Story By: TOM SKIBINSKI / LAND OF LEGENDS RACEWAY – CANANDAIGUA, NY – Northeast standout Matt Sheppard won the battle in the final ‘Saturday Spectacular” of the month at Land Of Legends Raceway yet it was long-time rival Justin Haers coming out on top in the war to conclude the 2023 Pepsi Big-Block Modified title chase.
While multi-time track champion Sheppard rallied to take his third checkered flag in just six starts this season, consistency was the key for Haers from day one steering his familiar black Finger Lakes-powered #3 Honeoye Auto Parts-Phelps Cement Products-CX Electric/Bicknell entry as the now 43 year-old veteran from Phelps notched his third straight points championship despite going winless for the first time since the CoVid-shortened 2020 campaign.
“Matt and I raced together all the way up the ranks, great feeling to get the championship,” remarked Haers, recalling days of go-cart racing against Sheppard at area motorsports meccas like Frozen Ocean and Paradise. “Hopefully can come back here next week and then for my dad’s race and get a ‘W.’ Definitely have some work to do. Have to do our homework and see if we can get better as everybody else will be working to get faster too.”
“Hasn’t really been a stellar season for us but we were really consistent, just haven’t found something that has been really, really good for us,” admitted Haers, after matching ‘Super Matt’ as the most recent driver to collect three consecutive track titles. Sheppard earned the last of his seven successive point crowns in 2017 while Bob McCreadie and Steve Paine are the only other drivers to three-peat. “Consistent, constantly in the top-five, just always been there knockin.’ Coming home with a championship is obviously our first goal going into the season so three in a row is just awesome. Never really imagined it.”
Going back more than 60 years, Haers also becomes only the second driver not to win a feature and still garner the season championship, the first being 1961 Canandaigua points king Milt Johnson, late father of current pros Alan and Danny.
While Haers earned his most recent point championship logging 12 Top-10 feature finishes along with nine front-five tallies in 13 starts, nine-time LOLR titlist Sheppard earned Saturday’s $2,000 top prize with his sixth front-five finish in as many races.
“Nice to get the finale for us here,” said Sheppard, now with 90 Big-Block wins at the Ontario Co. Fairgrounds which keeps him fourth all-time. “Won 50% on the season so its been a good year here for us.”
With just one more week remaining to determine four more titlists, joining Sheppard in the winner’s circle on Geneva Club Beverage & Ferris Commercial Mowers Big-Block Championship Night during LOLR’s 70th Anniversary season celebration were Zach Sobotka (Stirling Lubricants Sportsman), Bobby Parrow (MighTea Boba 305 Sprint Car), C.J. Guererri (Eldredge & Sons Scrap Recycling Street Stock), Daniel Kerrick (Lloyd’s Contracting Hobby Stock) and Nick Ventura in the Maguire Ford of Canandaigua New Legends Sportsman finale.
As Colony Caregivers was named the weekly beneficiary, Ferris Mowers also provided a 2nd-place prize in Saturday’s 50/50 drawing with a Ferris shirt, hat, koozie and Ferris lock set going to the winner. The last show of the month also featured a ‘Back To School’ giveaway with the LOLR staff collecting school bundles for students entering through the General Admission gate. Race teams helped donate toward these special packages, supplying backpacks filled with essential school supplies for area kids preparing for a return to the classroom.
After inclement weather twice delayed his induction, the oval track career of Modified ace Vic Coffey was finally commended to kick off pre-race activity. Coffey became the third addition to the Land Of Legends Wall of Fame joining fellow Big-Blockers Charlie Rudolph and Joe Plazek in Canandaigua’s Class of ’23. Of his 51 feature wins chronicled from 1994 to 2016, nearly half were scored at the fairgrounds’ half-miler including 17 Big-Block, 7 Sportsman and 1 Small-Block.
Caledonia resident Coffey has graced victory lane at 13 additional tracks with his two biggest triumphs coming in the nationally recognized Modified 200 on the famed Syracuse Mile during Super DIRT Week staged in 2002 & 2007. Vic’s lone 100-lap victory at Canandaigua was posted in a 358-Modified Super DIRT Series event held in 2002, doubling up after copping the extended 103-lap ‘Summer Nationals’ mid-week small-block tour event held the night before at Ransomville Speedway.
