After fighting a losing battle to Mother Nature in 2016, the Race of Champions Dirt Modified Series made some thunder of its own at Fonda Speedway (NY) Wednesday night. But there was plenty of lightning at the front of the field as Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen battled as they have so often throughout the Northeast this season. Sheppard ultimately came away with the victory in the Jack Johnson 60 after chasing Friesen for nearly 40 laps around the half-mile oval.
“It seems like everywhere we go it’s the two of us squaring off,” Sheppard told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Up at Ransomville we were battling for the win, he got the win. Weedsport we were battling for third side by side and he squeaked by me. Here we are battling tonight, it seems like no matter where we go, we’re battling side by side.”
Friesen got the lead early when Jeff Rockefeller pulled off track on lap 4. Sheppard had worked his way to second and made multiple challenges to take the lead, with Friesen giving Sheppard room on the bottom while he worked the outside. Sheppard nearly got the lead on a pair of green flag crossover moves in turn one, but a final restart with 11 laps to go saw Friesen change to the inside line for the green flag. Sheppard took advantage on the outside with a final crossover which had enough momentum to get the No. 9S out in front.
“I was surprised in the beginning of the race when he was giving me the bottom and made the top work. I thought maybe I could make the top work and I just couldn’t beat him into one but I was able to get that good crossover move and it was just a matter of getting ahead. Once I got ahead I would’ve been in pretty good shape, but getting the lead is another thing,” Sheppard explained. “I needed to hit real good one lap, get that extra car length, or I needed him to miss just a touch so I could get an extra car length. It seemed like we were really working him there before that last caution and it really helped us out.”
For Friesen, the green flag was his friend, but the final caution was his ultimate undoing on what had been a very solid night.
“It was good, we tried to hold him off as best we could and play defense for as long as we could. He’s got a great race car right now, it’s been tough. I don’t think we needed that last caution, he got that one shot on the restart and it was all it took.”
The Race of Champions Dirt Modified Series returns to action this Sunday with a doubleheader event at Utica-Rome Speedway, beginning with the 55-lap “Victoria 200” which was postponed by rain after qualifying races had been completed on the original May 22 race date. The “Night of Legends” event will follow as scheduled.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor (CT, MA, Long Island) – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com