Column By: MIKE TRAVERSE / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – For a few laps, it looked like the Orange County Fair Speedway DIRTcar Big Block Modified championship race could have a similar outcome as the 2021 version.
As the race approached the halfway point, it was 2021 Modified champion Anthony Perrego in front of the other competitors that were in competition for the big money. And the championship.
But after a lap 13 caution, it was Matt Sheppard taking control of the race after a fantastic restart and taking the checkered flag ahead of Max McLaughlin and Perrego.
With the race win worth $5,000 and the championship worth $30,000, it was a cool $35,000 haul for Sheppard Saturday night.
The night got off to a very bad start for one of the 4 contenders as Billy VanInwegen’s #4 encountered rear end difficulties during warmups and repairs did not finish in time for heat race competition. This put Billy V at a severe disadvantage going into the feature with a deep in the pack starting spot.
Jimmy Horton took the lead at the start as Tanner VanDoren moved up spots into the runner up position. McLaughlin was the first of the Modified title contenders to make some solid gains towards the front. By lap 5, Max was up to 4th. Perrego and Sheppard were moving up, Super Matt was 3rd of the 4 title contenders as the race reached the one third mark.
Perrego was closing in on McLaughlin and he went past Max on lap 12. VanInwegen’s race ended a lap later as he got up on the backstretch wall, bringing out the caution.
The restart was the turning point of the race.
Running 6th, Sheppard got a fantastic restart as he swept around the high side into 3rd, and on lap 15, he was in front. VanDoren, running very well, dropped out just after Sheppard went into the lead. This put Horton back into 2nd with Perrego 3rd and McLaughlin 4th. Caution was out again on lap 18 for debris in turn 1.
Perrego got shuffled back on the restart, losing two spots and elevating McLaughlin to 2nd. Caution was out on lap 21 when Daniel Morgiewicz, in his Modified debut, slowed. McLaughlin tried to stay with Sheppard on the restart, but Matt pulled out to a safe lead. Perrego worked on getting his lost spots back and passed Horton on lap 23 to regain 3rd.
The rest of the race went caution free with the only other change in the top 5 was Stewart Friesen, moving past Horton for 4th on lap 26. At the finish, it was Sheppard by three and a half seconds over McLaughlin with Perrego 3rd, Friesen 4th and Horton 5th. Dillon Steuer finished 6th, Mike Gular 7th, Danny Creeden 8th, Tyler Boniface 9th and Bob McGannon 10th.
“What a wild race,” Sheppard said in a very happy Victory lane. “Jeremie (Corcoran) threw a curveball at us. The place was fast and tacky. Championship nights are always wild. The race is going to come down to restarts and catching breaks and picking the right lane on restarts. I got off to a terrible start and got bottled up. and fell back to 14th. We got a caution and had a great restart and we were back in business. I’m very thankful for the people at Orange County. I’m very proud to take home a lot of the money that Chris Larsen and the speedway put up. What a season. I took a peek on the cautions and I saw that Max and Perrego were breathing down my neck and I didn’t want to make any mistakes, didn’t want to hop the cushion. Lady Luck was on our side tonight. And we’re sitting here in Victory Lane. It feels good to be champion after losing it last year.”
“Our car was good, but not as good as the 9S,” said McLaughlin post race. “I thought I had a shot on the one restart, but I just couldn’t make the pass. The track was top dominate. Matt got it done tonight and we’ll try to get it done next year. I just tried to stay 2nd in case Sheppard broke. We just weren’t good enough. Chris Larsen is amazing for our sport, not just Orange County, but for racing in general. We worked very hard to race here for the championship, but fell one spot short..”
“I was good early on, went up to 3rd,” Perrego said as he analyzed his race. “On the 2nd restart, Max got by. It was a good battle with Max and Matt. Sheppard was definitely the car to beat. On the one restart, I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time and Sheppard caught a couple of lucky breaks to be on top on the restarts. We’ll be back next year. We’ll see if we can beat the 9S at Eastern States Weekend.”
