PENN YAN, NY — Story by Race Chaser Online New York Correspondent Steven Ovens — Photos By Jeremiah Fish and StewartFriesen.com — Buzzie Reutimann and Will Cagle. Bob McCreadie and Alan Johnson. Brett Hearn and Danny Johnson. Stewart Friesen and Matt Sheppard.
These are all incredible examples of drivers who have battled for Dirt Modified supremacy in years past and 2014 is no different. Reutimann and Cagle were pioneers in a sport that was still growing in the 70’s and burst at the seams under the direction of DIRT Motorsports founder and promoter Glenn Donnelly. McCreadie and Johnson tallied win totals at local tracks that may not be matched any time soon if ever at all.
The rivalry between Brett Hearn and Danny Johnson is one that came to a head many times on and off the racetrack and can easily divide a room or infield camping section of fans. But the newest dirt modified rivalry isn’t about trading paint or a war of words- it’s about going out and winning races. All of them.
If you’re a dirt modified fan in New York and Pennsylvania the Friesen/Sheppard combo are names you are more than accustomed to hearing. They are even starting to become the drivers that fans are more likely to root against than cheer for to get the checkered flag and the big winner’s check. Some race fans may even find it interesting to see just how similar Friesen and Sheppard are.
Friesen and Sheppard now both currently sit at 9 Modified wins this season between all of the home tracks and series events they have competed in. Both drivers even share the same car for select races throughout the 2014 season. This being the 357 car owned and fielded by the always colorful and sometimes controversial Norm Hansell Motorsports. In fact, both drivers have a win this season in the blue, yellow and orange #357.
Friesen picked up his NASCAR Whelen All-American win on a bone-chilling day at the Grandview Speedway in April of this year. That day he would beat the choppy track conditions, Duane Howard and Meme DeSantis. Sheppard would pick up his win on the wildly popular NDRL Short Track Super Series Fueled by VP by winning the ‘Lightning on the Mountain’ at Thunder Mountain Speedway in May. That was ‘Super Matt’s’ first ever appearance at Thunder Mountain and he picked up a pretty convincing win on Brett Deyo’s traveling series.
If you compare the numbers, Friesen has now just barely jumped ahead of Sheppard in 2014 Modified Wins. Friesen bagged the Empire State Championship Thursday June 19th at the Fonda Speedway- a track that Friesen has absolutely dominated this season. He also bagged another Utica-Rome Speedway win Sunday June 22nd. With the Empire State 50 and Utica-Rome wins, Stewart Friesen was the first to 10 wins and currently has 11. He has 5 wins at Utica-Rome, 4 of them at Fonda, toss in the Grandview win, a win at Volusia and the Big Gator for winning the Volusia Series points title and you have what could be one of the Sprakers, NY driver’s best seasons ever.
Sheppard on the other hand now has 10 wins after winning the Dirty Jersey 2 60-lap Super DIRTcar Series race at the New Egypt Speedway and a regular show Friday night at Brewerton. He has a pretty diverse winning record as his wins have come at Brewerton Speedway (3), Volusia in Florida, Fonda Speedway, Five Mile Point Speedway, Thunder Mountain Speedway, Utica-Rome Speedway and at the ‘Land of Legends’ Canandaigua Motorsports Park. In terms of points standings, ‘Super Matt’ leads at Brewerton, trails Steve Paine at Canandaigua by 5 points and trails Friesen at Utica-Rome on Sunday nights.
The pair have put on weekly battles at the famed Utica-Rome Speedway to cap off the weekend on Sunday nights at the Vernon, NY speedplant. Amazingly Sheppard only trails Friesen by a small margin of points even though Friesen leads with 5 wins. Sheppard has been Mr. Consistency though, having not finished outside of the Top-10 in any of the 10 A-Mains that have been run at the ‘Action Track of the East’.
One last comparison that we will make is diversity behind the wheel. Sheppard focuses on a strictly Dirt Modified schedule as he continues the learning process with his new team at Heinke Baldwain Racing. They have certainly been running well and we expect that to continue as the HBR 9H team continues to gel.
Friesen, however, will get behind the wheel of whatever he can. Dirt Modified, sprint car, Asphalt Modified, ESS, UNOH All-Star Sprints- he does it all! What is even more impressive has been Friesen’s ability to capture checkered flags behind the wheel of the Doug Emery-owned #33. In one weekend at Utica-Rome Speedway Friesen was able to capture the Dirt Modified Feature on Sunday, Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprint Heat, Dash and A-Main as well as the Memorial Day $10,000 Race of Champions Dirt Modified tour victory. That will be one race weekend they won’t soon forget.
But now as Summer starts to heat up so do the racing plans for Friesen and Sheppard. Friesen confirmed to Race Chaser Online in May at Thunder Mountain that a deal was being put together that would put him in a NASCAR Whelen Modified car for the New Hampshire race in July with the possibility of more asphalt races on top of that. It will be very interesting to watch his progress on asphalt as he has shown us on dirt that he can win any time, any place, in any type of car.