By CODY MANMILLER
GEORGETOWN, DE – Finally, after a handful of runner-up finishes at Delaware’s Georgetown Speedway, Ryan Watt outgunned Matt Sheppard to capture the Melvin L. Joseph Memorial on Saturday night, the series opener for the Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series (STSS) Presented by Sunoco.
Watt’s triumph was his fourth career win on the STSS tour, but his first at Georgetown Speedway in series history. The 2017 STSS Velocita-USA. South Region champion began his title defense with a win in the 50th race of the series’ history, and in the first of eight races scheduled for six tracks in the southern faction of the tour.
“We’ve been so close to winning here and got second every race here last year,” Watt said in Victory Lane. “It’s awesome to finally get over the hump.”
Watt and Sheppard waged a war for the top spot, switching posts on the leaderboard on multiple occasions, before the Boyertown, Pa. driver jumped ahead for good with three circuits remaining.
“We were so equal all race,” Watt mentioned. “Lapped traffic is so tough sometimes, and I was just able to take advantage of my opportunity.”
Watt took the early lead from his outside pole starting position ahead of Friday night’s winner Craig Von Dohren and Sheppard, who started outside of the second row.
After a few early-race restarts, Sheppard wiggled second from Von Dohren before another caution flag on lap 12 of the 49-lap main event. This time, Sheppard, aboard the Hurlock Auto & Speed-sponsored No. 9s, plunged ahead of the field, taking his first lead of the race. By this time, David Van Horn had moved into third from his 11th-place starting spot, cementing himself as the one to watch coming through the field.
When the caution flag flew on lap 19, Van Horn beat Watt to the line to grab a front-row position on the restart alongside Sheppard. With 30 to go, Watt stole second back from Van Horn on the next green flag lap and set his sights on Sheppard. He pulled even down the backstretch but was unable to complete the pass.
With 20 laps to go, Watt, who was utilizing the ultra-top lane to his advantage, entered a bit too hard and a bit too high, sending him over the banking between turns three and four. His lead over third-place running Van Horn, however, allowed him to roar back on the racing surface without losing a position. Throughout the next few circuits, he seemed to unleash another level of speed, quickly closing back in on the leading Sheppard, who was battling through lapped traffic.
“The track was awesome,” Watt said. “The top widened out to the very edge and we were running so hard, I slipped up once and then I was just hoping for a caution for another opportunity.”
On lap 34, he got it. Jordan Watson slowed with 15 tours around the banked half-mile oval left to go. Still, on the ensuing restart, Sheppard sped ahead with Watt close behind, followed by Van Horn, Billy Decker and Von Dohren, who battled side-by-side for consecutive laps, Duane Howard and Friday night’s runner up Billy Pauch Jr. Howard and Pauch Jr. would slide past Von Dohren on the next few circuits.
Sheppard still held a solid, albeit close, lead on Watt with under five laps to go as he entered lapped traffic yet again. This time, however, it wasn’t so easy. Two cars battled door-to-door just ahead of him, and Sheppard was unable to find a clear path. Meanwhile, Watt concocted his plan. As Sheppard dove to the bottom of turn three, Watt blew it in on the outside, driving by for the lead.
Another caution would fly with two laps to go, setting up a green-white-checkered finish, but Watt crossed the line first for the win, followed by Sheppard, Van Horn, Decker and Pauch Jr.
“It was really a great battle,” Sheppard said in front of a packed grandstand. “I thought we had a good shot at it, but just got caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“I’m happy with the performance, though,” he said. “We had a lot of speed tonight, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do down here.”
Van Horn, who shot through to the top three early on in the race, wasn’t complaining.
“I love racing down here in Delaware,” he said. “The fans are diehard racing fans and really care about what we are doing.
“I think I used up my tire coming through, so I was just trying to hold my spot and hope for the best, but I’m really happy to take third behind guys like Ryan and Sheppard.”
Rounding out the top ten were: Howard, who scored a pair of top-six finishes on the weekend; Von Dohren, following up his season-opening victory aboard the Dick Biever-owned No. 14s; Billy Pauch Sr., who bounced around inside the top ten through much of the night; Stewart Friesen and Anthony Perrego, respectively.
Watt’s victory was worth $6,949.
A field of 48 STSS Modifieds signed in for the opener. Heat winners were Billy Pauch Jr., Joseph Watson, Sheppard, Howard and Watt. Danny Creeden and Mike Gular split the consolations.
Teenager Alex Yankowski of Throop, Pa., dominated the 25-lap L&J Sheet Metal Crate 602 Sportsman main. Yankowski earned a victory in his first appearance at the Sussex County half-mile oval. Yankowski received a $1,049 winner’s share plus a $149 bonus from Rent Equip in Ocean View, Del.
Yankowski and another youngster – Dylan Swinehart – traded the lead during the race’s first half before Swinehart pulled to the infield, ending his bid.
