Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – FONDA, NY – “Man, it feels damn good to keep this one at home!”
Those were the sentiments of Stewart Friesen following his winning run in Saturday night’s Short Track Super Series Elite Series Fonda 200 at the Fonda Speedway.
However, when Friesen saw Michael Parent’s car slow out of the corner of his eye with just 29 laps remaining 200-lap affair, he thought his chance for victory and $53,000 payday may have slipped away.
That was because the two-time winner of the event had just completed a pass of leader Matt Sheppard in traffic but it was all for naught as lap did not count and Sheppard was placed back at the top.
However, Friesen was unfazed as he knew exactly what needed to be done on the slippery and technical Fonda Speedway surface. The place to be was the bottom line as the laps clicked off.
Unfortunately for the driver of the #44, Sheppard was the leader and was selecting the preferred line. That meant Friesen would either have to ‘move’ him or drive around him.
He chose the latter, as the Sprakers, NY driver ran the middle groove on the restart with just 25 laps remaining and found just enough grip to run his way by Sheppard and on to his third triumph in the event.
Sheppard didn’t make it easy on Friesen to cash the big check as the driver of the #9s stayed right on the back bumper of the Halmar machine up until the checkered flag flew, but came up one spot short.
Probably one of the keys to victory for Friesen was the decision to pit on a lap 95 caution for tires so he could stay with the leaders at the lap 100 halfway break.
That gave Sheppard the lead and the Savannah, NY driver went to the hot pit under the break to make his adjustments.
On the ensuing restart, Friesen was fourth with Sheppard seventh. Both drivers worked their tails off to get back to the top two running spots but on this night, the check was made payable to Stewart Friesen.
However, he was thrown off just a bit as the race neared its completion buy the American Racer tires on his car.
“The tires were just so weird,” Friesen said. “I fired, got the lead and was thinking okay, we’re rolling. Then, on that restart when Sheppard got us, it felt almost like I had a flat but then it got going again.”
That helped Friesen understand the task at hand if he wanted to have a shot at getting back around Sheppard.
“On that restart, I just tried to keep some heat in the right rear,” he said. “There was some brown on the top of the track but it wasn’t really usable but we were able to roll through it and make it stick that one time (to regain the top spot).”
Then, Friesen knew exactly what he needed to do if he wanted to become just the third driver with three or more victories in the Fonda 200, joining Brett Hearn and the late Doug Hoffman.
“I caught Cody (Clark) right there at the end and I was like, oh man, keep it rolling dude, keep it rolling,” he said of Clark, a lap car, running to bottom groove as well. “Ancel (Collins, another lap car) did a nice job and pulled up to the top but I wasn’t getting off the bottom.”
Friesen wasn’t letting history repeat itself.
“I got off the bottom once and Sheppard slipped by,” he said. “He was going to have to go around us. I was scared that he was going to make something work because I was skating pretty good in (turns) one and two. It doesn’t matter, though. What we did was enough.”
After the 2022 edition of the Brett Deyo-promoted big-paying event where Friesen couldn’t win his third and Sheppard grabbed the title, this has to feel amazing to regain the top spot at his home track.
“It’s been a year in the works to get our motor program back situated,” he said. “A big thank you to Dan Fiedler and the Benson’s down south. We’ve got some bullets in the gun to go into big-money season and this is what we’ve been preparing for all year. The first one paid off.”
Matt Sheppard very nearly had a back-to-back winning performance in the Fonda 200 but Friesen just got him at the end on the late-race restart.
“These tires were very finicky after restarts,” Sheppard said. “When I got by Stewart, my tires fired really good and his didn’t. Then, the next restart, mine didn’t and his did and that was probably the difference in the race.”
Sheppard ran a near-perfect 200 lap but understood that track position seemed to be the most important thing during the Fonda 200.
“Whoever was out in front was out in clean air and could get the rubber on the bottom of the track, especially in turn four,” he said. “Whoever was leading the darn thing was going to win it.”
Was Sheppard surprised by Friesen’s move around him on that restart?
“He got a heck of a run around the outside,” he said. “I spun my wheels a little bit down the backstretch and he was able to clear me. I gave him a pretty good run on the outside on that one restart but fell a little bit short.”
