Michael maresca

DIRTcar Nationals set to bring big names for Super DIRTcar Series Big Block action

The winter blues will melt away in less than a month when the Beast of the Northeast fire their engines for the first time in 2022 during the DIRTcar Nationals, Feb. 14-19.

Volusia Speedway Park will again host the season-opening week of racing for the Super DIRTcar Series, featuring the best Big Block Modified drivers battling for the iconic golden gator trophy each night with the goal of also claiming the Big Gator Championship at the end of the week.

Forty-two Super DIRTcar Series DIRTcar Nationals champions have been crowned since 1978; the most recent being 21-year-old Max McLaughlin in 2021.

“Not only have I wanted to win at this race track for a long time, but to get a DIRTcar Nationals championship is really special,” McLaughlin said last year. “I almost got one in 2017 when I tied with Brett Hearn. He ended up winning the final night which gave the championship to him. It’s been bothering me for a few years that we didn’t win it. Now, this makes up for it.”

His Big Gator championship was the second in two years for the Coffey-McCreadie Enterprises team (2021 with McLaughlin and 2018 with Tim McCreadie). However, in 2022, McLaughlin is rejoining Heinke-Baldwin Racing to chase the Super DIRTcar Series championship. The team gave him his first start in the Series, and he nearly won the Big Gator title with them in 2017.

He’ll have to compete against the likes of eight-time Super DIRTcar Series champion and three-time Big Gator champion Matt Sheppard, two-time NAPA Super DIRT Week champion Mat Williamson, NASCAR star Stewart Friesen, three-time Big Gator champion Larry Wight and three-time Super DIRTcar Series champion Billy Decker.

Sheppard claimed the throne as the winningest Super DIRTcar Series champion last year. And he’ll try to use that momentum to find success again at Volusia. While he’s a three-time Big Gator champion, his last title came in 2016 and his last win at the half-mile track came in 2019.

“You know, [Volusia] is just a strange place,” Sheppard said. “It’s hard to get your car to steer there. If you can get your car to steer and have traction, you’re going to have a good weekend. I think we see it a lot; a guy will roll in there and for whatever reason, he just gets rolling all week.

“I think we saw Stewie (Friesen) have a good week there last year. You roll in there with a game plan and some guys hit on something and it seems they’re good all week. Other guys, if you’re off a little bit, it seems like you’re chasing all week. It’s certainly a unique place.”

However, for this year, he stated his team has put together a good program he’s confident in. And with no Series points on the line, they can go in and throw everything they have at it.

“So, you can go down there and run five nights in a row and see where your program is,” he added. “Make some adjustments and try to get better. We keep hoping one of these years we’ll roll in there with the magic set up and we’ll have a killer week. I feel like we’re due. But, man, I never rule anything out at that place.”

In the last few years, Wight has been one of the most dominant drivers at Volusia, picking up three Big Gator championships (2015, 2019, 2020) and four victories – including three consecutive wins in 2020. He missed DIRTcar Nationals last year, but a return in 2022 would see a full-focused effort on his Gypsum #99L machine. Wight is now the sole driver for LJL Racing, as it reduced to a one-car team for 2022. Decker, who drove the team’s other car, will drive for Jeremy Smith Racing this year.

Friesen started DIRTcar Nationals as the dominant driver last year, winning the two opening nights before having to leave for his NASCAR duties. While those duties will take him out of contention for another Big Gator title, he’ll still return to add another golden gator trophy to his mantel – currently at nine.

When he left, that opened the door for McLaughlin to claim his first DIRTcar Nationals victory and second career Super DIRTcar Series victory. Then, on the final night of racing, a special moment. A first-time winner. Michael Maresca held off Sheppard and Decker to pick up his first Super DIRTcar Series win. Several drivers have the potential to be another surprise first-time winner this year like 2021 Rookie of the Year Chris Hile and Jack Lehner, who had a career season last year.

Veteran Brett Hearn made it loud and clear at the 2021 Super DIRTcar Series finale to never count him out. The 63-year-old won his 450th DIRTcar sanctioned event and his 920th Feature overall at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. His DIRTcar Nationals stats supersede all with nine Big Gator championships and 20 Feature wins.

A plethora of storylines will again be present throughout the week. Monday (Feb. 14) will be a practice night for the Super DIRTcar Series, then from Tuesday to Saturday (Feb. 15-19) the Big Blocks will have a Feature every night. They’ll be joined by the Xtreme Outlaw Sprint Cars and DIRTcar Late Models on Monday and Tuesday. Then, the World of Outlaws Late Models will accompany the Super DIRTcar Series Wednesday to Saturday.

