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Fireworks Fly As Sheppard Savors Stunning Series Victory In Canandaigua

by Tom Skibinski

Colagiovanni leads the distance to dominate LOLR 360 Series showdown at Land of Legends

Fri, Jul 5th 2019 04:30 pm
Photo Courtesy Don Romeo
Photo Courtesy Don Romeo

All the fireworks in the annual Independence Day holiday special at Land Of Legends Raceway were saved for the track as Matt Sheppard scored a shocking victory in the Super DIRTcar Series for Pepsi Big-Block Modifieds with Paulie Colagiovanni scorching the banner 360 Sprint Classic Series field for his second straight Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints triumph.

In truly contrasting fashion for each of the touring point leaders, four-time reigning SDS kingpin Sheppard inherited the lead with one lap to go in the extended 'Liberty 100' while talented teenager Colagiovanni was in cruise control leading all 25 circuits en route to Thursday's 'Super Spectacular' ESS win at the jam-packed Ontario County Fairgrounds oval.

I wasn’t particularly happy with my race car, but man, I'm at a loss for words, don't really know what to say,” remarked a stunned Sheppard, 36, turning disappointment into disbelief after taking advantage of a last-lap crash between race-long leader Max McLaughlin and Erick Rudolph to gain the lead then hold off weekly rival Billy Dunn for the dramatic $7,500 win. “Lost a close one last night and got a gift tonight. We're going to go to work on this car and make it a little better so we don't have to do it this way all the time.”

A stellar assemblage of 38 Big-Block teams packed the pits with defending Super DIRT Week champion Larry Wight earning his 17th career Billy Whittaker Cars Fast Time Award after a one-lap clocking of 19.053sec. (94.473 mph) around the slick half-miler. Sheppard was second quickest in his qualifying group, sandwiched between McLaughlin and Rudolph to determine their respective heat race line-up. The top-12 heat finishers then re-drew for starting positions in the feature with the #1 slot awaiting 'Mad Max' despite finishing third behind heat winner Sheppard and round four runner-up Rudolph.

Pulling out from his pole-position start, second-generation standout McLaughlin easily out-paced the 28-car starting field in the early going of the century grind. When Rob Bellinger's mount came to a halt exiting turn one to incur the first yellow flag on lap 35, McLaughlin remained on the point followed by fellow front row starter Justin Wright and Dunn while Sheppard (started 11th) and Rudolph (8th) ran fifth and sixth behind Australian Peter Britten.

Rudolph nosed under Sheppard on lap 43 while Dunn charged past Wright, and at the midway mark Canandaigua's 2018 SDS winner Danny Johnson, Billy Decker, Mike Mahaney and veteran Pat Ward navigated through traffic in the top-10. 'Erick the Great' continued his sensational surge forward, overtaking Britten on lap 52, passing Wright two laps later before grabbing second in a daring three-wide backstretch maneuver when Dunn was forced high with first-time LOLR entry Ryan Godown from New Jersey left stranded in the middle entering turn three.

The lap counter was frozen when Pennsylvanian Rusty Smith looped his no. R2 machine low in turn four to incur the second caution period on lap 76. After the double-file restart, front-runners McLaughlin and Rudolph left their followers in the dust with Sheppard still mired in the top-five. Yet following a third slowdown for all-time LOLR feature winner Alan Johnson on lap 83, 'Super Matt' made what turned out to be the winning move as the Waterloo wheelman threw his still potent #9s Hurlock Auto & Speed-Dendis Companies/Bicknell car into third after a thrilling three-wide rush on the restart.

Think it was lap 65 or 70 we were riding around seventh, trying to hold on and salvage something at the end,” noted Sheppard, still shaking his head in the winner's circle on the heels of career series win number 73 and adding the fourth SDS trophy and checkered flag at the Land of Legends in 2019. “We had a restart and I got by a couple cars and got up to fifth. Was praying to hold on until the end. We had another restart, looked like Billy and Peter made some contact and that kinda opened the door for me and I got up to third. Max and Erick were gone, I was just riding around.”

