Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch 5: Dirt Modified Drivers Who Should Get a NASCAR Start in 2022

If you’re a true fan of dirt track racing, you know just how big of a deal Super DIRT Week is.

The 49th edition of “Racing’s Biggest Party” concluded Sunday at Oswego Speedway in upstate New York, starring the DIRTcar pro stocks, dirt sportsmans, small block and big block modifieds.

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Thanks to NASCAR having two scheduled dirt weekends at Bristol Motor Speedway and Knoxville Raceway, dirt track stars across the country have gotten the opportunity to get themselves noticed by the NASCAR community. For the Northeastern modified guys, Stewart Friesen is the current torchbearer. His wife Jessica, along with Tyler Dippel, Max McLaughlin, J.R. Heffner, Tim McCreadie, Jimmy Horton and Brett Hearn, also have NASCAR starts under their belts to go with their dirt modified accomplishments.

So which other beasts of the Northeast deserve the chance to do the same? Here’s five candidates.

1. Mat Williamson

The three colors that best describe Mat Williamson’s SDW are black, white and green: black and white representing the checkered flag, and green representing all the money he raked in from all the big wins he scored.

The St. Catharines, Ontario, driver seemed almost untouchable throughout the week leading up to Sunday’s 200-lap big block A-main at Oswego. First came the Outlaw 200 at Fulton Speedway, in which Williamson pocketed $20,000. He then won the Demon 100 at Brewerton Speedway, which paid $10,000. The next day, he used a last-lap pass to take home the winning $4,000 prize in the Hurricane Harvey 75 at Brewerton. At Oswego, he lost his only race of the week by finishing runner-up to Stewart Friesen in Saturday’s small block feature, but was still awarded $10,000 for that result.

Finally, Williamson’s peak moment of SDW occurred during Sunday’s A-main when he stole the lead from Dippel and Peter Britten after they collided on lap 150 while racing for the lead. He sailed away on an overtime restart to claim back-to-back Oswego wins and the $50,000 purse. All in all, he pocketed at least over $94,000 in perhaps the most dominant SDW performance in living memory.

He isn’t called “Money Mat” for nothing, folks. Look for him to make a lot more noise in 2022.

2. Erick Rudolph

A can’t-miss young talent hailing from Ransomville, N.Y., Erick Rudolph knows how to light the competition ablaze wherever he goes.

Rudolph, nicknamed “The Firestarter”, has recorded hundreds of feature wins across go-karts, TQ midgets, dirt modifieds and asphalt modifieds. He still holds the record for being the youngest ever winner in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, picking up the win as a 17-year-old at Spencer Speedway in 2009. He raced in the series full-time until 2011, scoring a best points finish of eighth in 2010.

Fortunately for Rudolph, mentorship was easy to come by. His father Charlie Rudolph is an accomplished racer in his own right, winning the 1986 DIRTcar championship and making four NASCAR Cup Series starts in 1987, scoring a best finish of 13th at Pocono Raceway. The latest accomplishment for the father-son duo was winning their third track championship at Ransomville Speedway, tying Williamson for the crown.

Even though this year’s SDW didn’t go the way Rudolph hoped it would, he is destined to bounce back and get back to his winning form. No matter what vehicle you put him in, you’re sure to be pleased with what he does. Heck, even Post Malone has his back.

3. Matt Sheppard

This Savannah, N.Y., driver puts the “Super” in the Super DIRT Series. And for good reason.

Matt Sheppard, in his iconic Superman-themed No. 9, is a seven-time Super DIRT Series champion, including four in a row from 2016-19. This year, he recently eclipsed the astonishing mark of 400 career modified feature wins at the Land of Legends Raceway in Canandaigua, N.Y.. Among that total, two of those wins have come at SDW at both Syracuse (2009) and Oswego (2017), making he and Stewart Friesen the only two drivers to win the big block A-main at both tracks.

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With Sheppard being at such a successful level in his career already, why not have him put his skills to the test in the Camping World Truck or Cup series at Bristol Motor Speedway dirt? If so, his “super” status will leap the Empire State Building in a single bound.

4. Billy Decker

A standout veteran whose career spans several decades, Billy Decker is a driver you can bet on for any marquee modified event.

The 56-year-old Decker began his modified career in the ’80s and is showing no signs of slowing down. He is a three-time Super DIRT Series champion (1998, 2008, 2014), and has four big block A-main wins during SDW. He just missed out on a fifth win with his runner-up finish to Williamson in Sunday’s 200-lapper at Oswego. But it’s not a shabby result considering that he started way back in 27th.

Nonetheless, it’s usually a safe bet to have Decker in your race picks. Perhaps in 2022, the “Franklin Flyer” will find a way to fly through the field and have a successful NASCAR debut.

5. Mike Mahaney

If the Super DIRT Series had a “Most Improved” award to give out, Mike Mahaney would be the perfect recipient.

The 32-year-old veteran from King Ferry, N.Y., is one of those guys on the Super DIRT Series grid who knows how to play the race smart and keep his car in winning contention. He holds a Motorsports Technology degree from SUNY Alfred, so he has plenty of know-how in keeping his equipment in tip-top shape.

Thanks to his 2020 track championship at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, Mahaney had high hopes going into the 2021 season. While he had several good runs along the way, there were other times when bad luck found a way to strike him in a multitude of ways. But he shook it all off with his season-defining Sept. 25 win at Albany-Saratoga, when he ferociously held off Stewart Friesen to finally score his first career Super DIRT Series win.

Mahaney is also set to be the son-in-law of longtime dirt racing icon Billy Pauch, who has over 600 feature wins between dirt modifieds, asphalt modifieds and sprint cars. Pauch also made four Truck Series starts from 1997-98, scoring a best finish of sixth.

Mahaney previously attempted to land a part-time ARCA Menards Series ride through the Richard Petty Driver Search in 2010 but did not succeed. Even if it’s a 12-year wait, his arrival into the NASCAR scene will be a memorable one if he gets that opportunity back.

About the author

Jesse is a 27-year-old motorsports fan hailing from western NY, now residing in Knoxville, TN. Aside from writing, his resume includes accomplishments behind the wheel as a racer, plus behind the mic as an announcer. He holds an A.S. degree in Music Performance and another one in Public Communications. He enjoys racing go-karts, playing drums/piano, exercising, playing with his dog, and studying motorsports history in his spare time.

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