Matt Sheppard closed out his visit to Volusia Speedway Park last February with a pair of Top-3 feature finishes and some added confidence for the 20-hour trip home.
That was just the beginning for DIRTcar Northeast’s hottest driver as Sheppard closed out the recent 39th Annual Florida DIRTcar Nationals By University of Northwestern Ohio on Saturday with a second straight victory and the coveted Big-Block Modified points title over the best in the business.
“That was a lot of fun, I think the fans really got their moneys worth tonight,” remarked Sheppard, 27, who, over the past two years, has finished no worse than his sixth-place tally on Wednesday after chalking up 2nd, 3rd and 4th-place runs to close out last winter’s haul south. “It was just a tough battle out there, I think there were 4-5 guys that probably could’ve won that race. We just made a couple good moves there in the middle, got ourselves in the right position and were able to get out front.”
Once moving ahead aboard the JB Motorsports no 9S Xtreme Lubricants/Bicknell entry, the Waterloo, N.Y. speedster was far from alone however, edging runner-up Dale Planck by less than a half-second at the line, with Rick Laubach charging into third out of the final corner to salvage third. Long-time race leader Billy Pauch and 19th-place starter Billy Decker rounded out the front-five ahead of Top-10 finishers Jamie Mills, opening night winner Stewart Friesen, hard charger Bobby Varin (started 27th), Danny Johnson and DCN rookie Chris Higgins.
After falling into 23rd and 16th on the starting grid the initial two shows, Pauch was more than relieved to finish second in his heat before re-drawing to file into the front row alongside pole-sitter Rex King Jr. Billy ‘The Kid’ out-dragged the second-generation pilot from Ohio and set the early pace ahead of 27 more open-wheel contenders.
Canadian chauffeur Friesen had a right-rear tire go soft on lap four to incur the first of a half-dozen yellow flags, with Sheppard already cracking the top-five from his ninth-place start. Veterans Jimmy Phelps and Alan Johnson suffered their own flats to force early slowdowns, and at the halfway point Pauch and New Jersey rival Brett Hearn led the pack followed closely by fast-moving Decker, Sheppard, Mills and Planck.
While Garden State stars Pauch and Hearn staged a lengthy battle much of the first half, Sheppard gained ground in the second stanza, slingshotting past Pauch as the leaders rounded turn four to complete lap 39. Beginning the 50-lap finale in the lucky 13th slot, Planck advanced into third position with 10 to go and overtook Pauch for second just two laps later.
After 22 straight green flag laps dicing around the racy Barberville half-miler, three-time Western Pa./Ohio BRP Tour champ Rex King Sr. slammed the front stretch wall exiting turn four to force out another yellow flag from chief starter Dave Farney. With five laps to go the field remained bunched, and that’s the way it stayed as Tim Kerr (lap 48) and Rob Bellinger (lap 49) performed back-to-back loops exiting the third corner to keep the leaders reeling.
A last-gasp effort by Planck in the RezX Racing no. 77x Twin Leaf/Bicknell mount entering turn two startled Sheppard on the lap 49 restart, yet ‘Super Matt’ dug in deeper rounding turn four on the final circuit to register win number five in his last seven Big-Block attempts worth $5,000 and his first-ever DIRTcar Nationals Championship.
“I really didn’t want to see those cautions at the end because I had got a rhythm going, and they messed me up a little bit,” noted Sheppard, who closed out the ’09 campaign up north with three straight Super DIRTcar Series victories and has not missed a beat in the season-opening non-point SDS shows down south. “The (DCN) title is a big step up from what we normally do down here. We kind of struggled in the past so to come out and win two out of three and take the championship feels real good.”
While Sheppard racked up two wins over the past four days, runner-up Planck secured a pair of runner-up tallies to finish second in the final point standings.
“This car has been really good, can’t complain,” said Planck, 39, a regular traveler to Florida most of the new millennium, with his lone checkered flag taken in 2008. “There’s only one spot better than second so we’re pretty happy overall.”
“I gave a good shot on that last restart, just wasn’t strong enough. Thought maybe if I could get through (turns) three and four, maybe I could give Matt a run. I think I was better in one and two but he was way better down here (pointing to turns 3&4).”
“We’ll take it though, it’s a heck of a way to end the winter nationals. Sure glad I came down, and I’m hoping to be just as solid throughout the whole year on tour up north. We’ll just have to take it race by race and see what happens. So far what we’ve been doing, its in the direction of the kind of success we’re looking for,” added Planck, who looks to rebound from an 11th finish in the 2009 Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar points chase.
