HBR Team Shines while Friesen Gets His Gator – DTD Exclusive by Mike Mallett
It was an impressive night for the Heinke-Baldwin Racing team as Matt Sheppard took home his first win for the new team in Saturday night’s 50-lap finale for the big-block modifieds at Volusia Speedway Park. His teammate Jimmy Phelps finally got things rolling as he completed the top three. Stewart Friesen crossed the line in second giving him the DIRTcar Nationals Gator Championship.
Sheppard, of Waterloo, N.Y., made the surprising switch to the HBR team after several successful seasons and multiple Super DIRTcar series titles wtih car owner Jeff Brownell. In Florida Sheppard earned a fourth place finish on opening night, a fifth place run Thursday before capping it all off with the $5,000 win on Saturday night.
“We definitely got better all week long and that’s good,” said Sheppard. “We had an awesome year last year and never won a race down here, so this is definitely a good start. We worked on the cars real hard this week and obviously we got both of them going pretty good. I was at my best tonight and Jimmy (Phelps) was at his best tonight. I’m looking forward to a real good season.”
Phelps took the lead from Billy Pauch on lap 12 and he held that spot until surrendering the lead to Sheppard on lap 28. Sheppard and Phelps remained together as they battled in traffic with Phelps continuing to apply pressure right up to the end of the race. Sheppard got the lead in the middle of the track before moving to the bottom of the surface in the closing stages.
“I had to wait for the track to get cleaned off to find a spot I felt comfortable,” stated Sheppard. “I was able to get rolling there for a bit and I was able to sneak around him (Phelps). Then I think I used up my left rear tire because I started dying a little bit. The track started taking rubber in a few spots and I had to change my line up. The biggest problem at end was that I didn’t know where I should be running. It is tough when get lead and then the track changes that much. If it had stayed the same I could have kept rolling the middle, but I definitely seemed to take a little of a change there as it took some rubber off of turn four.”
Phelps lost second with just three laps to go to Friesen relegating him to a third place finish in the finale. A finish he was more than happy to have after struggling the first two days with his No. 98h. Phelps finally got the tightness out of the car that had been hindering him earlier in the week.
“After the way week has gone I’m happy just to race up front,” explained Phelps, of Baldwinsville, N.Y. “I thought towards the end there when he got by me, I felt we were as good as him after I moved my line a little bit. I thought we were going to have one of hell of a race in traffic and we did there for a while. Friesen was obviously better than both of us. I don’t know what he did there at the end but he was rolling. This is good for the whole team. We worked really hard all winter on short notice to build cars and get things rolling the last few months and I’m proud to be part of it. This is real positive stuff. We struggled early in the week, made some changes and the car responded positive to it. We were good enough to win tonight that’s all I can ask for.”
He Got a Gator: Friesen finally got his Gator on Saturday night by charging back up through the field. The Sprakers, N.Y., piloted secured the DIRTcar Nationals championship on the back of a win, a second and a sixth on opening night. According to Friesen’s recollection it was his second Florida title but his first big gator trophy.
“This is pretty cool because the big gator is reason we all come down here,” said Friesen who drove a Tom and Roxanne Cullen owned Teo all week. “We were able to test some stuff in beginning of the week and then the boys got me fixed up there under that pit stop and were able to find something where everyone else wasn’t. We were able to drive back to the front. Matt (Sheppard) is going to be pretty tough in this car this year. We got something we can race with him now. We were close but we’ll take second and go from here.”
Under the pit stop Friesen’s crew went to work on his car fixing an issue with the front end as well as changing his right rear tire. The change allowed him to charge up through the field after pitting on lap 22. With a few more laps he may have had shot at getting by Sheppard for the win.
“The spring cup came out of the right front and it kind of dipped,” said Friesen of the mechanical issue. “I felt something weird with the car. When I came in they changed a tire then he went back to the right front and got it fixed at the last minute. It was an interesting race. I feel bad for all those guys that got tore up because you never want to wreck that much stuff that early. It was cool that we passed a lot of good cars and had fun doing.”
