At the end of the 2019 season, Speed51 asked race fans who they thought was the greatest Dirt Modified driver of the decade. The vote was between Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen. After 368 votes on Facebook, Friesen won 71% of the votes to Sheppard's 29%. But the real question is, who is the GOAT, or greatest of all time?
After a recent post on social media highlighting the 14 drivers with over 200 Big-Block Modified wins, the conversation among Speed51 colleagues turned to that specific topic.
Although the stats are specific to Big-Block Modifieds, it is still a hot debate as to who is the greatest in that genre of auto racing. Names such as Brett Hearn, Alan Johnson, Danny Johnson, Jimmy Horton, Will Cagle, Bob McCreadie, Billy Pauch, and of course Sheppard and Freisen, are just a few of the elite to eclipse the 200-win accomplishment. Along with the win totals, the number of years these drivers have competed accompanies the list, showing drivers who have competed from 16 seasons to 45 seasons.
So how do you determine who is the greatest of all time? Is it a matter of wins overall or wins per season? When it comes to the breakdown, our Northeast Big-Block Modified experts decided to sit down and hammer out the math to determine the GOAT and see where both Sheppard and Friesen land on the list.
New Jersey native Brett Hearn has won more Big-Block Modified races than any other driver with an impressive total of 581 career wins over his 42-year career. Following Hearn is Alan Johnson with 431 Big Block wins and counting. Although he ranks second all-time, it took him 45 years to accomplish his number of victories, the most of any driver on the list.
Rounding out the top five are Danny Johnson with 385 wins in 38 years, Will Cagle with 380 wins in 19 years, and Jack Johnson with 376 wins in 37 years.
So, where do Sheppard and Freisen sit among the elite? "Super Matt" is currently listed ninth on the list with 316 wins in his 16-year Big Block career, while "Mr. Freeze" sits in 12th with 219 wins over 15 years.
Looking at the stats, Sheppard is far and beyond Friesen when it comes to racing in a Big Block. But how does Sheppard compare to those that have become legends of the Big Block world? This is where you need to work out the math.
Sheppard has won an astounding average of 19.8 Big-Block Modified races per season over the course of his career so far. Of the drivers to achieve over 200 career wins, only Will Cagle has a better average, averaging 20 wins per season.
If you round up the decimal for Sheppard and he can continue to win 20 races a year, he will pass Jack Johnson for fifth all-time with 377 victories by the end of 2022. If he can average 21 wins per season over the next three years, he will tie Will Cagle at 380 in the same 19 years that it took Cagle to reach that number.
One thing that plays to the strength of Sheppard being able to reach those numbers is that he has averaged 21 victories or more every year since 2009, with a total average of 27.1 trips to victory lane in that span. In the last five years, he has averaged an incredible 31.8 wins per season. Since his Big Block career started in 2004, he has won more Super DIRT Series races at 71 and weekly races at 189, than any other driver. He currently ranks second all-time on the Short Track Super Series wins list, trailing only Friesen.
If Sheppard's Big Block dominance of the last five years continues and he can win 31 races a year, he could surpass Brett Hearn as the winningest driver in history by the end of the 2029 season. He would only be 47 years old at that point, while Hearn is currently 61 years old. That could potentially leave a lot of room for Sheppard to have below average seasons in that span and still catch the 581 wins that Hearn has.
With the rise of young stars such as Mat Williamson and Larry Wight, as well as Sheppard leaving his long-time home at Land of Legends Speedway for Orange County Fair Speedway on Saturday nights in 2020, the pace of Sheppard's win trajectory could slow down in the coming years. Still, he is a favorite to win at any track he shows up to on any given night. Keeping an eye on Sheppard will be something fun to watch for the newer generation of race fans, as history and the greatest Big-Block Modified driver of all time could be changing during the next decade.
-Story by: Evan Canfield, Speed51 Northeast Correspondent – Twitter: @ecanfield17
-Photo credit: Speed51