For DIRTcar Nationals tickets, CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision – either online or with the DIRTVision App.

Super DIRTcar Series DIRTcar Nationals Championships
2021 – Max McLaughlin
2020 – Larry Wight
2019 – Larry Wight
2018 – Tim McCreadie
2017 – Brett Hearn
2016 – Matt Sheppard
2015 – Larry Wight
2014 – Stewart Friesen
2013 – Danny Johnson
2012 – Matt Sheppard
2011 – Stewart Friesen
2010 – Matt Sheppard
2009 – Pat Ward
2008 – Brett Hearn/Billy Pauch
2007 – Danny Johnson
2006 – Brett Hearn
2005 – Brett Hearn/Andy Bachetti
2004 – Pat Ward
2003 – Tim Fuller
2002 – Brett Hearn
2001 – Brett Hearn
2000 – Brett Hearn
1999 – Jimmy Horton
1998 – Brett Hearn
1997 – Jimmy Horton
1996 – Brett Hearn
1995 – Doug Hoffman
1990-1994 – No champion
1989 – Alan Johnson
1988 – Danny Johnson
1987 – Danny Johnson
1986 – Jimmy Horton
1985 – Billy Pauch
1984 – Kenny Brightbill/Jack Johnson
1983 – Alan Johnson
1982 – Jeff Kappesser/Billy Pauch
1981 – Jack Johnson
1980 – Kenny Brightbill
1979 – No champion
1978 – Walt Breeding

FLAT OUT: Maresca Motors to First Career Super DIRTcar Series Win

BARBERVILLE, FL – Michael Maresca stomped his throttle at the drop of the green flag and drove wheel-to-wheel with seven-time Volusia Speedway Park winner and three-time Big Gator champion Matt Sheppard to capture his first career Super DIRTcar Series Feature win.

The Pierrepont, NY driver of the #7MM is the pride of the North Country back in New York after topping a DIRTcar Nationals podium crowded with Series championships and Gator trophy winners. Seven-time Series champion Matt Sheppard, from Waterloo, NY, finished second while three-time champ and Gypsum Racing driver Billy Decker finished third.

That’s the definition of a stout crowd. 

“Everyone’s dream, when they start racing in the Northeast, is to win a Super DIRTcar Series race and I finally won one,” Maresca said. “It’s cool to start the year off with a win and to get a Big Block win is especially awesome. It means a lot. I don’t think it’s set in yet. I try to go with the mindset that each race is the same but I’m sure tonight, when I’m lying in bed, I’ll think about all the struggles in the past and realize how awesome this is.”

Maresca, who raced a DIRTcar Late Model earlier in the week, has found speed in his Big Block around The World’s Fastest Half-Mile. 

“Our car had been consistent the last two nights,” he said. “We’ve made little tweaks here or there. We did some testing and the track really suited my style for those first 10 laps when it was really racy.

“We’ve been close the last couple of nights. Our first night was rough but we completely regrouped and went back after it.”

He’s found success with his setup using a new shock package on the #7MM. 

“I want to thank the guys at Penske Racing Shocks,” Maresca said. “They gave us a package to get around this place that’s working really good. There are only two of us here running them. My whole team just kept working and we got it done. I’m really happy to get this car in Victory Lane for those guys.”

When the green flag flew to start the 30-lap Feature, there was an immediate battle between the #9S of Sheppard and Maresca. Sheppard threw his Big Block to the outside but couldn’t execute the pass. 

“We had a really good race there,” Maresca said. “I figured Sheppard would be on the bottom but he came around the outside and I was able to clear him and move up. I think we had a really stout race car.”

Despite falling short of the win, Sheppard was pleased with his result. 

“It was a good night for us,” Sheppard said. “We gave Michael [Maresca] a run on the high side for a while but I just couldn’t get by him once he cleared down to the bottom. I think he was a little better than me anyway.”

Billy Decker has been wracking up podiums all week but, once again, needed a little more out of his Bicknell to get in a winning position. 

“We like parking on the front stretch but obviously we’d like to park down there,” said Decker, of Unadilla, NY. “The Gypsum Wholesaler car has been good. These guys work really hard. We’ve been consistent. We’ve had a rocket since we unloaded it. We didn’t always Time Trial well some nights but we raced really good every night which is important because we normally run really long races. We’re looking forward to it.” 

