Back On Top: Matt Sheppard Collects $6,800 Utica-Rome ‘Honoring Alex’ Opener

Written by Chris Moore

VERNON, NY – Matt Sheppard started 2023 just the same as he ended 2022 at Utica Rome Speedway: in Victory Lane.

Sheppard, who started sixth, took the lead on a lap-three restart – a lead he never relinquished – and set sail for a $6,800 victory and his second consecutive ‘Honoring Alex’ Alex Friesen Tribute triumph.

“This race is for Alex, and to have an awesome crowd like we’ve had for two straight weeks here! He would love to see this place right now. It’s awesome,” an elated Sheppard said following his victory.

The continued event following last week’s postponement after rain came during the night, saw an even larger crowd on hand for the second attempt at the affair.

The win for Sheppard was the 61st 3 Bastards Brewing Modified victory of his Utica-Rome Speedway career, pulling him to within two wins of the all-time record.

“We hit on something here last year and we’ve just stuck to it,” Sheppard said of his No. 9s. “We haven’t changed too much and we’re just trying to ride it out.”

The win for Sheppard was also his second of the season under the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series banner. Sheppard was a winner on March 31 at Delaware International Speedway in Delmar, Del.

“Yea we’re off to a great start with the two wins and a second… it’s definitely something we’re going to be paying attention to as the season progresses,” Sheppard offered.

The two wins and a runner-up at Fonda (N.Y.) Speedway last weekend have Sheppard’s NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series championship chase off to a strong start.

Stewart Friesen – dawning a throwback paint scheme for his uncle Alex Friesen – was the runner-up to Sheppard after starting the 30-lap affair from the 10th starting position.

Friesen quickly carved his way to third in just four laps, but his charge would quickly stall at the final podium position.

The Sprakers, N.Y., native pressured Billy Decker for the runner-up position, including on multiple restarts, but didn’t take the second spot until the completion of lap 26.

With just four laps remaining and no cautions, Sheppard was too far gone for Friesen to make a bid at the race in honor of his uncle.

Billy Decker rounded out the podium finishers with a solid third-place run. The Unadilla, N.Y., driver battled Larry Wight early for the lead before the close racing resulted in Wight going off the turn three embankment, ending any chances he had to challenge for the win.

Decker, however, had nothing to offer Sheppard for the lead, and was left to try to fend off Friesen for the second position. Decker lost the battle, settling for the final podium spot.

East Greenbush, N.Y.’s Bobby Hackel IV spent what appeared to be the entirety of the race in the fourth spot and finished there at the conclusion of 30-laps.

Potsdam, N.Y.’s Michael Maresca rounded out the top five, surging into the fifth position on a late race restart after starting in 14th.

Finishing sixth through 10th, respectively, were Covington Township, Pa.’s Alex Yankowski; Ransomville, N.Y.’s Erick Rudolph; Baldwinsville, N.Y.’s Jimmy Phelps; Sheffield, Mass., native Andy Bachetti; and Sprakers, N.Y.’s Jessica Friesen.

South New Berlin, N.Y.’s Payton Talbot followed up his Opening Night win at Fonda Speedway with another dominant performance in the Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman 25-lap feature.

Talbot started second before using the outside lane to pass Zach Sobotka in the early going and set sail. Talbot cut through heavy traffic for the latter half of the race to pick up the $1,000 payday.

Durhamville, N.Y.’s Matt Janczuk rose from fifth to second but ran out of time trying to chase down Talbot.

West Winfield, N.Y.’s Jeremy Slosek, Parish, N.Y.’s Zach Sobotka, and Chittenango, N.Y.’s Ed Lukas rounded out the top-five.

West Edmeston, N.Y.’s Bret Belden won a thrilling Next Generation Graphix Pro Stocks feature.

Belden topped a see-saw battle between himself and Josh Coonradt. Coonradt – who was trying to use the top lane to drive around Belden coming to the checkered – jumped the turn three cushion and spun out.

Belden would take the checkered uncontested followed by Jason Morrison, A.J. Walters, Andy Graves, and Ken Griffin.

New Berlin, N.Y.’s Zack Welch came out victorious in a three-car slugfest in the Fastline Performance Limited Sportsman feature.

Welch outdueled E.J. Gallup and Connor Prokop for the win. Gallup and Prokop rounded out the podium in an entertaining battle.

Justin Pope came out victorious in the Fonda Fair Four Cylinder feature, also emerging from a three-car battle. Pope topped Nace Power and Corey Valade for the win.

Wayne Russell Jr. was the Single Cam winner of the event.

Brett Putnam was victorious in the Senior Services Inc. All-Star Slingshot feature on the inner oval while Bodie Marks topped the Junior Slingshot feature event.

