FONDA, N.Y. — The Empire State’s top two dirt modified talents — Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen — squared off in Wednesday night’s “Jumpin’ Jack 60” at Fonda Speedway, giving fans a memorable tribute to DIRT superstar Jack Johnson, Fonda’s all-time leading feature winner.
When the checkered flag waved on the Race of Champions Dirt Modified Series event, Sheppard prevailed over Friesen, ageless Jimmy Horton, Jumpin’ Jack’s son Ronnie and Vic Coffey … and he’d earned every penny of the $6,000 check he received.
Outside-front-row starter Jeff Rockefeller led off the initial break, but third starting Friesen was on his tail immediately and pressured him through lap five, when Rockefeller’s mount slowed, drawing the first yellow. At that point, fifth starting Sheppard stood fourth, but he dove low on the green and shot down Josh Hohenforst and Craig Hansen. He then ran down Friesen before the lap counter hit 10, and from that point on, it was an all-out war.
Heavy rain overnight had caused the track to roll out fast, a bit bumpy and narrower than usual, but the two pros used every inch of it in their battle. Sheppard got alongside Friesen a number of times, both inside and outside, but could never quite put him away.
On the first five restarts, Friesen took the outside lane, but on the sixth and final restart on lap 49, he gave Sheppard the outside, bringing the fans to their feet in anticipation of what might happen. “Super Matt” was alongside Friesen at the flagstand, then drove deeper than ever into turn one before turning his FX Caprara-sponsored Bicknell sharply and crossing under the leader to take the lead as they hit the backstretch.
From that point, the race was over.
“I was really working him before that last yellow, showing him my nose both high and low, but nothing had worked,” said an elated Sheppard. “I was surprised early on when he gave me the inside on the restarts but I was even more surprised that last time when he gave me the top.”
“I figured I’d either go around him, catch the berm and flip or get a chance to cross him. Stewie doesn’t usually back up once he gets the lead, so I’m really happy with this win!”
“I didn’t see that coming at all,” added Friesen. “He had a better car and he made it work. I don’t think the lane choice mattered that much, as he was really fast tonight.”
Friesen’s assessment was correct, as Sheppard drove off to a comfortable lead before the checkers, leaving Friesen and Horton, in their Halmar team cars, in his wake.
“This was old time racing,” said Horton of the half mile’s uncharacteristic condition. “It was narrow and rough but it had bite. We had a track to race on, not like last night (Weedsport) where it was like racing on ice.”
Bodie Bellinger led the second five in the attrition marred race that saw just ten cars left running at the end. He was trailed by Bobby Varin, Hohenforst, Jimmie Davis and Brandon Walters.
Luke Horning bested Rob Yetman, Nick Stone and Kenny Gates in the Pro-Stock finale while Rob Van Aernum claimed the Street Stock feature, in the process claiming a $100 bounty on 11-time winner Josh Coonradt, who had a flat tire with four laps to go and only got back to fourth.
CREDIT: Race of Champions Media