Yet within minutes, Sheppard's rather routine ride suddenly morphed into a victory parade for friends and family to the podium as disaster struck the leaders. Ahead for the initial 99 laps, McLaughlin was forced high as contact with Rudolph in turn one traffic brought the capacity crowd to its feet. Rudolph carried the momentum low out of turn two and opened a car-length advantage at the end of the back chute. With the lapped car of Jack Lehner holding steady on the bottom, Rudolph went around entering turn three. Seeking a gap in the middle, McLaughlin made a last-gasp bonzai dive in between yet his full-throttle effort slammed into Rudolph's mount ultimately parking the pair as a caution flag unfurled for the final time.

Saw the white flag and thought if I could hold off Billy and finish third, man I'll take it because this (car) was garbage,” stated Sheppard, after logging his fourth win in the 46th series stop in Canandaigua chronicled since 1976. Including Tim Fuller, Sheppard, Decker and brothers Alan and Danny Johnson, five SDS race winners ---all past series champions--- competed Thursday among 16 of the top-18 current tour point chasers signed in. “Next thing I know I go into turn three and see these guys parked on top of each other. I'm like 'whoa, what just happened,' and I couldn't believe it. Then the green-white-checkered finish, I was just trying to hold off Billy.”

We had a good car at Cornwall (Sunday) and won, a good car at Airborne (Monday) and finished second, and had a terrible car tonight but that's just how racing goes sometimes. Thought we were gonna steal one (win) last night on the last lap (at Fonda Speedway), then didn't think there was any way in hell we were gonna win this race tonight and here we are sitting in victory lane,” added Sheppard, in his quest for an eighth series crown as he remains the Northeast's hottest driver with a region-high 20 feature wins (35 starts) halfway through the season.

Finishing second to Sheppard for the fourth time in eight LOLR events, Dunn secured the runner-up slot three car-lengths back followed by Wright, 20th starter Jimmy Phelps and Britten.

It was a challenging track, after running five or 10 laps there I was going as good as anybody in front of me,” stated Dunn, 35, after another solid run aboard his Finger Lakes engine-powered no. 49 Intergrow Greenhouses-Number One Speed/Bicknell mount. “But I really struggled on restarts to get going. Once we got some heat in the tires I thought we were good.”

Unfortunate what happened to the leaders at the end. Don't know what happened but we'll take a second any way we can. Just had to be smooth tonight, wait for your spots and make the best of the restarts. We'll take it and be back Saturday,” added Dunn, whose lone series win came at the former Moody Mile in Syracuse during Super DIRT Week '13.

Posting his first career series top-5 on home soil, Wright contended among the front-five throughout the feature, charging from fifth to third on the final lap 100 restart to garner a podium finish in his #19W Mercer Milling-Dairyman's Edge-RM Lubricants/Bicknell entry with a Donath Motor Worx engine under the hood.

I am at a loss for words, usually in 100-lappers I don't run very well, get in the way and pull in the pits after awhile,” said Wright, 32, after registering the best finish of the year against the best big-block field of the season at LOLR. Now with six top-10 tallies in eight events, the Piffard NY pilot stands seventh in track points after his first top-5 finish of 2019.

If you would've told me this morning that we'd be third place tonight, maybe the best car with probably the worst driver in the top-10 ... but we're figuring it out. I'm speechless. Just tinkering on some things with the car, dad and I we sweat all afternoon in the shop trying to get stuff right and get (car) where it needs to be and it was worth it. This is like a win and my grandparents and dad were here too see. They put so much into it so I can do this. All our sponsors help us but without these three people I'd be in the stands,” added Wright, also a two-time Sportsman victor at LOLR who captured his first-ever Big-Block win at the fairgrounds last summer.

After a two-week layoff, Super DIRTcar Series '19 heads downstate to Middletown, N.Y. for round seven on Thursday, July 18 when Orange County Fair Speedway hosts the 'Battle of the Midway 100. Through the first six SDS point shows, Sheppard (574) leads Wight (509), Mat Williamson (475), Phelps (466), Decker (444) and Rudolph (401), who returned trackside to finish 18th on Thursday.

The 35th Empire Super Sprint event staged at Land of Legends Raceway boasted a top-flight field of winged warriors for round three of the LOR 360 Sprint Classic Series, including 18 of top-20 current ESS point chasers. Colagiovanni increased his own tour points lead, copping a heat race qualifier then leading the entire way en route to the decisive $3,000 victory.

