One for the Ages: It’s Friesen Over Sheppard on Championship Night at Utica-Rome
Written by Chris Moore
VERNON, NY – One for the ages.
In another all-time battle between the sport’s best, Sprakers, N.Y.’s Stewart Friesen outgunned Savannah, N.Y.’s Matt Sheppard to claim the final points race at Utica-Rome Speedway in 2021.
“Great racing man, this place is so racy, anytime you beat the ‘9s’ right now it’s a big night,” an excited Friesen proclaimed in Victory Lane.
Friesen, who has missed Friday nights on occasion due to his NASCAR Truck Series commitments, grabbed his fourth win of the season as Algonkin Motel LLC and Slade Automotive presented Championship Night at the ‘Home of Heroes.’
While Friesen won the battle, Sheppard won the war, claiming the 2021 Sunoco Modified track championship, his first since 2017.
Friesen’s quest for win No. 4 on the season would go from the 12th starting position, while Sheppard started in the row in front of him, going from 10th.
Whitney Point, N.Y.’s Marshall Hurd and Arlington, Vt.’s Ricky Davis led the field to speedway starter Joe Kriss’ green flags.
Davis would jump off the outside groove and lead in the early going, while Fultonville, N.Y.’s JaMike Sowle was marching forward.
The driver of the Carol and Alton Palmer owned No. 76 worked to the runner-up position and was reeling in the leader Davis.
As the two duked it out for the lead, ‘Super’ Matt got rolling on the bottom side of the speedway. Sheppard would work underneath Darren Smith and Marshall Hurd, moving himself to third and closing in on the two leaders.
On the eighth circuit around the Route 5 oval, Sowle threw a slide job, taking the lead away from Davis, dropping him back into the clutches of Sheppard’s No. 9s machine.
Sheppard followed Sowle by Davis, while Stewart Friesen suddenly came to life, splitting the middle of Binghamton, N.Y.’s Darren Smith and Marshall Hurd to get to fourth.
Sowle proved to be tough up front, keeping Sheppard at bay for multiple laps, allowing Friesen to close on the two leaders as lap traffic became a factor.
Sheppard was finally able to make the move for the lead, driving underneath JaMike Sowle for the lead as the field came to the halfway sign. Friesen wasn’t far behind, sliding by Sowle just two laps later, setting up another battle between Sheppard and Friesen.
Chaotic lap traffic continued to throw curveballs at the leaders, with drivers racing side-by-side, and multiple drivers going over the banking in front of the top two.
With two laps to go, Friesen was finally able to make his racecar stick on the bottom side, something he struggled to do for much of the 30-lap affair.
“I was really just trying to throw a slide job at him, and it just stuck, and I was able to clear him off of two,” Friesen explained of his race winning move.
The Sprakers, N.Y., native only needed to make it work once, driving underneath of Sheppard and coasting to his fourth win of the season.
Despite coming home second, Sheppard secured the Sunoco Modified championship with his runner-up finish.
“It’s been a pleasure to race here this season. The track has been awesome and winning another Utica-Rome championship means a lot here in the new era of the racetrack,” Sheppard proclaimed of his championship season.
Sheffield, Mass., driver Andy Bachetti put on a late race charge to grab third and secure a runner-up in the Sunoco Modified points chase. Sowle came home fourth, his best finish of the season at Utica-Rome. Vernon, N.Y.’s Willy Decker rounded out the top-five in his JSD Express No. 1x.
Darren Smith would bring the Jeremy Smith Racing no. 12 home sixth and Ricky Davis drove his family-owned No. 59 to a seventh-place run. Oneida, N.Y.’s Matt Janczuk debuted in the Modifieds in 2021 aboard the Caprara-backed No. 33x and grabbed eighth. Middlesex, N.Y.’s Alan Johnson claimed ninth in the Friendly Ford No. 14J and Marshall Hurd rounded out the top-10 in his Midstate Recycling No. 58m.
Vernon, N.Y.’s Willy Decker Jr. won his second 25-lap Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman feature of the season, much to the delight of the hometown crowd.
Decker Jr. outgunned Genoa, N.Y.’s Will Shields for the final 10 laps to claim his second win of the season.
Shields would hold on for second and Johnstown, N.Y.’s Brian Calabrese grabbed a podium finish. Mexico, N.Y.’s Addison Bowman finished fourth and Matt Janczuk jumped in his Crate 602 Sportsman car after the Modified feature and finished fifth.
Janczuk’s fifth-place finish was good enough for him to claim his eighth track championship at Utica-Rome Speedway.
Jay Corbin picked up his first win of the season Utica-Rome Speedway, beating West Milton, N.Y.’s Josh Coonradt to the front and holding him off for the win.
Coonradt would grab the second position and Schenectady, N.Y.’s Nick Stone would round out the podium finishers.
