Matt Sheppard Opens ‘Cajun Swing’ with Wednesday Ark-La-Tex Speedway Victory
Written by Cody Manmiller
VIVIAN, LA – Matt Sheppard capitalized on an early-race restart, launching from third to the lead to capture the opening night victory of the historic ‘Cajun Swing’ worth $4,000 at Ark-La-Tex Speedway.
The triumph is Sheppard’s 13th overall and second in as many races in Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series Fueled By Sunoco competition, coming less than two weeks after his win at Georgetown (Del.) Speedway as part of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Weekend.
“Man, it’s awesome to be down here in Louisiana,” Sheppard announced in Victory Lane. “What a racetrack we had tonight and it’s nice to start the week with a win.”
The Savannah, N.Y., resident redrew fourth after running away with the night’s first heat but snatched the lead on just the second lap after a pair of early cautions. With just one lap in, Sheppard was shot out of a cannon from third and tiptoed around the bottom to take the lead out of turn two. After securing the lead, “Super Matt” went to the top shelf and used the very outside of a racy track on Wednesday night to lead the ensuing 39 laps.
“I had a better launch off turn four on the bottom, but I definitely wanted to race up top,” Sheppard said of his decision to choose the bottom immediately after cautions. “This engine runs so good and the car was so hooked up on the restarts, I wanted to restart on the bottom and race up top.”
Despite a dominating effort, Sheppard did defend a slew of charges from second-place finishing Mike Gular. From the eighth-starting spot, Gular advanced to third by lap six and moved into the runner-up position on the seventh circuit, using the bottom to pass ‘Cajun Swing’ teammate Jeff Strunk.
“I was really trying to make the bottom work,” Gular explained. “This is a good track down here, real racy, and I’m excited for another night.”
Gular’s pass for second led to Strunk and Stewart Friesen waging war for the final podium position. Once Friesen cleared for third, Strunk, Jack Lehner and pole-sitting John Willman swapped spots before Lehner moved into fourth on lap 13.
Just after the midway point of the 40-lap feature event, the top-three entered hectic lapped traffic as Gular and Friesen both closed on Sheppard. On lap 27, Friesen, of Sprakers, N.Y., surged to the outside for second, but Gular used lappers to his advantage and fended off his challenges by sticking to the bottom.
“Lapped traffic was definitely tough,” Gular said. “Just racing with people you don’t know or aren’t familiar with is a different challenge.”
Just two laps later, though, the caution flew again, this time for a left-rear flat on the Halmar International-sponsored No. 44, forcing Friesen pit side with just 11 laps to go.
Once more, Sheppard led Gular on the restart with Strunk passing Lehner for third and Modified rookie Derrick McGrew Jr. rounding out the top five. As the top three separated from the field, Lehner, McGrew Jr. and Willman danced for position before McGrew Jr. slowed with just eight circuits remaining.
On the ensuing restart, Lehner passed Willman back for fourth and then, after changing a tire and coming from the back, Friesen bolted back inside the top five. The recently-crowned STSS South Region Champion, Friesen bashed the outside curb around Willman for fifth with just six laps left, dispatched of Lehner while the flagman held up five fingers and finally moved around Strunk for third on the final lap.
“We had a really good car tonight,” Friesen said of his third-place finish. “We were really good on the longer runs but we just ran out of laps at the end.
Strunk capped the night in fourth while Lehner rounded out the top five. Finishing sixth through 10th were: Willman; front row-starting Caleb Dillard, who spent the entirety of the night bouncing around the top eight; Jeff Heotzler, Dave Rauscher, who rebounded after going to the rear three times; and Greg Dillard.
Heat winners were Sheppard, Friesen and Lehner.
Neil Kemp won the accompanying 25-lap Factory Stock main, earning $1,000 for his efforts, while Brandon Ball took the 20-lap Limited Modified feature.
The Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series Fueled by Sunoco is back at Ark-La-Tex Speedway on Thursday night for a 50-lap feature paying $5,000 to the winner before moving to Chatham Speedway on Friday and Saturday, culminating in a $20,000-to-win main event.
Thursday night’s event at Ark-La-Tex includes the STSS Modifieds, Crate Late Models, Pro Mods and Four Cylinders. Gates open at 4 p.m., with hot laps at 6 p.m. and racing at 7 p.m.
