Story By: JOE GRABIANOWSKI / DIRTCAR – CONCORD, NC – The entire 2019 Super DIRTcar Series season came down to Saturday night’s Can-Am World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. Seven-time champion Matt Sheppard was on the pole opposite the hottest driver on the tour, Mat Williamson, who was seeking his first crown.
Williamson had a slight 18-point advantage in the title bout, leaving him almost no room for error.
After letting Billy Decker power past both of them, Sheppard and Williamson battled side-by-side and when the crimson Carolina clay settled, Williamson was second behind Decker — two spots ahead of Sheppard — to become the first Canadian driver in history to win the Super DIRTcar Series Championship.
Gypsum Racing’s Decker bookended his Super DIRTcar Series season with trips to Victory Lane in the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park and Saturday night’s win in the season finale. Michael Maresca, a 24-year-old Pierrepont, NY driver, made an impressive run to third.
Williamson, his family racing operation, and the Buzz Chew No. 88 combined to put together one of the greatest seasons of Big Block Modified racing ever. His season started out with strong runs and consistent finishes, but he ended it with a NAPA Super DIRT Week Billy Whittaker Cars 200 Championship and the overall Super DIRTcar Series Championship. That alone accounts for $90,000 of winnings.
Looking back, Williamson never let a cloud of doubt enter his vision.
“I had belief is these guys the whole time,” said Williamson, of St. Catharines, Ontario. “I just had to believe in myself and know that we could do it. The team is second to none. They deserve this and they’ve worked harder than anyone. We had our growing pains, but we worked harder and stuff got better.”
One of the turning points in the season came after a poor result at Weedsport Speedway, a track where Williamson has long struggled. The Buzz Chew team came back to it with resolve and made a podium run to prove they could succeed anywhere.
“We’ve always struggled at Weedsport,” he said. “Not just us but my own team with my own car. I kept working harder. There was a point when Buzz did not want to go back to Weedsport because we sucked there. We kept telling Buzz, ‘Stick with it. Stick with it. We’ll work on it and get better and better.’ We got beat at Merrittville, at home, and we knew we had to get better and we learned some stuff there. We brought that to Weedsport, and Brewerton and Mohawk.”
Williamson carried a freight train of momentum throughout the final third of the season and he needed every bit of it to defeat Sheppard.
He admitted to doing the math while racing for position. With Sheppard and Decker swapping the lead, Williamson became a huge Decker fan.
“When Matt got by Billy [Decker] there, I got a little nervous,” he said. “I’ve always liked Billy, but I was the biggest Billy Decker fan ever. It was nerve-wracking man. … From the moment I woke up I knew we were going to do good things today.”
Sheppard’s chance to add another Championship to his Hall of Fame résumé was handicapped before he even took the green flag. Unfortunately, Sheppard’s motor lost a cylinder during the pace laps.
“I dropped a cylinder,” Sheppard said. “I just kept the foot to the floor trying to keep it going the best I could, but I don’t think it would have mattered. If I would have won the race, Mat still came in third.”
No one knows what it takes to win Super DIRTcar Series Championships like Sheppard. He gave full credit to Williamson and his team.
“They deserve it, they had the most consistent year and that’s what this Championship is about,” Sheppard said. “This isn’t NASCAR with playoffs. We won the most races and had really good finishes but, in the end, we had more bad nights than they did. Hats off to them, the driver, the crew and the team. Everyone there did a great job. They did what they needed to do and that’s why they’re the Champions.”
If Sheppard could point to one moment in the season that changed the Championship outlook, it would have to be the Billy Whittaker Cars 200 where he broke an axle as a result of incidental contact with Michael Maresca.
“Oswego is the big one … the thirty-first really hurt,” he said.
However, Sheppard was content with the result and knows he and his team did everything they could do to be there at the end.
“I’ve been on both ends of it before,” Sheppard noted. “This isn’t the first Championship I’ve lost by a few points. Luckily for us we’ve been on the good end more than the bad end.”
Decker kicked off 2019 with a win on the first night of the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park and capped it with a win at the Can-Am World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.
“Charlotte’s been a pain in my side, but now I have a much higher opinion,” Decker said. “It got away from us (Friday) night. This win is a product of LJL Racing and the Gypsum Wholesaler team. The team is fun to be a part of. Losing yesterday had me down pretty hard and we came out swinging today. What a great race car. It feels good to get a win here at the Can-Am World Finals.”
Third-place runner Maresca was a rocket in the second half of the race.
“I found that top side, and it was kind of tricky racing Mat and Matt. I had to give them a lot of room. They were racing for a Championship, so I was just trying to be respectful of them,” Maresca said.
Maresca still feels guilt over the contact me made with Sheppard at NAPA Super DIRT Week despite Sheppard clearing him of full responsibility.
“I feel I messed that Championship up enough and I feel bad about it,” Maresca said of the contact with Sheppard at Oswego. “I just wanted to race clean and hopefully earn those guys respect.”
Larry Wight picked up 11 positions to finish 11th and that was good enough to be the KSE Hard Charge of the race.
FEATURE (40 Laps) — 1. 91-Billy Decker [$8,000]; 2. 88-Mat Williamson [$4,000]; 3. 7MM-Michael Maresca [$2,500]; 4. 9S-Matt Sheppard [$1,800]; 5. Z8-Max McLaughlin [$1,600]; 6. 111-Demetrios Drellos [$1,400]; 7. 25-Erick Rudolph [$1,300]; 8. 35-Mike Mahaney [$1,200]; 9. 5H-Chris Hile [$1,100]; 10. 19-Tim Fuller [$1,000]; 11. 99L-Larry Wight [$900]; 12. 84-Gary Tomkins [$800]; 13. 98H-Jimmy Phelps [$700]; 14. 15-Billy Pauch [$650]; 15. 49-Billy Dunn [$600]; 16. 54-Steve Bernard [$600]; 17. 26-Ryan Godown [$600]; 18. 27J-Danny Johnson [$600]; 19. 83-Brian Swartzlander [$600]; 20. 21A-Peter Britten [$600]; 21. 28ZT-Gary Lindberg [$600]; 22. 2L-Jack Lehner [$600]; 23. 2RJ-Ronnie Johnson [$600]; 24. 5st-Tyler Siri [$600]; 25. 18AP-Anthony Perrego [$600]; 26. 42P-Pat Ward [$600]; 27. 37-Paul StSauveur [$600]; 28. 20-Brett Hearn [$600]; 29. 98T-Tyler Thompson [$600]; 30. 3-Justin Haers [$600]; 31. 19W-Justin Wright [$]
KSE Hard Charger Award: 99L-Larry Wight[+11]