Story By: JOE GRABIANOWSKI / DIRTCAR – WEEDSPORT, NY – There was a little magic in Max McLaughlin’s right foot as he peddled his Billy Whittaker Cars Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modified to his first career Series win.
McLaughlin’s Sweeteners Plus No. 32c flashed across the Weedsport Speedway finish line beneath Dave Farney’s double checkered flag display to win DIRTcar OktoberFAST presented by DIRTVision’s $10,000 finale.
Not only did Max McLaughlin, from Mooresville, NC, win his first Series race but he made it happen by passing a Weedsport master, Matt Sheppard, at a track that McLaughlin once called home, literally.
“I was crying with five laps to go. Thank you Sweeteners Plus, Cellular Sales, and the Coffeys for giving me this ride. Al Heinke is the reason I’m here right now,” said McLaughlin. “When I was fifteen years old my family was out of money and I didn’t know if we’d keep racing. Al Heinke gave me the opportunity to keep racing. He owns this place and I lived here! I lived here for over a year.”
At last, McLaughlin conquered Weedsport’s fabled Victory Hill.
“I’ve been trying to get a Series win here. I’ve been second to Sheppard, Friesen, Rudolph, and everybody in the book. I gotta have a record for most seconds without a win,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin and Sheppard’s fates mirrored each other throughout the week. Matt Sheppard built the car for Vic Coffey and as it happened both drivers struggled through the first half of OktoberFAST. But at Land of Legends Raceway, Sheppard broke through with a win and McLaughlin was in the hunt.
“We thrashed this week. We were not very good at the beginning. Neither Matt [Sheppard] or I were running well. We worked our tails off every night.”
“I’m so thankful for everybody. This car was amazing. My idol in dirt racing growing up was Matt Sheppard and he built this race car. To pass him for the win…we’re going to celebrate tonight.”
In an already clearly emotional Victory Lane, McLaughlin dedicated his win to many of the important people in his life including Andy Phelps, Jimmy Phelps’ Father, who passed away earlier this year and World of Outlaws and DIRTcar Racing’s Chris Dolack, who is on the minds of everyone in the dirt racing world.
The only car to beat Matt Sheppard was one he built. The No.9s took off from the pole position and powered his way into a healthy lead for the first half of the race. St. Catharines, ON driver Mat Williamson kept him on a short leash and traded the lead with Sheppard. Several other drivers began to close on Sheppard and Williamson like Pat Ward, Jimmy Phelps, and finally Max Mclaughlin from his seventh-place start spot.
“We weren’t that good on long runs. The car was just starting to get out from under me. I actually held on longer than I thought I would. I think we were very close. A couple small tweaks before the Feature and we would have been sitting out in front,” Sheppard noted. “It was quite a turnaround from the beginning of the week. We’re definitely in the ballpark now.”
Jimmy Phelps too had a lot to celebrate about McLaughlin’s win having been his teammate and racing mentor before McLaughlin’s jump to the asphalt racing world.
“It was a great night. The track was really good. We didn’t have a great draw. My car felt good on the bottom. I knew I had to keep the left rear warmed up,” Phelps said. “We got ourselves up in the hunt and it was awesome to watch our buddy Max win his first Super DIRTcar Series race. I felt like we had a second-place car but we didn’t have anything for Max.
Mike Mahaney, from King Ferry, NY, was a man on a mission in the 75-lap Feature. Mahaney had an exceptional OktoberFAST, scoring podium finishes in all Billy Whittaker Cars Super DIRTcar Series Features up until Weedsport. Due to disqualification in his Heat Race, Mahaney was forced to start Last Chance Showdown where he nearly drove from last place to qualify but fell just short.
Luckily Mahaney had a Series provisional to fall back on and started on the fourteenth row of the Feature. He knuckled down and carried his No. 35 seventeen positions which awarded him the Stirling Lubricants Hard Luck Award.
Matt Sheppard put it all together in Time Trials and recorded a 15.874-second lap around Weedsport Speedway and thanks to the night’s special award sponsor, Stirling Lubricants, he added another $500 to his winnings. Max McLaughlin was second fastest, the reverse of the Feature order. It’s fair to say Sheppard and McLaughlin dominated the night’s results.
DIRTcar OktoberFAST presented by DIRTVision has concluded. The unprecedented event saw hundreds of race cars and thousands of laps all live on DIRTVision on some of the Northeast’s premier DIRTcar race tracks.
Feature (75 Laps)
1. 32C-Max Mclaughlin [$10,000]; 2. 9S-Matt Sheppard [$5,000]; 3. 98H-Jimmy Phelps [$2,500]; 4. 44-Stewart Friesen [$1,800]; 5. 88-Mat Williamson [$1,600]; 6. 99L-Larry Wight [$1,400]; 7. 42P-Pat Ward [$1,300]; 8. 20-Brett Hearn [$1,200]; 9. 25-Erick Rudolph [$1,100]; 10. 35-Mike Mahaney [$500]; 11. 7MM-Michael Maresca [$800]; 12. 5H-Chris Hile [$700]; 13. 21A-Peter Britten [$600]; 14. 28-Jordan Mccreadie [$575]; 15. 3-Justin Haers [$550]; 16. 91-Billy Decker [$525]; 17. 83X-Tim Sears [$500]; 18. 111-Demetrios Drellos [$500]; 19. 60-Jackson Gill [$500]; 20. X-Chad Phelps [$500]; 21. 19M-Jessey Mueller [$]; 22. 215-Adam Pierson [$500]; 23. 4-Andy Bachetti [$500]; 24. 2020-Tyler Trump [$500]; 25. 32R-Ronnie Davis [$500]; 26. 19-Tim Fuller [$500]; 27. 15-Todd Root [$500]; 28. 98-Rocky Warner [$500]
Stirling Lubricants Hard Charger Award: 35-Mike Mahaney[+17]