Max McLaughlin still leads the 50th DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator championship going into Saturday’s finale. Billy Decker rides in second while Maresca climbed into third. Both McLaughlin and Maresca have a chance to win their first Big Gator the same year as their first Little Gators. 

Billy VanInwegen picked up a strong fourth-place finish. He will be eager to come back for the 50-lap Feature while Peter Britten grabbed another top-five.

Next up, on Saturday, Feb. 13, the final night of the 50th DIRTcar Nationals is set to pit the stars of the Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds against each other for 50 laps and a $5,000-to-win prize. If you can’t make it to the track, watch live on DIRTVision. Hot Laps begin at 5:30pm (ET). 

Full results here

Feature (30 Laps)

  1. 7MM-Michael Maresca [1][$4,000]; 2. 9S-Matt Sheppard [2][$2,000]; 3. 91-Billy Decker [4][$1,000]; 4. 4-Billy VanInwegen [7][$800]; 5. 21A-Peter Britten [5][$700]; 6. 30-Ryan Godown [3][$650]; 7. 98H-Jimmy Phelps [9][$600]; 8. 88-Mat Williamson [10][$550]; 9. 32C-Max McLaughlin [6][$500]; 10. 7F-Tim Fuller [8][$450]; 11. 19M-Jessey Mueller [13][$400]; 12. 25-Erick Rudolph [12][$375]; 13. 2-Jack Lehner [18][$350]; 14. 6-Matt Stangle [17][$325]; 15. 118-Jim Britt [11][$300]; 16. 8-Rich Scagliotta [16][$300]; 17. 14-CG Morey [14][$300]; 18. 16X-Dan Creeden [23][$300]; 19. 20-Brett Hearn [15][$300]; 20. 26-Derrick McGrew [19][$300]; 21. 48T-Dave Rauscher [27][$300]; 22. 1-Darwin Greene [22][$300]; 23. 46-Jeremy Smith [20][$300]; 24. 17D-Marcus Dinkins [25][$300]; 25. 1D-Tyler Dippel [21][$300]; 26. 23-Kyle Coffey [24][$300]; 27. B52-Brandon Hightower [26][$300] Hard Charger Award: 48T-Dave Rauscher[+6]

HALF-SECOND HERO: McLaughlin Edges Decker for First Career DIRTcar Nationals Win

BARBERVILLE, FL – Max McLaughlin raced home to his second Super DIRTcar Series win and his first trip to Volusia Speedway Park’s confetti-filled Victory Lane on Thursday night during the 50th DIRTcar Nationals.

The 20-year-old pilot of the #32C Sweetener’s Plus Big Block Modified was just barely able to box out future Hall of Famer Billy Decker in a wild finish where the two swapped lines on the track trying to block and slide each other at the same time. Hard charger Michael Maresca in the #7MM car cruised from 19th to third in an amazing run through the field.

After a lengthy rain delay, drama built quickly in the 30-lap Feature as McLaughlin made contact with seven-time Series champion Matt Sheppard on the first lap, sending Sheppard’s #9S up the race track and into Peter Britten’s #21A. Sheppard made his displeasure with McLaughlin known during the caution flag, but was able to recover for a fifth-place finish. 

“I got into the water there on lap one,” said McLaughlin, of Mooresville, NC. “It was a bonehead move, I guess. They checked up and he [Matt Sheppard] started pushing and I figured I’d go right below him. The left front hit the water and pushed up and I got into Matt. I hate that. That’s kind of what I was thinking about the whole race.”

When the race returned to green flag action, McLaughlin had to contend with some heavy hitters. “Mad Max” found a way around defending Series champion Mat Williamson as well as “The Baldwinsville Bandit” Jimmy Phelps, who started on the outside pole. 

However, once McLaughlin took the lead on Lap 15 there was no time to relax. Decker had his Gypsum Wholesalers #91 at full song around the top side of the speedway in pursuit during the closing stages.

“I didn’t really know where he was but I knew he was coming around the top,” McLaughlin said. “I knew I had to change something and I saw the [signal] sticks get smaller and smaller. I had to do something different.”

With an adjustment of his line, McLaughlin was able to hold Decker’s crimson #91 at bay. 

Decker did all he could to try and pass for the lead.