Doug (Emery) has been a wicked help to us on these slick tracks,” said Colagiovanni, 18, who kicked off the 5-race Donath Motor Worx CNY Speedweek at Can-Am Speedway the night prior with another flag-to-flag win. Thursday's sprint show was the second event scheduled while Brewerton Speedway(Fri), Fulton Speedway(Sat) and Utica-Rome Speedway(Sun) were slated to close out the 7th Annual speedfest. “Been struggling a little bit lately but he put the right set-up in and I felt like the car was on a rail all night.”

Colagiovanni started third to launch the 26-car A-Main yet wasted little time bolting past front row partners Josh Pieniazek and Scott Holcomb on the opening circuit. From there the Cicero NY chauffeur set a torrid pace around the smooth speedway steering his no. 10 Ground Control Landscaping-All Star Performance-Donath Motor Worx/Eagle.

I knew I could get a run on them on the outside because I knew they would go to the bottom and lose their momentum,” described Colagiovanni of his early race strategy. “After that just kept keeping my car as straight as I could and it worked out. Was getting a little nervous (in traffic at end), didn't know who was behind me or how far they were. Just tried to slice my way through traffic as safely and as fast as possible.”

The checkered flag flew with Colagiovanni enjoying a half straightaway margin over sixth starting Shawn Donath, who matched his second-place best at Canandaigua in 2013. Donath moved into second on lap five yet that was the highest the South Onondaga pilot's #53 Panther ride could carry him in the non-stop affair that was completed in just 8-1/2 minutes.

The car has been really good,” Donath said. “I have no complaints at all, just have to figure out how to flip-flop this. They've been working really hard on their package and got a good crew over there.”

Two-time ESS points champion Chuck Hebing began 10th on the grid and grabbed third near the stripe with Jonathan Preston and Canandaigua's June 22 Patriot Sprint Tour winner Davie Franek, who re-drew 12th starting position, rounding out the top-five. Canandaigua 305 Sprint stalwart Darryl Ruggles from Hopewell placed 21st on the final scoresheet.

Jonathan was working the top like normal and Danny (Varin) tried the bottom to make it work,” recounted Hebing, who opened the LOLR season on May 4 with a Patriot Sprint Tour win aboard his familiar no. 45 Wilkins RV-Cobra Motorcoaches & Homes/X-1 sprinter. Through three events the Ontario ace tops the LOLR 360 Sprint Classic Series standings with 175 points followed by Franek (157), Preston (141), Jeff Trombley (140), Joe Trenca (132) and Colagiovanni (126).

Round #4 of the 360 Sprint Classic Series features ESS on Aug. 3, while the promoter Paul Cole's second annual mini-series wraps up Sept. 6-7 during the inaugural New York Nationals.

I was working the middle and that was good for awhile. I didn't realize we were all the way up to third when we got by Danny. We had a good car but Paulie's got it working right now,” added Hebing, who owns nine sprint car victories at LOLR along five Big-Block Mod wins.

Action continues this weekend at Land of Legends Raceway with Sherwin-Williams Paint presenting the 'Saturday Spectacular' on July 6. The first full racing program of the month is $25 Carload Night, headlined by the Pepsi Big-Block Modifieds and twin 15-lap features for the Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint Cars. Canandaigua Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram Sportsman Modified and Smith Bros. Drywall Street Stock competition fills the card along with Power Wheel Races for the kids while a special Colony Caregivers Benefit will be held during the show.

Race time is set for 7 p.m. with pit gates unlocking at 4:00, grandstand seating opening at 5 p.m. and hot laps getting underway at 6 o'clock.

Be sure to follow the point standings and breaking news online by visiting www.LandOfLegendsRaceway.com. Advance sale tickets are also available for purchase online throughout the final two months. Log into the website (LandOfLegendsRaceway.com), hit the red “Buy Tickets” button on the homepage, then make a selection from the list of dates & events highlighted.

