Matt Sheppard Wins Attrition-Filled Mr. DIRT Track U.S.A.
Matt Sheppard passed NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Stewart Friesen with 33 laps to go and managed to hold off a charging Mat Williamson to win the Super DIRTcar Series Mr. DIRT Track U.S.A. at Lebanon Valley Speedway Monday night (May 31) and claim the winner’s check for $13,500. It is Sheppard’s second career Mr. DIRT Track U.S.A. victory (he previously won in 2016).
“The track was just weird enough for us that it suited our style tonight and this car was really good off the trailer,” Sheppard said after the race. “Things just went our way.”
Sheppard set the fast time in time trials (20.260 seconds), but got the worst selection in the redraw, resulting in a 10th-place starting spot. Friesen, who was second fastest in qualifying, drew second for the race alongside Kevin Root. Friesen wasted no time dispatching Root and taking the lead on the first lap. Once in the lead, Friesen ran away from the field. By lap 20, Friesen had a five-second lead over Root.
That lead was erased a few laps later when Max McLaughlin, racing as a teammate to Keith Flach (who failed to qualify) cut his left rear tire. By that point, lapping had already begun.
Lebanon Valley Modified points leader Andy Bachetti had been slowly working his way up from ninth starting spot and took second from Root on the restart. Bachetti raced Friesen as hard as he could for a couple of laps, but Friesen was able to hold him off, then open it up.
In a change from normal, Lebanon Valley regulars, past and present, struggled. In addition to Keith Flach, drivers such as Eddie Marshall and Kyle Sheldon failed to qualify. Demetrios Drellos and Wayne Jelley got caught up in a big crash during their heat race and were done for the night.
Kenny Tremont Jr. and Brett Hearn got in via the Last Chance Showdown. In Hearn's case, his race was over early as he was out on lap 14. L.J. Lombardo and Kyle Armstrong got the last two provisional starting spots. Lombardo’s race ended on lap 32 when he suffered a suspension failure. Tremont got lapped early, but eventually recovered, while Armstrong was done early as well.
Bachetti began to fade shortly before halfway. That allowed Williamson to get past for second on lap 48. Sheppard followed on lap 57. Lapped traffic slowed Friesen, allowing both Williamson and Sheppard to catch up. At two-thirds’ distance, the three leaders were all together. That allowed Sheppard to overtake Williamson, then immediately put the pressure on Friesen.
After making the pass for the lead on lap 68, Sheppard maintained the lead until a caution flew on lap 72 for Jack Lehner slowing on track. That brought everyone back together, fueling the scariest moment of the night.
With 22 laps to go, Peter Britten rode up on the right rear of Larry Wight, flipping in turn 2 to bring out an immediate red flag. Luckily, Britten walked away from the incident. His night was over, but his car was not too heavily damaged. It will likely race again in the near future.
Right after the restart, more contenders had issues. Bachetti's car appeared to suffer a broken driveshaft shortly after the restart. At the same time, Friesen's No. 44 began smoking. Two laps later, the car caught on fire due to a broken oil line. That ended Friesen's night and brought the final caution out.
The final 19 laps saw Sheppard have to deal with two issues. One was Williamson, who would charge in on the Waterloo native, then drop back. The other was the fog settling in over Lebanon Valley, something that is more of a problem in the middle of the summer than in late May.
Ronnie Johnson was running in a strong third, but faded in the final laps when mechanical issues struck. Max McLaughlin slowed from fourth with seven laps to go. Tremont, who had gotten back on the lead lap with the E-Z Pass, cut a tire with seven laps to go while running eighth and pitted. He would finish 16th, four laps down.
In the final few laps, Williamson made one more charge on Sheppard, but he could not prevent the Super DIRTcar Series star from taking the spoils. It was only seven-tenths of a second back to Williamson at the finish.
Marc Johnson was the best Lebanon Valley regular in third, seven seconds back. Chris Hile was fourth, while Brett Haas finished fifth. With all the attrition, only 10 of the 28 starters finished on the lead lap and 16 drivers finished.
With Friesen's failure and 18th-place finish, his points lead is down to 39 over Sheppard. Williamson is third, then Max McLaughlin and Billy Decker.
The Sportsman feature ran after the 100-lap main show and dealt with the same fog issues that the Mr. DIRT Track U.S.A. did. Chris Johnson, Marc Johnson's brother and a regular at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, started from the pole and led early.
Unlike the main show, it was hard to get into a rhythm in this race. The first of what turned out to be seven cautions in the race came out due to a crash in turn 4 involving Matt Burke, Nikki Ouellette, Peter Carlotto and Michael Sabia. Shortly after the restart, Burke spun again exiting turn 4 after contact from Jeff Reis.
Sportsman points leader John Virgilio was not immune to issues. His car slowed on lap 6 with a mechanical issue to draw a yellow. He was able to pit and make repairs, rejoining at the back of the field.
Chris Johnson's primary challenger during the race was Joey Coppola. Coppola got right up to the No. 33J multiple times during the race, but was never able to get past.
