One of the crown jewels of DIRTcar Modified racing, as far as the actual racetracks are concerned, includes the Weedsport Speedway. Weedsport Speedway, formerly the Cayuga County Fair Speedway, is the former home of DIRTcar racing. The DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame and Classic Car Museum is also housed on the grounds that are shared by Weedsport Speedway.
That essentially leads you to this fact- Weedsport Speedway is deeply rooted in the history that is Modified racing in Central New York State. The Speedway has not run weekly with Modifieds in several years, but last year was opened during Super DIRT Week to run a special 358-Modified Series race. It was hands down the best series race of the year with competitive racing and a race surface that brought back memories of the old ‘Cayuga County’.
Fast forward to Super DIRT Week 2013. With a new track owner and management in place, learning the finer details of preparing and promoting a short track, there are rumors and hopes to potentially run a full schedule in 2014. The track has been re-named Weedsport Speedway and the stars and cars of the 358-Modified Series has returned for their Wednesday night race as a part of NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week.
It was once said in a movie, “If you build it, they will come.” That has rung true again at the Weedsport Speedway. Fans who loved coming to Weedsport for all those years and drivers who called Weedsport their Sunday night home track all converged on the 3/8 mile clay oval. The walls had a fresh coat of paint, the track was prepared beautifully and the track was fast right out of the gate.
52 DIRTcar 358-Modifieds and 35 DIRTcar Sportsman arrived for this event. There were so many cars in attendance that they needed to park late arriving cars in the spectator parking area. The spectator parking area was at capacity, even having some race fans park in overflow at the local bowling alley across the street.
When cars hit the track for the 75-Lap affair, it was Brett Hearn and Mike Bowman who led the 30-car field to the Green Flag. Hearn jumped out to a comfortable lead and looked to dominate the race just as he had done the night before at Rolling Wheels before running out of gas.
Several drivers made noise early on in this event. 2013 Outlaw 200 winner Jimmy Phelps quickly moved into second place on the opening lap. Mike Mahaney moved into third place on the second lap and would overtake Phelps for second on Lap 4. One more driver who was quietly and methodically worked his way up to the Top 10 was ‘The Doctor’ Danny Johnson, who was up to 10th from his 14th place starting position on Lap 9.
A yellow slowed the field on Lap 12, but when racing resumed Hearn had a great challenge from ‘Super Matt’ Sheppard who had started the race from the 6th position. Hearn had been working the top side and Sheppard could not find a way around working the bottom of the track. When Hearn changed lines and protected the bottom of the Speedway on Lap 22, Sheppard took it to the cushion in Turns 1 & 2 and pulled up alongside the Sussex, NJ driver.
Lap 24 saw the lead change hands as Sheppard blasted by Hearn coming off the top of Turn 4. At the start of Lap 34 Sheppard began to hit heavy lapped traffic and found himself watching these lapped cars race each other quite competitively.
Disaster nearly struck the FX Caprara Chevrolet 9s of Sheppard as these two cars made contact and spun out in the middle of the front straightaway in front of him as they came down to complete Lap 35. This bunched the field back up and set up a final 40-lap sprint for the win as the caution would not fly again. Danny Johnson had a stout Traction Grabber 27J underneath him during this event as he now had finally cracked the Top 5.
On the restart, the leaders began to fan out with Phelps moving up to second and Johnson elevating to the fourth position. Sheppard was able to stretch his lead to 10 cars but no more than that. Lap 38 put Johnson up to third and saw himself and Phelps wage war for second place for the remainder of the event.
At Lap 50, Phelps and Johnson had made up ground on Sheppard but ‘Super Matt’ used his magic to weave in and out of lapped cars. He was smooth as silk and never allowed Phelps and Johnson a chance to contend for the lead or the win. Sheppard took the 75-lap series win, Johnson went to the top shelf and beat Phelps to the line for second, Brett Hearn who was strong early faded to fourth and a strong run for Mike Mahaney to come home in fifth.
This marked the 4th time in 5 358 series races that Sheppard came home victorious.
“It’s good to be back at Weedsport. We had a really good car. Once I got up front, I just tried to keep it straight and work through the lapped traffic.”
When asked how great it felt to win at ‘The Port’, Sheppard said, “It was nice. Nice to get back here and win at Weedsport and good to win our first DIRT Week satellite show.”
AUDIO OF MATT SHEPPARD INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN OVENS:
Sheppard will take the momentum of a 2nd and a win into the Moody Mile Thursday with time trials for both the 358-Modified and Super DIRTcar Big-Block Modified series races at the New York State Fairgrounds. He will then change gears and head over to the Brewerton Speedway for their $10,000 to win SUNY Canton Hurricane 100 presented by Ferris Mowers.