RPW Column: News & Notes From A Busy Short Track Super Series Night At Orange County

Column By: MIKE TRAVERSE / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – It was a great way to start the season at the legendary Hard Clay of the Orange County Fair Speedway.

The winner’s purse that was up for grabs was $25,000, easily the largest first event payout in track history. Seventy-one Modifieds and 51 Sportsman signed in for competition.

Matt Sheppard picked up right where he left off last October when he won his epic Eastern States 200 victory. On Saturday, he took advantage of a good draw and sprinted to the big win. Since he got that first OCFS win in the 2019 Hard Clay Open, Super Matt has made the most trips of any driver to the OCFS Victory Lane. And also, since that 2019 race, Sheppard has been out the top 5 at OCFS only once, an impressive record as his legendary status at OCFS increases with each victory.

Max McLaughlin had perhaps his best ever finish at Middletown with his runner-up showing. McLaughlin had a great mid-race duel with Dan Creeden, swapping the position a few times before Mad Max took the spot for good.

Terrible racing luck for Mike Mahaney. Mike looked as good early on as he ever has at Orange County, Mahaney cruised to an easy win in his heat race and drew starting position 2. He got a real good jump at the start of the 50 lapper on Sheppard, but the mechanical gremlins put him to the sidelines after only one lap. It was an impressive lap though, easily the fastest of the race.

Stewart Friesen piloted the Halmar #44 to a qualifying spot in heat #2. The car was showing smoke late in the heat and it was scratched from the feature. Stewart picked up a ride in the backup 2RJ of Ronnie Johnson and the Mickles Automotive team. Friesen was able to take the Frank Stevens Roofing and Siding Hard Charger bonus with his drive from 31st to 14th. Nice gesture from the Johnson team and Mickles Automotive to give Stewart a ride for the feature.

And here’s a shout out to Stephen Keller of Rock Fantasy in Middletown. Stephen has a long involvement in racing at OCFS and he often quietly puts a good deal of bonus money up. Sheppard was tonight’s Rock Fantasy $250 recipient. Nice job Stephen.

One of the real outstanding looking cars in the pits Saturday night was the uniquely numbered 6 Teen R of Richard Smith. A great mix of colors with a lot of sparkling effects make this car a real eye-catching ride. And it was fast too as Richard finished 2nd in the 4th heat to make it to the redraw.

Since the middle of last season, Jared LaBagh has been consistently the fastest Sportsman competitor, week by week. And he showed it again Saturday as he chased down early leader Tighe Sherlock to take the victory in the Sportsman part of the show. Look for Jared to make a solid run for the Sportsman Championship this season.

There were great runs Saturday by two of the young Sportsman drivers at OCFS. Josh Allen in 2nd and Cody Higbie in 3rd. It makes one feel old when the combined ages of the Sportsman podium is less than the guy tapping out this column.

Veteran Sportsman competitor Joe Conklin was competing at OCFS Saturday. But Joe is planning on scaling back his racing to just an occasional race this year. His son, Joey, will be racing the sharp looking J73 in the OCFS Rookie Sportsman division.

Joe Judge made a rare OCFS appearance Saturday, driving his familiar 3J, but in the Sportsman division. Joe said it was probably since 2010 that he last raced a Sportsman at OCFS. Judge plans to concentrate his Modified efforts at Accord Speedway this year while hitting some of the STSS shows with the Sportsman.

It’s been many years since Greg Sleight raced a Sportsman. But he was back Saturday with a great looking #85, using the same number that his father did. Greg said he just had to try out one of the Bicknell cars. Teaming up with Mike Jasiel, Greg doesn’t plan on any regular schedule. He plans on racing a few early OCFS shows and he wants to race some at Accord where his son, Jayden, races a Pure Stock.

2019 OCFS Sportsman champion Grant Hilfiger was in the Sportsman field Saturday and had a good finish of 4th. Grant said in an interview at the OCFS Motorsports Show that he wasn’t going to race regularly at OCFS this season, he has vacations and other things planned. Grant is one of those racers that you always like to see and talk with at the track, a really good guy. Enjoy your summer Grant.

OCFS is back in action this coming Saturday night, April 9th, with the official Opening Night and the start of the point season. It will be the United Rentals DIRTcar Big Block Modifieds in action in the 33 lap Tommy Meier Tribute race for $3,3000. Also on the schedule are the H.O. Penn Small Block Modifieds, the Arkel Motors Sportsman and the Precision Hydraulic and Oil Rookie Sportsman.

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