Racing Around: Fonda 200 wasn’t your usual extra-distance race

Matt Sheppard celebrates in Victory Lane holding the trophy with pictures of all the previous winners of the Fonda 200 last Saturday at Fonda Speedway. (James A. Ellis)

Matt Sheppard celebrates in Victory Lane holding the trophy with pictures of all the previous winners of the Fonda 200 last Saturday at Fonda Speedway. (James A. Ellis)

Extra-distance races tend to be raced for 20 laps, survive through the middle, then race again in the final quarter of the event.

That was not the case in last Saturday’s Fonda 200, especially in the opening 100-lap segment.

When Stewart Friesen drew the pole for the $53,000-to-win event, it was not hard to think he would sprint out to a big lead, leaving the rest of the field to battle for the runner-up spot.

Yes, Friesen did get out front, but Mike Mahaney and Anthony Perrego also hit the setup, making the opening half resemble a regular Saturday night feature, with six lead changes between the trio.

Mahaney opted to pit under a late-race caution, giving the lead to Perrego at the 100-lap break, followed by Matt Sheppard, Max McLaughlin, Danny Varin and Friesen.

Mahaney, Billy Decker, Marc Johnson, Demetrios Drellos and Tyler Dippel were among the 11 drivers that opted to pit on the infield, allowing them to only take gas and adjust air pressure in the tires while the remainder of the field went to the pits and was allowed to make more adjustments to its setups.

When the cars lined up on the infield ready to run the second half of the race, some were concerned about their setups.

In a move to help the track not get locked down and turn the race into follow-the-leader, extended track prep was done with the grader circling the track, removing some rubber that had been laid down in the opening segment.

“That sure was a crap shoot, when you sit there, you already made changes to the car, and then they do track prep,” Mahaney said. “That’s a tough one and a real serious challenge, so live and learn, I guess.”

Decker led the early laps of the second 100 before Johnson moved to the front. Sheppard, who restarted 13th after the break, took the point on a lap 135 restart.

Traffic kept Sheppard within striking distance as Mahaney, Johnson, Perrego and Friesen picked their way through the pack.

When the caution flew on lap 150, Friesen opted to pit for a fresh set of tires and pulled back on the track in 16th, only to see his hopes of a third-straight Fonda 200 victory go up in smoke on the restart with a blown engine.

Perrego got past Mahaney with 20 laps to go. When Sheppard bobbled going through turns one and two in the final laps, Perrego was in position to pull even with the leader.

Sheppard recovered and held off Perrego for his 34th modified feature win of the season. Perrego was second, and Mahaney placed third in the Fonda 200 for the third-straight time. Varin drove a steady race to finish fourth, with Drellos crossing the line in fifth, only to come up light on the scales and be disqualified, giving Johnson a fifth-place finish.

“We had a decent car all weekend. Decent, but not really good enough to win,” Sheppard said in victory lane. “We just kept working on it and working on it, and took one last stab at it during the halfway break. This thing came to life in the second half of the race, and I finally found the balance that I was looking for. Such a great season, and I can’t say enough about this whole team, but I can’t wait to see my picture on this trophy with all the other winners.”

CLARK GETS A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS

Cody Clark’s trip to victory lane in the 25-lap sportsman feature was an eventful one.

Late in their qualifier, Clark and Corky Warner got together, with Warner spinning and Clark finishing with heavy damage.

Clark posted on his Facebook page that the left side short rod bracket was ripped out of the frame, and multiple people came to his pit to help get his car back on the track in time for the feature. His luck changed a bit as he pulled the pole in the redraw and led all but four laps to collect his fourth win of the season, along with a $2,000 paycheck.

“When I came in after the heat race, I had no idea if we were going to be able to make it out for the feature,” Clark said in victory lane. “All the guys from DKM, along with guys from other race teams, came over to help. It’s amazing how other people come and help everybody out.”

Troy Zilles, who led the four laps Clark did not, finished second, with Albany-Saratoga and Lebanon Valley Sportsman champion Tim Hartman Jr. third in his return to Fonda Speedway.

MASSIVE WEEKEND AT MALTA

The big-race, big-money racing action switches to Albany-Saratoga Speedway this weekend for its season-ending Malta Massive Weekend.

The two-day event opens Friday with the big block and Malta-legal small block modifieds going 40-laps for $4,000-to-win and a guaranteed starting spot in Saturday’s 100-lap Super Dirt Series feature.

Friday’s race card also will include a 40-lap, $2,000-to-win DIRTcar Sportsman feature, along with a $1,000-to-win Street Stock main event and a 4-cylinder feature.

Saturday, the DIRTcar Pro Stocks will be in action in a $1,500-to-win main event, along with a Limited Sportsman feature, while the big block DIRTcar modifieds will go 100 laps for $10,500 and a guaranteed starting spot in the Billy Whittaker Cars 200 during Super DIRT Week in October at Oswego Speedway.

Mahaney has won the last three Super DIRTcar Series events at Malta including the June 24 event this year.

PIT NOTES

Fulton Speedway has made a change in the way it will manage the midway break in its Outlaw 200 on Oct. 1. It will follow a format like the one used in the Fonda 200, with drivers having the option of going to their pits for changes or going to the front straightaway instead to take on gas and make tire pressure adjustments.

Andrew Buff is finishing a successful season in the sportsman division, claiming track championships at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park and Fulton Speedway along with a second-place finish to Hartman at Malta.

Jack Lehner’s Fonda 200 Weekend was a roller coaster ride. After winning the Underdog 33 last Thursday, he turned in a strong run in his qualifier, earning a spot in the Fonda 200 redraw, and pulling the 12th starting spot out of 12 redraw positions. His night ended quickly after contact on the opening lap sent him head-on into the third turn tire barrier doing extensive damage to his modified.

Fonda Speedway drew 60 sportsman division cars and 53 modifieds for Saturday’s Fonda 200 Weekend features. Forty-one modifieds started the 200-lap event, while 30 sportsmen took the green for the 25-lap feature.

Gloversville’s Jason Samrov wrapped up his first Albany-Saratoga Speedway Street Stock track championship, edging Josh Samrov by 12 points.

Categories: Sports, Sports

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