Hard Clay Open STSS Halmar Elite victory to Sheppard

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By Mark Kane

For Capital Region Independent Media

Matt Sheppard is all smiles as he stands beside STSS Race Director Brett Deyo after his Halmar Elite Hard Clay Open win. Chasin’ Racin’ photo

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” it was said, “Build it and they will come.” If the movie was about the dirt Modified world, the movie would have a different saying: “Pay them and they will come.”

That is exactly what they did for the Short Track Super Series, Halmar Elite, Hard Clay open at the “House of Power” Orange County Fair Speedway.  

From near and far, 71 of the very best Modifieds made their way to the Historic 5/8th-mile clay oval looking to pick up their share of the $80,000 total purse plus contingency, or if things went their way for 50 laps, the $25,000-plus for the win.

On this night it would be 2021 STSS North Series Champion “Super” Matt Sheppard having things go his way.                                                                                                                                               

ORANGE COUNTY FAIR SPEEDWAY

The Middletown NY track has a long and storied history since first turning a wheel in 1919, making it one of the longest-running tracks in the country.

Over the years the track has had three names, starting as the Harry Clay Oval, then renamed to Victory Speedway in 1946, and in 1968 it was renamed once again to what it still is today, Orange County Fair Speedway.

The first year for weekly racing didn’t happen until 1950 and has been going strong ever since.

Over the years, it has been home to some of the top stars of dirt modified racing with early stars Frankie Schneider, Will Cagle,  Buzzie Reutimann (all three racing for many decades), Rags Carter, Bobby Malzahn, Pee Wee Griffen and a host of other drivers that were tough to handle wherever they raced.

As the years passed the names changed, but the competition was just as tough and there was a young man coming on to the scene that hit the Modified world by storm. A storm that would last four decades behind the wheel, Hall of Fame driver Brett “The Jet” Hearn picked up a total of 920 feature wins and countless track and series championships, with his last win coming Nov. 6, 2021.

The fans either loved or hated the true champion of Northeast dirt racing, but Brett took it in stride, those boos just fueling the fire. Now you can find Brett at Orange County each week as Race Director.

With 71 cars in the pits, it would take seven heats, taking four to the feature and three consi’s to set the field. With the talent in the pits each heat and the consolation events were like mini features with many in the field with multiple wins and championships to their credit.

Matt Sheppard dominated the STSS Hard Clay Open, holding off a strong field at the “House of Power,” Orange County Fair Speedway. Chasin’ Racin’ photo

Heat wins went to Danny Creeden, Mike Maresca, 17-year-old Alex Yankowski, ageless Jimmy Horton, Matt Sheppard, Max McLaughlin and Mike Mahaney with David Schilling, Billy Decker and Mike Gular. 

Mike Gular, who had a great battle with Ryan Godown two weeks ago at Port Royal’s STSS event, came up just short, losing the lead on the last lap and had a fine second place finish. This time around he had to make his way into the feature by way of the final consi.

After smoke could be seen coming out of Stewart Friesen’s 44 machine during the second heat after getting the fourth qualifying spot, the car was diagnosed with terminal engine problems. The Ronnie Johnson team offered Friesen a backup ride they had brought to the track. This says a lot about the Johnson team.

At the start of the feature it was Mike Mahaney and Sheppard on the front row, with Mahaney getting the jump to the lead position. The lead was short lived as Mahaney would slow and bring out the caution on lap 2, tightening up the field and handing the lead to Sheppard with Ryan Godown and Danny Creeden quickly on the move, Andy Bachetti and veteran Alan Johnson in the top 5.

With all the racing with the mod qualifying as well as 50 plus Sportsman, sun and wind the track was now very hard, even with the track being worked on throughout the day. Once back to green Creeden continued his march and worked his way to second around Godown as Max McLaughlin was on the move after starting on the fifth row and soon he too worked his way around Godown.

The racing behind the leaders was heating up as the top three started to pull away. Now on the move was Mat Williamson looking for racing room, working in a tight battle just outside the top 5.

With the laps clicking away, Sheppard started to reel in the tail end of the field as the Creeden and McLaughlin battle was heating up. Once in traffic Sheppard continued to pace the field as battle for second and third was now a side-by-side battle with McLaughlin winning the war to be the new second place car.   

It was Williamson still finding the top side to his liking and working his way into the top 5 having his sights on Godown’s back deck, making his move before the halfway point. It was Sheppard, McLaughlin, Creeden, Williamson, and Godown holding down the top 5.

Working their way from deep in the starting order, Mike Gular 23rd and Friesen, who could see the entire starting field, were working their way through the pack on what had become a very dry and hard racing surface. Lap 37 found the caution out for Billy Vaninwegen who slowed in turn 4.  Back to green it was Sheppard out front as Williamson worked his way to third on the restart and one lap later the caution was back out for Bobby Hackle with a flat rear.  

Again the green was out and Sheppard continued as the leader. Gular worked his way into the top 10 and Friesen was now outside the top 15 in an unfamiliar car. The laps continued to click away as Sheppard continued to be the class of the field and picked up the win with McLaughlin, Williamson, Creeden and Godown rounding out the top 5.

‘HARD CLAY OPEN’ RESULTS SUMMARY – ORANGE COUNTY FAIR SPEEDWAY APRIL 2, 2022

Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series Fueled By Sunoco Halmar International ‘Elite’ Series Round No. 2 Feature Finish (50 laps): MATT SHEPPARD, Max McLaughlin, Mat Williamson, Dan Creeden, Ryan Godown, Andy Bachetti, Anthony Perrego, Alan Johnson, Michael Maresca, Mike Gular, Alex Yankowski, Larry Wight, Jack Lehner, Stewart Friesen, David Schilling, Jimmy Horton, Richard Smith, Danny Tyler, Brett Haas, Billy Decker, Rocky Warner, Ronnie Johnson, Billy Pauch Jr., Ryan Watt, Jeff Taylor, J.R. Hurlburt, Brian Calabrese, Billy Van Inwegen, Bobby Hackel, Jerry Higbie, Mike Mahaney.

Did Not Qualify: Craig Mitchell, Neil Stratton, Tanner Van Doren, Darren Smith, Kyle Coffey, Demetrios Drellos, Dillon Steuer, Derek McGrew, Brett Tonkin, Bob Hentschel, Brian Gleason, John Ferrier, Jeremy Pitts, Danny Varin, Ryan Walther, Sammy Martz, Sr., J.R. Heffner, Adam Pierson, Peter Britten, Marc Johnson, Logan Watt, Melvin Schrufer, Bob McGannon, Daniel Morgiewicz, Tyler Boniface, Derek Bornt, Ryan Odasz, Erik Rudolph, Joey Coppola, Corey Lowitt, Geoff Quackenbush, Michael Loney, David Marcuccilli, Roger Henion, Bobby Flood, Jessica Friesen, Allison Ricci, Chris Stevens, Matt Janiak, Mike Trautschold.

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