Wight and Sheppard Kick-Off 2016 Season with Impressive Wins at Utica-Rome

VERNON, NY- The Utica-Rome Speedway kicked off it’s 2016 season this past Sunday, April 17th, with a pair of 20-lap feature events for the Gates-Cole Insurance Modifieds. The two events were won by familiar faces as Larry Wight picked up the win in the first and Matt Sheppard made an exciting pass at the end of the race for the win in the second. The night also saw Rocky Warner return to Victory Lane for the SUNY Canton 602 Sportsman, Jeremy Vunk for the Broedel Energy Open Sportsman and Luke Horning for the Pro Stocks.
The first Gates-Cole Insurance 20-lap Modified feature of the season Wight got the win but it didn’t come easy. Marc Johnson and Matt Hulsizer opened the race swapping the lead multiple in the first five circuits before Hulsizer finally settled in as the leader. Hulsizer then began feeling the pressure from Wight. Wight pressured him before finally getting by on lap eight. Wight blasted by Hulsizer in traffic on the cushion in turns and four.
The only caution came on lap 12 when Vinnie Vitale had problems and slowed in turns three and four. Once the race got back underway Wight felt some pressure from Tim Fuller. Fuller worked every lane he could but it didn’t matter as Wight refused to give up the lead. Wight picked up the $1,500 victory with Fuller and Hulsizer finishing out the podium. Sheppard finished fourth while Pat Ward finished fifth.
The second 20-lap feature Chris Hile bolted from his outside front row starting position to the lead around Mike Mahaney. Hile had constant pressure from Mahaney as they both worked the high-groove on the race track. They remained in the top two spots while Sheppard was advancing from fifth to third. Sheppard several efforts on the inside to get into the top two but couldn’t get it done early.
Just like the first feature, a caution bunched the field on lap 12. The restart allowed action to pick up once again. Hile held off Mahaney as much as he could but Mahaney pulled a classic slide job on lap 16 to secure the top position in turns three and four. The action wasn’t done at this point. Sheppard closed in on Mahaney and used a slide job of his own on lap 19 to take over the lead. Sheppard led the final circuit for the 26th win of his career at Utica-Rome. Danny Varin charged from 10th to finish in second. Mahaney crossed the line third but was later disqualified after running out of fuel and coming up light on the scales. This moved Hile back into third with Ward and Fuller rounding out the top five.
Coming up next week at the Utica-Rome Speedway is another exciting event for the Gates-Cole Insurance Modifieds, SUNY Canton 602 Sportsman, the Broedel Energy Open Sportsman and the Pro Stocks. They’ll be joined by the Go Nuclear Late Models in the Prelude to the Gnome Cup. Action starts for the program presented by Wilber-Duck Chevrolet at 6 p.m.
For more information about the speedway please visit our website at www.uticaromespeedway.com.
GATES-COLE INSURANCE MODIFIED FEATURE #1 FINISH (20 LAPS)- LARRY WIGHT, Tim Fuller, Matt Hulsizer, Matt Sheppard, Pat Ward, Ronnie Johnson, Chris Hile, Mike Mahaney, Marc Johnson, Danny Varin, Ryan Phelps, Danny Johnson, Rob Bellinger, Vic Coffey, Mat Williamson, Josh Hohenforst, Billy Whittaker, Ryan Bartlett, Max McLaughlin, Tim Mayne, Justin Haers, Mark Kislowski, Vinnie Vitale, and Shaun Pangman.

GATES-COLE INSURANCE MODIFIED FEATURE #2 FINISH (20 LAPS)- MATT SHEPPARD, Danny Varin, Chris Hile, Pat Ward, Tim Fuller, Larry Wight, Ronnie Johnson, Matt Hulsizer, Danny Johnson, Vic Coffey, Marc Johnson, Ryan Phelps, Mat Williamson, Josh Hohenforst, Billy Whittaker, Vinnie Vitale, Max McLaughlin, Ryan Bartlett, Katelyn Hile, Shaun Pangman, Mark Kislowski, Rob Bellinger, Justin Haers, and Mike Mahaney.