All events are broadcast LIVE on Dirt Track Digest TV (www.dirttrackdigest.tv).
Ark-La-Tex Speedway is located at 13035 Boyter Lane Vivian, LA 71082. To learn more, contact the speedway office at 318.375.3470 or visit the website at www.arklatexspeedway.net.
Chatham Speedway is located at 14325 Highway 4 Chatham, LA 71226. The speedway website is www.chathamspeedway.com and promoter Jerry Hobson can be reached by phone at 318.381.7972.
To learn more about the Short Track Super Series Fueled By Sunoco, visit www.shorttracksuperseries.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, check out ‘Short Track Super Series’ on Facebook or @ShortTrackSS on Twitter or Instagram.
The Short Track Super Series is presented by American Racer/Lias Tire, Sunoco Race Fuel, Insinger Performance, Bob Hilbert Sportswear, Halmar International, Velocita-USA, Design for Vision/Sunglass Central, Rob Sherlock Roofing, ATL Racing Fuel Cells, Behrent’s Performance Warehouse, Beyea Custom Headers, Bicknell Racing Products, Dirt Track Digest, EIBACH Springs, Escape RV, Fast Axle, Fox Racing Shocks, Henry’s Exhaust, Hig Fab, HyperCo, Kirkey Racing Fabrication, Land Hoe Maintenance, K&N, MJK Home Maintenance, Precision Hydraulic & Oil, QA1, Racing Optics, Superior Remodeling, Teo-Pro Car, VAHLCO, Velocita, WELD Racing & Wilwood.
ARK-LA-TEX SPEEDWAY ‘CAJUN SWING’ RACE SUMMARY – ARK-LA-TEX SPEEDWAY NOVEMBER 11, 2020
Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series Fueled By Sunoco Modified Cajun Swing Event No. 1 Feature Finish (40 laps): MATT SHEPPARD, Mike Gular, Stewart Friesen, Jeff Strunk, Jack Lehner, John Willman, Caleb Dillard, Jeff Heotzler, Dave Rauscher, Greg Dillard, Kory Keimig, Eric Williams, James Griffin, Glenn Stone Jr., Derrick McGrew Jr., Tommy Hall, Tommy Rascoe, Brother Fowlkes, Jimmy McCommas, Shane Hebert, Joe Roswell, David Forbis, Keith Badiali.
American Racer/Lias Tire Bonuses (FREE Tire
Certificate): John Willman (sixth) & Eric Williams (12th)
Behrent’s Performance Warehouse Bonuses ($50 Gift Cards): Jeff Strunk (fourth), Dave Rauscher (ninth) & Caleb Dillard (Top Louisiana/Texas Driver)
Beyea Custom Headers Redraw Bonus ($50): Jeff Heotzler (redrew ninth)
Downstate Dirt & Deals Hard Charger ($50): Dave Rauscher (17th to ninth)
EIBACH Springs Bonus ($100 Certificate): John Willman (sixth)
Wilwood Brakes Bonus ($75 Certificate): Caleb Dillard (seventh)
Factory Stock Feature Finish (25 laps): NEIL KEMP, Jeff Hammitt, Justin Whitehead, Mike Marysak, Brian Cook, Bo Perry, Car No. 5G, Benji White, Alex Turner, Tracy Korp, Billy Taylor, Dean Roscoe, Stephen Harris, Ricky Ingalls, Josh Daugherty, B.J. Cook, Mike Wells, Jason Hood, Jeremy Laxton, Cody Myers.
Did Not Qualify: Nathan Deloe, David Dowler, Brett Arden, Bubba Jones, Richard Holt, Larry Laxton, Stoney DuBois, James Brown, Cody Wright.
Limited Modified Feature Finish (20 laps): BRANDON BALL, Justin Whitehead, Derick Grigsby, Aaron Roy, Wyatt Wilkerson, Conner Williams, Coty Tupper, Dustin Durham, Boone Evans, Troy Keith, Rowdy Brents, Kevin Peters, Barron Brents, Jesse Sharpley, Thomas Holt, Justin Witt, Gary Lipscob, Johnny Kemp.