Any chance of Coppola snagging the win ended after the final caution flew on lap 15 due to an incident in turn 4 involving Ouellette and John Santolin. Lebanon Valley Speedway rules require that the leader gets to the start-finish line first on all restarts. Coppola substantially jumped the first attempt at the restart, resulting in a wave-off.
Coppola was given a warning at that point. On the second attempt, Coppola did hold back quite a bit, but still managed to beat Chris Johnson to the start-finish line. The restart was waved off again and Coppola sent to the rear of the field for the violation.
The violation put Jeff Watson up to second. Watson had a fast car, but Chris Johnson was able to get the jump on the restart and open a comfortable margin.
Coming to the white flag, Rob Maxon made a banzai move on Watson in turns 3 and 4. Contact was made, resulting in both drivers losing control in front of most of the field. No caution was thrown, but everyone had to scatter to avoid the two stricken cars.
Meanwhile, Chris Johnson was easily able to hold on for his first career victory at Lebanon Valley. New Hampshire native Walter J. Hammond snuck to the inside to avoid the incident on lap 19 to finish a career-best second, followed by Chris Lynch, Cody Ochs and John Virgilio. Maxon ended up ninth after his move, while Watson dragged his damaged car across the line in 20th.
Inspectors did take umbrage with the carburetor on the winning No. 33J after the race. Officials made a call Tuesday morning to DIRTcar in order to inquire about the carburetor and its legality. A few hours later, the carb's legality was confirmed, locking Chris Johnson's victory in.
In Pro Stock, Chad Jeseo snatched the lead away briefly from Jay Casey at the start, but Jason Meltz was able to lead the first lap in his No. 51 Chevrolet. Gary Silkey, making his season debut at Lebanon Valley, spun in turn 2 to bring out a yellow on lap 6.
On the restart, Jeseo spun out of second in turn 2 after contact from Scott Towslee. Towslee was sent to the rear for his role in the incident. Jeseo was able to recover to finish sixth, while Towslee was eighth.
Rob Yetman snatched second on the restart from Jay Casey and put the pressure on Meltz. After a number of laps, Yetman went to the outside in turn 2 and made the pass stick on lap 13. From there, Yetman was able to open up a gap and win his first Pro Stock race at Lebanon Valley since 2019. Meltz was second, then Jay Casey and Jason Casey. Steven LaRochelle was fifth.
Super DIRTcar Series Mr. DIRT Track U.S.A. Results (100 laps): 1) Matt Sheppard, 2) Mat Williamson, 3) Marc Johnson, 4) Chris Hile, 5) Brett Haas, 6) Erick Rudolph, 7) Mike Mahaney, 8) Larry Wight, 9) Ronnie Johnson, 10) Jack Lehner, 11) Jimmy Phelps, 12) Mark Flach Jr., 13) Kevin Root, 14) Jordan McCreadie, 15) Billy Decker, 16) Kenny Tremont Jr., 17) Max McLaughlin, 18) Stewart Friesen, 19) Andy Bachetti, 20) Peter Britten, 21) Tim Sears Jr., 22) Kolby Schroder, 23) J.R. Heffner, 24) L.J. Lombardo, 25) Kyle Armstrong, 26) Brett Hearn, 27) Brandon Walters, 28) Olden Dwyer.
DNQ: Dan Humes, Tyler Dippel, Timothy Davis, Chase Dowling, C.G. Morey, Marcus Dinkins, Rob Pitcher, Chris Curtis, Kyle Sheldon, Keith Flach, Wayne Jelley, Dave Rauscher, Mike King, Ricky Davis, Josh Marcus, Jackie Brown Jr., Bobby Hackel, IV, Eddie Marshall, Demetrios Drellos
Sportsman Feature Results (20 laps): 1) Chris Johnson, 2) Walter J. Hammond, 3) Chris Lynch, 4) Cody Ochs, 5) John Virgilio, 6) Joey Coppola, 7) Walter Hammond Jr., 8) Dylan Gibson, 9) Rob Maxon, 10) Michael Sabia, 11) Jacob Perry, 12) Karl Barnes, 13) Kevin Ward, 14) Jeff Reis, 15) Chris Bisson, 16) John Santolin, 17) Nikki Ouellette, 18) Kevin Ames, 19) Greg DeCamp, 20) Jeff Watson, 21) Matt Burke, 22) Whitey Slavin, 23) John Stowell, 24) Peter Carlotto, 25) Robbie Colburn, 26) Shane Powell, 27) Dick Bisson
Pro Stock Feature Results (20 laps): 1) Rob Yetman, 2) Jason Meltz, 3) Jay Casey, 4) Jason Casey, 5) Steven LaRochelle, 6) Chad Jeseo, 7) Johnny Rivers, 8) Scott Towslee, 9) Nick Hilt, 10) Rich Crane, 11) Zach Seyerlein, 12) Jay Fitzgerald, 13) Tom Dean, 14) Mike Baker, 15) Doug Olds, 16) Shawn Perez, 17) Gary Silkey, 18) Eli Gilbert, 19) Dave Stickles