Recording his first career DIRTcar Nationals Top-5 in 29 Big-Block events at Volusia, popular Pennsylvanian Laubach wanted still more when the checkered finally waved over Gary and Lori Herman’s blue no. 7 Benton Electric & Elevator-Jones Racing Products/TEO Pro Car ---the same one that was part of the DIRTcar Racing display in January at Len Sammon’s 2010 Motorsports Race Car & Trade Show in the Greater Philadelphia (Pa.) Expo Center.
“This is why we came down to Florida,” beamed Laubach, 37, whose best previous effort at VSP were four sixth-place finishes and 8th in 2003 DCN points. “The weather wasn’t too great this week and everybody had a frown on. I know we’ll be driving home with a smile, it was a fun race. I just think with if those late yellows didn’t come out, my tire might’ve been better and I was definitely coming.”
“Want to thank Gary and Lori, they have some relatives here, and my parents and sister that came up from Ft. Lauderdale. It was a good nice for all of us.”
“Beginning at Hagerstown (Mar. 27), we’re going to follow a lot of the DIRT (series) races this year. This will be one of the first times I’ve ever been able to do that. I can tell you what, we’re all looking forward to it,” smiled Laubach, who missed only last year’s DIRTcar Nationals since first trying out Volusia.
With all 36 teams returning following Friday’s wash-out, New York was shut out for the first time as took checkered flags in the four qualifying heats while Delaware pilot Bunting, Rex King Jr. from Ohio, New Jersey’s Jimmy Horton and Laubach won heats while Garden State star Richie Pratt Jr. and Laubach copped the consolation round races.
As the 2010 Florida DIRTcar Nationals By UNOH made its way into the recordbook, teams packed up and headed home to get ready for the start of DIRTcar Northeast's 35th season at their home tracks. The first major event of the points season is the Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modified opener scheduled at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway on Saturday, March 27.
Destination events already lined up on DIRTcar Racing Northeast’s premier tour for the Big-Block Modifieds include the 2nd Annual All-Star 100 Weekend, this year featuring three straight days of racing at both Cayuga County Fair Speedway and Brewerton Speedway, July 15-17. The ‘Great Canadian’ tour in Quebec hits autodromes Drummond and Granby, July 19-20, with Super DIRT Week XXXIX on the Syracuse Mile, Oct. 6-10, and DIRTcar Fall Nationals at Brockville Ontario Speedway, Oct. 16-17, two of the biggest autumn attractions.
The 2010 Super DIRTcar Series concludes competition for the first time ever as a major part of the World Finals at The Dirt Track @ Charlotte (NC), Nov. 4-6, joining the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars and the World of Outlaws Late Models as all three series wrap up their seasons with nationally recognized championship-deciding point events.
Super DIRTcar Series – Volusia Speedway Park, February 13, 2010
39th Annual Florida DIRTcar Nationals By UNOH Event #3
BIG-BLOCK MODIFIED FEATURE
FIN STR CAR# DRIVER/HOMETOWN
1 9 9s Matt Sheppard/Waterloo,NY ($5,000)
2 13 77x Dale Planck/Cortland,NY
3 6 7 Rick Laubach/Quakertown,PA
4 2 1p Billy Pauch/Frenchtown,NJ
5 19 91 Billy Decker/Unadilla,NY
6 14 30 Jamie Mills/Milford,DE
7 23 1f Stewart Friesen/Niagara-o-t-Lake,ONT
8 27 10 Bobby Varin/Sharon Springs,NY
9 7 49er Danny Johnson/Rochester,NY
10 18 19h Chris Higgins/Syracuse,NY
11 12 66w Alan Johnson/Middlesex,NY
12 24 99L Larry Wight/Phoenix,NY
13 5 98h Jimmy Phelps/Baldwinsville,NY
14 8 20 Brett Hearn/Sussex,NJ
15 21 0 Richie Pratt Jr./Woodbury Heights,NJ
16 11 22 Mario Clair/St-Edmond,QUE
17 25 1x Willy Decker/Vernon,NY
18 15 34 Andy Bachetti/Sheffield,MA
19 20 42p Pat Ward/Genoa,NY
20 17 8r Rob Bellinger/Dexter,NY
21 3 85j H.J. Bunting III/Milford,DE
22 16 56 Vince Vitale/Phoenix,NY
23 28 07 Tim Kerr/Picton,ONT
24 22 85 Dan Vauter/Forest City,PA
25 26 65 Rex King/Bristolville,OH
26 10 01 Brett Ballard/Pennsville,NJ
27 1 165 Rex King Jr./Bristolville,OH
28 4 14 Jimmy Horton/Neshanic Station,NJ
DID NOT QUALIFY(8)
6-John Stangle/Neshanic Station,NJ
79-Jeremy Markle/Port Jervis,NY
97-Michel Chicoine/Ste-Cecile de Milton,QUE
Lap Leaders: Pauch (1-38), Sheppard (39-50).
