Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2022 Billy Whittaker Cars 200 at Oswego

The Headline(s)

“Superman” Matt Sheppard ran away with the final 40 laps of the Billy Whittaker Cars 200, marking his second career sweep of Super DIRT Week’s major feature races.

How it Happened

2022 Billy Whittaker Cars 200 (Super DIRTcar Series)
Where: Oswego Speedway – Waterloo, N.Y. (streamed on DirtVision)
Winner’s Purse: $50,000

A lap 182 caution for Brian Calabrese’s expired engine gave defending Billy Whittaker Cars 200 champion Mat Williamson the shot he was looking for, but he had absolutely nothing in the final laps for Matt Sheppard, who scored what DirtVision labeled his 39th feature win of 2022 in the $50,000-to-win finale of Super DIRT Week Sunday night (Oct. 9).

It took a while for Sheppard, the heavy favorite ending Sunday’s race, to take the race lead for good after leading more than 40 laps to start the feature, but he was finally able to prevail over Marc Johnson after sustained pressure on a restart following a lap 156 yellow for Jackson Gill’s engine failure. From there, the only drama facing Sheppard was contact with the lapped car of Adam Pierson seven laps from the checkered flag.

Sunday’s race played out very differently from the 2021 edition, as the racing surface lacked the canyon-esque divots that plagued last year’s race. Though it was a sketchy start with a track that rubbered immediately and led to a single-file opening half, lapped traffic eventually spiced up the event.

2022 BILLY WHITTAKER CARS 200 RACE RESULTS

Success Stories

There’s no debate, Matt Sheppard is king of the big-block modifieds in 2022, and he’s sneakily built a campaign that could rival even late model giant Jonathan Davenport for driver of the year consideration. 39 wins in 2022 and the last week was massive, with Sheppard winning the $20,000 Fulton Outlaw 200 a week ago, then winning both the Salute to the Troops 150 Saturday and the Billy Whittaker Cars 200 victory this weekend. 

$90,000 winnings in a week is decent money. And here’s a stat of note for the 2022 season. One thing’s for sure, just like Davenport, Sheppard’s worthy of the nickname “Superman.”

Marc Johnson faded a bit to finish off the podium (in fifth place) but in terms of biggest surprise in Sunday’s Billy Whittaker Cars 200, it was the other driver of a No. 9 car. Johnson led more than 30 laps Sunday and kept Sheppard at bay for a long stretch of the feature race, though he admittedly benefitted from some timely cautions in a way not dissimilar to Kyle Larson’s Hillbilly Hundred win last week.

Watertown, N.Y.’s Billy Dunn won the only race I ever saw contested on the old “Moody Mile” in Syracuse back in 2013 and had to take a past champion’s provisional to start the Billy Whittaker Cars 200, but he made the most of it, running as high as fourth in the event and winning hard charger honors, improving from a 40th starting position to 11th by race’s end.

Williamson shows that he gained zero positions on the stat sheet (started second, finished second), but he had to battle back through considerable traffic to earn his runner-up finish after the team opted not to change tires under the race’s first caution on lap 32, a decision that left the No. 88 car to the wolves in the race’s first half as a rubbered-up track made passing near impossible.

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Now having said that, had Williamson’s team taken tires during that first caution on lap 32 and maintained track position with the eventual race leaders, the defending Billy Whittaker Cars 200 champ may well have had something left in the tank (or on the hubs) to make a stronger challenge on Sheppard. 

The incident of the race unfolded on lap 113 and also involved Williamson, along with Larry Wight. The two cars collided in turn 2 and literally connected bumper to bumper, leading to half a lap of the two drivers jamming on their gas pedals trying to separate themselves. Eventually the two had to stop in turn 4 to have track officials separate them.

Veteran Billy Decker was the first victim of the Billy Whittaker Cars 200, bringing out the first yellow flag on lap 32 and finishing 40th.

NASCAR Regulars

Former Camping World Truck Series regular Tyler Dippel has raced far last frequently than he did a season ago, but he made his Billy Whittaker Cars 200 start count, going from 21st to a sixth-place finish over the course of 200 laps. 

Truck Series regular Stewart Friesen ran as high as third during Sunday’s race but never seemed to challenge for the race lead, finishing eighth. Friesen also won the Race of Champions exhibition earlier in the week.

Fanning the Flames

Credit where it’s due. After Oswego Speedway featured a God-awful racing surface with Grand Canyon-esque divots in it even before the green flag started a year ago, the racing surface was tremendously improved this season, with the divots that appeared by race’s end comparable to what used to be seen on the Syracuse mile-track. 

See also
Thinkin' Dirty: 2021 Billy Whittaker Cars 200 at Oswego

Now, having said that, there is one thing that does need to be fixed for 2023 and that’s how quickly the track rubbered. The first 50-some laps of the race were not anything to write home about, as the track immediately took rubber and led to follow-the-leader procession around the lowest lane of the racetrack. Eventually, lapped traffic forced drivers to start moving around and widened the track out, plus track officials appeared to find a solution that helped the surface.

Apart from the lap 48 yellow that saw the sweepers featured on the DirtVision broadcast cleaning up the track, I can’t confirm whether said sweepers were repeatedly deployed. If they were, that’d go at least part of the way to explain how interminably long the cautions were during Sunday’s race. DIRTcar rules only allow three laps to be run off under yellow that count toward the race total, which was necessary for race fans because had actual laps under yellow counted, the 2022 Billy Whittaker Cars 200 would rival the 2007 Memphis Xfinity Series race for yellow fever.

And those extended yellow flags occurred despite the early-race decision made to utilize single-file restarts. 

Be still my beating heart, live pit stops in a major short-track race. Cool footage here, though it’s worth observing just how difficult it is to change tires at speed on a dirt car.

Scheduled post. Competition cautions have no place in longer races. There were 10 naturally occurring cautions during Sunday’s Billy Whittaker Cars 200. That was more than enough.

It’s fitting that a race that starts with a Le Mans-style starting grid features a champagne bath for the race winner. What this video doesn’t show is that Matt Sheppard did the dirt track racing community proud, taking a swig of champagne, passing the bottle, chugging a Bud Light and grabbing another one. 

Numbers Game

11

Number of cautions that slowed Sunday’s Billy Whittaker Cars 200 at Oswego.

78

Big-block modifieds entered for Super DIRT Week racing at Oswego.

$1,500

Pay to start Sunday’s Billy Whittaker Cars 200 at Oswego.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give the Billy Whittaker Cars 200 three and a half Bud Lights. This was a markedly improved race from 2022, but that bar was low. Between the extended yellow flags and the rubber early one, this feature did seem to drag a bit.

Up Next: Thinkin’ Dirty rejoins the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series for the final time in 2022 as the series tackles the Dirt Track World Championship at Portsmouth Raceway Park. The $100,000-to-win finale goes green Saturday with coverage on Flo Racing.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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