 1,600
26 18 02 Roy Bresnahan/Palermo,NY 146 1,600
27 15 27j Danny Johnson/Rochester,NY 142 1,600
28 43 62s Tom Sears Jr./Clay,NY 135 1,600
29 13 98 Eddie Marshall/Ridgefield,CT 132 1,600
30 39 14j Alan Johnson/Middlesex,NY 97 1,600
31 10 7 Rich Laubach/Quakertown,PA 96 1,500
32 37 28p Eldon Payne,Jr./Hopewell,NY® 94 1,500
33 19 44f Stewart Friesen/Niagara-o-t-Lake,ONT 86 1,500
34 24 24 Chris Shultz/Pawling,NY 84 1,500
35 33 1h David Hebert/St. Damase,QUE 84 1,500
36 45 115 Kenny Tremont/West Sand Lake,NY 69 1,500
37 22 14 Jimmy Horton/Neshanic Station,NJ 59 1,500
38 4 10 Randy Sherlock/Milford,PA 54 1,500
39 27 29 Jeff Brownell Jr./Geneva,NY 53 1,500
40 17 42p Pat Ward/Genoa,NY 49 1,500
41 31 32c Vic Coffey/Leicester,NY 42 1,500
42 40 99L Larry Wight/Phoenix,NY 25 1,500
43 44 14m Doug Manmiller/Shoemakersville,PA 23 1,500
44 *41 4* Michael Storms/Wantage,NJ® 12 1,500
45 12 57 Donnie Corellis/Averill Park,NY 0 1,500
46 20 8 Rich Scagliotta/Bound Brook,NJ® 0 1,500
47 47 3 Chad Brachmann/Sanborn,NY 0 1,500
*Michael Storms drove #21x car not qualified by Bob McGannon and started last.
LAP LEADERS: Fuller (1-72), Tomkins (73-121), J.Phelps (122-190), Sheppard (191-200).
TOTAL LAPS LED: 72-Fuller, 69-J.Phelps, 49-Tomkins, 10-Sheppard.
LEAD CHANGES: 3 among 4 drivers.
CAUTIONS: 15 for 72laps.
ELAPSED TIME: 2 hrs. 35 mins. 37 secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 77.115 mph.
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 2.682 sec.
FREIHOFER'S ROOKIE OF THE RACE $2,000 AWARD: Craig Mitchell.
BERT HARD CHARGER: Richie Tobias Jr.
A-1 RACE PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Richie Tobias Jr.
TROYER RACE CARS LAP 100 LEADER 2010 MAX-FLEX CHASSIS AWARD: Gary Tomkins.
SHARON'S TOY RITE AID 200 CHAMPION $3,000 BONUS: Matt Sheppard.
SHARON'S TOY RITE AID 200 5TH-PLACE $1,000 BONUS: Richie Tobias Jr.
SHARON'S TOY MOST IMPROVED: Frank Cozze.
GATER RACING NEWS BEST APPEARING CAR & CREW: #34 - Andy Bachetti.
AREA AUTO RACING NEWS HARD LUCK AWARD: Jeff Strunk.
NYSSCA 'TOP MEMBER' AWARD: Ronnie Johnson.
AMERICAN TRADITIONS MOTORSPORTS POLE WINNER: Tim Fuller (30.300 sec/118.812 mph).
TEO PRO CAR OUTSIDE POLE WINNER: Dale Planck (30.402 sec/118.413 mph).
MAURI HOLBROOK MEMORIAL FAST TIME OF WEEK AWARD: Tim Fuller (30.300 sec/118.812 mph).
HOOSIER TIRE-VP RACING FUELS TRIPLE-20s RACE WINNERS: -rain-
DIG SAFELY NEW YORK SHOOTOUT RACE WINNER: Richie Tobias Jr.
CARS ENTERED: 79.
RACE ROOKIES®: 5.
DID NOT QUALIFY(30)
007-Roy Tarbell/Akwesasne, NY
14b-Brian Swarthout/Beaver Dams,NY
19h-John Higgins Jr./Syracuse,NY
22L-Larry Lampman,Jr./Port Colborne,ONT
24x-Patrick Dupree/Saranac Lake,NY
m40-Mark Forte,Jr./Blue Anchor,NJ
85-ted Lamb Jr./Clay,NY
673Mitch Gibbs/North Norwich,NY