In the races closing stages, it appeared as if Sheppard may have found something as he closed right in on Friesen to make it a tight race to finish but just couldn’t get by.
“He was getting jammed up in lap traffic,” he said. “I think he was trying to take it easy but there just wasn’t enough race track left. The bottom was just so rubbered-up so hard off of turn four. Once we ran a couple of laps, it was tough to make anything happen.”
Even without standing in victory lane, Sheppard was happy with second.
“All-in-all, it’s a good run for us,” he said. “We knew we needed to tweak on the car at the break and we did make it better. We probably needed a little bit more but this was another really good run for this team.”
Third place at the finish was Tyler Dippel who, at one point, was involved in a very significant accident in turns three in four which saw his #7 forced to the pit area.
However, the Wallkill, NY pilot rebounded nicely to make his way to the podium at the end of the 200 laps Saturday night.
“This feels real good after not racing all season,” Dippel said. “My guys really kept me in this race. We got into the jingle in four with a lap car and it sheared both radius rods off (the right front of his Teo Pro Car, locating the front end) and they got it fixed, kept me in it and on the lead lap.”
Finishing third to Friesen and Sheppard in any event is a feather in your cap but to do so in the Fonda 200 had Dippel all smiles afterwards.
“We had a good car tonight,” he said. “These two guys are hard to beat but I’m really happy with third after not being out here all year.”
Dippel, at times, was challenging Friesen on track and showed just how strong his Teo Pro Car was.
“We were so close,” he said. “We just need to race more. We’re just a tiny bit off but we’re real close.”
Mat Williamson, who drew fifth in the redraw for the 200-lapper, had flat right rear almost instantly and was forced to play catch up all evening.
At the halfway point, Williamson had worked his way back to 13th but just wasn’t happy with his #3 machine so the Behrent’s crew went to work and made wholesale changes.
Those adjustments worked as Williamson was able to drive back through in the final 100 circuits around the Track of Champions to come home in the fourth position.
Tim Fuller, who was the final car to make the race through a qualifying event, taking the final transfer spot in the second Last Chance Qualifier, started 36th and willed his way to an impressive fifth at the finish.
The race was marred by a multi-car pileup on the frontstretch during a lap 106 restart that saw Demetrios Drellos, Ronnie Johnson, Mike Mahaney, JaMike Sowle and Rocky Warner, among others, involved.
After Warner was removed from his race car, he did give the thumbs up to the crowd before being taken to a local hospital.
At press time, we don’t have any further word on his condition but we’ll do our best to keep everyone informed. Please join us in sending our thoughts and prayers to Rocky and his family right now.
