RPW Column: Matt Sheppard Was Both Good, & Lucky, To Win Sunday’s Eastern States 200 At OCFS

Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – Being good is what all drivers want.  Being lucky is also a great thing when you race.

Sunday at Orange County Fair Speedway, both of those worlds came together for Matt Sheppard who’s been one of the hottest drivers this season in Dirt Modified racing, but looked like he was about to finish second in the Eastern States 200.

That was, until leader Stewart Friesen hit the inside wall off of turn two and flattened his left front tire with a handful of laps left.

“We got up to second there and I thought it was really a matter of track position,” Sheppard said.  “I didn’t think we had anything for him.  He got through lap cars clean and got a way from me a little bit.  Then, I saw him clip the inside wall off of (turn) two pretty hard.”

Then, it was game on for the $40,000 top prize.

“I saw his left front going down and said we might have a shot now,” he said.  “That was just enough to mess his car up so I could roll by.”

Did Sheppard feel like he had anything for Friesen if not for the pony wheel going soft?

“I doubt it,” he said.  “You get up behind somebody and you’re kind of at their mercy.  You’re in dirty air and we’re rolling around there.  I felt like Stewie was really good.  I felt like Matty (Williamson) was really good.  Jimmy (Phelps) was really good.  Probably, if any of the four of us were out front it would have been tough for any of us to pass.”

What was the key point of the race for the victor?

“I knew it was going to boil down to restarts and traffic,” he said.  “Just an untimely flat left front for Stewie ruined a pretty much perfect day for him.”

Over the first two days of Eastern States, lap traffic was the Achilles Heel for Sheppard.  On this night, he wasn’t letting that happen yet again.

“It’s always the same,” he said.  “You get in lap traffic and you basically have a 50/50 choice.  You either follow them or try to pass them and sometimes you make the right decisions and sometimes you don’t.  The last two nights, we didn’t.  Tonight. we did.”

It was an impressive Eastern States for the Sheppard team.

“All-in-all, a first, a second and a third has been a really good weekend for us here,” he said.  “This is still a lot of momentum for this team and I can’t thank them enough, my family, my girlfriend and all of my sponsors.  Wow, that’s all I’ve got to say.”

Ironically, it wasn’t the easiest weekend for Sheppard and his team as they had to change an engine in their Big Block Modified overnight Saturday just to get ready for the 200.

They hurt their primary during Friday night’s action on the Hard Clay and didn’t have time during the day Saturday while trying to win the 358-Mod event.

However, help from a good friend and fellow competitor was key.

“I can’t thank Anthony Perrego and all of his crew guys enough,” he said.  “They jumped right in and gave us a hand with whatever we needed.  It’s been a long weekend here.  Everybody on this team gave it their all, working until 2am and right here, this is why we do it.”

It just seems like after every high-dollar event this season, the big colorful check in victory lane has had Matt Sheppard’s name on it and that continued Sunday at OCFS.

“What an unbelievable season,” he said.  “To cap it off here at Eastern States, we had an awesome year here at Middletown.  We’ve won just about everything and now every crown jewel, all in the same season,  This is just a dream come true.”

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