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TDN Final Northeast Modified Rankings and Driver of the Year

Well, we’ve come to the end! The beasts of the east are now in hibernation….

Normally our rankings are a month to month process, comparing driver performance from one 30 day stretch to the next. But unfortunately, we seem to be out of races save for the “Gobbler” at Accord November 29th. We won’t include that one here, because so many cars have gone into the moth balls for the season that it most likely would have no impact.  So in the end, we have what we have, which was a great Northeast modified season to reflect on.

From Nat’l Speed Sport News

In case you weren’t familiar, our rankings include modified drivers of the big block and 358 variety, from any region, or any sanction. It matters not whether a driver runs the entire Super DIRTcar Series, or the Race of Champions tour events, or a mix of the two plus unsanctioned specials and home track nights. A driver from any area that dominates with either engine could make this list, and that’s what makes it different.

In our final edition we’ll rank drivers for their performance throughout the year using a number of factors. Performance in big money sanctioned/tour events, home track performance, and unsanctioned special event performance are all taken into account with special emphasis placed on driver performance in special events where the best of the best are present, and quality of weekly home track.

So here it is, our final Northeast Modified edition, and we shall start with TDN’s Northeast Modified Driver of the year!

Andrew Coppley Photo

1. Stewart Friesen:

He didn’t win the Super DIRTcar tour. He didn’t need to. Stew Friesen’s 2014 performance was nothing short of amazing! We’ll start with his overall performance where he put the car on the track 86 times, amassing 24 wins which was a 28% winning percentage. The 2014 Dirt Race of Champions winner finished in the top 10- 83% of the time, only bested by Matt Sheppard’s 92%.

But what put Friesen atop our rankings was his performance in the toughest contests. Syracuse 200, Victoria 200, and the Freedom 76er, all great events where the best drivers are present, and he won them all! Throw in a couple of SDS tour events including a exclamation point victory in the World Finals where he came from 9th and passed many people on this list on his way to victory lane and it’s not even as close as it might have seemed. On the weekly side, he was dominant at Fonda and Utica-Rome winning 1/2 the shows at the former, and a third of the latter. It was as impressive a season as we’ve seen in recent memory. Congrats to our Driver of the Year…Mr. Freeze!

2. Matt Sheppard:

Had it not been for some bad luck, or maybe a decision or two he’d rather have back, Super Matt Sheppard could have easily been at the top of the list. And second place to Stew Friesen’s season is really quite an accomplishment this year. 

The former three time SDS champion set career high water marks in wins, top 5’s and top 10’s in 2014, putting the car on the track 93 times and winning 27% of them. His 19 top 10 finishes in SDS action demonstrated a model of consistency and he took four wins to boot. Plus he took home his fair share of races outside of the SDS highlighted by a win in the Outlaw 200 at Fulton, an RoC win at Five Mile Point, and a Short Track Super Series win at Thunder Mountain.

Sheppard also took track championships at Brewerton and Canandaigua, two very difficult places to win given the quality of the field, his performance at Canandaigua in particular was quite astounding. However, he just falls short here and that’s mostly due to money won where Friesen was king, and Syracuse probably serves as the tiebreaker and a microcosm of how close this was and how great the two seasons just were for Friesen and Sheppard.

3. Brett Hearn:

Nothing to be ashamed of here for the jet. He took care of what he takes care of best, Lebanon Valley where he won the track title yet again, and also took home $17,500 when the SDS paid a visit in August. Hearn also put the field at OCFS to bed in the Eastern States 200 and made a three driver chase for the SDS championship going into the final weekend at Charlotte where he fell just short.

Hearn also claimed two of the bigger 358 tour wins during Super DIRT Week taking checkers at Brewerton in the Hurricane 100 and winning the 150 lap $20,000 check at Syracuse.

If we’re honest, and his 50% plus winning percentage in home track action were at say Canandaigua or Utica-Rome, he might have leapfrogged Sheppard, but they were at Malta and Lebanon Valley respectively and while those are great tracks, the results were pretty much expected.  Still, he sits on our annual podium with a 3rd place showing in SDS action, and some big money wins in 2014.