Feature (200 laps) 1. 44-Stewart Friesen; 2. 9S-Matt Sheppard; 3. 7D-Tyler Dippel; 4. 3W-Mat Williamson; 5. 19-Tim Fuller; 6. 44P-Anthony Perrego; 7. 1Z-Jessica Friesen; 8. 3D-Matt Delorenzo; 9. 21C-Brian Calabrese; 10. 6B-Danny Bouc; 11. 8H-Max McLaughlin; 12. 18-Bobby Varin; 13. 9J-Marc Johnson; 14. 17Z-Dillon Steuer; 15. 25-Steve Bernier; 16. 4-Cody Clark; 17. 22-Ancel Collins; 18. 35C-Chris Curtis; 19. 25P-Michael Parent; 20. 84Y-Alex Yankowski; 21. 4B-Andy Bachetti; 22. 35M-Mike Mahaney; 23. 34-Dave Constantino; 24. 97-Bobby Hackel IV; 25. 91-Billy Decker; 26. 111-Demetrios Drellos; 27. 2RJ-Ronnie Johnson; 28. 1-Rocky Warner; 29. 42-Tucker O’Connor; 30. 21P-Luciano (Pep) Corradi; 31. 20-David Schilling; 32. 76-Jamike Sowle; 33. 12-Darren Smith; 34. 24-Dave Camara; 35. 93-Ryan Odasz; 36. 6H-JR Hurlburt; 37. 16S-Danny Varin; 38. 02-Cory Costa; 39. 24P-Brian Pessolano; 40. 28-Michael Trautschold; 41. 87-Neil Stratton
LAP LEADERS – 1-14 Bernier, 15-90 Stewart Friesen, 91 Sheppard, 92-95 Stewart Friesen, 96-100 Sheppard, 101-128 Marc Johnson, 129-149 Stewart Friesen, 150-175 Sheppard, 176-200 Stewart Friesen
DID NOT QUALIFY – Dan Santabarbara, Stephen Gray, George Foley, Derek Bornt, Ajay Potrzebowski Sr., Jason Reome, Matt Sobiech
Consolation #1 (10 Laps): 1. 44P-Anthony Perrego; 2. 28-Michael Trautschold; 3. 93-Ryan Odasz; 4. 24-Dave Camara; 5. 22-Ancel Collins; 6. 6H-JR Hurlburt; 7. 87-Neil Stratton; 8. 7J-Dan Santabarbara; 9. 21C-Brian Calabrese; 10. (DNS) 42X-Stephen Gray
Consolation #2 (10 Laps): 1. 4-Cody Clark; 2. 17Z-Dillon Steuer; 3. 16S-Danny Varin; 4. 19-Tim Fuller; 5. 12-Darren Smith; 6. 24F-George Foley; 7. (DNS) 4D-Derek Bornt; 8. (DNS) 27-Jason Reome; 9. (DNS) 72-AJay Potrzebowski Sr; 10. (DNS) 66M-Matt Sobiech
Penske Racing Shocks Hot Laps: 1. 9S-Matt Sheppard, 00:18.130; 2. 19-Tim Fuller, 00:18.330; 3. 6B-Danny Bouc, 00:18.367; 4. 111-Demetrios Drellos, 00:18.447; 5. 12-Darren Smith, 00:18.449; 6. 3W-Mat Williamson, 00:18.523; 7. 2RJ-Ronnie Johnson, 00:18.524; 8. 8H-Max McLaughlin, 00:18.578; 9. 35C-Chris Curtis, 00:19.915; 10. 4-Cody Clark, 00:18.757; 11. 16S-Danny Varin, 00:18.799; 12. 44-Stewart Friesen, 00:18.815; 13. 1-Rocky Warner, 00:18.824; 14. 34-Dave Constantino, 00:18.838; 15. 24-Dave Camara, 00:18.843; 16. 17Z-Dillon Steuer, 00:18.860; 17. 20-David Schilling, 00:18.865; 18. 97-Bobby Hackel IV, 00:18.889; 19. 25-Steve Bernier, 00:18.901; 20. 02-Cory Costa, 00:18.945; 21. 25P-Michael Parent, 00:18.974; 22. 87-Neil Stratton, 00:18.987; 23. 3D-Matt Delorenzo, 00:18.999; 24. 4B-Andy Bachetti, 00:19.011; 25. 6H-JR Hurlburt, 00:19.022; 26. 18-Bobby Varin, 00:19.022; 27. 35M-Mike Mahaney, 00:19.080; 28. 22-Ancel Collins, 00:19.174; 29. 28-Michael Trautschold, 00:19.185; 30. 1Z-Jessica Friesen, 00:19.197; 31. 91-Billy Decker, 00:19.211; 32. 21C-Brian Calabrese, 00:19.309; 33. 93-Ryan Odasz, 00:19.330; 34. 84Y-Alex Yankowski, 00:19.340; 35. 24F-George Foley, 00:19.444; 36. 24P-Brian Pessolano, 00:19.531; 37. 21P-Luciano (Pep) Corradi, 00:19.695; 38. 9J-Marc Johnson, 00:19.719; 39. 44P-Anthony Perrego, 00:19.854; 40. 76-Jamike Sowle, 00:19.915; 41. 42-Tucker O’Connor, 00:19.915; 42. 7D-Tyler Dippel, 00:19.915; 43. (DNS) 4D-Derek Bornt; 44. (DNS) 42X-Stephen Gray; 45. (DNS) 72-AJay Potrzebowski Sr; 46. (DNS) 27-Jason Reome; 47. (DNS) 7J-Dan Santabarbara; 48. (DNS) 66M-Matt Sobiech