WEST LEBANON, N.Y. — Matt Sheppard is a good bet to win any DIRTcar modified event he enters, so when he drew the pole for Monday night’s King of Spring 100 at the Lebanon Valley Speedway, everyone from the meager grandstand crowd to the huge turnout of racers that filled the pits pretty much knew how the race would go.
Not a soul on either side of the track was surprised when the many time DIRTcar modified champion led flag to flag.
On the other side of the coin, Sheppard’s front row companion, Mike Mahaney, has been in a slump through the early season but he broke out of it with a bang on the high-banked half mile, recording a solid second place finish ahead of local hero Andy Bachetti, who clawed his way forward from 12th on the grid.
Saturday night Valley winner Marc Johnson and Jimmy Phelps, up from 18th, rounded out the top five.
“No matter where you start, it’s never easy,” summed up Sheppard. “I had some really hairy moments in traffic and could have easily got turned around a couple of times. And every time I thought I had a comfortable lead and could relax, the flagger would start telling me that my lead was shrinking. Luckily, we had a car that was good enough to rebuild our lead.”
At Lebanon Valley, the odd number starters go on the outside row so that the leader has the advantage off the high banks and Sheppard took full advantage of that on the break, scooting away from Mahaney and building a full turn lead by lap 10.
By lap 15 they’d caught the tailenders and Mahaney immediately started closing only to have Kyle Sheldon go around to draw a yellow and give Sheppard clear sailing again.
To make matters worse for Mahaney, third running Peter Britten got a run off the turn four banking and shot by to claim second, a position he would hold until a flat tire sent him pitside.
By lap 30, both Johnson and Bachetti had advanced from the sixth row to show third and fifth, respectively, but the sledding got tougher after that. Johnson couldn’t catch Britten and while Bachetti got alongside Mahaney once, that was as far as he got.
By the mid-50s, Mahaney appeared to get stronger, running alongside Johnson for two laps before taking third back. That turned out to be a big move, as on lap 61 Britten lost a tire and suddenly Mahaney was second again.
The return to green was short, as seventh-running Larry Wight took a hard ride into the turn three concrete on the restart and by the time his mangled mount was removed, the lap counter was at 74. One more yellow for a Max McLaughlin flat would bring the high-flying Sheppard back to the field but neither Mahaney or Bachetti had anything for him and the $13,500 winner’s purse went home with him as so many expected.
“Finally, we’re fast again,” said the elated Mahaney. “We were especially good on the restarts after I got more aggressive. I got beat by Britten because I didn’t get right up to the outside lane, so after that, I forced my way in.”
Bachetti, who had worked his right rear hard enough that it was nearly treadless, said “it’s pretty hard to pass here the way they have the track now. They raised the bottom lane and the bottom is just not good anymore.”
Local favorite L.J. Lombardo, who shocked the DIRTcar travelers by claiming the event a year ago, led the second five, which included Alex Yankowski, Sunday night Weedsport winner Mat Williamson, Britten and Darren Smith.
Steve LaRochelle led Zach Sorrentino to the stripe in the Pro Stock feature.
Feature (100 laps): 1. 9S-Matt Sheppard; 2. 35-Mike Mahaney; 3. 4B-Andy Bachetti; 4. 9-Marc Johnson; 5. 98H-Jimmy Phelps; 6. 35L-LJ Lombardo; 7. 84Y-Alex Yankowski; 8. 88-Mat Williamson; 9. 21A-Peter Britten; 10. 12-Darren Smith; 11. 215-Adam Pierson; 12. 54-Steve Bernard; 13. 74V-John Virgilio; 14. 83X-Tim Sears Jr; 15. 91-Felix Roy; 16. 99-Kolby Schroder; 17. 8H-Max McLaughlin; 18. 7D-Tyler Dippel; 19. 99L-Larry Wight; 20. 115-Kenny Tremont Jr; 21. 4-Anthony Perrego; 22. 42-Kyle Sheldon; 23. 43-Keith Flach; 24. 37M-Mathieu Desjardins; 25. 32R-Ronnie Davis III; 26. 5H-Chris Hile; 27. 2-Jack Lehner; 28. 11A-Kyle Armstrong; 29. (DNS) 55H-Brett Haas.