The careers of great athletes are often judged by their modern counterpart.
Muhammid Ali – Joe Frazier.
Arnold Palmer – Jack Nicklaus.
Roger Maris – Mickey Mantle.
Magic Johnson – Larry Bird.
Tom Brady – Peyton Manning.
Auto racing is no different. On a national level, people still compare AJ Foyt to Mario Andretti. Richard Petty to David Pearson or Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Jeff Gordon.
Modified racing in the northeast follows the trend. Great seasons of the past by Richie Evans are still compared to those of Geoff Bodine. In dirt Modified competition, many consider Frankie Schneider to be the best of all time, but his rivalry with Al Tasnady is legendary.
Kenny Brightbill and Gerald Chamberlain.
Brett Hearn or Billy Pauch.
In Sprint Cars, it was Kenny Weld and Jan Opperman.
All were heroes, today’s legends, their successes measured by rival superstar from their era.
In today’s dirt Modified racing circles, it’s Stewart Friesen and Matt Sheppard, two young drivers who, despite the odds, continue to produce 20-plus win racing seasons each year.
‘Stewy’ and ‘Super Matt’. They race head-to-head often and there is never one clear winner.
While much different in demeanor and so many other ways, at the end of the night they are more often than not sitting in victory lane. They cut the cake differently, with the same results.
Sheppard is 33. Friesen 32.
Sheppard is 6 foot 4 inches.
Friesen is 6 foot, 2 inches.
Friesen won his first ever feature on May 14, 1999 in a TQ on the paved Lancaster Speedway.
Sheppard’s first win came 15 days later on the dirt at N.Y.’s Canandaigua Speedway in a Sportsman car.
They both drink Bud Light.
Sheppard has 239 career wins.
Friesen has 235 career wins.
Sheppard has won in the Big-Block Modified, 358 Modified and Sportsman divisions.
Friesen has taken checkered flags in the same three; plus with TQ-Midgets, 410 and 360 Sprint Cars, a dirt Midget and on pavement in a D/A Modified.
Sheppard owns 191 big-block Modified mains; Friesen has 157.
Sheppard has won at 32 different speedways; Friesen has three more at 35.
Sheppard has 27 wins this year; Friesen currently leads him with 30.
Sheppard won track titles this year at Brewerton, Canandaigua and Utica-Rome;
Friesen, who won the Saturday night title at Fonda, chose not to compete weekly on Fridays this year. At Utica-Rome, the only track where the two race head to head weekly, Friesen’s five year reign as champion ended this year at the hands of Sheppard.
Friesen was married last August and he and his racer wife Jessica Zemken are expecting the birth of their first child by the end of the year.
Sheppard’s engaged. He’ll be married on December 4 to his long-time girlfriend, Bethanne Land, whom he’s been dating for five years.
Friesen’s Canadian born, but he’s now a United States citizen living in the Capital District of New York State in the town of Sprakers.
Sheppard’s home is to the west of Central New York, in Waterloo.
Friesen’s family introduced him to auto racing. His grandfather started it all as a racer and then as a track owner/promoter. Stewart’s father, uncles and cousins have either raced or promoted racing.
Sheppard’s family racing tree is smaller. It was his father, Stu, who got him hooked by racing and winning a long time before his son was old enough to enter the pit area.
They both raced their way through college and obtained a degree before going racing full time.
Drivers are often judged by the amount of career or season wins they put on their resumes and the big events they have conquered.
How are these drivers judged by Brett Hearn, Billy Pauch, Billy Decker, Jimmy Horton or Dave Blaney?
Read the entire story along with a question and answer session with both drivers in this week’s AARN Super DIRT Week Special Issue.