Hearn won the battle but it was Sheppard who won the war as he captured his second career DIRTcar Nationals title. Throughout the four days of Big Block action, Sheppard never finished outside the top five. He finished fifth on opening night and then took home a win before a second and a third to conclude the week.Sheppard’s third place finish was enough for him to claim the championship. He battled Friesen for the final five laps and nearly pulled off the last lap pass for second. Although he was denied the position he enjoyed his second career DIRTcar Nationals title. His last came back in 2010.
“We had an awesome race car all week,” said Sheppard. “We had another good car tonight. Brett snookered us on tires a little bit. We were really coming on Stewie there at the end. I couldn’t be prouder of all those guys standing over there that stepped up to help out. To come down here out of the box to have a first, second, third and a fifth is pretty good, pretty consistent. Hopefully we can keep it going all season.”

Sheppard Wins DIRTcar Nationals Barn Burner on Thursday Night
BARBERVILLE, FL – Thursday night’s 30-lap Modified DIRTcar Nationals main-event at Volusia Speedway Park came down to a battle between two of the best Super DIRTcar Series drivers in the Northeast. Matt Sheppard and Larry Wight duked it out for the final 10 laps of the feature race with Sheppard coming out on top at the checkered flag. Sheppard’s win came behind the wheel of his self-owned No. 9s Bicknell. The Waterloo, N.Y., driver split with Heinke-Baldwin Racing over the winter after a successful 2015 that saw him win the series title. This forced Sheppard to go in a different direction this year. Sheppard chose to start his own team and it quickly paid dividends as he marched to his seventh career DIRTcar Nationals triumph.“This is unreal,” said Sheppard. “It was such a crazy off-season for us; building this team in such a short period of time. We can say I’m going out on my own but not really. I got a ton of great people that have stepped up to help out. Everything really came together. The crew has been busting their butt all night on this car. We had trouble in qualifying, we had trouble in the heat race and they never gave up. Man two races in and we are sitting in Victory Lane already that is awesome.”Wight redrew the pole and was flanked for the start by opening night winner Tim Fuller. Wight surged to the lead at the start before caution slowed the pace after only one lap. Billy VanInwegen caught the inner guardrail and shot up the bank collecting several cars in turns three and four. Everyone was able to continue except VanInwegen as his night came to an end with front end damage.The field restarted with Wight at the point but he quickly lost two positions as both Labauch and Fuller shot by in turns one and two. Laubach raced to the lead with Fuller looking to his outside as they battled down the backstretch. Laubach would come out on top as the race leader. Laubach set a torrid pace from this point as Fuller did everything in his power to remain in the thick of things at the front of the field. Laubach continued to distance himself with Fuller searching around as the high-line that propelled him to victory wasn’t as strong as it was on Wednesday night. Action began picking up as the race reached the halfway point. Laubach caught the tail of the field which impeded his progress as he had to work through traffic. The rest of the field took advantage and closed the gap. Laubach led with Fuller second while Wight and Sheppard swapped the third position lap after lap. With just eight circuits left, Sheppard and Wight