The battle for bragging rights Wednesday night came down to a pair of former track regulars showing the way. North country veteran Tim Fuller proved flawless in the end, staving off every challenge from area all-star Matt Sheppard to capture the Super DIRTcar Series 'Stars & Stripes 70' presented by Honeoye Auto Parts & iFreeze Storage & Distribution Center at Land Of Legends Raceway.
"You got the baddest guy on the planet drives Modifieds," declared Fuller, 55, following a flag-to-flag triumph worth $7,500 for the Watertown wheelman. "Anytime (Sheppard) is on you and right beside you, gotta be right on the mark. He ran me in there pretty hard but we never touched. He really did a good job."
Wrapping up the 'Wednesday Spectacular' ---originally scheduled over the 'Fourth of July' holiday--- in front of a full house of race fans, Capital District invader Andrew Buff also led every circuit to claim the companion 30-lap DIRTcar Northeast Series Central/West Region headliner for Stirling Lubricants Sportsman worth $1,000.
Another banner night of racing at the hallowed Ontario County oval closed with Fuller emerging as the seventh different Big-Block winner in nine races staged this season while Buff continued the streak of no repeat victors in nine Sportsman outings. 2023 has so far included three first-time winners in both open-wheel divisions with Buff as the 127th Sportsman racer to grace victory lane since 1987.
Fresh off his induction into Weedsport's Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame on July 13, Fuller showed no signs of slowing down in just his fourth series start of the season. The 2005 tour titlist won his qualifying heat, drew the pole, then held off Sheppard the entire distance to capture his 33rd career SDS victory (8th all-time), the first since May '21 at Bridgeport (NJ) Speedway.
Among the stellar field of 42 Big-Block teams signed in for Canandaigua's 70th Anniversary special, 24th-ranked Fuller had to fend off 21 of the top-25 in points entering round eight of the premier series. After nine-time and defending SDS champion Sheppard set fast time (18.456sec., 97.529mph), won his own heat and lined up third on the 26-car starting grid, the final outcome appeared unlikely.
Yet Fuller put any doubt to rest in 35 miles of constant combat, weaving high and low through traffic while keeping 'Super Matt' in check on three restarts. Veterans Pat Ward (lap 21) and Alan Johnson (lap 41) slowed to incur caution before tour traveler Darren Smith suffered a broken front-end to force him pitside for the remainder with 49 laps complete.
Fuller was up for the challenge every time, never flinching in the final run to the checkers despite Sheppard pressing for win number 17 on another sensational season. Sheppard was able to close the gap in traffic on occasion as the laps clicked off, before ultimately falling 10 car-lengths shy of Fuller in his potent black #19 St.Lawrence Radiology-G&R Auto Parts-Integra Shocks/Bicknell entry. Top-5 finishers Peter Britten, 17th-starting Max McLaughlin and his HBR teammate Jimmy Phelps crossed the stripe well back.
Second-generation driver Jordan McCreadie was score sixth ahead of Jack Lehner, Erick Rudolph, Canadian standout Mat Williamson and Larry Wight while two-time reigning LOLR points king Justin Haers finished 11th chased by last Saturday's LOLR Pepsi Big-Block Modified winner Alex Payne.
"Very fortunate to get through this whole deal," remarked Fuller, now with three (2009, 2016) of his 11 victories at the fairgrounds coming in series competition. "Starting on the pole you've only got one way to go and that's backwards. Just gotta be consistent and tonight had to concentrate so hard. Don't think I looked at the lap counter twice, just because you had to focus on hitting your marks every time. If not, Sheppard was by you and gone."
"But this is all really because of the support from Mike and Barb Maresca (car owners), gotta remember a lot of these people have been with me for a long time, very fortunate. Came down here alone today, picked up a guy from another crew and a friend from home drove down to help out then flies back to Wisconsin tomorrow. But we did it," added Fuller, who won his first race at LOLR in 2001.
In search of his seventh tour triumph at LOLR, nine-time track champion Sheppard secured second aboard the familiar #9S Hurlock Auto&Speed-Westmoreland Golf Club/Bicknell ride.
"Tim was awesome tonight, there's a reason why he's in the DIRT Hall of Fame, that's it right there," stated Sheppard after extending his series points lead now with six front-five feature finishes in the eight tour stops. "He was definitely the class of the field. Could see in the heat he was really good, man he really wooped on us."
"We had a few shots, thought if I could beat him into turn one I could beat him to the top and that is what it would take to win the race. And I think I beat him to one three times and still didn't beat him off the top of two. Feel like I was maybe a little better than he was in turns three and four but he was a bunch better than I was in one and two. Maybe if we could've restarted out of two and raced into three I could've won this thing."
"But its another really good night for us, solid night. Been knocking on the door every night, got a few wins and now three seconds in a row. Just really proud of this whole team, been a long week and a long grind and we keep rolling through it," added Sheppard, who remains two wins (88 Big-Block, 10 Sportsman) shy of the century mark at Canandaigua.
Third-place Britten was the highest finisher of all LOLR regulars, advancing from sixth to join Fuller and Sheppard on the podium.
"Last year's series races here we kinda stubbed our toe, we're our own worst enemy sometimes," noted Britten, who is also third in the SDS point standings with a handful of Top-5 finishes in the eight extra-distance events. "Thanks for all the hometown support tonight, all the fans have been great."
"Congrats to old has-been Fuller, awesome job for him, he's in the Hall of Fame now but obviously he's still got it and ain't done yet," joked Australian ace Britten. "We've been pretty consistent on the series this year, hopefully we can keep it going and come back Saturday night and try to get this Pepsi car to victory lane again."
Super DIRTcar Series '23 returns to action at Autodrome Drummond for a back-to-back "King of the North" doubleheader on Mon. July 31 & Tue. Aug. 1 followed Wed. Aug. 2 by the "Canadian Classic' at Brockville Ontario Speedway. The premier Big-Block tour returns to LOLR on Wed. Aug. 16 as the third and final leg of the Super DIRTcar Series SummerFAST, with another $7,500 on top for the 60-lap victor.