Column By: DYLAN FRIEBEL / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – With probably the most anticipated event in Dirt Modified racing in quite some time on tap this Saturday at Orange County Fair Speedway, it’s time to take a closer look at the speedway’s big Centennial Weekend. Let’s go in-depth.
The weekend actually starts on Thursday with the rescheduled ‘Battle of The Midway’ Super DIRTCar Series event, paying $10,000-to-win with a Super DIRT Week guaranteed starting spot on the line.
Matt Sheppard currently holds a 124-point lead over Mat Williamson on the stength of five series wins this season. It should be an interesting 100-lap feature for sure.
Prediction: Well, Orange County was Sheppard’s kryptonite until this past April when he won the Short Track Super Series’ Hard Clay Open. Can you imagine, one of the best to ever strap in a Modified had not won at the famed ‘House of Power’? I was amazed at the stat when i heard it.
It will be hard to bet against SuperMatt and pick anyone else but he has shown moments of weakness this year in his armor at times. However, don’t count of current high point man at the track, Brett Hearn, or Anthony Perrego, or any other Orange County regular for that matter. They are extremely tough.
Another factor is the new surface. OCFS has been multiple grooves and not Middletown-esque since the clay has been put down. The track has produced a rim-riding Tyler Boniface and late pass to win Ryan Godown in victory lane this past Saturday with double features.
If it continues the way it’s been, this will not be a normal Middletown long distance event so it’s wide open. With that being said, my pick is either ‘SuperMatt’ Sheppard or Brett Hearn to take the win.
Now onto Friday with an 80-lap Big Block race and 25-lap Small Block feature.
Prediction: Let’s start with the Small Block race. Current point leader Anothny Perrego is my choice…plain and simple. Not many people have proven they can beat him in the 358 ranks this year, unless he’s had mechanical failure, and definitely not on the new surface.
In the Big Blocks, once again, it’s a toss up. Most likely, all the big names from Thursday will stay for the entire weekend. This race is $10,000-to-win, but now you can add Stewart Friesen to the mix. After running the NASCAR Truck race at Bristol on Thursday, he’ll be there. He’s an instant contender.
Many will be looking to test tire wear and fuel consumption in this event for Saturday’s big 160-lap feature. However, for me, it’s tough to choose between Hearn and Friesen for big long distance events at Middletown, especially since 2016. So, those are my two picks.
Saturday, boy oh boy. The highest winner’s share cash payout in Northeast Dirt Modified racing ever? The total purse is nearly $300,000 with $1,000 to take the green. That’s amazing for a mid-summer show. Holy Cow.
I am going to point out one rule…some fans may now know, with the race’s length of 160 laps. There will be NO MANDATORY pit stop. Will tires or fuel be an issue? We’ll see. Okay, moving on.
Prediction: Again, drivers don’t have to pit. First thing that comes to mind is Jimmy Phelps trying to go the entire race during Super DIRT Week at Oswego last year on one tank of fuel. If not for several cautions past lap 175 when the lap counter was frozen, I believe he would of had the chance to do it.
Middletown’s race at 160 laps will be somewhat the same idea as that. While they are different tracks, it will be interesting to see if anyone wants to go that far…if not all the competitors do. It will be interesting to see.
With cutthroat heat races expected, to just get into the 40-car starting field, I’m sure some big name are bound to go home, but only time will tell.
Now, think about this. Take 2018 Super DIRT Week Champion Larry Wight. If, and I mean IF, there’s even is a whiff of a second lane on Saturday, expect the 99l to quickly take to the top side and start passing cars. I believe it all depends on how abrasive the track surface is and tire selection between either the right rear D400 (Hard) or D500 (X-Tra Hard).
With all that said, my money’s still on either Friesen or Hearn. It’s hard to bet against these two at OCFS lately, however, I believe Larry Wight is a dark horse for the $100K, if that’s even a fair term with him.
With all the events this weekend on the Hard Clay, it’s bound to be electric and fun. One can only wonder who will have their name on the big $100k check come Saturday night, but rest assured, it’ll be a good one.