While Perrego came up short in his bid to repeat as Modified champion, he was successful on Saturday in defending his H.O. Penn 358 Small Block Modified title. Tyler Boniface was the race winner followed by Jimmy Horton, Billy VanInwegen and Perrego.
Boniface was in the lead early. VanInwegen was blazing through the field early on, moving from 13th starting position to 4th by lap 4. Horton was strong in this race as well, passing VanInwegen for 2nd on lap 18. At the end of the 25 lap test, Boniface took his first 2022 win by 1 1/2 seconds over a closing Horton. Billy V was 3rd. Perrego took 4 and Dillon Steuer 5th. Filling out positions 6 thru 10 were Danny Creeden, Gary Edwards III, Allison Ricci, Jimmy Spellmon and Pat Reiser,
If one would be walking through the OCFS pits and wondering who the most improved driver of 2022 is, John Farissier would be an excellent candidate. Farissier broke through earlier this year, racing to his first career Arkel Motors Sportsman feature. On Saturday night, Farissier backed that win up with an impressive drive to grab his 2nd win of the season.
Cody Higbie continued his late season surge with another good finish to lock up the 2022 Sportsman championship. Higbie was trailing Michael Sabia by a single point coming into Saturday’s action.
Josh Allen led the first 5 laps with Farissier taking the lead on lap 6. With Farissier running very well at the front, attention was on the close point battle between Higbie and Sabia. Michael had the upper hand early in the race, leading Cody by a few spots. But as the laps rolled on, Higbie’s car got better and Sabia’s went away. Higbie passed Sabia on lap 5 and continued moving forward while Sabia moved back a few.
While the Sportsman championship was playing out, Farissier was polishing off a 1 1/3 margin of victory over Allen. Kasey Hufcut ran a steady race to finish 3rd. Higbie clinched his first OCFS championship with a 4th place effort. Grant Hilfiger, in the Pat Giuliano 51, finished 5th. Rounding out the top 10 were Jake Bedell in 6th, Jeff Higham 7th, Ryan Neiger 8th, Jared LaBagh 9th and RJ Carson 10th.
Joey Conklin came into Saturday’s Precision Hydraulic and Oil Rookie Sportsman race in good shape to win the title. And he did it the same way that Shepperd won his title earlier in the evening, taking the glory with a victory.
Mark Shupp was the leader for the first half of the 12 lap run until Conklin took over on lap 7. Conklin then proceeded to stretch out his lead, having an almost 3 second margin of victory at the finish. Shupp finished 2nd with Mike Weslowski 3rd, Kevin Murphy 4th and Walt Henry 5th. Anthony Vitale Jr. was 6th followed by Fred Pavia 7th, Shawn Murphy 8th, Mike Mikulski 9th and Randy Torres 10th.
Dillon Gannon came into Saturday’s NAPA North East Parts Group feature with just a slim hope of wresting the championship away from Bob Sleight. Gannon needed a win and some bad luck for Sleight for that to happen.
And early in the race, that did happen as Sleight ran into trouble early in the feature event. Gannon took the lead on a lap 7 restart. Dillon did his part by leading the rest of the way, taking his 3rd win of the season. Ray Tarantino finished 2nd, Billy Deak Jr. 3rd and Jack Beaumont 4th.
Mike Vigiletti had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when he collected a spinning Marty Nieuwland in his heat race, badly damaging his car. Vigiletti was able to pick up a ride in one of the Team Froggy cars, the 11 of Isaiah Guest, and drive the unfamiliar car to a 5th place finish. Sleight recovered from his early difficulties to finish 6th and clinch the 2022 Street Stock championship. Danny Hedges finished 7th with Ryan Modiano 8th, Jim Hajkowski 9th and Tyler Romer 10th.
The next event at the speedway will be the Eve of Destruction which will occur on Saturday, September 17th. There will be an Eastern States Weekend practice on Saturday, October 15th, time TBD. And speedway officials will be putting together the Eastern States schedule soon.
Once again, congratulations to the 2022 OCFS Champions, Matt Sheppard, Anthony Perrego, Cody Higbie, Joey Conklin and Bob Sleight!!