Once he returned to the speedway after the repairs, Friesen drove like a man possessed. He ran the bottom in turns three and four, but made up most of his ground around the middle to top groove of turns one and two.
“Once we got it fixed up the car was a lot better to drive,” said Friesen. “The track rubbered up a bit on the bottom of four so you had to be on the bottom, but I could beat the balls off of it in turns one and two.”
Finally Rolling: Mat Williamson had a career best Florida effort Saturday in the DIRTcar Nationals finale finishing a solid sixth. The Lernerville Speedway champion and St. Catherines, Ont., native ran just on the verge of the top five for the complete 50-lap distance.
“This is my best run in Florida so far,” commented Williamson. “I’m happy with it. The guys at Fox (Shocks) and my dad (Randy) got this hot rod turned around and I was final able to race with them guys. We took a gamble on tires and went with a harder compound and it paid off. I struggled on the restarts when the tires got cold. That’s when those guys got by me. This is certainly a good night though and I’m happy with it. I can’t wait to see what happens next year.”
Williamson team changed the entire car for him on Saturday afternoon including the shock package. It was a combination of all the changes that finally got him dialed in.
“Certainly the shock combination was part of it, but there was more to it than that,” said Williamson. “The race car was not as great as it should have been so if we had changed shocks and not done what we did to race car we probably wouldn’t have been in the top ten. To turn it around and come away with a top ten is excellent.”
Disappointing Ending: Justin Haers led the DIRTcar Nationals big-block modifieds points right up to the final event of the weekend. The Phelps, N.Y., driver was involved in a lap one crash that severely hurt his chances at the title. He raced back up through to finish tenth, but it wasn’t enough as he fell to third in the standings.
“My left front hit his (Williamson) right rear bumper and I spun,” said Haers. “It was my fault. The contact jammed the nose into the left front shock and I felt like it was a solid spring on there the whole race. It is really disappointing because I wanted to win the championship.”
The Big One: After Haers brought out a second caution on lap one as his car wouldn’t fire, the ensuring restart saw a multi-car pile up happen right on the frontstretch underneath Dave Farney’s flag stand. Jeremy Wilder and Billy VanInwegen came together causing VanInwegen’s car to get into the outside wall collecting several drivers including Yan Bussiere, Kyle Sheldon, Darwin Greene, Peter Britten and Rich Scagliotta. Fortunately all drivers were uninjured in the crash. The same could not be said for their equipment as several drivers went off on the end of a wrecker.

Sheppard and Phelps Create Super Team at HBR – DTD Exclusive

Published on December 3rd, 2013 in Recent Columns, Story 1 - homepage
Matt Sheppard made it official on Thanksgiving that he was joining forces with Heinke-Baldwin Racing for the 2014 season joining longtime driver Jimmy Phelps. The duo now gives HBR one of the most potent one-two punches in the dirt modified racing world. Both drivers were reached by phone by Dirt Track Digest on Monday evening to discuss the move and their new relationship as teammates for 2014.
Most people were shocked by the announcement that Sheppard was leaving his highly successful Jeff Brownell operation for a new ride at HBR. He had this to say,
“It is hard to explain because the deal happened so fast. The biggest deciding factor is when I talked to Jeff (Brownell) about it he basically said I would be an idiot not to. To a certain extent, Jeff is like family to me and we had a great run. With an offer like this it is almost like he is relieved. He got to the point where he likes doing it, loves doing it, but on the other hand he is doing it for me as well. He really didn’t know how much longer he wanted to do it. He didn’t want to get out right now but wasn’t sure how much longer he was going to do it on a full-time basis. It’s kind of like everything happened to work out in the best case scenario for me. I’m going to an amazing team and there are no hard feelings with Jeff. It pretty much seems like everyone’s happy with this new deal.”
Phelps is also excited to add Sheppard to the impressive team that they have already built. He’ll now have a three-time Super DIRTcar series champion as his teammate.