“We had to go where he wasn’t,” said Decker,  of Unadilla, NY. “I think we were as good as he was on the bottom, but he fired a little better on the restarts than we did. After a few laps, I think we got it rolling so it was one of those deals where he had to stick to his lane. I started hazing the outside and closing the gap. He obviously got the signal from the infield to move. If he didn’t, he was going to finish where I did. He had to move and I didn’t get him soon enough.”

Decker will look to improve just one more position tomorrow night for a coveted 50th Anniversary DIRTcar Nationals win.

Michael Maresca, from Pierrepont, NY, advanced 16 positions to capture his second consecutive third-place finish. The #7MM started the night behind the eight-ball.

“We buried ourselves in a hole in qualifying,” Maresca said. “We had a really good car all night. I think with it being a little bit wetter, I think it threw me off on my gear selection. We were able to capitalize on good restarts.”

A fast, widening race track gave him what he needed to work through two-thirds of the field in 30 laps. Unfortunately, for the pilot of the St. Lawrence Radiology Big Block Modified, Decker and McLaughlin were just a click faster. 

“Congrats to Max and Billy,” Maresca said. “I couldn’t keep up with them. I think I was just a little bit under-geared for that. But I know our car is good so we are just going to keep trucking and hopefully contend for a win tomorrow.”

Catch all the action in person or on DIRTVision on Friday, February 12 at Volusia Speedway Park as the Super DIRTcar Series take on The World’s Fastest Half-Mile for the fourth night in a row alongside the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Models. 

Keep up with the Super DIRTcar Series at SuperDIRTcarSeries.com and on social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Full results available here

Feature (30 Laps) — 1. 32C-Max McLaughlin [5][$4,000]; 2. 91-Billy Decker [11][$2,000]; 3. 7MM-Michael Maresca [19][$1,000]; 4. 88-Mat Williamson [4][$800]; 5. 9S-Matt Sheppard [3][$700]; 6. 25-Erick Rudolph [15][$650]; 7. 98H-Jimmy Phelps [2][$600]; 8. 23-Kyle Coffey [21][$550]; 9. 21A-Peter Britten [6][$500]; 10. 1D-Tyler Dippel [10][$450]; 11. 8-Rich Scagliotta [14][$400]; 12. 7F-Tim Fuller [12][$375]; 13. 4-Billy VanInwegen [23][$350]; 14. 16X-Dan Creeden [26][$325]; 15. 118-Jim Britt [9][$300]; 16. 19M-Jessey Mueller [13][$300]; 17. 17D-Marcus Dinkins [25][$300]; 18. 1-Darwin Greene [22][$300]; 19. 20-Brett Hearn [16][$300]; 20. 14-CG Morey [29][$300]; 21. 88T-Tyler Jashembowski [17][$300]; 22. 30-Ryan Godown [8][$300]; 23. 6-Matt Stangle [1][$300]; 24. 2-Jack Lehner [7][$300]; 25. 33T-Cass Bennett [27][$300]; 26. 01W-Justin Wright [24][$300]; 27. 17-Rob Pitcher [20][$300]; 28. B52-Brandon Hightower [28][$300]; 29. 26-Derrick McGrew [18][$300]. Hard Charger Award: 7MM-Michael Maresca[+16].

OH MAN! Friesen Charges to Second Gator in Wide Open DIRTcar Nationals Feature

BARBERVILLE, FL — For the second consecutive night, Stewart Friesen charged to victory with the Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds at Volusia Speedway Park’s 50th DIRTcar Nationals, sweeping to the lead past Erick Rudolph with 10 to go and holding on to the checkered flag.

A field of 32 roaring Big Block Modifieds took the green flag Wednesday night to start the second Series Feature of 2021, and after picking up his second Billy Whittaker Cars Fast-Time Award in two days and convincingly winning his Heat Race, Friesen redrew sixth to start the Feature. With Mat Williamson, Jack Lehner, Erick Rudolph, Billy Decker, Matt Sheppard and more in his midst, Friesen had his work cut out for him in the 30-lap Feature. 

“We had a plan coming into this,” said Friesen, of Sprakers, NY. “If you want the plan to work you gotta work the plan and it’s paid off.”

The hard work and wins have paid off indeed as Friesen collected his second $4,000 check at the DIRTcar Nationals. 

The Volusia Speedway Park surface produced phenomenal Feature racing for the Big Blocks as well as the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Models. The fastest racing lines went high to low, low to high, and everywhere in between. Drivers had their choices to make passes happen. 

“This is a very technical and challenging race track right now,” noted Friesen. “It’s kind of like mogul skiing on ice. You gotta try to get the car loaded up right. If you miss it, it shoves, but if you get it loaded up this thing was on the money.”

