It’s time to dig out Roget’s Thesaurus. Calling Matt Sheppard’s season great just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Sheppard, the 35-year-old driver from Waterloo, went into a whole new level last weekend when he walked off with over $74,000 at Super DIRT Week at Oswego Speedway.
To say that Sheppard dominated is an understatement. He won the pole for the Billy Whittaker Cars 200 (whatever happened to getting national sponsors for the biggest race of the season?) for big blocks, qualified second for the Great Outdoors RV 150 (whatever happened ... , oh, never mind) for 358 modifieds, won his big block heat race and then won both the 358 and big block features on Saturday and Sunday.
The last driver to win both the big block and small block races at Super DIRT Week, when it was held at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, was Danny Johnson in 2006. If my brain cells are still working, the only other driver to accomplish the double was Brett Hearn in 1990, when he was driving the Freightliner car.
Fans who were at Oswego Sunday will be talking about the finish of the 200 for years to come. After making a pit stop for fresh tires about lap 150, Sheppard made his way back to the front and finally got up to second, behind leader Peter Britten, the transplanted Australian who won the modified point championship at Albany-Saratoga Speedway this season.
On the last lap, Britten tried to protect the bottom, so Sheppard went to the top and made his pass stick. leaving Britten with a heartbreaking second-place finish.
“No matter what happens from here on out, it don’t really matter,” said Sheppard after the race. “You win 39 races and sweep Super DIRT Week, you’ve had a dream season.”
As the rock band Poison so aptly stated, “It don’t get better than this.”
The 39 victories are the most for a Northeast dirt track modified driver since Hearn won 38 races in 1993.
Getting to 40 wins should be no problem for Sheppard, who also regained the lead in the Super DIRT Series points race with his Oswego victory. The series will be heading to Brockville this weekend, and if Sheppard doesn’t get No. 40 there, he still has Eastern States Weekend at Orange County Speedway in Middletown and the World Finals in Charlotte, N.C.
The last dirt track modified driver to win 40 or more races was Billy Pauch, who won 48 features in 1990 (which included six sprint car wins, so he had 42 wins between a big block and a small block).
MORE FROM OSWEGO
While Sheppard was stealing the spotlight, Lebanon Valley pro stock driver Rob Yetman of Castleton was making history.
Yetman became the first driver in any division to win five consecutive championship races during Super DIRT Week, as he led all 75 laps of the pro-stock feature.
“I didn’t think I would ever win one of these, and now we’ve won five in a row,” said Yetman.
Just as impressive was the second-place finish by Albany-Saratoga veteran Kim Duell, his best finish ever at Super DIRT Week. He finished just over a second behind Yetman.
Dave Marcuccillo, who has been putting on some great sportsman races with Gloversville driver Rocky Warner around the Northeast this season, won the sportsman race at Oswego. Connor Cleveland of Corinth, who finished second to Warner in the battle for the sportsman title at Albany-Saratoga this year, finished third at Oswego, while Warner was fifth.
In case you didn’t notice, NESCOT (the Northeast Stock Car Old Timers) was the contingency sponsor of the three non-qualifiers races at Super DIRT Week, Members of NESCOT were also at Oswego selling their 2018 racing calendars, which are pretty impressive.
Unofficially, Super DIRT Week will return to Oswego for a third straight year next October, unless former DIRT president Glenn Donnelly can get his new track in Central Square up and running before that time.
Ken Tremont Jr., who won his eighth championship on the dirt track at Devil’s Bowl Speedway this season, has also won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Vermont State championship.
Even though only 14 races were run on the NASCAR-sanctioned dirt track, Tremont’s finishes were enough to give him a 35-point lead over Tim LaDuc and a 37-point edge over Vince Quenneville Jr., who ran on both dirt and asphalt at Devil’s Bowl.
Tremont will be honored for his accomplishments at the NASCAR banquet in Charlotte in November, where he will receive over $7,000 in bonus money.
Tremont finished 67th in the national Top 100. The winner, asphalt late model driver Lee Pulliam of Semora, N.C., will pocket nearly $35,000 in NASCAR bonuses.
Mark your calendar for Saturday, Nov. 25, when the Saratoga Auto Museum will again host its “Lost Speedways” presentation.
The program will include sports car Rob Dyson of Poughkeepsie, who will discuss the IMSA championship LMP675 prototype he recently donated to the museum; Ken Parrotte, who will talk about the 1967 racing season, a landmark year both locally and nationally; Ron Hedger, who will take a look at Labor Day racing at the New York State Fairgrounds in the 1950s and 1960s; and Hall of Famers Randy Ross and Dick Larkin, who will discuss their experiences at Syracuse.
The traditional “Saturday after Thanksgiving” presentation will kick off with a memorabilia display at 11 a.m., with the formal program beginning at 12:15 p.m.
Reach Gazette Sports Editor Tom Boggie at 518-395-3160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.