WATERLOO, NY - 2000 Mr. DIRT Sportsman champion Matt Sheppard, 18, of Waterloo, recently announced he will be moving up to the 358-Modified division for the 2001 DIRT Motorsports racing season. Sheppard, who led the Sportsman division last year...
WATERLOO, NY - 2000 Mr. DIRT Sportsman champion Matt Sheppard, 18, of Waterloo, recently announced he will be moving up to the 358-Modified division for the 2001 DIRT Motorsports racing season.
Sheppard, who led the Sportsman division last year with 22 total victories at five different tracks, will compete weekly at the Fulton and Cayuga County Fair Speedways, along with an all-out assault on Sunoco Race Fuels 358-Modified Super DIRT Series.
"I am really looking forward to moving up to the 358-Modifieds," said the talented Sheppard, who will compete for the DIRT 358-Modified Rookie of the Year award. "I can't wait to run with the best drivers on DIRT night in and night out, and this will be a great opportunity for me."
Sheppard, who was the 1999 DIRT Sportsman Rookie of the Year, will compete at Fulton Speedway in Fulton on Saturday nights and Cayuga County Fair Speedway in Weedsport with his Paine Motorsports No. 9s.
"Fulton will make a great Saturday night home, but I think what I am really looking forward to is racing at Weedsport on Sundays."
Sheppard will be faced with a tremendous challenge racing his Finger Lakes Machine powered 358-Modified at Weedsport with the Big Block Modifieds and some of DIRT's all-time best such as veteran drivers Bob McCreadie, Danny Johnson, and Billy Decker. It has been several years since a Small Block has beaten a Big Block, and Sheppard would certainly like to score an upset victory at the Home of DIRT Motorsports.
"I love Weedsport, and I think racing against the Big Block drivers on Sunday nights will give me some experience heading into the series."
One other challenge facing Sheppard this year will be the grueling 28-race Sunoco Race Fuels 358-Modified Super DIRT Series, beginning in mid-May at Utica-Rome Speedway and ending at the annual Eastern States Weekend at Orange County Fair Speedway in late October.
Sheppard commented, "I am excited about running the Super DIRT Series. I can't wait to get to the different tracks and run in the longer distance races, since the longest distance I've driven is only 75 laps at Orange County."
In only his second full season in open wheeled DIRT competition in 2000, Sheppard dominated the Sportsman division, winning 22 events out of 47 starts, improving his DIRT feature win total to 28.
In addition to winning nearly half his races, he earned his first track championship at Cayuga County Fair Speedway with a total of nine checkered flags along with four more wins at the nearby Rolling Wheels Raceway to win the coveted crown at the Fast Track. At Canandaigua Speedway where he won his first DIRT sanctioned feature as a Sportsman rookie at age 16, Sheppard finished fourth in points with seven feature wins.
Most importantly, Sheppard registered a division-high six victories in the 2000 UFPO 'Dig Safely' Sportsman Super DIRT Series and recorded 10 top five finishes to beat out defending series champion Chris Schultz to claim his first overall Hoosier Tire-Sunoco Race Fuels Mr. DIRT Title.
Sheppard's most dominating victory on the 2000 season came during October's Super DIRT Week XXIX on the Moody Mile at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. He led the entire 30-lap distance, coming from a third place starting spot, and having a huge lead throughout the event.
Sheppard is one of the more up and coming drivers on the DIRT Motorsports circuit in recent years. Everyone will be watching to see how he adjusts to the more powerful 358-Modified class, and there is no doubt that has the potential to be successful in his future racing endeavors.
One thing on his side as he begins the upcoming season is that he will continue to have the guidance of Steve Paine, one of DIRT's all time best drivers in its 26-year history. Paine, who owns the Teo Pro Cars that Sheppard drives, is a one time Mr. DIRT 358-Modified Co-Champion and the defending Mr. DIRT Modified Champion. In addition, his father, Stu, a former top Sportsman campaigner in the late 1980's and long time crew chief for many DIRT teams, will also prove valuable for the rising star.
"Between the Paines and my father I have a lot of experience behind me. It's great knowing that I will have a car that can put me in victory lane on any given night," said Sheppard, who himself is very knowledgeable about racecars and setups.
The well-spoken driver is quick to thank all those that have helped him throughout his racing career.
"I have to credit my success to the support I have had through the years from my Dad, Steve Paine, all of my sponsors, and of course, my fans."
Keep an eye on the Paine Motorsports No. 9s and young driver Matt Sheppard as they embark on their Rookie campaign in the DIRT 358-Modified division this summer at the Fulton and Cayuga County Fair Speedways along with the Sunoco Race Fuels Super DIRT Series.
-Paine Motorsports, Inc.