RPW Column: Stewart Friesen / Matt Sheppard Rivalry At Orange County Is As Good As It Gets

Column By: MIKE TRAVERSE / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen. They are arguably the two most dominant racers on the dirt Big Block Modified circuit. They have developed a rivalry as intense as any we have seen since the epic Brett Hearn/Danny Johnson rivalry back in the day.

The rivalry is often seen in the series races of the DIRTcar and Short Track Super Series. And it’s often seen at other tracks when they have big races.

And fans of the Orange County Fair Speedway will see this rivalry on display several times this year as Super Matt has announced that he will be at all of the point races at OCFS. And Mr. Freeze will be racing at OCFS as often as his schedule allows.

At one point, not all that many years ago, the thoughts of these two superstars of racing having an OCFS rivalry seemed remote. Friesen didn’t get his first Big Block win at Orange County until the 2016 Eastern States 200. Sheppard didn’t collect his first OCFS win until the 2019 Hard Clay Open STSS race.

But since then, along with Mat Williamson, Sheppard and Friesen have gathered in all the big wins. Friesen has since won 2 more 200’s and Sheppard is the leading OCFS Big Block winner the last 3 seasons.

The last season of 2021 was another year with Sheppard and Friesen recording multiple wins at the House of Power. Sheppard won 6 times (7 if you include the Will Cagle Invitational) and Friesen, in limited appearances, scored 3 wins.

And who can forget the spectacular race that these two titans of the sport had at last October’s 200 where they continued to swap the lead while slicing and dicing through the lapped traffic.

Sometimes, the racing between the two doesn’t always end positively. At the STSS Elite event at Cherokee earlier this year, they came together while battling up front. They both kind of shrugged it off in interviews both after the race and when questioned about it at the recent OCFS Awards Banquet. Makes one wonder how much fire is burning inside these two drivers when they see the other one alongside or just in front. Do they mash the gas a bit harder? Do they take it harder into the turn? Only they would know.

They are both the kind of the soft-spoken type of racers who would probably prefer not to talk about the rivalry at all. They came up through the ranks to make it to the upper echelon of Big Block Dirt Racing and have earned all the successes they have achieved. It doesn’t get much better in racing than to see these two battling each other.

The anticipated renewal of the rivalry at the Hard Clay Open didn’t pan out last week as Friesen suffered mechanical issues in his heat and drove Ronnie Johnson’s backup car in the feature. While Sheppard went on to victory, adding to his ever growing OCFS wins total, Friesen drove from the back of the field to finish 14th.

But it’s all set up for Saturday, April 9th as both the 9S and 44 teams are planning to be in competition as the OCFS regular season begins. The United Rentals DIRTcar Big Block Modifieds will be competing in the Tommy Meier Tribute, 33 laps with $3,300 going to the winner. The H.O. Penn 358 Small Blocks, the Arkel Motors Sportsman and the Precision Hydraulic and Oil Rookie Sportsman are also part of the action at the legendary hard clay oval.

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