By CAMDEN PROUD
Seven time and defending Super DIRTcar Series champion Matt Sheppard started his quest for an eighth title off on the right foot Saturday evening with a $10,000 victory in the Rockstar 100 at Can-Am Speedway.
Sheppard dominated the main event for his 71st career victory with the Super DIRTcar Series while also earning a guaranteed starting spot in the NAPA Super DIRT Week Billy Whittaker Cars 200 at Oswego Speedway.
“It’s great to start the year this way,” Sheppard said after earning his first points victory with the tour since September of 2018. “We had some fast cars last year, but had a lot of flat tires and stupid things like that happen. A lot of deals where we were right there at the very end and could’ve got it done, but things didn’t fall our way so I’m happy this worked out tonight.”
Sheppard started on the outside of the front row next to former teammate Jimmy Phelps. After wrestling the lead away on the first lap, Sheppard went through more than a dozen restarts without virtually any pressure. Yes, over a dozen caution flags. There is no question that the 9s was hooked up, but when things start going amiss for so many others, it tends to make a driver a little bit squirmish – especially when leading.
“I was really hearing the voices tonight,” commented Sheppard. “There were a lot of cautions, a lot of restarts, a lot of flat tires, and just so many things that could’ve went wrong that luckily for us they didn’t. I just raced my race and tried not to let it bother me. It all went right tonight.”
Saturday’s Thunder in the Thousand Islands event marked the first Super DIRT Series visit to the Nasty Track of the North since 2009. Sheppard also picked up the win in that show, with tonight’s checkered flag marking only the second of his career at Can-Am. Despite spending very little time at the LaFargeville oval in recent years, it was quite clear that the Waterloo, N.Y. driver had not forgotten how to get around.
“We kind of know what to expect with this place even though we haven’t been here in a bit,” quipped Sheppard. “We just brought a package we thought would be good and fine tuned it. We made some changes throughout the night and I think the changes we did make were for the better thankfully.”
When everyone saw this early season event added to the Super DIRTcar Series schedule, it lead to a lot of surprise and question. Would all of that Jefferson County snow be melted in time? Would temperates be bitterly cold? Would the track conditions be ideal for racing? Overall, all of these potential concerns worked out in Can-Am Speedway’s favor and the Bartlett Family did a fantastic job getting everything ready to go for raceday.
“I had a pretty good idea of what we thought the surface was going to be tonight and that’s pretty much exactly what it was when I got here and looked at it,” explained Sheppard. “It started out hard and slick and as the night went on it got rougher and tackier in some spots, but in others it was just as slick. It was kind of like racing on a couple different tracks, but for this neck of the woods in the month of April it could’ve been a whole lot worse.”
The bottom lane certainly appeared predominant throughout the duration of the program. Most drivers elected to hug the inside of the track, which made passing a bit more challenging. Some top was there and there were a few takers who gave it a try, but it seemed the bottom was the place to be and Sheppard was in the right place at the right time all night long. It all started with an ideal starting spot through the redraw to springboard his team to another Super DIRTcar Series win.
“That redraw definitely didn’t hurt us at all,” Sheppard said. “We were able to have a solid run in the heat and when I drew a good starting spot, I just wanted to make sure I kept my nose clean and took it to the end and we were able to get the job done. It feels really good to win here.”
With wins at Can-Am this weekend and at the Grandview and Orange County Fair Speedways in the week prior, Sheppard has earned nearly $30,000 in the past 14 days. Not bad, right?
The next Super DIRTcar Series event will be the Highbank Holdup 100 at Fulton Speedway on Saturday, April 27.
Can-Am Speedway – Big Block Modified Super DIRTcar Series Rockstar 100 Finish: 1. 9s MATT SHEPPARD ($10,000), 2. 88 Mat Williamson, 3. 49 Billy Dunn, 4. 3 Justin Haers, 5. 42p Pat Ward, 6. 99L Larry Wight, 7. 14W Ryan Watt, 8. 35 Mike Mahaney, 9. 26 Ryan Godown, 10. 7mm Mike Maresca, 11. m1 Dave Marcuccilli, 12. 19m Jessey Mueller, 13. 48too Dave Rauscher, 14. 21a Peter Britten, 15. 25 Erick Rudolph, 16. 2L Jack Lehner, 17. 111 Demetrios Drellos, 18. 98H Jimmy Phelps, 19. r70 Ryan Arbuthnot, 20. 91 Billy Decker, 21. 9x Tyler Trump, 22. 8 Rich Scagliotta, 23. 9j Jordan McCreadie, 24. 83x Tim Sears Jr, 25. 27m Max McLaughlin, 26. 18j Louie Jackson Jr, 27. 19 Tim Fuller, 28. 1 Danny Johnson, 29. 31 Lance Willix.