FULTON, NY — Billy Decker raced from the sixth-starting position to take the lead from outside polesitter Brett Hearn on lap 46 and held off a surging Matt Sheppard to claim his third straight Highbank Holdup 100 victory with the Super DIRTcar Series at Fulton Speedway on Saturday night.
(Editor’s Note: Speed51.com’s Trackside Now coverage of Saturday’s race can be found by clicking here.)
After taking the lead, Decker battled through lapped traffic to build a lead over Hearn. He then had to contend with Sheppard, who rallied from the 11th starting spot to take the runner-up position on lap 56. Decker defended against the reigning champion’s efforts, particularly over the final 10 laps, to secure his first Series win since last year’s edition of the event on April 30, 2016.
“It was tough sledding,” Decker said of the battles throughout the race. “I think if you were rolling you could go pretty good. Matt (Sheppard) came a long way and there was a lot of dicing. I could really carry some speed through the center of the turn and I think that’s what did it.”
Before Decker paced the field, Billy Whittaker and Hearn brought the 30-car field to the green flag for the Series’ season opening points race. Whittaker paced the field over the first four laps until Hearn assumed the point on lap five.
Decker quickly made his presence felt though, as he immediately jumped into the top-five and by lap 12 was challenging Jimmy Phelps for second. At lap 30, Hearn, Phelps and Decker raced nose-to-tail in a thrilling three-car battle for the lead.
Meanwhile, Sheppard methodically paced his way forward and took third from Phelps before the halfway point and set out to track down the leader Decker and second-place runner Hearn.
The only caution of the race came on lap 62, after Sheppard had taken over the second spot, when Tim Sears Jr. spun his No.83 at the bottom of turn two. Sheppard wasn’t able to use the outside lane on the restart to get by Decker, but Phelps rallied to retake the third spot and relegated Hearn to fourth.
From there, Decker enjoyed a five car-length lead under the watchful eye of Sheppard until 20 laps to go when Decker wandered back into lapped traffic Inside the final 10 laps, Decker nearly gifted the win to Sheppard when he slipped up the track in turn three, but regrouped without losing the top spot.
“The last 20 laps I got a little bit tight,” Decker said. “I went to put a move on the 22-car (of Brandon Walters) in lapped traffic and Matt got underneath us. I learned my lesson pretty quick there.”
Sheppard made a final push over the last five laps after the top two had separated from third-place Phelps by a half lap. Sheppard couldn’t muster enough momentum to steal the victory.
“He was a little better at times and I think I was a little better at times,” Sheppard said of Decker. “We didn’t draw the best redraw number tonight, but we had a really good racecar. It’s a great night for us and a great start to the series. It was a fun race and the track was really nice tonight.”
Sheppard nearly capitalized on a $100 bonus as the eleventh starter courtesy of 811 Dig Safely New York. Eighth starting Bobby Varin was the other driver eligible for the award.
Phelps rounded-out the podium while Hearn and Larry Wight completed the top-five.
“We missed it a little bit, but this was our first race of the year,” Phelps said. “We did a bunch of testing, but we haven’t gotten to apply it. We were close. We took off pretty decent, but we just needed to be better about 30 laps in after everybody’s tires cycled in. To be able to start the season off on the right foot close to home in front of the best fans on dirt is good.”
Decker nearly started the season with a perfect night. He earned the Pole Position Raceway Fast Time award with a lap of 16.485 seconds around the 3/8-mile oval. Hearn bested Decker by one spot to win heat one. Whittaker, Wight and Pat Ward were the other heat winners.
Alan Johnson earned the KSE Hard Charger award after racing from 21st to 8th. Johnson won the first Last Chance Qualifier while Chad Phelps won the other. Garry Tomkins, the first driver to exit the race on lap 22, was the recipient of the Speedy First Aid Hard Luck award.
While the Super DIRTcar Series does not return Fulton Speedway in 2017, the series will be close by at Oswego Speedway during the 46th NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week October 4-8, 2017. The Super DIRTcar Series’ next event is at Bridgeport Speedway in Sweedsboro, NJ on Tuesday, May 16.
-Super DIRTcar Series Press Release. Photo credit: Speed51.com/MoJo Photos
Highbank Holdup 100 Results
Fulton Speedway (NY) – April 29, 2017
1. 91-Billy Decker ; 2. 9s-Matt Sheppard ; 3. 98h-Jimmy Phelps ; 4. 20-Brett Hearn ; 5. 99L-Larry Wight ; 6. 49-Billy Dunn ; 7. 109-Billy Whittaker ; 8. 14J-Alan Johnson ; 9. 44-Stewart Friesen ; 10. 25-Erick Rudolph ; 11. 62s-Tom Sears Jr. ; 12. 42p-Pat Ward ; 13. 19-Tim Fuller ; 14. 76-Bobby Varin ; 15. 21a-Peter Britten ; 16. 22-Brandon Walters ; 17. 88-Mike Mahaney ; 18. 6h-Max McLaughlin ; 19. 8-Rich Scagliotta ; 20. 43-Keith Flach ; 21. 7m-Mike Maresca ; 22. 83x-Tim Sears Jr. ; 23. 5h-Chris Hile ; 24. 8r-Rob Bellinger ; 25. 93-Danny Varin ; 26. 16-Mike Bowman ; 27. 66x-Carey Terrance ; 28. 21y-Yan Bussiere ; 29. X-Chad Phelps ; 30. 84-Gary Tomkins ;