7/5/23 BATTLE OF THE TITANS: SHEPPARD WINS BATTLE AGAINST HEARN AT ORANGE COUNTY FOR SECOND SEASON WIN
By Michelina Friss Published: July 6, 2023
Sheppard uses second half surge to power past Larry Wight, Brett Hearn on the way to victory
Two generations of the most successful talents in Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modified racing faced off at Orange County Fair Speedway Wednesday night to battle for a $7,500 payday.
Nine-time and defending Super DIRTcar Series champion Matt Sheppard, of Waterloo, NY, and Hall of Famer Brett Hearn, of Sussex, NJ, who has more than 300 wins at Orange County, went toe-to-toe in the closing laps with “Super Matt” besting the legend for his second Series win of the season – 91st of his career.
The Battle for the Fairgrounds saw Larry Wight start pole with Sheppard to his outside. Behind them, two legends – Billy Decker in third and Hearn in fourth.
At the start of the Feature, Sheppard slipped to third on the first lap, leaving Wight and Hearn to wage a war for the lead. However, Sheppard stayed within striking distance of the front two, saving his equipment as he waited for the perfect time to strike.
Wight led the first nine laps before Hearn drove around the outside of him through Turns 3 and 4. However, Wight didn’t give up on the bottom. Holding his line lap after lap, he snuck back by Hearn for the lead on Lap 17. Their battle wasn’t done yet, though.
While Wight worked low, Hearn continued searching up top, inching further and further back alongside the #99L. His persistence finally paid off on Lap 40 when he reclaimed the lead by a bumper at the flag stand.
However, at the same time, Sheppard was surging forward. A lap after Hearn passed Wight for the lead, Sheppard passed him for second. Then, all eyes were on the heavyweight fight between Hearn, the all-time winningest driver at Orange County and with the Super DIRTcar Series, and Sheppard, the current Orange County and Series points leader.
While Hearn searched for grip high through Turns 3 and 4, Sheppard dove his #9 machine into the corner and slid ahead of Hearn’s #20 off the corner to officially take the lead on Lap 44.
From there, he built a healthy lead with intensions of holding it until the end. But one more chance for Hearn to attack came on Lap 66 when the second caution of the 75-lap race came out.
Lined single file, Sheppard led the field back to green with 10 laps to go. Hearn and Wight tried to keep Sheppard within reach down the front stretch but lost Sheppard once he swung his car high and powered back to the throttle off Turn 2. “Super Matt” then soared to the Battle for the Fairgrounds victory.
“[The car] didn’t really seem to like a full tank of fuel,” Sheppard said. “It seemed like the more fuel burn off we had, the car started driving better and better. It was quite a battle there for a while. I fell back. I lost a lot of ground, probably a straight away or more behind those guys. I really thought I was in trouble. It kept getting a little better, a little better. I think it helped a little bit when we got in traffic because I have a lot of experience here.”
While Sheppard has become the most recent star at Orange County, Hearn’s legacy at the track wasn’t lost on him.
“Yeah, I mean, this is his sandbox, that’s for sure,” Sheppard said about Hearn. “It’s great to see him out there competing, still battling for wins. He keeps retiring, then unretiring. He’s definitely shown that he’s still got it. I felt like we turned back the clock.
After being passed by Sheppard, Hearn fended off Wight in the closing laps to hold on to second and score his first top five with the Series since his win at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in 2021.
“I think we just had a good car right from the get-go,” Hearn said. “I got by Matt, and then I got by Larry. But Larry got back by me. I was probably a little quicker than he was most of the time. It just took me a while to find a way to get a good run on him. But Matt just does what he does and comes on late in the race.”
Wight scored the final podium spot but knew what could’ve been done to further challenge the two powerhouse drivers.
“I think if we could have stayed in lapped traffic, I could have probably kept them behind me,” Wight said. “It seemed once we got in a clear track, they were able to make that top work. We just gotta look at our notes and see what we did right, what we did wrong, and capitalize on it next time.”
Billy Decker finished fourth and Peter Britten finished fifth to round out the top five finishers.
While legends battled at the front of the field, rising stars made their names known in the top 10. Fifteen-year-old Tanner Van Doren dueled with the likes of Jimmy Phelps and Chris Hile in the top 10 and even battled Peter Britten for fifth in the closing laps before settling for sixth – his first top 10 with the Series in his fifth start. And in Tyler Boniface’s fourth Series start, he raced from 11th to seventh – his first career Series top 10.
Further rounding out the storylines in the top 10, Jack Lehner (eighth) earned his first top 10 of the season, while Anthony Perrego (ninth) and Max McLaughlin (10th) earned their second.
Battle At the Fairgrounds 75
1. 9S-Matt Sheppard; 2. 20-Brett Hearn; 3. 99L-Larry Wight; 4. 91D-Billy Decker; 5. 21A-Peter Britten; 6. 22-Tanner Van Doren; 7. 69-Tyler Boniface; 8. 2-Jack Lehner; 9. 44P-Anthony Perrego; 10. 8H-Max McLaughlin; 11. 44-Stewart Friesen; 12. 98H-Jimmy Phelps; 13. 3J-Marc Johnson; 14. 88-Mat Williamson; 15. 5H-Chris Hile; 16. 215-Adam Pierson; 17. 83X-Tim Sears Jr; 18. 12-Darren Smith; 19. 35-Mike Mahaney; 20. (DNF) 16X-Dan Creeden; 21. (DNF) 34-Kevin Root; 22. (DNF) 32R-Ronnie Davis III; 23. (DNF) 88T-Tyler Jashembowski; 24. (DNF) 14-CG Morey; 25. (DNF) 93X-Craig Mitchell; 26. (DNF) 43-Jimmy Horton; 27. (DNF) 4V-Billy VanInwegenJr; 28. (DNF) 17-Marcus Dinkins