Canandaigua, NY – August 25, 2018 – Tom Skibinski, Land of Legends Raceway PR
Since the dawn of the new millennium, a Modified driver had to hold residence in Waterloo to earn a seat at the head of the table for any season-ending Land Of Legends Raceway champions dinner. So it seemed.
That was until third-generation chauffer Erick Rudolph from Ransomville broke rank in truly ‘Saturday Spectacular’ fashion, stunning seven-time defending track titlist Matt Sheppard by a mere one point in the season-long chase for Canandaigua’s coveted Pepsi Big-Block Modified crown.
With the crowd buzzing and scorers tabulating in the tower, the final point standings were read over the public address system: race runner-up Rudolph 960, 7th-place finisher Sheppard 959. Oh yes, Watertown’s Billy Dunn captured his first win of the season in the 35-lap Modified main on “Championship Night” presented by ADMAR Construction Equipment & Supplies.
And that’s the way it was much of the race, just as many eyes focused on Dunn dominating the feature in front of the field as those divided between Rudolph and Sheppard as they whittled their way through the pack in search of valuable points.
“Getting the title is really more shocking after last year, we were really upset the way the car ran here,” remarked a quietly surprized Rudolph, 26, in victory lane after breaking the 18-year stranglehold of Waterloo wheelmen Steve Paine (10 titles) and Sheppard (8) at the historic Ontario County Fairgrounds half-miler. Running only three-quarters of the 2017 season at LOLR, Rudolph posted a half-dozen top-5 feature finishes to place 14th on the final points chart.
“Changed a lot of things around for this year so its really unbelievable ending up on top, especially looking at all the improvements our team had to make. Coming into tonight with double points we knew there was a realistic chance to win the title even though the odds weren’t in our favor. Matt’s been consistent up front, too. Things just happened to work out for us, its still pretty amazing,” said Rudolph, whose father Charlie captured the overall Mr. DIRT Championship in 1986 although his highest finish in Canandaigua Big-Block points was second in 1983.
Double points were on the line for Big-Block title contenders in the final ‘Saturday Spectacular’ of the month with a 2018 champion waiting to be crowned. After the completion of qualifying heats, Jimmy Phelps was knocked out of the mix pitting Sheppard and Rudolph in a head-to-head battle for supremacy.
Rising star James Sweeting took command from his pole-position start before Dunn moved to the point for good on lap seven in his Finger Lakes-powered no. 3RS Transport Sales & Service-Number One Speedway/Bicknell mount. Rudolph began ninth and had cracked the front-five by lap 10 while 12th-starting Sheppard had improved just one spot the first third of the race.
With 15 laps to go Rudolph rode fourth and Sheppard sat eighth, with either racer needing to advance one more position to wear the crown. ‘Super Matt’ slid into seventh by lap 30 to retake the points lead, yet with with chief starter Scott Hixson set to unfurl the white flag signaling one more lap, the ‘Ransomville Rocket’ blasted his way into second aboard the potent no. 25 Opti-Coat-Blue Cross/Blue Shield-Mohawk Northeast/Bicknell ride to give him just enough for his first career Big-Block track championship.
“With the new (track) management, we weren’t really sure what to expect here. Started out the season just shaking down the equipment since Canandaigua opened before a lot of other tracks,” divulged Rudolph, a two-time winner this year at LOLR with 12 top-5 finishes in 16 point races. “Really loved the way things shaped up around here, can see all the improvements just walking around, so we decided to call this our Saturday night home and we were able to have a real consistent year. Always ran near the front and got a couple wins, really happy with the car and this title is a testament to my team and all their hard work.”
“I would say weekly competition-wise this place is probably the best there is for modifieds in the Northeast. Don’t see any reason why we won’t call Land of Legends home next year. The track has been super racey all season. It changes a little bit from week to week so that keeps things fresh and interesting which makes us better. But no matter what the outcome, the (track) staff and crew did a great job here all season, glad we were able to keep coming back,” Rudolph added.
For Sheppard, who matched Justin Haers’ points total last summer before ultimately collecting the Canandaigua title in a tie-breaker using a division-high eight wins, track conditions didn’t complement his set-up from lap one.
“Just weren’t that good tonight,” stated Sheppard, who ended the season with another division-best five feature wins. “When you’re the points leader you can only lose in these double-point shows. With the track conditions completely different than last week, we just never had a car good enough.”
Dunn was solid from the start, salvaging second in his nine-car heat before improving one position in the feature rundown.
“Finally hit it just right tonight, been really close a lot of times coming in,” noted Dunn, 34, following his eighth career Big-Block win at LOLR, his first registered in 2014. The north country regular maintained fourth in the final standings on the heels of his eighth top-5 feature finish of the year. “Everytime we tried to make (car) a little better we’d dial ourselves right out. Kinda took our best guess with everything tonight and took advantage of a good starting spot. This was a long time coming.”
Sweeting settled for a season-best third-place tally ahead of Phelps and his HBR Racing teammate Max McLaughlin, both taking down a feature win during their ’18 campaign in Canandaigua.
Land of Legends Raceway Event Summary – August 25, 2018
ADMAR Construction Equipment & Supplies Saturday Spectacular
Modified Season Championship Night
Pepsi Big-Block Modified(DOUBLE POINTS)
*Feature (35 laps): 1. 3rs-Billy Dunn ($2,000), 2. 25-Erick Rudolph, 3. 11j-James Sweeting, 4. 98h-Jimmy Phelps, 5. 6h-Max McLaughlin, 6. 3-Justin Haers, 7. 9s-Matt Sheppard, 8. 23-Kyle Coffey, 9. 19w-Justin Wright, 10. 22g-Gil Tegg Jr., 11. 14j-Alan Johnson, 12. 77-Lance Dusett, 13. 12-Brian Sage, 14. 7x-Steve Paine, 15. 31m-Jimmy Maier, 16. 5-Tom Keyes, 17. 22-Jeff Daugherty.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Sweeting, Paine, Haers, Tegg, Rudolph, Johnson, Sage, Wright, Daugherty.
#2: Dusett, Dunn, Coffey, Sheppard, Phelps, McLaughlin, Maier, Keyes.
2018 Track Champion: Erick Rudolph