Yankowski pulled away late in the going to a half-straightaway advantage. Steve Kemery finished a solid second. New York State invaders Adam McAuliffe and Shayne Spoonhower authored strong drives to finish third and fourth, respectively, with New Jersey’s Connor King completing the front five.
A new record 51 L&J Sheet Metal STSS Crate 602 Sportsman entered the program, Round No. 1 of the Crate 602 Sportsman South Region. Heat winners were Dan Fleming, David Crossman, Eric Kormann, Kemery and Yankowski. Consolation victors were Jeff Taylor and Daniel Morgiewicz.
The Southern Delaware Vintage Stock Car Club 12-lap main went to C.J. Schirmer in a wild finish.
The Little Lincoln 10-lap feature fell to an emotional Kirk Lawson, the grandson of Melvin L. Joseph. Lawson rolled the outside lane to the victory.
One night after falling shy of a win, Chris “Tippy” Martinez topped the 12-lap Delmarva Charger feature in a 12-lap main that spun off green-to-checkered caution-free.
Dale Elliott bested the field of Delaware Super Trucks in another 12-lap main run without a caution flag.
Georgetown Speedway, originally constructed by Melvin L. Joseph in 1949, is located at the intersection of Route 113 and Speedway Road in Georgetown, Del., just miles from the Delaware beaches and less than a 40-minute drive from Ocean City, Md.
A website is live for the speedway at www.thegeorgetownspeedway.com. Like Georgetown Speedway on Facebook, follow @thegtownspdwy on Twitter, e-mail email@example.com or contact the speedway hotline at 302.563.GTWN (4896).
MELVIN L. JOSEPH MEMORIAL RACE SUMMARY – GEORGETOWN SPEEDWAY MARCH 17, 2018
Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series Fueled By Sunoco Velocita-USA South Region Event No. 1 Modified Feature Finish (49 laps): RYAN WATT, Matt Sheppard, David Van Horn, Billy Decker, Billy Pauch Jr., Duane Howard, Craig Von Dohren, Billy Pauch, Stewart Friesen, Anthony Perrego, Andy Bachetti, Danny Bouc, Wade Hendrickson, Carson Wright, Dan Creeden, Tyler Boniface, Rick Laubach, Scott Van Gorder, Scott Hitchens, Ron Roberts, Mike Gular, Jordan Watson, Joseph Watson, Jamie Mills, Mark Byram, Ryan Godown, Danny Johnson, Doug Manmiller, Jimmy Horton, Danny Varin, Jim Britt
Did Not Qualify: HJ Bunting, Brett Barrett, Michael White, Matt Stangle, Jeremy Smith, Matt Janiak, Kevin Gardner, Brian Hitz, Allison Ricci, Russell Morseman II, Jack Lehner, Brad Trice, Craig Hanson, Norman Short, Jeff Strunk, Brett Kressley.
Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series Fueled By Sunoco L&J Sheet Metal Crate 602 Sportsman South Region Event No. 1 (25 laps): ALEX YANKOWSKI, Steven Kemery, Adam McAuliffe, Shayne Spoonhower, Connor King, Corey Cormier, Dave Marcuccilli, Brad Roberts, Dan Fleming, Tyler Thompson, Tom Collins, Bobby Deleon, Dwayne Crockett, Cole Stangle, Dave Constantino, Jeff Taylor, Sean Metz, Connor Otten, Daniel Morgiewicz, David Jenkins, Hunter Lapp, David Schilling, Dylan Swinehart, Jeremy Harrington, Eric Kormann, Jim Housworth, Ryan Simmons, Cole Hentschel, Dave Crossman.
Did Not Qualify: Jon Callaway, John Stevenson, Joe Toth, Tommy Vigh Jr., Joe Jarowicz, Chuck Miller, Trent Van Vorst, John Criscione, Fred Massey, Tom Moore Jr., Jordan Long, Ryan Riddle, Nick Alberti, Adam White, Sammy Martz Jr., Jason Rush, Gary Langenstein, Stacy Jackson, Tommy Wilkins, David Graham, Jordn Justice.
Southern Delaware Vintage Stock Car Feature Finish (12 laps): CJ SCHIRMER, James Breasure, David Parsons, Jamie Eicholz, Andy Cassel, David Schamp, Don Davidson, Josh Smith.
Little Lincoln Feature Finish (10 laps): KIRK LAWSON, Joseph Tracy, Matt White, Sean Smith, Ryan Walsen, Brian Piercy, Sparky White, Bunky White.
Delaware Super Truck Feature Finish (12 laps): DALE ELLIOTT, David Smith, Noah Vincent, Jerry Hill, Dick Beauchamp, Cody West.
Did Not Start: J.R. Bergman, Bill Dean.
Delmarva Charger Feature Finish (12 laps): CHRIS MARTINEZ, Ashley Merritt, Geoff Carey, Tanner Marvel, Derek Swafford, Pacman, Randy Merritt, Joe Waters.