CONCORD, N.C. – Mat Williamson stunned the Super DIRTcar Series faithful during Friday night’s opener to the Textron Off-Road World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, blowing by defending champion Matt Sheppard on an early restart and winning for the first time in his World Finals career.
Williamson used the high side to hustle past Sheppard on a lap six restart and never trailed again, pacing the final 35 circuits for his second-career series win and first since Merrittville Speedway on Aug. 3, 2015.
While the win was Williamson’s first big-block modified triumph at Charlotte, making for an emotional victory lane celebration, it was his 19th overall feature win on the season.
However, Williamson admitted on the frontstretch stage that it didn’t come easy.
“I just couldn’t get through traffic; once I caught (Tyler Siri) at the back of the field, we struggled a little bit. I knew Matt (Sheppard) would be right there; he’s a hell of a race car driver. We had to capitalize on that restart … and now we’re here. It’s pretty cool.”
“I gotta thank a lot of people; John and Laura Wight and Larry (Wight) have done so much for me. Without them I wouldn’t even have a powerplant in the thing tonight. It’s pretty amazing what they did for me. I can’t even show them as much appreciation as I need to.”
Sheppard got off to a flying start, pulling five car lengths clear of Mat Williamson before an early caution flew for the spinning Brian Swartzlander at the top of turn three, forcing a complete restart. Sheppard got off on the gun again and left the field, moving to 1.2 seconds out in front by the time two rounds were up on the scoreboard.
The second caution of the night flew on lap three, when Brandon Walters suffered a flat tire and slowed in turn four, but again it was of no consequence to a dominant Sheppard. The five-time champion reopened his lead to more than a second before a slowing Gary Tomkins drew the yellow on lap five.
The ensuing restart saw Williamson pounce on the top side, surging to the lead around Sheppard’s outside to assume command on the sixth round, but Sheppard continued to stalk Williamson’s every move and pressured him into back-to-back mistakes off the top of turn two on laps 10 and 11.
But Sheppard mis-stepped in his own right on lap 14, getting up into the cushion on top of turn two as his championship rival Billy Decker charged forward from 10th on the grid.
Decker found his way into third on lap 17, and at halfway it was Williamson leading Sheppard by a second, followed by Decker, Keith Flach and fast qualifier Mike Mahaney.
As the leaders worked traffic in the second half, Sheppard tried valiantly to close on Williamson, and finally began making tracks at the 10 to go mark as he cut the gap to as small as three car lengths.
However, Sheppard couldn’t get close enough to make a move down the stretch, settling for second but maintaining his points lead over third-finishing Decker going into the final night of the season.
“We just seemed so darn equal,” Sheppard said of his car compared to Williamson’s. “It was just a matter of whoever beat who to (turn) one in that one restart. He was able to get around me on that one restart and it just seems like we pretty much rode there.”
“If I had beat him to one on that restart, I think we would have won it.”
Keith Flach and Mike Mahaney completed the top five finishers.
Of note, Max McLaughlin charged from a provisional starting spot in 26th to come home 10th at the checkered flag, followed closely by Brett Hearn’s equally-impressive charge from 24th to 11th.
The Super DIRTcar Series season concludes Saturday night with the finale to the Textron Off-Road World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.
Full race results can be viewed on the next page…