pounced on Laubach and Fuller. Fuller faded while Laubach got boxed in by a slower car on the bottom allowing Sheppard to roll the middle and Wight to use the extreme outside. The three drivers waged a fierce battle for the lead until Sheppard finally edged in front on lap 24. “He (Laubach) got jammed up and I was able to roll around the outside of him there,” he said. “The key thing was I was able to go around the lapped car into one and then I got it turned fast enough to get down to the bottom to get that good run off of one and down the backstretch. That’s what sealed the deal for us.” Even though Sheppard was able to wrestle the lead from Laubach he still had to hold off Wight. Wight began slamming the cushion in his LJL Racing Teo Pro Car. This allowed him to stay within striking distance of Sheppard. Sheppard altered his line just slightly to find the bite off of turn two. This alteration provided him the opportunity to gain some breathing room as he worked through traffic quickly. “It got pretty hectic out there,” Sheppard said. “I was pretty good on the bottom. I ran out of tear offs with about five or six to go. That was a little nerve wracking. I’m just so thankful to be able to hang on to win this for everybody.” Sheppard scored the win over Wight by 1.2 seconds. Wight wheeled his No. 99L around the cushion but it wasn’t enough to pull off the upset victory in the closing laps. “We’ve been doing a lot of testing down here,” Wight said. “We are trying to use it for all we can. I think tonight we had a really good car. It took me a little too long to find the top of one and two. We were in the middle of three and four. Right there at the end traffic got the best of me. Matt (Sheppard) was able to get down to the bottom and run away from me.” Wight was hoping to add a Small Gator trophy to the Big Gator trophy he won at the conclusion of 2015. A second DIRTcar Nationals title is a possibility now that he has two top five finishes on the week. He’ll continue to search for a win in the final two nights of competition. “This Gypsum Wholesalers car has been phenomenal,” Wight said. “To come down here and try and pick it up twice would be great. I can’t thank the crew enough.” Laubach, a Modified standout in his own right from Hellertown, Pa., was able to hang on to the final spot on the podium. He was disappointed with how the race played out. He said he felt like the slower car may have cost him an opportunity for a DIRTcar Nationals win for the second year in a row. “You want to win one,” said Labuach. “I didn’t think I was going to get the lead from those guys. Then I started pulling away from them and I was comfortable before I got caught up in the lapped traffic. That guy wouldn’t get out of my way. If I could have just got by him I think I could have held them off. That is part of it, I just wasn’t good enough to get by him so it is what it is.” Stewart Friesen rallied late from his 10th starting spot to finish in fourth while Erick Rudolph came from seventh to complete the top five. Laubach was the fastest car on the night in group qualifying with a lap of 17.817. Heat wins were secured by Laubach, Billy Pauch, Billy Dunn and Dave Rauscher. Peter Britten and Steve Bernard won their respective consolation events.
Racing returns Thursday night at Volusia Speedway Park for the 10th day of the DIRTcar Nationals. Gates open at 5 p.m. and racing begins at 7:30 p.m. Follow the series on Twitter @SuperDIRTcar, or click www.SuperDIRTcarSeries.com.

DIRTcar Nationals Note Tyler Dippel was fined $500 and placed on probation until the end of the 2016 Super DIRTcar Series season following an incident the previous night.