Vic posted his first-ever win at Canandaigua steering a Sportsman in 1994 before capturing his 25th and final checkered flag at the fairgrounds in 2008 behind the wheel of a Big-Block Modified carrying the familiar yellow & red Sweeteners Plus colors. In between, the long-time Leicester luminary was named DIRT Northeast BB Mod ‘Rookie of the Year’ in 1996 and in 2008 earned World of Outlaws Late Model Series top first-year accolades after contending in the full-fender ranks. He copped a pair of LM wins in unsanctioned races stage at Little Valley (NY) and Potomac (MD) speedways before closing out his open-wheel career on the Canandaigua clay.
Although not competing at LOLR since his son Kyle’s rookie Big-Block campaign in 2016, today Vic remains faithful to the fairgrounds every Saturday serving as team owner for both Kyle and younger son Kasey Coffey, who is quickly emerging as a constant threat in his second season wheeling a Sportsman. Family ties run even deeper as in 2006 Vic married Jillian Haers, sister of Big-Block champ Justin Haers.
Fresh off his Super DIRTcar Series triumph at LOLR on Aug. 16, the 30-lap Big-Block feature took to the track with Sheppard filing in 13th on the 20-car grid. Alan Johnson wrestled the lead away from pole-sitter Gil Tegg Jr. on lap five and with the lone yellow flag falling for backstretch debris two laps later it appeared ‘A.J. Slideways’ was on his way to career win number 129 in Canandaigua.
Talented teen Alex Payne harbored other ideas however as the Hopewell hotshot bolted around Johnson exiting turn four to grab first on lap 17. Meanwhile, Sheppard was fulfulling his own plan as the Northeast’s winningest driver took fourth from Tegg at the same time.
In a sudden change up front, Payne’s mount slowed amidst a puff of smoke rounding turn two and his unwarranted ride to the pits with a driveline issue returned the lead to Johnson on lap 20. Sheppard passed Kevin Root for second on lap 24 and pulled even with Johnson on lap 27. Ducking low in traffic the next time around, ‘Super Matt’ once more proved his worth putting his potent #9S Hurlock Auto & Speed-Westmoreland Golf Glub-St.Lawrence Radiology/Bicknell out front for good in the 12-minute main.
“We were going pretty good in the beginning and got by some guys,” said Sheppard, following his latest foray to the front that resulted in a two-second victory over the all-time track win leader followed by Root, Rudolph and Pat Ward. “Thought we weren’t in too bad shape then got caught on the bottom on that restart. Justin and Danny (Johnson) got back by me and I kinda got mired back there.”
“Then we started rolling, began picking off cars and I could see Alan way off in the distance. Payne looked really good, not sure what happened but he would’ve been tough. Just watching the gap and watching the lap counter, think it was lap 23 or 25 and I looked up and thought ‘wish this place still had 35 lap features.’ Not sure if the lapped cars messed up Alan a little bit but he moved his line around and that was the opportunity I needed.”
Haers settled for sixth which was high enough to easily claim the coveted track crown, closing the ’23 points chase with 700. To place the ultimate exclamation point on how tough the competition remains at LOLR, no driver among the Top-6 reached victory lane with Alan Johnson (651), Danny Johnson (604), Kyle Coffey (598), Root (595) and Ward (592) following suit. However, rounding out the final Top-10 all with feature wins were Alex Payne (579/1 win), Peter Britten (576/3 wins), James Sweeting (511/1 win) and Zach Payne (508/1 win).
Winner’s circle appearances have not been an issue for reigning Sportsman points king Sobotka as the Parish pilot captured his third 25-lap victory to keep him on course for a second straight title at the fairgrounds.
“This car was ridiculously fast tonight,” declared Sobotka, now just one week away from claiming the once elusive Canandaigua crown. “After that red (flag), was thinking that my right rear (tire) was gonna be a little cold there but after two laps it got a little bit of heat in it and just took right off.”
Looking to share the spotlight and win on his father’s WoF induction night, it was Kasey Coffey dueling with front row partner Steve Gray when the opening green flag flew over the 24-car starting field. Coffey gained control on lap two and Karl Comfort took over the runner-spot the next time around. Twelfth starting Sobotka advanced to eighth with five laps scored and following a multi-car tangle improved to sixth on the lap nine restart.
Coffey and Comfort continued to set the pace as Sobotka grabbed third from Gray with 15 laps scored. A rare red flag slowed the action on lap 17 when Frank Guererri Jr. got sideways out of turn one, collecting Austin Germinio while in his own effort to avoid the mishap Tim Lafler slid high into the surrounding woods resulting in an end-over-end flip beyond the tree line.
