PORT ROYAL, Pa. – After a rocky summer stretch, dirt modified kingpin Matt Sheppard appears to have finally thrown the proverbial monkey off his back.
Sheppard followed up a recent win at Land Of Legends Raceway last weekend with a big victory Thursday night at Port Royal Speedway during the Short Track Super Series Speed Showcase 40.
It’s the first of three nights of big-block modified racing at the Pennsylvania dirt track, culminating Saturday night with a 200-lap, $53,000-to-win finale.
Sheppard started on the outside pole of the 40-lap main event, as Delaware driver JoJo Watson led the field to green and paced the early stages of the race.
The first part of the main was plagued by yellow flags, but Sheppard got the lead by lap four and never looked back en route to a $5,000 payday.
Asked if he felt like Thursday night’s win gave him some momentum, Sheppard offered a quiet affirmative.
“I hope so,” he said. “Hopefully we can just keep it rolling here. We have some big races coming up and it’s nice to get rolling again. I just wanted to get some green flag laps in and get the race over with. I don’t know how many cautions we had there, but man … it seemed like a million.”
The race ended on a long green-flag run, which put Sheppard into slower traffic late in the race. Traffic cost him the win last Sunday in the DIRTcar OktoberFAST finale, but it didn’t hamper him this time.
“I felt pretty darn good,” Sheppard noted. “If you don’t feel like you’re dying, then you’re not too worried. I didn’t feel like I was dying and was just hoping for the best. We got racing there for a long time, and I glanced over at the lap counter and saw there was four to go. I just told myself at that point, don’t make any mistakes.”
Winning at one of the premier tracks in the country was not lost on Sheppard, who has amassed more than 400 feature wins in a northeast dirt modified through his career.
“It feels good.” Sheppard said of winning at Port Royal. “I’ve been here twice and lead a ton of laps. To not win last year was pretty sour, but to get a ‘W’ now is pretty cool. I’ve won at Eldora, Williams Grove, and here (Port Royal Speedway) now.
“I’ve won at some pretty historic sprint car tracks that we don’t get to race at a whole hell of a lot and I appreciate that.”
Billy Pauch got to second at the halfway point of Thursday night’s feature and chased Sheppard all the way to the finish, taking the checkered flag a distant 5.041 seconds back.
Mike Mahaney crossed third, continuing a strong run of recent success that included four-straight podium finishes during DIRTcar’s week-long OktoberFAST series, with reigning Super DIRTcar Series champion Mat Williamson and Peter Britten filling out the top five.
Pre-race favorite Stewart Friesen was seventh Thursday night, with second-generation star Max McLaughlin coming in 17th and former NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver Tyler Dippel finishing 20th.
1. 9s-Matt Sheppard, 2. 96-Billy Pauch Jr., 3. 35-Mike Mahaney, 4. 3-Mat Williamson, 5. 21a-Peter Britten, 6. 98-Rocky Warner, 7. 44-Stewart Friesen, 8. 51-Richie Pratt Jr., 9. 6-Danny Bouc, 10. 26-Ryan Godown, 11. 7mm-Michael Maresca, 12. 2a-Mike Gular, 13. 84y-Alex Yankowski, 14. 44p-Anthony Perrego, 15. 126-Jeff Strunk, 16. 99L-Larry Wight, 17. 32c-Max McLaughlin, 18. 14j-Alan Johnson, 19. 91-Billy Decker, 20. 1d-Tyler Dippel, 21. 1k-Rick Laubach, 22. 1j-Jordan Watson, 23. 43-Jimmy Horton, 24. 111-Demetrios Drellos, 25. 3d-Matt Delorenzo, 26. 323-David VanHorn, 27. 32-Brandon Grosso, 28. 2rj-Ronnie Johnson, 29. 4-Andy Bachetti, 30. 30-JoJo Watson, 31. 6h-Josh Hohenforst.