Return to Dominance: Sheppard Tops ‘Thunder on the Thruway’ $4,000-to-win Feature at Utica-Rome

Return to Dominance: Sheppard Tops ‘Thunder on the Thruway’ $4,000-to-win Feature at Utica-Rome

Written by Chris Moore

VERNON, NY – Return to dominance.

Savannah, N.Y.’s Matt Sheppard returned to Victory Lane on Friday night, dominating Round No. 2 of the F.X. Caprara Car Companies Thunder on the Thruway for the Sunoco Modifieds on Recovery Sports Grill night.

“It feels good to be back to Victory Lane here,” explained Sheppard of his win, “we took a little break there with the rainout and the second-place the week before, but it definitely feels great to be back here.”

Sheppard entered the night having won the opening three Sunoco Modified features of the 2022 season at Utica-Rome Speedway, before getting up-ended two weeks ago by Covington Township, Pa.’s Alex Yankowski.

Sheppard was determined to get back to Victory Lane and claim the $4,000 top prize, the standard for the Thunder on the Thruway for the Modifieds.

Sheppard’s charge began from the 10th starting spot, while Genoa, N.Y.’s Pat Ward and Binghamton, N.Y.’s Darren Smith occupied the front row the redraw for the top-12 starting positions.

When the green flag fell, Ward quickly jumped into the lead, setting the pace in the early going. Three laps into the race, Sheffield, Mass., resident Andy Bachetti brought out the race’s first yellow, spinning over the turns one and two embankment.

On the restart, Middlesex, N.Y.’s Alan Johnson raced into the second position, bringing Alex Yankowski with him, who raced into third. Two laps later, Sheppard made his first appearance in the top five, racing into the fourth position.

The trio of Johnson, Yankowski, and Sheppard dueled for the runner-up position for six laps, while Ward maintained an eight car-length lead over the battle for second. Yankowski was finally able to use the outside groove to work around Johnson on lap 12 and set his sights on the leader.

Two laps later Sheppard was by Johnson as well and into third, joining Yankowski on the march to run down leader Ward. Yankowski made a move on the bottom trying to get by Ward for the lead, leaving the outside lane open for Sheppard. Sheppard used that to his advantage, racing around Yankowski for second as the field completed the first half of the race.

One lap later, just after the halfway point, Sheppard switched to the bottom and drove underneath Ward for the lead. Sheppard began to stretch his lead, and attention turned to Andy Bachetti, who was racing from the tail of the field and inching towards the top five.

On lap 19, Bachetti drove underneath Duanesburg, N.Y.’s Ronnie Johnson to take the sixth position away. Bachetti would set his sights on the top five, who were a straightaway ahead of the ‘Wild Child.’

Out front, Sheppard was gapping the field by a wide margin, knifing through lap traffic, and continuing to extend the lead.

With the remainder of the race going caution free, Sheppard strolled his way to a 10-second victory for the 53rd time in his Utica-Rome Speedway career.

Yankowski followed up his win with a runner-up finish and Alan Johnson rounded out the podium cars. Ward held onto a fourth-place finish and Bachetti’s charge ended with a fifth-place finish.

Ronnie Johnson’s return to Utica-Rome rewarded him with a sixth-place finish. Montezuma, N.Y.’s Dave Marcucculli took home a seventh-place finish and Sprakers, N.Y.’s Jessica Friesen grabbed an eighth-place finish. Unadilla, N.Y.’s Billy Decker rebounded from a trip over the first turn embankment for a ninth-place finish and Masonville, N.Y.’s Shaun Walker rounded out the top-10.

The Sunoco Modified feature took the checkered just after 9:30 p.m.

South New Berlin, N.Y.’s Payton Talbot topped a 39-car Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman field for the win, his third of the season.

Talbot outdueled Durhamville, N.Y.’s Matt Janczuk in the mid-stages of the race, before driving away from the all-time winningest Sportsman driver at Utica-Rome for the win.

The Thunder on the Thruway win was worth $1,500 for the 18-year-old hotshoe, who inched closer to Janczuk’s Utica-Rome Speedway point lead with the win. Janczuk held on for second, and Johnstown, N.Y.’s Chad Edwards rounded out the podium finishers. Sherburne, N.Y.’s Allan Hodge finished in fourth-place and Rome, N.Y.’s Chris Mackey rounded out the top five.

Schenectady, N.Y.’s Nick Stone returned to Victory Lane at the ‘Home of Heroes’ after winning on nine occasions in 2021 with the Next Generation Graphix Pro Stocks. Stone’s win was his second consecutive Thunder on the Thruway triumph to open the six-race mini-series. He earned $1,000 for his efforts.

Grand Gorge, N.Y.’s Beau Ballard finished in the runner-up spot and Johnstown, N.Y.’s Jason Morrison rounded out the podium finishers, while Bret Belden and Jay Corbin rounded out the top five.

