November 29th, 2013 — Story and Photo by Steven Ovens for Race Chaser Online — Well, no one saw this one coming.
The World Finals have come and gone. Drivers and teams have begun licking their 2013 wounds and have started preparing for another run at the 2014 Mr. DIRT Championship. Brett Hearn and Matt Sheppard duked it out again in 2013, but this time Hearn got the best of Sheppard. Now just 3 weeks Post-World Finals, ‘Super Matt’ tosses the first bombshell of the impending 2014 season.
Sheppard announced today that he will be leaving JB Racing to pilot a 2nd car for the Heinke-Baldwin Racing team in 2014. The HBR team currently fields a Super DIRTcar Big-Block Modified for 2013 Outlaw 200 Champion Jimmy Phelps as the Troyer Race Cars house car. Early reports are that the team will now consist of two entries with the Phelps/Sheppard tandem being based out of Weedsport, N.Y., where Heinke and Phelps have purchased and plan to promote races at the legendary ‘Weedsport Speedway’.
Sheppard made his announcement first to the fans on his Facebook Page: “This year I am thankful for Jeff Brownell and the six years we had together. So many wins and championships. He will retire as one of the best car owners of all time and he deserves it! I am also thankful for my new opportunity at HBR. Bring on 2014!”
The announcement has come as quite a shock to some. Wow is a word that has been thrown around quite frequently today. This move is of the magnitude to the DIRTcar world as Matt Kenseth moving to the Joe Gibbs organization from Roush Fenway was to the NASCAR world, with the only difference being Sheppard has been a favorite to win every single race he entered in his JB Racing 9s. That will not change as he climbs into his HBR ride. What will be interesting to see is, will this be the end of JB Racing? Sheppard’s comments open the door to this possibility. Stay tuned to Race Chaser Online for more developments.
Although a schedule for neither Phelps, Sheppard or Weedsport Speedway have been announced, the rumor mill and silly season chat will almost certainly now shift into high gear. Weedsport Speedway has been rumored to being a ‘Specials Only’ track much like its neighbor, Rolling Wheels Raceway. There is also a lot of talk amongst race fans and teams about a recent announcement that could have major implications about who will call Canandaigua Motorsports Park and Fulton Speedway their Saturday night home.
Phelps and Sheppard were both competitors at Canandaigua Motorsports Park this past season on Saturday nights to collect DIRTcar Series home track points. However Phelps calls Fulton his ‘home track’ and is coming off a season where he finally broke through and won his first ‘Outlaw 200’ in October of this year. Fulton and Brewerton Speedways both announced that they will be running under the DIRTcar banner for their Modified divisions with Fulton offering separate points for the 358-Modified drivers who choose to run against the Big-Blocks on a weekly basis. This could certainly divide the top tier Modified drivers of Central New York, but only time will tell.
One thing is for certain though – Heinke-Baldwin Racing with drivers Jimmy Phelps and Matt Sheppard are going to be a powerhouse on the DIRTcar Modified tour. This potent a combo is exciting to think about as a media member and a race fan, and will pair 2 Top-5 drivers on the tour. Will the team gel quickly? Will Sheppard make a successful transition to a Troyer chassis? Will the two drivers mesh as teammates when they have so often been used to being top-dog in their previous situations? Only time will tell.