Before Super DIRT Week 51 at Oswego Speedway, Mat Williamson called out one race he really wanted to win.
Not a Big Block race, instead the DIRTcar 358 Modified Salute to the Troops 150.
As successful as Williamson has been in a Big Block Modified, he’s built an even more impressive resume in a 358 Modified. Several track championships. A plethora of wins. And thousands of dollars racked up for “Money Mat.”
The missing line on that resume – a Super DIRT Week 358 Modified title.
This year, he left no stone unturned to change that.
He was fastest in both practice sessions on Wednesday. He won the SRI Performance/Stock Car Steel Pole Award and his Qualifying Heat on Thursday. Then, after Mother Nature made him await two extra days, Williamson scored his first Salute to the Troop 150 title on Monday afternoon.
“It means a lot,” Williamson said. “It meant a lot to get that one. It was like the monkey on my back. We have such a good Small Block program between the S and W team and the CW team. We should be winning them races. Hopefully, once you get the first one the next ones come easy.”
The competition didn’t make this one easy on him.
Williamson led the first 65 laps of the Feature, which saw Max McLaughlin flip on the first lap, Matt Sheppard move up to second from ninth by Lap 10 and several battles within the top five in that period.
Sheppard gave Williamson a scare on the Lap 29 restart, jumping ahead of Williamson’s red and white #6 car in the first corner, using the bottom lane. However, the caution came out before the lap was completed, giving the lead back to Williamson.
For the next restart, Williamson chose to fire from the inside row, making sure Sheppard didn’t get the jump on him again.
Anthony Perrego, who started 11th, steadily made his way through the field in the first quarter of the race, reaching the top-three by Lap 55. While most drivers were hugging the bottom, Perrego ripped around the high lane of the 5/8-mile track.
When Williamson found himself caught in heavy traffic, Perrego pounced and snuck around Williamson to take the lead on Lap 65.
In front of Williamson, Perrego drove away. Behind him, Sheppard, Stewart Friesen and Marc Johnson argued over third place.
With a caution on Lap 95 for Lance Willix in the Turn 4 wall, drivers got the opportunity for their one and only fuel stop. The majority of the field took the chance to pit, while Jimmy Phelps (running 11th at the time) and Brian Calabrese (running 14th at the time) gambled and stayed out – putting them first and second on the restart.
Williamson was the first in, and thanks to a clever communication system he and his team came up with, they were able to plan out their adjustments before he even parked at his pit stall.
“Me and Jeff (my crew chief) had a communication system,” Williamson said. “He’s usually up in the grandstands, usually telling me, ‘You need to go high, you need to go low.’ This year we didn’t have radios. This year, we had a communications system that if I put my hand up on the roll bar on the yellow tape it was tight, if I put it up on the orange tape it was loose.
“So, I was telling him, ‘Hey, we do need to make changes.’ Luckily, we were leading and got to talk for a couple of minutes before all the cars got stopped on pit road. We decided to change a right rear, change a right front, and leave some other stuff alone. The car was really good.”
When the race resumed, Calabrese dropped several spots in the first corner, while Phelps’ lead lasted until Turn 3. Perrego, who restarted fourth, powered around the outside of Turns 1 and 2 to get to second by the backstretch and then used that momentum to slide around Phelps for the lead by Turn 4.
Williamson passed Phelps for second two laps later, but Perrego was already a straightaway ahead.
A caution on Lap 120, brought the field back together and helped put Williamson in a position to at least keep Perrego within striking distance as he built a run for the lead.
Perrego ran high, while Williamson stayed low and experimented with the middle lane. His #6 machine inched closer and closer to Perrego’s #4* ride every lap.
On Lap 134, Williamson’s persistence finally paid off as he was able to dive under Perrego going into Turn 1 and drive away with the lead off Turn 2.
Perrego tried to keep pace with Williamson, but the Canadian seemed to have his first Salute to the Troops 150 triumph in hand.
Then, a caution on Lap 145 – setting up a Green-White-Checkered finish.
While it brought Perrego back to Williamson’ bumper, the final two laps were smooth sailing for the #6, reaching the checkered flag with a 1.6 second lead.
“What a racetrack,” Williamson said. “A racetrack like that, it don’t matter where you start. Luckily, we started out front. But when Anthony got back around me, it let me search around a little bit. I got worried about protecting the bottom and he showed me the top. Then, I just started sliding the middle there and floating over the bumps and that was really good.”