Grand Gorge, N.Y.’s Beau Ballard drove from the 12th starting position to finish fourth, good enough to claim the track championship by just eight points over Nick Stone. Gloversville, N.Y.’s Luke Horning rounded out the top five in his first race of 2021 at Utica-Rome.
Alex Hughes, who joined Utica-Rome on Friday nights in the last month of the season, capped off the season with his first Fastline Performance Limited Sportsman 15-lap triumph. Hughes would hold off Eric Jensen for the win.
Baldwinsville, N.Y.’s David Hackett Jr. and Rotterdam, N.Y.’s Clayton DuMond entered the final points night tied for the championship. At the end of the 15-lap feature, Hackett beat DuMond by one position, claiming third place and the championship.
After several close calls, Corey Valade became the first driver to beat Justin Pope this season, claiming his first career Cool Stuff Antiques Four Cylinder victory. Evan Wright won the Single Cam portion of the event with a sixth-place overall finish.
Justin Pope finished the season as the Dual Cam and overall champion and Wayne Russell Jr. finishes as the Single Cam champion for 2021.
Racing resumes Sunday, September 5 at Utica-Rome Speedway as Broedel Fuel Group & Energy present the Fuccillo Autoplex of Nelliston Thunder on the Thruway Finale for the New Yorker 100.
The Sunoco Modifieds will go 100-laps for $12,000-to-win in honor of the late Jack Johnson. The Patriot Sprint Tour 360 Sprint Cars will also be on hand along with the Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman (30-laps, $2,000-to-win) and the Next Generation Graphix Pro Stocks (25-laps, $1,000-to-win).
Gates will open at 4 p.m. and racing is set to begin at 7:15 p.m.
Utica-Rome Speedway is located at 5591 NY-5 (Seneca Turnpike) Vernon, NY 13476. The official website is www.uticaromespeedway.com. Like Utica-Rome Speedway on Facebook or @UR_Speedway.
ALGONKIN MOTEL LLC & SLADE AUTOMOTIVE CHAMPIONSHIP NIGHT – UTICA-ROME SPEEDWAY SEPTEMBER 3, 2021
Sunoco Modified Feature Finish (30 laps): STEWART FRIESEN, Matt Sheppard, Andy Bachetti, JaMike Sowle, Willy Decker, Darren Smith, Ricky Davis, Matt Janczuk, Alan Johnson, Marshall Hurd, Rocky Warner, Bob Henry Jr., Brian Gleason, Craig Hanson, Zach Payne, Randy Shantel, Ronnie Holmes, Ryan Odasz, Jeff Rockefeller, Tim Mayne, Vinnie Visconti, C.J. Castelletti, Aaron Jacobs, Jessica Friesen, Brad Godshalk.
2021 Sunoco Modified Champion: MATT SHEPPARD
Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman Feature Finish (25 laps): WILLY DECKER JR., Will Shields, Brian Calabrese, Addison Bowman, Matt Janczuk, Rocco Leone, Tucker O’Connor, Chip Constantino, Brian Murphy, Stephen Gray, Jason Reome, Brian Borst, Kevin Crave, A.J. Miller, Scott Mallette, Steve Kotary, Allan Hodge, Troy Palmer, John Baker, Harry Murphy, David Manchester, Tanner Warner, Kurtis Hohensheldt, Mike Grover, Ed Lukas, Shawn Frost, Payton Talbot, Troy Zilles, Dave Richer, Ed Downing, Richie Riggs.
Did Not Start: Ted Starr.
2021 Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman Champion: MATT JANCZUK
Next Generation Grafix Pro Stock Feature Finish (20 laps): JAY CORBIN, Josh Coonradt, Nick Stone, Beau Ballard, Luke Horning, Bret Belden, Bill Knapp, Jason Morrison, Ivan Joslin, Mike Kazlauskas, A.J. Walters, Randy Cosselman, Tim Wood, Jim Normoyle, Jerry Streeter, Mike Kalkbrenner, Ed Kotary, John Holmes.
2021 Next Generation Graphix Pro Stock Champion: BEAU BALLARD
Fastline Performance Limited Sportsman Feature Finish (15 laps): ALEX HUGHES, Eric Jensen, David Hackett Jr., Clayton DuMond, Jeremy Slosek, Seth Martin, Lance Hill, Ernie Staelens, Mike Haman, Alexis Jacobs, Amber Jacobs.
2021 Fastline Performance Limited Sportsman Champion: DAVID HACKETT JR.
Cool Stuff Antiques Four Cylinder Feature Finish (12 laps): COREY VALADE (DOHC), Justin Pope, Matt Buckovan, Donald Kimball, Jean Foster, Evan Wright (SOHC), Dan Valade, Frank Brown, T.J. Marlitt, Devin Geary, Andrew Rodriguez, Hunter Tarbania, Wayne Russell Jr., Lee Horning.
2021 Cool Stuff Antiques Four Cylinder Champions: JUSTIN POPE (DOHC) & WAYNE RUSSELL JR. (SOHC)