Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – VERNON, NY – Another night that “could have been” for Max McLaughlin.
This time, however, it was on the dirt at Utica-Rome Speedway.
After setting a new Modified track record in his heat race, starting ninth to the win the eight-lap race handily, McLaughlin drew sixth for the 30-lap kick off to the season at the Vernon, NY oval.
However, he had the likes of Mat Williamson, Larry Wight and 2021 track champion Matt Sheppard in front of him.
In fact, Sheppard started from the pole.
Not one to back down from a challenge, McLaughlin clawed and battled his way towards the top spot, but ultimately came home with a podium finish of third, but who knows how good of a night he could have had with a better draw.
“We had a good car tonight,” McLaughlin said. “We may have been more in the hunt with a few early cautions, but who knows. The track was just too fast up on the top to pass. You would have had to throw a dirty slide job to get around someone.”
As the race went on, the bottom and middle grove started to slicken off, but the top didn’t quite as much.
“The bottom didn’t go away 100%, but the top just didn’t go away fast enough,” he said. It would have been perfect for a 50-lap race, but that’s now what we had tonight.”
When the race was over, Sheppard was the winner with Wight the runner-up. Did Max think he had a car capable of running and passing the top two?
“If we had started up front, for sure,” he said. “I truly believe our car was that good tonight, but who knows what would have happened with some clean air.”
Almost A Storybook Night For Friesen…Until…
Stewart Friesen had the makings of a storybook night at Utica-Rome on Friday.
The event was in memory of his uncle, Alex. The feature paid $6,800-to-win (68 was his uncle’s car number). He was driving a special paint scheme, reminiscent of his uncle’s car from the 90’s and was sitting perched on the back bumper of Sheppard as the field took the green flag with five laps remaining.
Then, things changed.
As the field went to green, Friesen looked as if he was setting his car to run the outside through turns one and two.
However, that was where Sheppard committed to as well, and Friesen’s #68 dropped off the banking, losing several running positions and ultimately his chance at victory.
Friesen would drive back up to finish sixth on the night, but has to wonder what could have been with yet another classic battle between he and Sheppard brewing.
“It just wasn’t our night tonight,” Friesen said. “We had a shot, but after we went over the cushion going for the lead, that all went away.”
Even with the tough finish to the night, it was still a special one for Friesen.
“Thanks to everyone who came out to honor the memory of my Uncle, Alex,” he said. “Wish we could have gotten the win but this was such a special event no matter what for all of us in our family. On to Fonda.”