Utica-Rome Speedway resumes next Friday (May 5) with ‘$5 Friday.’ Grandstand Admission will be just $5 for all who attend. The 3 Bastards Brewing Modifieds, Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman, Next Generation Graphix Pro Stocks, Fastline Performance Limited Sportsman, and Fonda Fair Four Cylinders will all be in action in addition to the Senior Services Inc. Allstar Slingshots and Junior Slingshots on the inner oval.

For the May 5 program, all gates open at 5 p.m. Hot laps are slated to begin at 6:45 p.m. with racing to follow at 7:30 p.m.

Grandstand admission is $5 for all. Kids 11 and under get in FREE.

Pit Admission is $40 (ages 13 and up), $35 (NASCAR or Utica-Rome Member), $10 for Kids (ages 6-12) and $2 for Children ages 5 and under.

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.


3 Bastards Brewing Modified Feature Finish (30 laps): MATT SHEPPARD, Stewart Friesen, Billy Decker, Bobby Hackel IV, Michael Maresca, Alex Yankowski, Erick Rudolph, Jimmy Phelps, Andy Bachetti, Jessica Friesen, Alan Barker, Michael Trautschold, Pat Ward, Alex Payne, David Schilling, Jeff Taylor, JaMike Sowle, Addison Bowman, Rusty Smith, Randy Shantel, Kevin Root, Rocky Warner, Willy Decker, Larry Wight, Tim Mayne, Eric Leet, Alan Johnson.

Did Not Start: Mat Williamson

Did Not Qualify: Corey Cormier, J.R. Hurlburt, Brian Murphy, Brad Poppleton, Ron Holmes, Justin Wright, Tim Fuller, Max McLaughlin, Jim Walsh, Dylan Scribner.

Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman Feature Finish (25 laps): PAYTON TALBOT, Matt Janczuk, Jeremy Slosek, Zach Sobotka, Ed Lukas, David Hackett, Allan Hodge, Mike Richmond, Blaine Klinger, Shawn Frost, Matthew Richardson, Jim Nagle, Stephen Denton, Teddy Clayton Jr., Alex Hughes, Ed Downing, Gordon Smith, David Dickey, Josh Amodio, Seth Martin, Steven Yankowski, Jim Rothwell, Blake Sarpriacone, Willy Decker Jr., Joey Buonagurio.

Did Not Start: Tyler Corcoran, Joe Toth, Mike Fowler, Jean Francois Tessier, Donovan Lussier, Jim Gould.

Next Generation GraphiX Pro Stock Feature Finish (20 laps): BRET BELDEN, Jason Morrison, A.J. Walters, Andy Graves, Ken Griffin, Ed Kotary, Mike Kazlauskas, Steve Cosselman, Don Collins, Gus Gould, Josh Coonradt, Mike Keith, John Holmes, Jim Normoyle, Kyle Money.

Did Not Start: Jerry Streeter

Fastline Performance Limited Sportsman Feature Finish (20 laps): ZACK WELCH, E.J. Gallup, Connor Prokop, Carson Rothwell, Nick Zielinski, Dalton Doyle, Dylan Nichols, Bobby Newman, Tyler Bobar, Stephen Windsor, Zach Falciani, Timmy Wilmot, Andrew MacFadden, Ernest Staelens, Brody Davis, Dave Kingsley, Kirsten Swartz, Savannah Simmons, Eymarah Bowman, Matt Bukovan, Maddy Broedel, Eric Windsor, Hunter Tarbania, Mike Haman.

Fonda Fair Four Cylinder Feature Finish (12 laps): JUSTIN POPE, Nace Power, Corey Valade, Dan Valade, Rudy King Jr., David DeNova, Donald Kimball, Wayne Russell Jr. (Single Cam winner), Sophia Denova, Kyle Coley, T.J. Marlitt, Kayla Gould, Hank Wedgren Jr.

Did Not Start: Jacob Kimball, Natalie Strohm.

Senior Services Inc. Allstar Slingshot Feature Finish (20 laps): BRETT PUTNAM, A.J. Albreada, Chris Darrow, Jason Dufel, Pail Holic, Tadd Granger, Nicholas Jenkins, Kevin Loveless, Justin House, Corky Warner, Scott Sprague.

Junior Slingshot Feature Finish (15 laps): BODIE MARKS, Trevor Houghton, Jakoby Thompson, Chase Spoor, A.J. Albreada, Jayden Wust, Brody Janczuk, Blake Banek, Lucas Cole, Ayden Goodier, Preston Trautschold, Sullivan Dickey, Ayna Sarpriacone.