Seth Martin won his second Fastline Performance Limited Sportsman win of the season, dominating the 15-lap affair from his pole starting position. Zack Welch got his best career finish, taking the runner-up finish and Matt Backus rounded out the top three.

Corey Valade captured his second Fonda Fair Four Cylinder win of the season, racing from his eighth place starting position to lead the final 11 laps for the win. Hunter Tarbania was the Single Cam winner of the race, the first of his career.

Defending Senior Services Inc. All-Star Slingshot champion Brett Putnam won his second consecutive feature in the 20-lap affair. Putnam topped fellow feature winner this season Chris Darrow and Kirsten Swartz – who led the first 16 laps – for the win.

Corky Warner – the defending D&S Landscaping Junior Slingshot champion – got his first win of the season on Friday night. Warner topped Jayden Wust and two-time winner Blake Banek for the victory.

Racing resumes Friday, June 10 at Utica-Rome Speedway with a $5 Friday. Grandstand Admission will be $5 for a full program of racing. All the weekly divisions will be in action plus the Slingshots on the inner oval.

Utica-Rome Speedway is located at 5591 NY-5 (Seneca Turnpike) Vernon, NY 13476. The official website is and can be reached by phone at 315.953.4097.  Like Utica-Rome Speedway on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @UR_Speedway.


F.X. Caprara Car Companies Thunder on the Thruway Series Sunoco Modified Event No. 2 Feature Finish (30 laps): MATT SHEPPARD, Alex Yankowski, Alan Johnson, Pat Ward, Andy Bachetti, Ronnie Johnson, Dave Marcuccilli, Jessica Friesen, Billy Decker, Shaun Walker, Chris Curtis, JaMike Sowle, Nick Heywood, Tucker O’Connor, Justin Wright, Rocky Warner, Randy Shantel, Darren Smith, Willy Decker, Aaron Jacobs, Alan Barker, Brian Calabrese.

Did Not Start: Bobby Hackel, David Schilling

F.X. Caprara Car Companies Thunder on the Thruway Series Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman Event No. 2 Feature Finish (25 laps): PAYTON TALBOT, Matt Janczuk, Chad Edwards, Allan Hodge, Chris Mackey, A.J. Miller, Will Shields, Mike Richmond, Kevin Chaffee, Stephen Denton, Brian Calabrese, Rocco Leone, Addison Bowman, Cody Clark, Kyle DeMetro, Gordon Smith, Chip Constantino, Ed Lukas, Shawn Frost, David Dickey, Jeremy Slosek, Brian Borst, Stephen Gray, Dave Richer, Willy Decker Jr., Brent Joy, Tanner Warner.

Did Not Start: Brad Alger

Did Not Qualify: David Hackett Jr., Jason Reome, Jeff Kotary, Blake Sarpriacone, Ed Downing, Clayton DuMond, Matt Richardson, Mike Grover, Dave Moyer, Jimmy Moyer, Jim Cummings.

F.X. Caprara Car Companies Thunder on the Thruway Series Next Generation Grafix Pro Stock Event No. 2 Feature Finish (20 laps): NICK STONE, Beau Ballard, Jason Morrison, Bret Belden, Jay Corbin, Kenny Gates, Ivan Joslin, Dan Slosek, Bill Knapp, Ken Griffen, Ed Kotary, Mike Kazlauskas, Kyle Hoard, John Holmes, Randy Cosselman.

Did Not Start: Glenn Weaver

Fastline Performance Limited Sportsman Feature Finish (15 laps): SETH MARTIN, Zack Welch, Matt Backus, Alex Hughes, E.J. Gallup, Alexis Jacobs, Ernie Staelens, Eric Jensen, Mike Kalkbrenner.

Did Not Start: Cian DiMezza

Fonda Fair Four Cylinder Cruiser Feature Finish (12 laps): COREY VALADE (DOHC), Matt Bukovan, David DeNova, Hunter Tarbania (SOHC), Donald Kimball, Rudy King Jr., Hank Wedgren, Jacob Kimball, Wayne Russell Jr., Sophia DeNova, T.J. Marlitt, Austin Vanderhoof, Kyle Coley.

Senior Services Inc. All-Star Slingshot Feature Finish (20 laps): BRETT PUTNAM, Chris Darrow, Kirsten Swartz, Josh Persse, Scott Sprague, Julia Renwick, Jim Pollard, Andrew Millard, Dustin Sehn, Nick Millard, Tucker Jones, Nicholas Jenkins, Tyler Vadney, Tadd Granger, Joel Vadney.

D&S Landscaping Junior Slingshot Feature Finish (15 laps): CORKY WARNER, Jayden Wust, Blake Banek, Chase Spoor, Ayden Goodier, Savannah Simmons, Sullivan Dickey, Brody Janczuk, Ayna Sarpriacone, Maddy Broedel.