Column By: MIKE TRAVERSE / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – Mat Williamson had a fast car Sunday at the Orange County Fair Speedway’s running of the 62nd annual Eastern States 200.
It may not have been the fastest, but when those in front of him encountered late race trouble, Money Mat was able to stretch his rapidly dwindling fuel supply and hold off a charging Stewart Friesen to win his 2nd Eastern States 200.
“Man oh man, it was nerve wracking wondering about running out of fuel., I didn’t know what had happened with Matt (Sheppard) and Tyler (Dippel). I was just trying to save my stuff, they were better than me. I even told Jeff (Behrent) over the radio that I didn’t think we had that good of a car. But the gang at Behrent’s gave me one hell of a race car.”
Pole sitter, Peter Britten, took off from his #1 starting spot and ran unchallenged the first 30 laps. It was a well timed caution that came out on lap 32 as that was past the point when the racers were allowed to make their mandatory pit stop.
Most of the top runners at that point, Britten, Tyler Dippel, Matt Sheppard, Ryan Godown, Williamson and Friesen made stops. Sheppard led the group out of the pits. Anthony Perrego and Jack Lehner stayed out and assumed the top two running positions.
Lap 44 saw Friesen making a return trip to the pits for a flat. Perrego and Lehner continued to pace the field. Dippel was very fast, passing Sheppard and moving into 3rd.
Just as Perrego slowed with a flat on lap 96, Dippel got by Lehner and moved into the lead.
As the race moved past the halfway point, Sheppard took the lead on lap 112. The race progressed past the 3/4 mark with little change as Sheppard, Dippel and Williamson ran 1,2,3. Friesen was moving forward after his 2nd pitstop. Dippel stayed close and was scored as the leader on a couple of laps.
In the Eastern States 200, caution laps count until lap 180. Since the leaders pitted so early, it was possible that fuel or lack of it might affect the outcome.
And it sure did.
Sheppard’s tank ran dry on lap 186, giving the lead back to Dippel. But earlier, on a couple of occasions, Dippel’s car had showed smoke. Dippel slowed on lap 189 and retired to the pits, ending his bid for Eastern States 200 glory.
This moved Williamson to the lead with Max McLaughlin 2nd.
Friesen moved past McLaughlin with 9 to go to take 2nd. Marc Johnson, Perrego, Britten all slowed with fuel issues.
Meanwhile, Sheppard was back on the charge, moving back up to 5th. But with 3 to go, Sheppard slowed again and was pushed back to the pits, ending his bid for a three-peat in the 200.
At the finish, it was Williamson winning by .87 seconds over Friesen.
Jimmy Phelps drove a steady race to finish 3rd with McLaughlin finishing 4th. Lehnet finished 5th.
Danny Creeden made a nice recovery from a very late pitstop to finish 6th. Rick Laubach was 7th, Alex Yankowski also made up ground after a late race pitstop, finishing 8th. Billy VanInwegen was 9th and Matt Janiak 10th.
Fourteen cars completed the 200 lap distance.
“That was crazy, A lot of yellows, a lot of confusion in those final laps. You know, we love this place,” said Williamson’s car owner, Jeff Behrent. “My father, my son and the whole crew involved in the car, it just means so much to us. What a great day, what a great job.”
“These long distance races, you have to be there at the end,” Williamson said. “I figured I was good on tires, I was just worried about fuel. I just have to thank the whole Behrent’s team. They all work hard to make this deal happen.”
The Eastern States 200 normally brings down the curtain on the OCFS season. But in the crazy weather year of 2023, the STSS Hard Clay Finale is scheduled for November 10th with a rain date of November 12th.