Land of Legends Raceway is located at the Ontario County Fairgrounds, east of the city on Town Line Road (County Road 10), with easy access off either Exit 43 (Manchester, Route 21 South) or Exit 44 (Farmington, Route 332 South) of the New York State Thruway, just ½-hour southeast of Rochester.

Land of Legends Raceway Event Summary – July 4, 2019

Super Spectacular

Super DIRTcar Series Race #6

Pepsi Big-Block Modified “Liberty 100”

*Feature (100 laps): 1. 9s-Matt Sheppard ($7,500), 2. 49-Billy Dunn, 3. 19w-Justin Wright, 4. 98h-Jimmy Phelps, 5. 21a-Peter Britten, 6. 99L-Larry Wight, 7. 27j-Danny Johnson, 8. 19-Tim Fuller, 9. 91-Billy Decker, 10. 42p-Pat Ward, 11. 88-Mat Williamson, 12. 5h-Chris Hile, 13. 35-Mike Mahaney, 14. 3-Justin Haers, 15. 7f-Matt Farnham, 16. 111-Demetrios Drellos, 17. 23-Kyle Coffey, 18. 25-Erick Rudolph, 19. 26-Ryan Godown, 20. 12x-Dillon Groover, 21. 6h-Max McLaughlin, 22. 2L-Jack Lehner, 23. 18-Anthony Perrego, 24. r2-Rusty Smith, 25. 17-Marcus Dinkins, 26. 14j-Alan Johnson, 27. m1-Dave Marcuccilli, 28. 11r-Rob Bellinger.

Heats (8 laps / 5 qualify / top-3 redraw)

#1: Decker, Dunn, Britten, D.Johnson, Hile, Drellos, Perrego, VanPelt, Daugherty, Pauch.

#2: Wight, Williamson, Mahaney, Groover, A.Johnson, Farnham, Lindberg, Allen, Smith, Williams.

#3: Ward, Fuller, Wright, Haers, Bellinger, Coffey, Lehner, St.Sauveur, D.Johnson Jr.

#4: Sheppard, Rudolph, McLaughlin, Godown, Phelps, Marcuccilli Sweeting, Lombardo, Dinkins.

Last Chance Showdowns (10 laps/ 2 qualify)

#1: Farnham, Drellos, Perrego, Lindberg, Pauch, Allen, VanPelt, Daugherty, Smith, Williams(DNS).

#2: Marcuccilli, Coffey, Lehner, Sweeting, Lombardo, St.Sauveur, D.Johnson Jr., Dinkins.

Provisionals: Lehner, Smith, Dinkins, Perrego.

Group Time Trials (38 cars)

#1: Billy Decker 19.225sec. (93.628 mph), Billy Dunn 19.275, Peter Britten 19.318, Danny Johnson 19.408, Chris Hile 19.411, Anthony Perrego 19.832, Demetrios Drellos 19.939, Billy VanPelt20.035, Billy Pauch 20.149, Jeff Daugherty 20.335.

#2: Larry Wight 19.053sec. (94.473 mph), Mike Mahaney 19.320, Mat Williamson 19.375, Eric Williams 19.774, Dillon Groover 19.863, Gary Lindberg 19.864, Alan Johnson 19.883, Matt Farnham 19.885, Rusty Smith 20.266, Dave Allen 20.277.

#3: Pat Ward 19.162sec. (93.936 mph), Tim Fuller 19.253, Justin Haers 19.334, Justin Wright 19.557, Kyle Coffey 19.826, Rob Bellinger 19.833, Paul St.Sauveur 20.039, Daniel Johnson Jr. 20.275, Jack Lehner 20.364.

#4: Max McLaughlin 19.204sec. (93.730 mph), Matt Sheppard 19.228, Erick Rudolph 19.458, Ryan Godown 19.533, Dave Marcuccilli 19.555, L.J. Lombardo 19.984, Jimmy Phelps 20.082, James Sweeting, 20.368, Marcus Dinkins 21.211.

DNQ: 1-Billy Pauch, 11j-James Sweeting, 14ny-Daniel Johnson Jr., 21x-Eric Williams, 22-Jeff Daugherty, 35L-J.L. Lombardo, 37-Paul St.Sauveur, 48too-Gary Lindberg, 82-Billy VanPelt, 88a-Dave Allen.

360 Sprint Classic Series Race #3

Donath Motor Worx CNY Speedweek

Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints

*A-Main (25 laps): 1. 10c-Paulie Colagiovanni ($3,000), 2. 53-Shawn Donath, 3. 45-Chuck Hebing, 4. 22-Jonathan Preston, 5. 28f-Davie Franek, 6. 9-Josh Pieniazek, 7. 00-Danny Varin , 8. 91-Scott Holcomb, 9. 61-Parker Evans, 10. 90-Matt Tanner, 11. 99L-Larry Wight, 12. 98-Joe Trenca, 13. 5-Justin Barger, 14. 3a-Jeff Trombley, 15. 2-Dave Axton, 16. 87-Jason Barney, 17. 56-Billy VanInwegen, 18. 35-Jared Zimbardi, 19. 36d-Steve Doell Jr., 20. 121-Steve Glover, 21. 48jr.-Darryl Ruggles, 22. 197-Ryan Harrison, 23. 36-Kyle Moffitt, 24. 41j-Josh Flint, 25. 14b-Brett Wright, 26.67-Pete Richardson.

Heats (10 laps / 5 qualify)

#1: Colagiovanni, Tanner, Preston, Axton, Richardson, Flint, Doell, K.Hebing, Azzi, E.VanInwegen.

#2: Wight, Donath, Franek, Barger, Trombley, Zimbardi, Wright, Carlson, Kuhn.

#3: C.Hebing, Varin, Pieniazek, Trenca, Glover, Moffitt, Karklin, Harrison, Peebles(DNS).

#4: Barney, Evans, Holcomb, B.VanInwegen, Ruggles, Vigneault, Coniam, Cook, Miller.

B-Main (10 laps / 4 qualify)

#1: Zimbardi, Doell, Harrison, Flint, K.Hebing, Cook, Moffitt, Vigneault, Karklin, Wright, Azzi, E.VanInwegen, Carlson, Coniam, Kuhn(DNS), Miller(DNS), Peebles(DNS).

Provisionals: Moffitt, Wright.

Robert Finley Memorial Dash (4 laps): Axton, Trenca, Barger, B.VanInwegen.

DNQ: 3-Denny Peebles, 5k-Jake Karklin, 9c-Kevin Carlson, 10-Jeff Cook, 10h-Kelly Hebing, 17z-Josh Azzi, 19em-Emily VanInwegen, 46-Ryan Coniam, 55-Alex Vigneault, 88c-Chad Miller, 99k-Dan Kuhn.

NEXT EVENTSaturday Spectacular, July 6 @ 7pm; Sherwin-Williams Paint presents $25 Carload Night: Big-Block Modified/Sportsman/305 Sprint(double features)/Street Stock plus Power Wheel Races with Colony Caregivers Benefit.

Track Instant Info

Website: www.LandOfLegendsRaceway.com

E-Mail: info@LandOfLegendsRaceway.com

Twitter: @LandofLegendsNY

Facebook: @LandofLegendsNY

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Along with recognizing its weekly 50/50 raffle fund beneficiaries, Land of Legends Raceway is proud to salute several sponsors and corporate partners that continue to help bring its fans the best Saturday night racing show in the Northeast. Listed alphabetically are current division sponsors Canandaigua Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram, Mike Emhof Motorsports, Pepsi Geneva Club Beverage, Smith Bros. Drywall; event sponsors Admar Construction Equipment & Supply Company, American Equipment, A-Verdi Storage Containers, Geneva Club Beverage, Honeoye Auto Parts/Auto Value, Pepsi/Mountain Dew/Lipton Lake Beverage, L&L Transmission & Towing, Main Energy, Red Osier Restaurant, Sherwin-Williams Paint, Tradition Automotive Group; promotional partners Champion Power Equipment, Dig Safely New York 811, Dobbers Sports Bar, Elab Smokers Boutique, Hoosier Racing Tire, Hoselton Chevrolet, Ontario County Fairboard, Radio 95.1 Rochester, Star Headlight & Lantern Co., VP Racing Fuels, Weedsport Hall of Fame, Wright Beverage, Young Real Estate Agency.