Back under green, Sobotka shadowed the leaders in his white #38 Stirling Lubricants-Mohawk Northeast-Under Or Above Construction/Bicknell machine, stealing second from Comfort on lap 20 then sealing the deal with a turn four pass of Coffey four laps from the end. The final margin was nearly a half straightaway with Coffey, Comfort, Paul Guererri and Gray scoring top-five tallies.
“I’ve got a lot of great sponsorship support and along with my dad and grandfather there are so many people that help out to make this whole deal happen,” stated Sobotka (669), who now leads two-time champion Matt Guererri (633), Comfort (576), Frank Guererri Jr. (575) and Nick Root (558) heading into the double-points finale the first weekend in September. “Randy Kisacky (Sheppard’s crew chief) has helped us figure some things out and hopefully we’ll continue to get better in time for the big season-ending shows.”
The red flag was not as rare in the 20-lap Sprint Car A-Main as a pair of lengthy stoppages provided little comfort for race-long leader Parrow.
“Just feels good to finish. That’s two weeks in a row that we’ve finished, we’ve had gremlins on us for about the last 3-4 weeks,” noted Parrow, who won the season-opener in May and posted only three more top-five finishes before Saturday. “But it all finally came together tonight. Gave away a lot of wins this year so happy to be here (victory lane) again.”
Parrow jumped out early only to be placed on pause after Dan Craun slammed the uke tire low rounding turn one to end his night with only a single lap complete. Back under green the Waterloo veteran regained a comfortable advantage while John Smith and Adam DePuy diced back-and-forth for second as Steve Glover and Dillon Paddock contested for fourth.
Red lights flashed for the first time after a frontstretch crash brought an abrupt halt to the night for local favorite Ethan Gray. Following a turn four scrape with the outside cement retaining wall, the right front wheel was sheered off from Gray’s winged machine and when the car dug in it resulted in a violent flip down the front chute that left it sitting demolished under the starter’s stand. No injuries were reported after Gray quickly climbed from the wreckage acknowledging the crowd.
Parrow’s #80 Seneca Meadows-Re/Max Revolution-Fletcher Racing/Shaw ride opened up a commanding lead the second half of the race yet another red flag only managed to delay the inevitable. Running fourth with just two laps left, points leader Jordan Hutton had a radiator line break heading down the homestretch sending his #66 Eagle sliding sideways in turn one. Closest pursuer Dillon Paddock was not as fortunate as his own #8 Maxim slid high to evade Hutton and wound up wedged among those same trees that surround the speedway grounds.
The last two laps went uncontested with Parrow re-establishing a 10 car-length margin under the checkers. Smith and Glover crossed the line next while Dan Bennett dashed from sixth to fourth on the final restart. Matt Rotz finished fifth.
“With that last red, kinda hoping that wasn’t coming but it did,” added Parrow after the flag-to-flag triumph netted him a $500 payday. “Have to give a shout out to my crew, these guys have been working their butts off. This Shaw car was on rails tonight. Doug’s been a car-builder of mine for 35 years and he builds one helluva car. Only builds 1 or 2 a year now and it worked really well.”
In the closest points race of the season, five-time winner Hutton (419) leads James Layton (413) by a scant six markers with only next Saturday’s sprint car shootout remaining to decide a first-time champion. Gray (396), Rotz (390), Johnny Kolosek (381), Paddock (374) and Parrow (363) remain longshots yet anything can happen with double-points on the line in the season-ending 10-mile 305 main.
In the near non-stop 20-lap Street Stock feature, Guererri survived the lone caution with just two to go and held off 2022 division points champion Mike Welch and expected soon-to-be crowned titlist Jimmy Grant to garner his second win in 2023.
“Had a really good car all night,” stated Guererri, who closed to within 92 points (704-612) of the leader yet ’21 titlist Grant needs only to start the feature next Saturday to reclaim his championship status. “Was telling my crew (car) needed to be a little better. They went to work on it and I tell you what, they put me in a hot rod tonight.”
Nick Dandino out-dragged pole-sitter Carl Cleveland at the start with Pat Hobbs in the mix early on. Guererri charged from seventh to second through just five laps after battling Marc Minutolo, overtaking Dandino for the lone lead change with six complete. Welch secured the runner position on lap eight before Grant passed Dandino for third on lap 13 as Minutolo maintained fourth.
