Matt Sheppard sat in his class at the Rochester Institute of Technology as a college student with no clear vision of his future.
Race car driver? Engineer? Anything?
Fast forward about 20 years to Sheppard standing on stage in front of hundreds of fans at The Dirt Track at Charlotte while hoisting his 10th Super DIRTcar Series championship.
“Ten is a big number, it’s a lot of championships,” Sheppard said before pausing, trying to comprehend the significance of his achievement. “It’s just a huge accomplishment for myself and my team.”
It’s the Waterloo, NY driver’s 10th Series title in a 14-year span (2010, ’11, ‘12, ’15, ’16, ’17, ’18, ’21, ’22, ’23). And he achieved it in his most consistent season yet.
While it wasn’t his winningest season, with five Series victories for the year, Sheppard had 15 top-five finishes in the 20-race championship season – 13 of them podium finishes and seven of them runner-up finishes. He only had one finish outside the top nine all year – a 17th-place finish at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in September.
With that, he averaged a finish of 3.8 – his best in more than 20 years with the Series.
“We were very consistent this year,” Sheppard said. “Maybe, tour wise, we didn’t win as many races as last year, but we were more consistent, and we were pretty spot on a lot of nights. A lot of second-place finishes. If we can turn them seconds into firsts that would be better. Honestly, I don’t really have too many complaints about the way the tour went.
“We had some bad luck a few nights and overcame it just about every night except for one. We really only had one bad finish. That was a race we were running fourth and got a flat. It’s been a really solid year for us and I’m happy with that.”
In addition to Sheppard scoring this 10th Super DIRTcar Series title, his crew chief, Randy Kisacky, also earned his 10th Super DIRTcar Series title. Kisacky was already a three-time Series champion before joining forces with Sheppard, but after the two connected, a dynasty followed.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Kisacky said. “We work unbelievably hard at it. He’s a great driver. Just to be consistent and do it over and over, people don’t realize how tough it is. Every year it seems like it is tougher and tougher. Competition is tougher and tougher. There are some great guys that run the series. The key is consistency. We didn’t win as many races, but we felt like we ran every bit as good. Just a lot of times things just don’t go your way, and everything has to fall in place to win.”
With their 10th titles, Sheppard and Kisacky join a small elite list of drivers and crew chiefs in all of motorsports who have won 10 or more championships, such as Karl Kinser, Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz.
When having his name mentioned among those legends, Sheppard couldn’t help but wear a giddy grin.
“Every year it seems we etch our name in the record book a little further,” Sheppard said. “It is probably something I’ll probably look back on more when I’m done racing. I would like to think I still have some really good years left in me. You know how this world is. You never know what the next year is going to bring. We’re going to take it one year at a time.”
Adding to Sheppard’s remarkable stats, he’s yet to finish worse than second in points since 2009 and moved to second on the all-time wins list this year – now sitting at 94 Super DIRTcar Series wins. Brett Hearn still sits atop the list with 141.
It’s a season and career Sheppard never envisioned as a college student sitting in his RIT classes. And still now, at 41 years old, Sheppard has no clear vision for what his future holds. Some say the Hall of Fame. All he knows is he’ll be chasing title #11 in 2024.
“People talk about championship caliber team, not just the caliber but to pull off a championship that many times in such a short span too,” Sheppard said. “Just about every year since 2010 we’ve been battling for the title. Every year I say the same thing. It’s been a remarkable run. Hope we can keep it going.”
Before chasing his 11th Super DIRTcar Series championship, Sheppard will try to score a Big Gator Championship during the Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park with the Super DIRTcar Series, Feb. 14-17. For tickets, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision.