Sheppard Wins The Battle & The War In Big-Block Mod Season Showdownby Tom Skibinski
Guererri, Griffin, Bennett, DePuy victorious as Spaids find their place on LOLR Wall of Fame
This time around nothing could upset Matt Sheppard's bid to reclaim the coveted Canandaigua crown as the Waterloo warrior scorched the field to score his eighth Pepsi Big-Block Modified feature win of the season and sew up a ninth points championship at Land Of Legends Raceway.
“This is the way you want to cap off a season, high money earned, start behind everybody and get to the front, this is really special,” beamed Sheppard, 37, who captured his first track title in 2009 and racked up seven straight from 2011-17.
Nick Guererri held off his uncle Paul Guererri to return to victory lane in the Canandaigua Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram Sportsman main while Adam DePuy took a track-high ninth checkered flag in the Smith Bros. Drywall Street Stock finale. Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprinters Brandyn Griffin and Dan Bennett triumphed for the first time this year to close out another 'Saturday Spectacular' on Hoselton Auto Mall Night at the Ontario County Fairgrounds.
Kicking off the Big-Block Championship card, long-time track officials Gary & Donna Spaid joined 2019 fellow inductees Milt Johnson, Gary Montgomery and Steve Pesarek in a special Land of Legends Wall of Fame tribute recognizing their five decades of contributions in Canandaigua and around the entire Northeastern DIRTcar circuit.
Growing up in Seneca Falls and attending weekly stock car shows at Waterloo Speedway, after Gary finished college at Niagara University the pair relocated to the Rochester suburb of Henrietta, taking in their first race at Canandaigua in 1972 with the family spending most summer weekends at tracks in CNY throughout the decade.
In 1979 Gary made his first venture into writing for the weekly program, DIRT Trackin' Magazine, and within a month was approached to pen a column for Gater Racing News. Everything snowballed after that as program editor Larry Costa asked him to keep both track and series points for founder Glenn Donnelly's fledgling motorsports organization. Gary quickly learned the handicapping and point systems and also picked up on scoring the races, officially being named DIRT’s chief handicapper and points keeper in 1980.
Donna took over selling the programs at Canandaigua's souvenir table when Gary gained control of the program in 1985 and over time moved up into the scoring tower, also joining her husband on raceday at Weedsport on Sundays and Rolling Wheels Raceway for specials in between.
A long-time race historian, in 1988 Gary teamed with Hank Schramm to write “Car Coming,” a book on New York State auto racing history and later published "Syracuse Scrapbook" chronicling the annual Labor Day race at the NYS Fairgrounds. When Donnelly created the Hall of Fame in Weedsport, Gary was a founding member on the selection committee and the first class was enshrined in 1992. In the early 1990s local auto racing took the leap into electronic scoring under Gary’s tenure and by the turn of the century came to fruition around Donnelly's DIRT circuit, where it is a necessity for every track today.
Last summer on the brink of concluding his 40st season working at short tracks throughout the region, with Donna not far behind, Gary received the Leonard J. Sammons Jr. Award for Outstanding Contributions to Auto Racing at the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. In 2009 he was also the recipient of the 4th Glenn Donnelly Award of Excellence, handed out during the season-ending DIRTcar Northeast Banquet in November.
A year ago 'Super Matt' entered the regular-season Big-Block finale holding a 22-point advantage over Erick Rudolph, yet a disappointing 7th-place finish in the double-points feature put him a single marker under race runner-up Rudolph in the final standings. Not this time, as a more comfortable 50-point margin separated the second-generation standouts going in and Sheppard punctuated his season-long prowess with career win #78 at the Ontario County Fairgrounds, finishing ahead 816-760 on the final points chart.
“This is the Land of Legends here so to win the championship nine times, its definitely a big deal for us,” stated Sheppard, following his ninth season registering at least five wins. “I think even more of a big deal is the season we had. Last year stat-wise was probably one of my worst here and to turn around this year ... 8 wins and a worst finish of 3rd ... arguably our best season ever here. Talking about a 180 (degree turnaround), that's big for our team.”
“A little discouraged after last season but we never give up. We kinda got kicked down a little bit but came back even stronger. Can't remember a season like this with no bad finishes, no bad nights. It says a lot about the cars and all the maintenance that goes on that these guys do, just a total team effort,” Sheppard said.
Talented teenager Jeff Daugherty out-dragged front row partner Eric Williams to set an early pace in the 35-lap Modified main. Sheppard filed into 14th on the 19-car starting grid and had his number 9s Hurlock Auto & Speed-Dendis Companies/Bicknell mount dialed in from the drop of ringmaster Scott Hixson's opening green flag, disposing of his closest competitors as the laps clicked off.
Sheppard found himself in seventh with six laps complete on the Elab Boutique scoreboard and needed just one more time around the fast half-miler to crack the top-5. First-year LOLR regular Dillon Groover was the next to fall on lap 12 while Sheppard's former mentor Steve Paine gave up third the following circuit. It took three laps to track down Eldon Payne Jr. but only four more turns to forge the lone lead change with still half the race remaining.
Starting 12th in the field, Rudolph appeared just as quick as the new leader, advancing to fourth at the halfway mark before grabbing second from Daugherty on lap 22. Lap after lap Rudolph cut into the deficit, getting the break he needed when Lance Dusett suffered a flat left-rear tire to incur the first caution with just three laps to go.
Sheppard was up to the challenge yet a sudden second yellow flag flew when Payne spun at the end of the back straightaway to summon a green-white-checkered finish. 'Super Matt' slammed the door shut on the ensuing restart, and with Rudolph's runner-up tally enough to upset Sheppard's stronghold last summer,
another second-place finish five car-lengths behind forced the ridge runner from Ransomville to settle for second in the season-long points chase. Alan Johnson, Justin Haers and Groover completed the top-five.
“You don't like to see a caution with 2 to go or even 1 to go, but at the same time I was getting a little tight on the long run,” noted Sheppard, who finished second to Rudolph three times in Erick's four wins. Saturday's showdown marked the first race that Rudolph followed winner Sheppard across the line this season. “Note sure if that let my tires cool down as I fired off pretty good there, but I had a really, really good car tonight.”
“For whatever reason my car just didn't fire off at the beginning of the last race (Aug. 10), it was quite the opposite tonight. When the green dropped I felt pretty good and was kind of able to find the top (groove) before anybody else then march our way to the front,” added Sheppard, after logging his 32nd win of the season overall. Rudolph, currently positioned second behind Sheppard in the 2019 Super DIRTcar Series point standings, ranks second in the region with 21 victories, making LOLR the only track where fans can witness the best in the entire Northeast every week!
Also boasting one of the most competitive Sportsman fields throughout the season, Canandaigua brings families together together on both sides of the fence. The latest 'Saturday Spectacular' was no exception as just a single car-length separated a pair of perennial Guererri favorites at the line with Nick taking top honors on this occasion.
“I kept looking at the (score) board, first I saw my brother (Matt) step beside me, he was roughing me up under yellow, then I looked again and Paul's behind me, just had to keep my head,” remarked Nick, 34, who reached double digits (10 career) after his second win of the '19 campaign in Canandaigua. “Was nervous with (Paul) running the bottom, he's so good down there, but I stuck to the top. That's what got me the lead so I just stayed there.
North Rose invader Wesley Hayes led his first laps of the year before Mike Stanton Jr. slid to the infield and came to a stop low in turn one to bring out a yellow flag with two scored in the headline 25-lap feature go. Sixth starting Nick Guererri moved his #25G Pampered Parents-Phelps Cement-Champion Power Equip.-Young Agency/Bicknell entry into third on the lap three restart, took over second the next half-mile then went around Hayes for the lead exiting turn three to complete lap seven.
A turn four tangle on lap 12 resulted in Sportsman Legends graduates Tyler Vinson and Sam Hoxie facing the wrong way to force another caution period. On the restart 15th starting Paul Guererri ran third behind nephews Nick and Matt while division point leaders Kevin Root and Kane Bristol closed in on the front-five. Another restart on lap 16 proved pivotal for Matt Guererri as the rear-end let loose in his own Bicknell ride, ending any chance for his first win of the season.
The final nine laps ran caution-free with Nick running high and Paul, the winningest (45) Sportsman driver in track history, hugging the low side. While the leaders hit traffic with a handful to go, Root and Bristol were able to tighten the gap but in the end it turned into a Guererri gala as Nick hung on for the $750 payday. Kevin Ridley finished fifth at the stripe.
“I remembered Paul passing both of us (Matt included) during the summer so I stuck to the bottom for one lap (restart) then went right back up top,” said the winning Guererri from Seneca Falls. “I felt pretty good, could go into the turns as hard as I wanted at the end. Had to tip-toe a little bit out of turn four which got slick out there after the sprints, but the track was in really good shape. Best (conditions) we've had in a while, tip of the hat to those guys that do the track prep.”
“This is a huge win for us, especially after the way we started the season. Just have to thank everybody that stuck behind me and kept giving their support,” added Guererri, fresh off another big win at Weedsport Speedway on Aug. 11.
While Sheppard and Guererri have become familiar names in victory lane at the fairgrounds, MEM 305 Sprint winners Griffin and Bennett both needed four months to triumph for the first time this season. Each made their career debut in Canandaigua's winners circle last summer.
“It's definitely been way too long,” said Griffin, 21, who led his first laps of the season, the final 17, to out-distance Darryl Ruggles in round one of the sprint car twin-bill. “After winning the second time out last season we've been right there ever since. Finally got something figured out tonight.”
Erik Karlsen led off the first 20-lap A-Main before Andy Jacobus' winged machine came to a smoking stop in turn two to require a yellow flag with three laps scored. Griffin threw his no. 75 Tri-County Excavating-Ruggles World of Auto Body-SVRA Mach1 mount high into the lead on the restart with low running Jesse Pruchnik sandwiching Karlsen in between as the trio throttled down the back straightaway.
With a brand new engine under the hood, 10th-starting Ruggles pulled into third by lap six and needed just two more circuits to wrestle away second from Connecticut traveler Pruchnik. Points leader Johnny Kolosek suddenly slowed to the infield and Karlsen followed suit as both teams ended the race with 13 laps complete.
Clifton Springs' Griffin held on for a four car-length victory over Ruggles, who emerged the new points leader by two over Kolosek, 598-596, while the race winner made it a three-way battle totaling 594 markers through 11 events. Pruchnik, Alysha Bay and Bennett rounded out the front-five.
“We work on the car constantly in the garage hoping to figure things out, trying to find more speed,” Griffin relayed. “We made some adjustments on the car today, changed around the set-up a little bit and it seems a lot better than it has been. Can't thank my parents enough, they do more than anyone could imagine to help me with my racing career.”
The top-eight cars left running in the first segment were inverted to begin the 20-lap nightcap, yet in an opening turn one skirmish the starting order was quickly reconfigured. The field regrouped before a yellow could be thrown and across the line came pole-sitter Tom Fletcher, fourth starting Bennett and Griffin, who stormed from eighth to third in the lap one free-for-all.
Bennett took his first lead on lap two, only able to hold it for three more as the high-flying Griffin moved to the point six laps in. Halfway through Jason Whipple chased the leaders in third followed by Ruggles and Pruchnik, who were both rallying after the first lap shake-up.
Making contact with the turn four outside concrete retaining wall on lap 13 after charging from 10th to fifth, Karlsen soonafter slowed down the back chute before coming to a complete stop just shy of the turn three pit entrance. Bennett took advantage on the lap 15 restart, ducking his Bennett Heating & Cooling-Goodman AC & Heating/Maxim 'X' car underneath Griffin exiting turn four to forge the final change with five to go.
The battle for runner-up laurels remained intense as Ruggles grabbed second from Griffin on lap 16 but in a last-lap flurry Bay stole the same spot from her father coming out of the final turn on the last circuit. Bennett cruised home for a decisive 2/3-straightaway victory followed by Bay, Ruggles, Whipple and Griffin.
“The car was getting quite a bit hot, holy cow, I said I gotta go, had to cool it down, gotta go faster,” spewed Bennett, 49, as the Gasport wheelman rattled off his late-race mindset after the lone caution period helped determine the final outcome. “I did that (move) once before for that last win (June '18) here, it was on a restart and I did a nice slide job, just broke their momentum and took off. I don't know where Brandyn was, he made a great pass early on, it was a good race with him tonight.”
“Running in the dirty air, you can definitely feel it. Almost like an air brake, once you get out of that dirty air you can really take off. I don't know what happened to Brandyn but I felt real strong at the end.”
“I got a lot of laps here now, I've learned how to manipulate the wheel a bit. This win feels really good. I struggled all year on a new project car, knew I had to make a change so I brought out this Maxim and wow! I've never driven one before and its something else,” exclaimed Bennett, who thanked Ransomville Speedway open-wheel racer Steve Lewis for supplying significant help throughout the day.
With Sheppard clinching the Pepsi Big-Block Modified Championship and Root (Sportsman) and Ruggles (305 Sprint) teetering atop their respective point charts, DePuy romped home for another convincing win to all but clinch his third straight Smith Bros. Drywall Street Stock title in wine country.
“Anybody can win these races, we're just getting very fortunate to be up front and stay out of the melees and keep it going every week,” downplayed DePuy, 45, on the heels of his 46th career full-fender victory at LOLR which ranks him fourth all-time. “Its been a great season, did pretty good last year but this has been a really good one.”
The handicapped start lined up DePuy's black no. 99 Ifreeze Storage & Dist. Center-A.E.Y. Enterprises-Fox's Auto-Quigley Flooring Chevrolet Camaro 10th on the scoresheet. After watching early leader Parker Smith and veteran Mike Welch duel for the top spot, DePuy dove under Welch for second on lap five then mirrored his inside move under Smith as the dirt duo diced down the back chute two turns later.
Welch slowed on lap seven to require a yellow flag and even before the green lights reappeared for the restart new third-place runner Marc Minutolo parked his own #25B Chevy Camaro pitside with a hole in the radiator. In search of a second career win at the fairgrounds, hard-charging Rick Crego controlled second-place at the halfway point, ultimately settling for the runner-up position just two car-lengths behind when the final checkered flag waved. Jimmy Grant, Quinn Sutherland and Bob Buono followed across the line.
“(Crego) is getting better and better every week, I think we gotta step it up or he's going to be going around us pretty quick,” figured DePuy, whose nine wins have come in 12 starts to open up nearly a 90-point lead over Grant heading into the finale next weekend. “The bottom was the place to be. There was a little (grip) on top but I was good on the bottom and was going to stay right there. If Rick was going to go around me he was going to have to go around me on top.”
Three more division point kings are crowned next week when Smith Bros. Drywall and Sherwin-Williams Paint Store in Canandaigua present Season Championship Night for the Canandaigua Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram Sportsman Modified, Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint Car and Smith Bros. Drywall Street Stock racers. Double points will be awarded to drivers in all three of the those classes in the 'Saturday Spectacular' regular season-finale on Aug. 31 with Root (Sportsman), Ruggles (305) and DePuy (Street Stock) currently leading their respective point standings.
A $2,000-to-win non-point “open motor” Modified Challenge (must run on Hoosier tires, no sail panels) completes the four-star program with qualifying action getting underway at 7 p.m. Pit gates swing open at 4 o'clock and grandstand entry is at 5.
After that, three big shows remain to close out the 56th season of oval track activity at the fairgrounds. The first-ever $35,000 New York Nationals for 360 Sprints highlights the return to the Land of Legends on Sept. 6&7, with the first full weekend of the month including DIRTcar Sportsman, Street Stock and CRSA 305 Sprint Car action.
Bringing down the curtain in 2019, the Phelps Cement Products-backed Gerald Haers Memorial $45,000 DIRTcar 'Build Your Bank' Challenge for both DIRTcar Big Block Modifieds and DIRTcar 358 Modifieds is set for Sat., Sept. 28. A DIRTcar Sportsman Series fall event adds another $10,000-plus to the record single-day payout in Canandaigua, with $2,000 collected by the winner of the 40-lap feature that guarantees $125 to start.
As the 56th season nears completion, check out the current point standings and follow any breaking news online by visiting www.LandOfLegendsRaceway.com. Advance sale tickets for the remaining shows are also available for purchase online throughout the final weeks. 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 – August 24, 2019
Hoselton Auto Mall presents Big-Block Modified Season Championship Night
Pepsi Big-Block Modified(DOUBLE POINTS)
*Feature (35 laps): 1. 9s-Matt Sheppard ($2,000), 2. 25-Erick Rudolph, 3. 14j-Alan Johnson, 4. 1h-Justin Haers, 5. 12x-Dillon Groover, 6. 82-Gary Tomkins, 7. 22-Jeff Daugherty, 8. 22g-Gil Tegg Jr., 9. 11j-James Sweeting, 10. 1-Steve Paine, 11. 19w-Justin Wright, 12. 7f-Matt Farnham, 13. 63-Adam Roberts, 14. 21x-Eric Williams, 15. 31m-Jimmy Maier, 16. 28p-Eldon Payne,Jr., 17. 77-Lance Dusett, 18. 98h-Jimmy Phelps, 19. 14ny-Daniel Johnson Jr.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: A.Johnson, Williams, Farnham, Daugherty, Sweeting, Dusett, Wright, Roberts, Haers, Phelps.
#2: Rudolph, Payne, Sheppard, Paine, Groover, Tomkins, Tegg, D.Johnson, Maier.
2019 Track Champion: Matt Sheppard.
Canandaigua Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram Sportsman Modified
*Feature (25 laps): 1. 25g-Nick Guererri ($750), 2. 7-Paul Guererri, 3. 34-Kevin Root, 4. 31-Kane Bristol, 5. 20x-Kevin Ridley, 6. 1-Billy Paine, 7. 56-Garrison Krentz, 8. 1x-Andrew Smith, 9. 2-Loren Lincoln, 10. 1f-A.J. Lloyd, 11. 7z-Zach Payne, 12. 9-Tim Baker, 13. 117jr.-C.J. Castelletti, 14. 11n-Ricky Newton, 15. 132-Dalton Martin, 16. 92-Wesley Hayes, 17. 7h-Alex Hoag, 18. 3m-Mike Stanton Jr., 19. 21v-Tony Velez, 20. 113jr.-Frank Guererri Jr., 21. 00-Sam Hoxie, 22. 77-Benny Karlsen, 23. 70-Alex Payne, 24. 01-Doug Smith, 25. 93-Tyler Vinson, 26. 23b-Timmy Borden Jr., 27. 327-Brett Baldwin, 28. 04-Eric Years, 29. 12g-Matt Guererri.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Krentz, Z.Payne, Paine, P.Guererri, Ridley, Borden, D.Smith, Stewart Baldwin.
#2: Castelletti, Lincoln, Baker, Root, Velez, Hoxie, Karlsen.
#3: Bristol, Hayes, Lloyd, Martin, F.Guererri, A.Payne, Years.
#4: N.Guererri, Stanton, Vinson, M.Guererri, Hoag, A.Smith, Newton.
Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint
*Feature #1 (20 laps): 1. 75-Brandyn Griffin, 2. 48jr.-Darryl Ruggles, 3. 42-Jesse Pruchnik, 4. 48a-Alysha Bay, 5. X-Dan Bennett, 6. 38-Jason Whipple, 7. 18c-Dan Craun, 8. 53-Tom Fletcher, 9. 66-Erik Karlsen, 10. 26j-Johnny Kolosek, 11. j27-John Cunningham, 12. 99-Andy Jacobus.
*Feature #2 (20 laps): 1. X-Dan Bennett, 2. 48a-Alysha Bay, 3. 48jr.-Darryl Ruggles, 4. 38-Jason Whipple, 5. 75-Brandyn Griffin, 6. 26j-Johnny Kolosek, 7. 42-Jesse Pruchnik, 8. 18c-Dan Craun, 9. 99-Andy Jacobus, 10. 53-Tom Fletcher, 11. 66-Erik Karlsen, j27-John Cunningham(DNS).
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Karlsen, Ruggles, Bay, Bennett, Pruchnik, Fletcher.
#2: Griffin, Kolosek, Whipple, Jacobus, Craun, Cunningham.
Smith Bros. Drywall Street Stock
*Feature (15 laps): 1. 99-Adam DePuy, 2. 5c-Rick Crego, 3. 36-Jimmy Grant, 4. 57j-Quinn Sutherland, 5. 64-Bob Buono, 6. 00x-Damian Long, 7. 55p-Parker Smith, 8. 34q-Jason Quigley, 9. 37x-Carl Johnson, 10. 55b-Blane Smith, 11. 02-Brad Steinruck, 12. 5-Ryan Rozelle, 13. 33-Dave Bradley Jr., 14. 29k-Chris Cunningham, 15. 00-Mike Welch, 16. 25b-Marc Minutolo, 17. 12s-Dakota Sharp, 58d-Nick Dandino(DNS), 74-Ronald “Bundy” Metcalf(DNS).
Heats (6 laps)
#1: Minutolo, Buono, Johnson, Cunningham, Rozelle, Metcalf(DNS), William Bradley(DNS).
#2: DePuy, Welch, Quigley, Crego, Sutherland, Sharp.
#3: P.Smith, Steinruck, Grant, Long, B.Smith, Dandino.
NEXT EVENT: Saturday Spectacular, August 31 @ 7pm; Smith Bros. Drywall and Sherwin-Williams Paint Store present Season Championship Night “Open” Big-Block/Small-Block Modified Challenge(non-point)/Sportsman
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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.