Grant crossed the line ahead of Welch on lap 17 yet Welch returned the favor before the the #122 Camaro flamed out in turn one to require the only yellow flag with just two lap[s left. Guererri was no match for his closest challengers with a single-file restart in place, pushing his red #CJ1 Ontario Concrete & Paving-BarMor Puppies-Seasonal Automotive Chevrolet Camaro on to a solid five car-length win.
“When that yellow came out, honestly, my mind was racing,” recalled Guererri, following the Geneva driver’s 14th career stock car win at the fairgrounds. He earned an additional $100 for the Prouty’s Bar Bonus after putting a halt to Grant’s six-race win streak. “Saw Jimmy was back there. He’s a strong runner but we were better tonight. Gotta thank a lot of people that help out in the shop and especially Moose’s racing engines. If it wasn’t for Moose, we wouldn’t have this bad ass powerplant.”
Hobby Stock winner Kerrick also provided praise for his own engine builder Paul Gavenda after the young chauffeur from nearby Stanley registered his third 15-lap feature win of the season in his Gavenda-powered no. 61 Fratto Curbing-J.E. Marine–Mike O. from Geneva Truck Repair Chevrolet Camaro.
“My grandfather passed away yesterday, he was definitely riding with me tonight,” uttered the choked up victor after coming out on top in a back-and-forth battle with full-fender veteran Marc Minutolo, who tops the points chart with one race left. “Marc is just so good and didn’t know if I could beat him at all. This is only my second full season so three wins is pretty good.”
Kerrick took advantage of his front row start to lead from the drop of head flagman Scott Hixson’s initial green. Minutolo showed his prowess, edging across the line to complete lap five out front yet Kerrick never flinched, nosing ahead to regain the point eight laps in.
Three slowdowns past the halfway mark kept the field bunched yet Kerrick and Minutolo pulled away from the pack each time racing resumed. Despite a final lap folly by Frank ‘Bubba’ Burnell to incur the last caution, Kerrick hit all his marks and held on for a narrow three car-length margin at the stripe.
“I went on the top side the whole race pretty much,” remarked Kerrick, who ranks behind only Minutolo (654) and Burnell (638) prior to Saturday’s upcoming double-points finale with 614. “Tried the bottom but I just didn’t have what Marc had down there. Probably halfway through the race he finally got by me so the top was the only place there really was unless I wanted to ride around the bottom and follow him.”
“So I thought just put it to the floor, try it and see what happens. We were able to bounce off the cushion coming out of (turns) one and two and ended up taking the lead, then just stayed there the whole race,” Kerrick figured.
A season-high nine entrants signed up in the Maguire Ford of Canandaigua New Legends Sportsman class and it was second-generation racer Ventura from Ontario in his #711 MP Delivery-Quick Time Shocks/Bicknell car powering past Dillon Adamczak with two to go in the 12-lap nightcap to author another thrilling victory, the second of his ’23 campaign in Canandaigua. Although no points were on the line in this entry-level class, it remains a popular feeding ground for up-and-coming open-wheel drivers.
Modified Season Championship Night
Pepsi Big-Block Modified(DOUBLE POINTS)
*Feature (30 laps): 1. 9s-Matt Sheppard ($2,000), 2. 14j-Alan Johnson, 3. 34-Kevin Root, 4. 25-Erick Rudolph, 5. 42p-Pat Ward, 6. 3-Justin Haers, 7. 39-Kyle Coffey, 8. 132-Dalton Martin, 9. 27j-Danny Johnson, 10. 19w-Justin Wright, 11. 11j-James Sweeting, 12. 7z-Zach Payne, 13. 11n-Ricky Newton, 14. 7-Troy Sperring, 15. 22g-Gil Tegg Jr., 16. 27jr-Daniel Johnson Jr., 17. 70a-Alex Payne, 18. 56-JT Sperring, 19. 88-Dave Allen, 20. 7s-Torrey Stoughtenger.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: A.Johnson, Tegg, Coffey, D.Johnson, Rudolph, Z.Payne, Sheppard, T.Sperring, Sweeting, Wright.
#2: Martin, A.Payne, Root, Ward, Haers, D.Johnson Jr, Stoughtenger, Allen, Newton, JT Sperring.