After leading 56 laps, Perrego had to settle for second. But still a career-best performance in the race.
“We needed that brown (tacky spot on the track) to not go away, right up against the wall there,” Perrego said. “I knew Mat was pretty good. When we almost got up in the fence there, getting to the halfway break and he snuck by me.
“You can’t really hang your head. We had a really good car to get up there and give him a challenge.”
After running out of fuel with a chance to win the ‘150’ last year, Johnson rebounded with a third-place finish this year.
Friesen entered the weekend unsure if he’d even race after a hard crash in the NASCAR Truck Series race the weekend prior. But he battled through and ended the night in fourth.
“It was good, we had a good long-run car there,” Friesen said. “A couple of those cautions, our tires cooled off a little bit. Definitely add to the notebook and be… OK, with a top five. Obviously, we would’ve liked to be better than that and win the damn thing. But proud of the Halmar team and to have a top five with this tough field and everything everyone has went through here.”
While Phelps’ gambled to not pit didn’t end with a win, he still landed a fifth-place finish.
“It really wasn’t in our plan,” Phelps said about the strategy call. “I thought our car was halfway decent, we just weren’t going anywhere… I think it worked out great for us. We came in [11th], without it I don’t see us finishing in the top five. Especially with our 358 car, which we’ve been kind of off a little all week with it. It’s a good finish.”
Williamson’s win was his second straight DIRTcar 358 Modified Series win, his fourth this year and the 15th of his career. He also became the fifth straight different winner of the Salute to the Troops 150.
The win also became the lead-in for his third Billy Whittaker Cars 200 win Monday evening – making him the fourth driver in Super DIRT Week history to win the Small Block race and Big Block race in the same year. And now the first in the event’s history to win both on the same day.
UP NEXT: The DIRTcar 358 Modified Series concludes its 2023 championship season at Brockville Ontario Speedway on Saturday, Oct. 14.
Special Award Winners:
SRI Performance/Stock Car Steel Pole Award: Mat Williamson
Fratto Curbing Outside Pole Award: Zach Payne
DIRTVision Last Chance Showdown Winners: Tim Fuller and Ronnie Davis III
Bart Contracting Hard Luck Award: TBD
Velocita USA Last Car/Finisher: Max McLaughlin
Dig Race Products Halfway Feature Leader Award: Anthony Perrego
Integra Racing Shocks Last Car on Lead Lap: Derek Webb
Fastline Performance Lap 51 Leader Award: Mat Williamson
Penske Racing Shocks Hard Charger: Billy Decker (33rd to ninth)
Swift Springs First Non-Qualifier Award: Taylor Caprara
Salute To The Troops 150 (150 Laps): 1. 6-Mat Williamson; 2. 4*-Anthony Perrego; 3. 3J-Marc Johnson; 4. 44-Stewart Friesen; 5. 98H-Jimmy Phelps; 6. 25-Erick Rudolph; 7. 9S-Matt Sheppard; 8. 21A-Peter Britten; 9. 91D-Billy Decker; 10. 3RS-Dalton Slack; 11. M1-David Marcuccilli; 12. 91-Felix Roy; 13. 66-Tim McCreadie; 14. 49-Billy Dunn; 15. 9C-Brian Calabrese; 16. 14B-Jack Lehner; 17. 19-Tim Fuller; 18. 83X-Tim Sears Jr; 19. 28-Jordan McCreadie; 20. 83-Danny Johnson; 21. 32R-Ronald Davis III; 22. 22-Brandon Walters; 23. 3-Chris Mackey; 24. 01C-Chris Raabe; 25. 26R-Corey Cormier; 26. 35-Mike Mahaney; 27. 12-Darren Smith; 28. 5H-Amy Holland; 29. 66W-Derek Webb; 30. 19C-Brandon Carvey; 31. 39-Ryan Bartlett; 32. (DNF) 215-Adam Pierson; 33. (DNF) 31-Lance Willix; 34. (DNF) 18R-Brad Rouse; 35. (DNF) 8-Rich Scagliotta; 36. (DNF) 70A-Alex Payne; 37. (DNF) 9-Tyler Meeks; 38. (DNF) 8H-Max McLaughlin; 39. (DNS) 7Z-Zachary Payne; 40. (DNS) 84Y-Alex Yankowski