Column By: MIKE TRAVERSE / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – Before Saturday’s United Rentals DIRTcar 30 lap Modified feature, there was little doubt that Matt Sheppard was going to advance to the $25,000 Championship Race on Thursday, September 2nd. He was in good points position, but in racing you never know. Sometimes, you have to take matters into your own hands.
And that’s what Super Matt did as he was a convincing winner at the House of Power Saturday night with Craig Mitchell and Tyler Dippel trailing at the end of the 30 lap run.
It was Mitchell and Keith Flach on the front row as the race went green. Mitchell pulled into the lead with Matt Hitchcock running 2nd. Seventh starting Sheppard picked up a couple of spots early, then he went on the charge. He passed Flach for 3rd on lap 7 and Hitchcock for 2nd on lap 9. Sheppard ran down Mitchell and made the pass of Craig for the lead on lap 12.
Billy Decker, another contender for the final four, was moving up as well. He passed Mitchell for 2nd at halfway. The first caution of the race flew on lap 17 for a slowing Jimmy Horton. Sheppard pulled out to the lead on the restart, but caution was out on lap 19 as some cars bottled up and Stewart Friesen ended up spinning. After winning the two previous Big Block races at OCFS, Friesen was not a contender Saturday, running 11th from 17th starting spot before the spin. Friesen retired to the pits, done for the night.
It was Sheppard, Decker and Mitchell as the race went back to green and it stayed that way until 24 were completed when Tyler Boniface’s bid for a championship spot ended as his car slowed on the track. Back to green saw the same trio at the top, but with one to go, Decker’s great race ended as he slowed. Sheppard pulled away from Mitchell on the restart and finished 1.5 seconds ahead of Craig at the finish. Dippel moved into 3rd on the last lap, a fine run from 13th starting spot. Dillon Steuer finished 4th and Anthony Perrego was 5th. Sixth thru tenth were Flach, Billy VanInwegen, Tommy Meier, Chris Whitehead and Allison Ricci.
“This track has thrown us so many curveballs this year. We got rolling good early in the year when it was tacky and had good tire wear,” Sheppard said. “For whatever reason, there was no tire wear again tonight. It’s anybody’s guess what we will have next week. Hopefully, things roll our way, we are locked it. We are sure going to give it a shot.”
In addition to Sheppard and Friesen, Perrego and Decker are the other drivers to advance to have a chance to take the $25,000 championship race on Thursday at OCFS.
Anthony Perrego needed a good finish to claim his 4th 358 H.O. Penn Small Block championship and he did just that in taking the win in Saturday’s 25 lap feature race over Bob McGannon and Jimmy Horton.
Ryan McCartney and Charles Loiodice led the racers to the green with Loiodice moving out front. Eighth starting Perrego was moving up early and had blazed his way to 2nd by lap 9 and passed Loiodice on lap 12. The first of only two cautions in the event occurred on lap 14 as Craig Mitchell showed a lot of smoke from engine trouble. Danny Creeden had a flat tire after another lap and rejoined the race after quick pit work.
McGannon had started 4th, but had dropped back to eighth. But he made a charge the 2nd half of the race and passed Horton for 2nd with 4 to go. At the checkers, it was Perrego nearly 5 seconds ahead of McGannon with Horton 3rd, Tyler Boniface 4th and Tanner VanDoren 5th. Loiodice was 6th, McCartney 7th, Roger Henion 8th, Chris Stevens 9th and Billy VanInwegen 10th.
“It was a good night for our team, both the big block and small block ran well,” the 2021 OCFS Small Block Champion said in Victory Lane. “Our small block program has been very good the last 4 or 5 years now. I have to thank Brian Smith who gives us the equipment that we need to succeed like we do.”
Jared LaBagh had only an outside chance to overtake Joe Bonetti in the OCFS Sportsman Championship standings. All he could do was to run his race and see what happened. And he again put on a great show, running the high groove to take Saturday’s Arkel Motors 20 Lap Sportsman feature over Kasey Hufcut and Ryan Neiger. Bonetti was able to secure the championship with a 7th place finish.
It was two recent graduates from the 2021 OCFS Rookie class that led the field to green as it was Hufcut and Brett Weslowski at the front. Hufcut and Weslowski paced the race for the first dozen laps, both maintaining their positions on a couple of restarts. LaBagh was on the move and raced up to 2nd by lap 13.
A lap 15 restart saw Hufcut hold off LaBagh for a couple more laps before Jared made the pass on lap 17. At the finished, Labagh was in front by 2.7 seconds over Hufcut as Neiger was 3rd over Weslowski in 4th and Joey Bruning in 5th. Jeff Hulseapple was 6th with Bonetti taking the championship with a 7th place finish. Matt Shultz was 8th, Jamie Yannone 9th and Gary Edwards Jr 10th.
“We had a really good car tonight. Made some changes after the heat. The outside worked good for us. We had what we needed to win tonight,” LaBagh said. “As far as the championship, Joey has had a heck of a year. He really turned it up when he needed to. I just have to thank everyone who has helped me along the way. Thanks to Comfort Experts and Kevin Jones. I wouldn’t be where I am with out them. I also want to thank HigFab and my Mom and Dad.”
Two of the top talents in the OCFS Street Stock division ran each other hard the last few laps of Saturday’s NAPA North East Parts Group Street Stock feature. And in the end, it was Bob Sleight winning over the 2021 OCFS Street Stock Champion Mike Vigiletti. Jack Beaumont finished 3rd with Danny Hedges 4th and Ray Tarantino 5th. Rounding out the top 10 were Ben Richard 6th, Charlie Donald 7th, John Tucker 8th, Randy Torres 9th and Jim Hajkowski 10th.
“I’ve been wanting to have a race like that with Mike all season. We have had some real bad luck this season, but it’s good to get this win here tonight. We will be ready for the Eastern States,” Sleight said.
Vigiletti’s championship is his 4th at OCFS and caps off a great year for him after sitting out 2020 recovering from injury.
The OCFS Kids Club distributed 85 backpacks Saturday. It was a great job by Christina Contento and all who helped her. Many thanks go out to Christina and her team for the great job and to all those who graciously donated backpacks and supplies to the kids.
It was a great job by OCFS in their pre-race ceremonies to honor the memory of the 13 Marines killed in Afghanistan. Drivers helped display a large American flag and 13 seats in the grandstand were marked off for the Marines. It was a very moving ceremony.
On Thursday, September 2nd, the Big Blocks finish off the OCFS regular season with the $25,000 championship on the line between Friesen, Sheppard, Perrego and Decker. The Sportsman will also be in action.