2023 Track Champion: Justin Haers
Stirling Lubricants Sportsman Modified
*Feature (25 laps): 1. 38-Zach Sobotka ($750), 2. 32c-Kasey Coffey, 3. 10-Karl Comfort, 4. 7-Paul Guererri, 5. 29g-Steve Gray, 6. 20x-Kevin Ridley, 7. 12g-Matt Guererri, 8. 30-Nick Root, 9. 35-Nick Cooper, 10. 7j-JT Sperring, 11. 32-Carter Crooker, 12. 64b-Brett Buono, 13. 9-Tim Baker, 14. 113jr.-Frank Guererri Jr., 15. 10g-Austin Germinio, 16. 28-Mark Potter, 17. 35x-Greg Crooker, 18. 31k-Kennedy Payne, 19. 51-Tim Lafler, 20. 18h-Justin Henderson, 21. 31-Kane Bristol, 22. 26-Greenley George, 23. 21j-Justin Liechti, 24. 33x-Matt Janczuk.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Comfort, Coffey, F.Guererri, Henderson, Buono, G.Crooker, Potter.
#2: Lafler, Sobotka, Gray, Ridley, Sperring, Bristol, Germinio, Baker, Liechti.
#3: Root, M.Guererri, P.Guererri, Cooper, C.Crooker, George, Janczuk, Payne.
MighTea Boba 305 Sprint
*Feature (20 laps): 1. 80-Bobby Parrow ($500), 2. 23-John Smith, 3. 121-Steve Glover, 4. X-Dan Bennett, 5. 77-Matt Rotz, 6. 14-James Layton, 7. 10-Johnny Kolosek, 8. 99-Adam DePuy, 9. d9-Dustin Sehn, 10. 33z-Sydney Wetherbee, 11. 66-Jordan Hutton, 12. 8-Dillon Paddock, 13. 2-Randy Years, 14. 17e-Ethan Gray, 15. 7w-Michael Smith, 16. 10p-Nathan Pierce, 17. 18c-Dan Craun.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Parrow, J.Smith, Rotz, Gray, Pierce, Kolosek, Layton, Sehn, M.Smith
#2: Craun, Hutton, DePuy, Paddock, Glover, Years, Bennett, Wetherbee.
Eldredge & Sons Scrap Recycling Street Stock
*Feature (20 laps): 1. cj1-CJ Guererri ($500), 2. 00-Mike Welch, 3. 36-Jimmy Grant, 4. 25b-Marc Minutolo, 5. 87-Carl Johnson, 6. 57j-Nick Dandino, 7. 9-Aksel Jensen, 8. 5c-Rick Crego, 9. 3-Patrick Hobbs, 10. 64-Bob Buono, 11. 12-John Burritt, 12. 122-Chris Beyea, 13. 74-Darren Phippen, 14. 22-Carl Cleveland, 63-Mike Fellows(DNS).
Heats (6 laps)
#1: Guererri, Johnson, Minutolo, Beyea, Cleveland, Crego, Buono, Fellows(DNS).
#2: Dandino, Welch, Jensen, Grant, Hobbs, Burritt, Phippen.
Lloyd’s Contracting Hobby Stock
*Feature (15 laps): 1. 61-Daniel Kerrick, 2. 25b-Marc Minutolo, 3. 57jr.-Tyler Burnell, 4. 18XL-Derek Excell, 5. 36-Jimmy Grant, 6. 36x-Brighton Grant, 7. 18-Blane Smith, 8. 11k-Dan Korpanty, 9. 67-James Werner, 10. 22j-Randy Johnson, 11. 57b-Frank ‘Bubba’ Burnell Jr., 12. 25j-Justin Eldredge, 13. 97-Kevin Schrader, 14. 69j-Tyler Hutchinson, 24k-Kevin Lloyd(DNS).
Heats (6 laps)
#1: B.Grant, Minutolo, T.Burnell, F.Burnell, Smith, Werner, Lloyd, Hutchinson.
#2: Kerrick, Eldredge, Excell, J.Grant, Korpanty, Schrader, Johnson.
Maguire Ford of Canandaigua New Legends Sportsman
*Feature (12 laps): 1. 711-Nick Ventura, 2. 55-Dillon Adamczak, 3. 7j-Kevin Quigley, 4. 20k-Kyle Ridley, 5. 23-Kyle Quigley, 6. 57j-Bruce Batzel, 7. 29g-Evan Gray, 8. 64b-Hannah Guererri, 9. 56a-Angel Sperring(DNS).
Heat (6 laps)
#1: Ventura, Adamczak, Ky.Quigley, Ridley, Gray, Guererri, Batzel, Ke.Quigley, Sperring.