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VERNON, NY- Every summer, there are blockbuster movies that pit two opposing forces against each other when the stakes are high, with one coming out on top.  Occasionally, after building to up to what should an exciting ending, the movie fizzles and the ending is a disappointment.  The Modified division at the Utica-Rome Speedway had that look as its top two drivers battled back and forth for the rich Modified championship.

In 2013 at the Utica-Rome Speedway, the Modified point battle had two of the top stars in the region battle all season for the $10,000 to win championship and with one event to go, Stewart Friesen and Matt Sheppard were tied at the top of the standings.  But Sheppard, despite his efforts to do both, had to fulfill his Super DIRTcar Series commitment at Rolling Wheels Raceway on the same night and miss the last event at Utica-Rome.  Friesen would race off to nab the lucrative title in what had the look of a heavyweight bout going into the event to an anti-climatic finish to the point chase.

The 2014 season could be again be compared to the movie business as the same two stars will be pitted up against each, and like most sequels, the stakes will be even higher.  With Utica-Rome Speedway now flying the NASCAR banner weekly and being part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the 2014 Modified championship will be worth $13,000 to the victor with a possible $12,000 NASCAR New York State championship also hanging in the balance.  And unlike last season, there will be no Super DIRTcar Series conflicts which will allow not only Sheppard to compete for the title, but anyone else who ran the series that may compete at the Vernon oval weekly.

When asked about the upcoming season, Friesen exclaimed, “I am super pumped up about Sunday nights at Utica-Rome.  We are more prepared for this season than we ever have been so we should be ready to go.”  Friesen will again be behind the wheel of the Tom and Roxann Cullen owned machine as he will be looking for his seventh Modified title at the speedway and his fifth consecutive with the Cullen’s.

With no conflicts this season, Sheppard was asked if he was looking for redemption this season.  “Absolutely,” he commentated, “it sucked not being able to race for the title last year, and when we rained out at Rolling Wheels that night it made it even worse.”  When Sheppard pulls into the gates this year at Utica-Rome Speedway, he will do so behind the wheel of an all new team.  After parting ways with Jeff Brownell during the off season, Sheppard teamed up with Heinke-Baldwin Racing to become a teammate to Jimmy Phelps, forming a potent team.

Both Friesen and Sheppard got their Sunday night rivalry kicked off in Florida recently while competing in the DIRTcar Nationals as they both were able to collect a win each while Friesen was the overall champion in the four race series.

While Friesen and Sheppard may be the favorites for the 2014 title, there may several other players in the mix for the championship.  Former champion Pat Ward is expected to return, along with Mike Mahaney.  With the season still weeks away, it is hard to tell who else will be on hand every Sunday evening, but it will still be one of the most competitive fields in the area.

If a Modified driver that competes weekly at Utica-Rome Speedway has a stellar year and competes in the all the series and programs available, they will be close to $90,000 in point money and awards available. That includes winning the track title, NASCAR New York State title, American Racer Cup and bonus, Super DIRTcar Series title, and Race of Champions Series title.  That total does not include purse money won or NASCAR National Whelen All-American Series point money.

With the partnership with NASCAR, all the weekly divisions at Utica-Rome Speedway will be racing for additional point money and a shot to take center stage in Charlotte as part of the NASCAR Home Tracks banquet.

The season will kick off in just two short months on April 27 with a full show for the Modifieds, Sportsman, Pro Stocks, and Pure Stocks.  For more information on everything leading into the season opener, be sure to log on to  Utica-Rome Speedway can also be found in Facebook and Twitter.