“Honestly any kind of change of that magnitude is big news obviously and I think in the big picture it is a good thing,” commented Phelps. “We are bringing in somebody with the ability and knowledge to help us both. I’m sure that we will able to get along well because we’ve raced against each other a long time and we’ve had a lot of years being competitors. I think over the years we’ve gained a mutual respect for one another. I think we will be able to share info and it shouldn’t be difficult.”
He added, “I think the biggest thing is to just have someone running the same equipment. We won’t go the same direction all the time because drivers are different from time to time with feel etc. Hopefully with us working together we can narrow up the gaps between running well and struggling. Now we’ve got someone on our team to help figure things out. We can feed off each other’s notes and see what is working and try to bring both cars to another level.”
For Sheppard it will be a drastic change from the Bicknell cars that he’s become so accustomed to over his career to Troyer Race cars. He is excited and nervous at the same time about the next step in his career.
“It is going to be different,” stated Sheppard. “Obviously I’ve been close with Randy Williamson, Bobby Slack and all the folks at Bicknell and I’m certainly going to miss working with them. We won a lot of races and worked close together. That is the tough part about the deal. On the other hand, I’m really looking forward to working with Billy (Colton) and Troyer and a whole new deal. There are a lot of mixed emotions there. I think it’s going to be a good deal and I think it will be good for us.”
Right now it looks like Sheppard is going to be running a schedule to what he ran in 2013 including events at Brewerton Speedway, Canandaigua Motorsports Park and Utica-Rome Speedway along with the Super DIRTcar series and other select shows.
“I’m going to run similar schedule as last year,” said Sheppard. “Maybe not as many races, but I’m still going to do some traveling. I’ll still be running three nights a week, the series and some specials. I’m not going to say we are going to hit every track in the country every night of the week, but we are still going to be racing at full-time. Right now it is looking like the same schedule as last year, but you know how dirt racing is and a lot can change between now and April.”
Likewise, Phelps will be running the same schedule with the HBR team although his weekend tracks are still to be determined.
“My schedule shouldn’t change a whole lot,” said Phelps. “I’m not sure where we are going to run weekly with the Andy Phelps team but with HBR we’ll be running all of Super DIRTcar series, a lot of RoC and whatever specials just like have last few years. We’ll cover the weekend stuff with the Andy Phelps team. I don’t see anything changing.”
One major change for the HBR team will be the location of the team shop which will move to its primary shop to Weedsport, N.Y., allowing for both Sheppard and Phelps to help maintain the cars.
“They are moving shop to Weedsport,” said Sheppard. “Kurt (Wiegel) is going to be there and I’m going to be there full-time with all the cars in the same shop. We’ve already had a meeting as a whole team to talk about the cars and I was able to give my input and so was Jimmy (Phelps), Billy (Colton) Kurt and Randy Kisaski. We sat down and talked about where we wanted to go and how we wanted to start next season.”
Phelps is excited about the move of the team headquarters to Weedsport as he’ll now be able to make more frequent visits to the shop and get more hands on with the cars with it being in a close proximity to his Baldwinsville, N.Y., home.
“I’m excited about it,” said Phelps. “This is the first time in a while where geographically I’m in proximity to be more hands on. That could be good and bad. I’m up for the challenge and looking forward to having little more involvement in the day to day things. I don’t think it is a bad thing. Billy Colton has always done a great job with the cars, but as a driver you are more confident when you know 100 percent what you got because you work on it. I think it is really going to be a positive. It is definitely going to help being a part of the day to day.”
Sheppard expects to have the same crew members together that helped with the Brownell team for the 2014 season.
Sheppard and Phelps will make their 2014 debut as teammates at the Volusia Speedway Park as part the annual DIRTcar Winternationals while Jeff Brownell Racing announced on Monday evening that Jeff Brownell Jr., will return to the driver seat next season competing weekly on Sunday afternoons at the Glen Ridge Motorsports Park in Fultonville, N.Y.

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