AKWESASNE -- Same track, different conditions, yet same results.
For ‘Super Matt’ Sheppard the weekend couldn’t have come off any better at Mohawk International Raceway as he swept both ends of the Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar doubleheader for Big-Block and Small-Block Modifieds to head back home with another $10,000 in the bank.
“Can’t thank everybody on this team enough, what a great weekend,” beamed Sheppard, 28, after following up his 75-lap DIRTcar 358-Modified Championship run on Friday with a $6,000 victory Saturday night in the headline SUNY Canton 100 for the mighty Big-Block Modifieds.
“We came here and won last night and winning again tonight is just awesome at such a great facility.”
“I wanted to get to lap 75 when it was single file on the restarts. After that I was just happy to hold on. The car felt really good, but it would come and go. I’m sure everybody was that way out there tonight,” said Sheppard, following his tour-best sixth triumph of the season which increased his overall Mr. DIRTcar points lead to 113 markers ahead of 11th-place finisher Jimmy Phelps.
Reigning Mr. DIRTcar points king Brett Hearn settled for second five car-lengths behind at the stripe, followed by perennial rival Danny Johnson, 2008 Mr. DIRTcar titlist Billy Decker and Decker’s Gypsum Express teammate Larry Wight.
While track conditions were wet and heavy the previous night, six hours of grating and another four rolling by the track grounds crew produced a far smoother and less costly surface for the Saturday show at Mohawk.
Starting eighth last night before taking the lead on lap 14 in the 358-Modified main, Sheppard moved from seventh to first in 42 circuits the second night to find the same results in the JB Motorsports no. 9s Xrreme Lubricants/Bicknell rides.
“Last time we led almost the whole race and kinda got bit at the end,” said Sheppard, recalling the Super DIRTcar Series show held at Mohawk in June when held the point the first 89 laps before fading to third behind winner Phelps and runner-up Decker. “And tonight I don’t think we had the fastest car but still got it done.”
“Brett was better than we were and he just picked the wrong lane on that restart. I got a good run on the top and think that’s what won it for us,” Sheppard figured.
Despite time trialing third quickest in the 29-car field behind Bilstein Shocks Fast Timer Decker, Sheppard mirrored last night’s qualifying heat race win before beginning his march to the front come feature time. Pole-sitter Hearn was a rocket right out of the gate, pulling out to a 10 car-length advantage on the opening circuit while Johnson and Wight raced in the front-five.
Staying overnight following competition in the Small-Block event at MIR on Friday, Canadian invader Tommy Flannigan looped low in turn three to force out the first yellow flag on lap seven.
Sheppard bolted from fourth to second on the ensuing lap 11 restart with Hearn just as swift as he opened up a comfortable margin in the meantime.
Trying to advance his position using the farthest outside lane, Wight finally slipped too high in the third corner, brushing the outside retaining wall yet continuing to move forward as a second caution period slowed the action on lap 26.
When Billy Dunn dropped off the pace to force out the yellow lights once more on lap 39, Sheppard took advantage of the double-file restart to blast past Hearn as they throttled down the front chute to complete lap 42.
At the halfway mark, Sheppard and Hearn continued to pace the field while Johnson fought hard to make it a three-car battle by lap 55.
Weaving in and around traffic as the laps clicked off, that order remained intact with Decker and Dale Planck filling out the front five.
Having to restart at the rear of the field a quarter of the way through, ‘Lightning’ Larry Wight carved his way back through to the front in dramatic fashion by the midway point before regaining his top-five status with 15 laps still to go.
Hearn was able to close the gap on Sheppard in the closing stages as Steve Paine and race rookie Chris Raabe -- the two-time defending Mr. DIRTcar Sportsman Champion in his debut -- clogged the leader’s preferred line low, yet time ran out before the Waterloo , N.Y. could be denied his circuit-high 19th Big-Block win, at the same time pushing his career Series win total to 18.
“I thought we were rally good on the bottom on the restarts before that, so I kind of went with what had already worked for us,” said Hearn, 52, explaining his choice of lanes on the pivotal lap 42 restart that ended with Sheppard emerging as the only other race leader.
“Matt must have learned from that first restart when I beat him to the corner and this time he was able to curl back in turn one at the bottom.”
“I don’t think necessarily that he was the fastest car or if we were either, but I do know we were just as good as he was and had I been in front I might have been able to get away from him a little bit. I only saw Danny once all race, I was just trying to hit my marks and go after Matt the best I could,” added Hearn, who remained fourth in Series points following his seventh top-five tally in 17 point events steering the black Madsen Motorsports no. 20 Wentworth Custom Homes-Benjamin Moore Paints/TEO mount.
Piloting the Honeoye Auto Parts no. 27j Rochester Americans-Currier Plastics-Waste Management/Bicknell machine, Johnson forged his ninth front-five finish along the 2010 champ trail which was only his second top-three.
“I had a great race car out there, hung with them guys the whole race and was able to stay with them right until the end,” remarked Johnson, 50, who scored his lone tour win of the season at Autodrome Drummond (Que.) in July. “We just didn’t get to the right spots at the right time.”
“But being able to finish third was a great accomplishment for us, we’re really happy with it. We’re really working hard trying to get this car to go and it’s really paying off for us, so I appreciate everything people are trying to do for us,” Johnson said. Super DIRTcar Series title contenders head back to Central New York and Fulton Speedway for the 25th Annual “Outlaw 200” presented by SUNY Canton on Oct. 2.
Show up points only will be awarded in Fulton ’s 2010 finale along with a $20,000 grand prize to the winner plus a guaranteed starting spot in the SEF Small Engine Fuels 200 Presented by Ferris/Snapper/Simplicity during Super DIRT Week XXXIX at the N.Y.S. Fairgrounds in Syracuse.
MOHAWK INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18th, SUNY CANTON 100 SUNY CANTON 100 (SUPER DIRTcar BIG BLOCK MODIFIEDS, SERIES RACE #17) (100 laps): Matt Sheppard, Brett Hearn, Danny Johnson, Billy Decker, Larry Wight, Carey Terrance, Dale Planck, Ryan Phelps, Pat Ward, Justin Haers, Jimmy Phelps, Tim O'Brien, Scott Parliament, Michael Storms, Mike Mahaney, Clayton Benedict, Tom Sears Jr., Roy Tarbell, Billy Dunn, Chris Raabe, Casey Swamp, Steve Paine, Lance Willix, Rich Scagliotta, Tom Jock Jr., Tommy Flannigan, Todd Stone, Travis Back, Perry Francis.
Mohawk International Raceway is located midway between the Seaway International Bridge to Cornwall, ONT and the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino. From Route 37, turn south onto Frogtown Road.
The website is at www.MohawkInternationalRaceway.com. The MIR office is 518-358-3225 and on race days, the track number is 518-358-9017. The track is owned and operated by Mohawk International Raceway, LLC.