Big-Block Modified racing has big tires, big cars and big personalities. When those big tires, big cars and big personalities clash, the result is typically, well, big. That’s what happened on Sunday night in the Super DIRTcar Series feature at New York’s Utica-Rome Speedway.
“Super” Matt Sheppard and “Lightning” Larry Wight were racing hard side-by-side with Sheppard on the bottom and Wight on the top. Coming out of turn two Wight got a strong run and appeared to get to the outside of Sheppard’s blue No. 9s. The two cars made contact halfway down the backstretch. The contact launched Wight’s red No. 99 into a violent tumble in turn three and sent Sheppard’s car spinning.
But that wasn’t where the incident ended. Instead, it was just the beginning.
Sheppard quickly climbed out of his race car and took off running in the direction of Wight’s car, which Wight was just beginning to exit. He appeared to grab Wight and throw him down to the New York clay.
“We had a good night going,” Wight told Speed51.com powered by JEGS after the race. “Then we started racing with Matt Sheppard and he kept running me out of room and shoving me off the track. Finally, I got a good run and then he stuffed us in the backstretch wall and sent us flipping.”
Sheppard’s take on the incident was a little different, as expected.
“We went down the backstretch and if he’s not far enough along side of me to where I can see him, then he’s got to learn to let off the gas,” Sheppard said on Monday afternoon. “I watched him do the same thing to Stewart Friesen in the same exact spot at Utica-Rome Speedway a couple years ago. It took both of those guys out and Stewart Friesen wasn’t very happy and it was a big thing. If I can’t see a guy, then he’s got to be smart enough to let off. That’s basically all there is to it.”
Even though Wight was angry about having one of his race cars destroyed and a strong run coming to a premature end, he said it was what happened after the crash that bothered him the most.
“The after-effect of getting torn out of your car and pinned to the ground, that wasn’t really fun,” Wight said. “Especially when you don’t even see it coming. I’m sitting on the door of my car because I’m still dazed and trying to take in what happened a little bit and then the next thing I know I’ve got an arm reaching around in front of my helmet and I’m on the ground underneath someone, that’s just uncalled for.”
This isn’t the first time this season these two drivers clashed on track. A couple of weeks ago at Outlaw Speedway (NY) the two drivers made contact that resulted in a Sheppard spin. Sheppard was still able to rebound and finish second in that race, while Wight finished third.
Sheppard said that the incident at Outlaw Speedway had nothing to do with what happened on Sunday at Utica-Rome. He also said that he was trying to help Wight out of his car, not fight him.
“I was very frustrated with what happened, but I could see that Larry was frantically trying to get out of the car as fast as he could,” said Sheppard. “He got about halfway out and I helped him out the rest of the way. We kind of fell on the ground there and then the safety crew got us. I didn’t know if he had hot antifreeze on him or something, but it kind of got blown out into way more than it actually was.
“Did you see me throw any punches? I never threw a punch. He got halfway out of his car. I pulled him out the rest of the way. We fell to the ground. It was kind of awkward with our helmets on. I wouldn’t consider that a fight. I think the ambulance drivers were more aggressive than either one of us were.”
Neither driver said that they believe anything in the past led up to Sunday’s incident, but both drivers were clear in saying there are things the other driver does that rubs them the wrong way.
“I just know that if Matt doesn’t get his way he starts throwing temper tantrum,” Wight said. “If something doesn’t go his way, then he finds every way to blame whoever else is involved.”
“Racing is about give and take and he’s one of those guys that never wants to give,” Shepard stated. “We can all make spectacular moves and get a run on somebody, but trying to wedge it between the wall and somebody that can’t see you down the backstretch at Utica-Rome is not a great idea. It didn’t work out for him this time, and it didn’t work out the last time he tried it. I don’t know how stupid you need to be to continually try and make the same move over and over again even though it never ever works out.”
The next race for the Super DIRTcar Series is at Airborne Park Speedway (NY) on July 6. Sheppard leads the points standings by 24 over Billy Decker. Wight currently sits fifth in the standings, 78 markers back of Sheppard.
On Monday evening, DIRTcar officials announced that Sheppard would be fined $1,000, lose all championship points and monies earned Sunday at Utica-Rome, suspended seven days (until July 10) from weekly DIRTcar-sanctioned competition and suspended from competing in the next two Super DIRTcar Series events.
Prior to the penalties being announced, Wight said he believed penalties are absolutely necessary for what happened after the initial crash.
“That’s not what we’re about,” he said. “We’re the highest form of racing in the Northeast. To show the fans that’s how we handle our differences is not acceptable in my book.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Mojo Photos