DIRTcar Nationals Statistical Report; Feb. 18, 2016; Volusia Speedway Park; Barberville, Fla.
A-Main (30 Laps) – 1. 9s-Matt Sheppard, 2. 99L-Larry Wight, 3. 7-Rick Laubach, 4. 44-Stewart Freisen, 5. 25R-Erick Rudolph, 6. 49-Billy Dunn, 7. 19-Tim Fuller, 8. 1-Billy Pauch, 9. 20-Brett Hearn, 10. 1T-Tyler Dippel, 11. 07-Tim Kerr, 12. 32c-Vic Coffey, 13. 21a-Pete Britten, 14. 54-Steve Bernard, 15. 14J-Alan Johnson, 16. 74-J.R Heffner, 17. 27J-Danny Johnson, 18. 5*-Tyler Siri, 19. 83-Brian Swartzlander, 20. 1G-Darwin Green, 21. 6m-Mat Williamson, 22. 323-Neal Williams, 23. 85-H.J. Bunting, 24. 48T-Dave Rauscher, 25. 28p-Eldon Payne, 26. 5-Billy VanInwegen
Last Chance Showdown 1 (10-laps – Top 3 Finishers Transer) – 1. 21a-Pete Britten, 2. 83-Brian Swartzlander, 3. 19m-Jessey Mueller, 4. 21k-Randy Chrysler, 5. 8-Rich Scagliotta, 6. 64-Daniel Nadeau, 7. 30-Jamie Mills
Last Chance Showdown 2 (10-laps – Top 3 Finishers Transer) – 1. 54-Steve Bernard, 2. 1G-Darwin Green, 3. 6m-Mat Williamson, 4. 14-C.G. Morey, 5. OBs-Jeremy Markle, 6. 29J-Chris Ostrowsky, 7. 29e-Erik Martin
Heat 1 (8 Laps – Top 5 finishers transfer to the A-feature) – 1. 7 Rick Laubach, 2. 99L Larry Wight, 3. 5* Tyler Siri, 4. 85 H.J. Bunting, 5. 5 Billy VanInwegen, 6. 19m Jessey Mueller, 7. 83 Brian Swartzlander, 8. 21k Randy Chrysler, 9. 64 Daniel Nadeau
Heat 2 (8 Laps – Top 5 finishers transfer to the A-feature) – 1. 1-Billy Pauch, 2. 19-Tim Fuller, 3. 44-Stewart Freisen, 4. 1T-Tyler Dippel, 5. 32c-Vic Coffey, 6. 21a-Pete Britten, 7. 30-Jamie Mills, 8. 8-Rich Scagliotta
Heat 3 (8 Laps – Top 5 finishers transfer to the A-feature) – 1. 49-Billy Dunn, 2. 20-Brett Hearn, 3. 27J-Danny Johnson, 4. 07-Tim Kerr, 5. 74-J.R Heffner, 6. 54-Steve Bernard, 7. 6m-Mat Williamson, 8. 29e-Erik Martin, 9. 28p-Eldon Payne
Heat 4 (8 Laps – Top 5 finishers transfer to the A-feature) – 1. 25R-Erick Rudolph, 2. 9s-Matt Sheppard, 3. 48T-Dave Rauscher, 4. 14J-Alan Johnson, 5. 323-Neal Williams, 6. 1G-Darwin Green, 7. OBs-Jeremy Markle, 8. 29J-Chris Ostrowsky, 9. 14-C.G. Morey
Qualifying Group 1 – 1. 7-Rick Laubach, 17.817; 2. 5*-Tyler Siri, 18.395; 3. 5-Billy VanInwegen, 18.404; 4. 99L-Larry Wight, 18.517; 5. 85-H.J. Bunting, 18.592; 6. 21k-Randy Chrysler, 18.803; 7. 83-Brian Swartzlander, 19.314; 8. 64-Daniel Nadeau, 20.156; 9. 19m-Jessey Mueller, 20.573
Qualifying Group 2 – 1. 1-Billy Pauch, 17.961; 2. 19-Tim Fuller, 18.075; 3. 1T-Tyler Dippel, 18.172; 4. 44-Stewart Freisen, 18.253; 5. 32c-Vic Coffey, 18.657; 6. 30-Jamie Mills, 18.694; 7. 21a-Pete Britten, 18.724; 8. 8-Rich Scagliotta, 18.993
Qualifying Group 3 – 1. 49-Billy Dunn, 18.080; 2. 20-Brett Hearn, 18.336; 3. 27J-Danny Johnson, 18.387; 4. 07-Tim Kerr, 18.527; 5. 74-J.R Heffner, 18.543; 6. 54-Steve Bernard, 18.553; 7. 28p-Eldon Payne, 18.583; 8. 6m-Mat Williamson, 18.663; 9. 29e-Erik Martin, 19.413
Qualifying Group 4 – 1. 25R-Erick Rudolph, 18.476; 2. 48T-Dave Rauscher, 18.539; 3. OBs-Jeremy Markle, 18.597; 4. 9s-Matt Sheppard, 18.606; 5. 1G-Darwin Green, 18.688; 6. 14J-Alan Johnson, 18.716; 7. 323-Neal Williams, 18.934; 8. 14-C.G. Morey, 19.094; 9. 29J-Chris Ostrowsky, 20.122; 10. X-Ed Kitchell, 24.126

Sheppard Ready for Challenge of Running His Own Team in ’16 By MIKE MALLETT
Matt Sheppard has been fortunate over the course of his career to drive for some very good car owners including his most recent stint with Heinke-Baldwin Racing. As has been well documented that team split nearly three weeks ago leaving Sheppard looking for something for the upcoming 2016 season. After mulling over his options and looking at things, Sheppard has decided it’s time to start his own team.
