The 2016 racing calendar has been a season of both success and challenges for four-time defending Super DIRTcar Series champion Matt Sheppard. After facing the daunting task of building his own team at the start of the year, the team faced its greatest trial after losing their primary car in a weekly event at Canandigua Motorsports Park (NY) this past Saturday.
After putting a new car together in less than two days, Sheppard wheeled into Lebanon Valley Speedway (NY) and took the car straight to victory lane in the prestigious Mr. Dirt Track USA 100 on Thursday night and collected the top prize of $17,500. Sheppard joked after the race, that despite the completion of the car, he would’ve liked to have put in more time to the new Bicknell chassis.
“Not as much (time) as we probably should of (put in the car). We started putting it together 2:00 Tuesday afternoon and had it done by 10:00 Wednesday night,” explained Sheppard to Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It held together, it ran great and did everything it was supposed to do, boys did a good job.”
Sheppard started in the fifth spot and maintained that position the first half of the race. After a caution just past halfway, “Super Matt” went into action; first passing Stewart Friesen for fourth on a lap 59 restart and then powering by Keith Flach for third five laps later.
With 25 laps to go Sheppard caught up with two masters of “The Valley of Speed.” Polesitter Kenny Tremont held off Brett Hearn much of the race, but Hearn soon fell into the clutches of Sheppard, with the 9S getting a huge run into turn one to take second on Lap 83. Five laps later he would pull the same move on Tremont with Sheppard’s brakes glowing bright orange on another inside run.
It is the first win for Sheppard in the Mr. Dirt Track USA event.
“You never come here expecting a win; it feels great, second last year, first this year. We’ll take it, it’s awesome. I don’t think I got any faster; I think they just slowed down,” Sheppard reasoned.
Tremont’s tires did give up late in the going and that left the veteran rethinking his choice tire compound for his number-115 Dirt Modified.
“It’s just a matter of trying to keep it straight and trying not to use up the tires. We were really good, it’s just that the (Hoosier) 500 was the tire to use tonight. We used a 400. It just wasn’t the tire to use. I think if we had to do-over we’d do it a little differently,” Said Tremont.
Tremont would fall to third after a late race pass by Stewart Friesen who came home runner-up spot. Keith Flach and J.R. Heffner rounded the top five, while a flat tire with 10 laps to go relegated Brett Hearn to an eleventh place finish.
The Super DIRTcar Series heads to Weedsport Speedway this coming Labor Day Monday for their next outing.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor (CT, MA, Long Island) – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com