In the first half of the race, Friesen and his #44 Halmar Racing Big Block were forced to watch the top 5 battle door-to-door. Then lapped traffic came into play and remained a factor as there was only a single caution flag for the Big Blocks all evening. 

“I was just trying to see which way those guys [lapped cars] were going,” said Friesen. “It’s super slick in spots and in other spots you think it’s slick, but it turns out to be gripped up. Watching Max [McLaughlin] and Erick [Rudoloph] dice there and I got passed and lost a bunch of spots. Jack [Lehner] and Maresca got back by me. It was an awesome race track. I was just trying to find different lines and move around.”

Rudolph, from Ransomville, NY, started third behind the formidable front row of Williamson, from St. Catharines, ON, and Lehner. Rudolph had an excellent initial start and immediately took the fight to the front row starters. After dispatching Lehner, he got alongside the defending Series champion Williamson.

Williamson and Rudolph drove cleanly side-by-side for several laps before Rudolph took over the top spot only to be assailed by Max McLaughlin in the #32C. McLaughlin and Rudolph went toe-to-toe but the #25R built a lead in lapped traffic. 

“We started third and were able to wrestle away the lead from Williamson,” said Rudolph. “It seemed like we were able to work lapped traffic pretty good and I really didn’t want to see the caution come out, but it made a race out of it. Friesen got by me and we were about the same speed but the race played into his favor tonight.” 

After a caution flag came out for a stalled out #19 of Tim Fuller, Friesen pounced and worked the middle of the track and the outside to make the pass on Rudolph. 

Maresca, from Pierrepont, NY, struggled in the first night of Series action. However, his #7MM came back on Wednesday with some important shock changes that helped the balance of the car. Maresca drove up from the sixth-place starting position, passing Lehner, Mclaughlin, and Williamson in the process and proved the St. Lawrence Radiology #7MM is likely a threat for more podiums throughout the rest of the DIRTcar Nationals. 

Danny Creeden, from Wurtsboro, NY, started deep in the field: 27th place. But the driver of the #16C used the long green flag runs to his advantage and managed to pass 11 cars for the hard charger award. He finished 16th.

In Tuesday’s opener, the #26 ended the Feature on its roof, but hard work overnight and through the day allowed Derrick McGrew Jr. to finish the Feature in 19th. 

Thursday is Night 10 of the 50th DIRTcar Nationals and race three for the Super DIRTcar Series. If you are unable to make it to Volusia Speedway Park, be sure to watch live on DIRTVision and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for full coverage of the DIRTcar Nationals. 

Full results available here

Feature (30 Laps)

  1. 44-Stewart Friesen [6][$4,000]; 2. 25-Erick Rudolph [3][$2,000]; 3. 7MM-Michael Maresca [7][$1,000]; 4. 32C-Max McLaughlin [4][$800]; 5. 91-Billy Decker [5][$700]; 6. 21A-Peter Britten [12][$650]; 7. 2-Jack Lehner [2][$600]; 8. 20-Brett Hearn [9][$550]; 9. 9S-Matt Sheppard [8][$500]; 10. 1D-Tyler Dippel [13][$450]; 11. 88-Mat Williamson [1][$400]; 12. 4-Billy VanInwegen [15][$375]; 13. 30-Ryan Godown [11][$350]; 14. 6-Matt Stangle [19][$325]; 15. 19M-Jessey Mueller [22][$300]; 16. 16X-Dan Creeden [27][$300]; 17. 118-Jim Britt [16][$300]; 18. 14-CG Morey [23][$300]; 19. 26-Derrick McGrew [21][$300]; 20. 88T-Tyler Jashembowski [24][$300]; 21. 46-Jeremy Smith [18][$300]; 22. 8-Rich Scagliotta [26][$300]; 23. 17D-Marcus Dinkins [30][$300]; 24. 23-Kyle Coffey [28][$300]; 25. 48T-Dave Rauscher [20][$300]; 26. 1-Darwin Greene [31][$300]; 27. 98H-Jimmy Phelps [10][$300]; 28. 17-Rob Pitcher [14][$300]; 29. 19-Tim Fuller [17][$300]; 30. B52-Brandon Hightower [25][$300]; 31. 33T-Cass Bennett [29][$300]; 32. 01W-Justin Wright [32][$300]

Hard Charger Award: 16X-Dan Creeden[+11]