Cautions: 6 (lap 4, lap 7, lap 17, lap 45, lap 48, lap 49).
Heat Races (8 laps, top 5 finishers transferred to feature, top 2 redrew)
#1: Bunting, Pauch, Sheppard, Planck, Bellinger, Varin, Friesen, W.Decker, Greene.
#2: R.King Jr., D.Johnson, Ballard, Mills, Higgins, Pratt, Stangle, Rauscher, Chocoine.
#3: Horton, Hearn, Clair, Bachetti, B.Decker, R.King Sr., Kerr, Flach, Markle.
#4: Laubach, Phelps, A.Johnson, Vitale, Ward, Vauter, VanInwegen, Stacey, Wight.
Consolation Round (10 laps, top 3 finishers transferred to feature)
#1: Pratt, Friesen, W.Decker, Rauscher, Greene, Stangle, Chicoine, Varin.
#2: Vauter, Wight, R.King Sr., Kerr, Flach, VanInwegen, Markle, Stacey.
Provisionals: Varin, Kerr.
Florida DIRTcar Nationals Big-Block Modified Point Standings (FINAL)
PTS CAR# DRIVER / HOMETOWN
166 9s MATT SHEPPARD/Waterloo,NY
148 77x Dale Planck/Cortland,NY
142 1f Stewart Friesen/Niagara-o-t-Lake,ONT
140 10 Bobby Varin/Sharon Springs,NY
132 98h Jimmy Phelps/Baldwinsville,NY
127 30 Jamie Mills/Milford,DE
118 66w Alan Johnson/Middlesex,NY
118 1p Billy Pauch/Frenchtown,NJ
111 49er Danny Johnson/Rochester,NY
107 91 Billy Decker/Unadilla,NY
106 20 Brett Hearn/Sussex,NJ
105 22 Mario Clair/St-Edmond,QUE
99 7 Rick Laubach/Quakertown,PA
98 1x Willy Decker/Vernon,NY
93 19h Chris Higgins/Syracuse,NY
89 34 Andy Bachetti/Sheffield,MA
84 65 Rex King/Bristolville,OH
82 14 Jimmy Horton/Neshanic Station,NJ
80 42p Pat Ward/Genoa,NY
73 0 Richie Pratt Jr./Woodbury Heights,NJ
68 07 Tim Kerr/Picton,ONT
67 8r Rob Bellinger/Dexter,NY
63 56 Vince Vitale/Phoenix,NY
56 165 Rex King Jr./Bristolville,OH
54 99L Larry Wight/Phoenix,NY
51 85 Dan Vauter/Forest City,PA
44 6 John Stangle/Neshanic Station,NJ
42 85j H.J. Bunting III/Milford,DE
40 33 Ray Swinehart/Bechtelsville,PA
40 48too Dave Rauscher/Waterloo,NY
40 01 Brett Ballard/Pennsville,NJ
31 8 Rich Scagliotta/Bound Brook,NJ
30 97 Michel Chicoine/Ste-Cecile de Milton,QUE
30 43 Keith Flach/Ravena,NY
30 23 Billy VanInwegen/Sparrowbush,NY
30 1 Darwin Greene/Susquehanna,PA
30 79 Jeremy Markle/Port Jervis,NY
30 66 Dexter Stacey/Kahnawake,QUE
22 29 Jeff Brownell Jr./Waterloo,NY
20 29 Vic Coffey/Leicester,NY
20 70 Eric Acquaro/New Windsor,NY
20 t21 Roger Chrysler/Lewiston,NY
20 21k Randy Chrysler/Lewiston,NY
10 66 Wallace Stacey/Kahnawake,QUE