“I’m putting my own deal together,” said Sheppard. “Obviously starting from scratch so it’s going to take a lot of help from a lot of different people, but so far things are going well. A lot of people have stepped up and we are getting closer to getting a program together. We aren’t quite there but we are getting close. We need some other people to step up. It’s been a busy couple weeks with a lot of phone calls. There is a lot of stuff to put together. I’m just trying to take it one step at time while at the same time trying to put ten things together at once.”
The decision means Sheppard is starting from the ground up. He has to acquire everything from the tools needed weekly at the track to a truck and trailer to get his equipment to the speedway while also putting together his cars to race. His work on that process has already begun.
“The biggest deal right now, I’ve told a lot of people, is that it’s like a big puzzle and I need to put a lot of pieces together to make sure I got a good program,” stated Sheppard. “Basically right now I’m trying to tackle one piece of the puzzle at a time. That is the most nerve racking point. I think once we get the program together and I get what I need, and that isn’t so much cars and motors, as it is trucks, trailers and tools, stuff like that. Once I can piece all that together when it gets down to racing the stuff I’m sure we’ll be comfortable. It’s the building the stuff from scratch that is going to be the tough part.”
Sheppard has been fortunate that his previous car owners have let him, for the most part, do is own thing. He’s been able to make most of the decisions. Now he’ll be making all of the decisions. Unlike in the past, those decisions will also include dealing with the financial end of running his own operation.
“I’m definitely excited,” commented Sheppard about being the decision maker. “I’ve always had the luxury of having a lot of say in how my program is run. Through the years I had a lot of owners that have trusted me to make decisions. I pretty much know the ins-and-outs. It’s going to be the first time that I’m financially responsible at the end of the day. At that the same time I’m kind of excited to be able to get everything together and do a program the way I want to do it.”
Sheppard has indicated he’ll return to Bicknell cars for the upcoming season. He’s always had a close relationship with the company and even though he’s had major success the last two years in Troyers, including a Super DIRTcar Series championship, he feels more comfortable with Bicknell.
“I’m going to be back in the Bicknell cars,” stated Sheppard. “I’ve always had a close relationship with them. It’s not that I don’t like the Troyer cars and we’ve had a lot of success in them. I didn’t feel as connected with them. Randy (Williamson), (Bob) Slack, Pete (Bicknell) and all the guys at Bicknell; I’ve had a great relationship with them throughout the years and they are willing to step up and help me out a little bit to get me back into this deal. I look forward to working with them again.”
A similar schedule is in the works for the Brewerton Speedway, Canandaigua Motorsports Park and Utica-Rome Speedway champion. He’ll also return to defend his Super DIRTcar Serie title.
“I’m going to run a similar schedule,” he said. “If I can get everything together I’d like to run the same deal I did last year with my stuff. The only difference being I’m going to run some races at other places for other people. Other than that it is going to depend on how strong of a program I can put together. I’m definitely looking at Canandaigua, Utica and the series again. Obviously I’d love to get back to Brewerton Friday night’s too.”
Sheppard now has the opportunity to go on the road for other car owners once again. He has been in contact with Pennsylvania car owner Norm Hansell but a deal hasn’t been struck to this point. The duo had success together in the past after nearly collecting a Race of Champions Series title. He’s also been in contact with other car owners and possible supporters as he continues to finalize the deals necessary to get his program off the ground.

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