4. Danny Johnson:

Aging like a fine cabernet, the doctor proved that you didn’t need a deep pocketed owner, or even a weekly home track to make the top five in this list. You just need to win, and he did that in a variety of arenas. Those include five SDS wins (most on the tour in 2014), two RoC tour wins, 3- 358 modified tour wins, and an STSS tour win.

He won 16 times in 2014. And never called any one track a weekly home with the exception of his 13 appearances at Ransomville. If he’d had one he would have earned a top five season in SDS tour points with the bonus factor. But nevertheless, his season was as dominant as we’ve seen from the doctor in a few years WITHOUT having to drive in some other owner’s equipment.

In a fitting ending, he took the final SDS win of the year at Charlotte, a place he’d never won before and his reception from the crowd was astounding and love him or hate him, if you love modifieds, the fact that he was as good as he was in 2014 was a great thing.

5. Billy Decker:

It’s strange that the SDS tour champion is actually fifth on this list. Or perhaps that fact speaks to the great mix we have in our rankings. But the way we see it, he’s fifth. But that’s not to say Decker didn’t have a great season. 

Decker put 48 of 68 appearances in the top 10 at some tough places including the SDS tour, Fulton and Brewerton on a weekly basis. To win the SDS tour, you’ve got to be consistent when it counts and Decker was just that, never finishing outside the top 10 during the 150 point portion of the season in the final two months.  He actually came from behind on the final weekend at Charlotte, holding off a charging Matt Sheppard on the final night to earn the six point victory in the final standings.

But what keeps him fifth, was simply that he never took that one big paycheck, and probably could have used a few more chances to earn some wins than his schedule permitted. It was great to see someone outside of Sheppard and Hearn on top of the SDS standings though, and we have to congratulate him on a great 2014. Welcome back to the SDS Mr. Decker, you’ve been missed!

6. Jimmy Phelps:

Based on wins, you’d have a perfect right to say that he’s no where near the top 10. But it isn’t all about the wins. And Phelps is testament to the fact that we monitor strength of schedule closely.

Phelps finished the night in the top 10 – 83% of the time, second only to Friesen and Sheppard. If he were simply cherry picking, visiting places where he had the best chance to win based on the local competition, this fact might elicit a few yawns.  But the fact is that Phelps finished in the top 10 frequently in SDS tour action. 15 times in 18 attempts to be precise. He also competed at Brewerton and Fulton on a weekly basis where he was in the top 5 at both places nearly half the time.

He did manage two unsanctioned special wins at Rolling Wheels and Thunder Mountain with the likes of Matt Sheppard and Alan Johnson in the house, and if he’d had any manner of luck, we’d probably be talking about 5-8 wins for him in 2014. Regardless, he gets rewarded here for finishing consistently at the toughest places from a touring standpoint.

7. Erick Rudolph:

Mr. Rudolph’s here not because he won another 358 Modified tour championship, that alone couldn’t get it done here, though it doesn’t hurt either. He’s here because he added a big block to the repotoire by virtue of being tapped on the shoulder to pilot the Mike Payne owned Page Trucking #7, and made the most of the opportunity.

Rudolph confirmed what many in the Niagara frontier already knew, that he was one of the brightest young talents in Northeast modified racing. He did it by racking up two Canandaigua weekly wins, an SDS tour victory, and a top 10 finish in the SDS tour standings.

When you put that information on top of his typical 358 modified performance, both on the tour and at Ransomville, this one’s a no brainer. Expect big things from this young gentleman in 2015!

8. Duane Howard:

The mayor of Grandview Speedway makes our top 10 for the year. Howard was the best of a stout field at the famed oval throughout the 2014, and had a very respectable run at nearby Big Diamond too. Between the two home tracks, Howard garnered 25 top 10’s in 32 weekly shows.

But he didn’t stop there, taking home a RoC on his home turf with Friesen, Sheppard, and the Dr all present as well as the likes of Strunk, Godown, Watt and others from the area.

Couple that info with top five runs at Syracuse and Charlotte, and he’s right about where he should be.

9. Larry Wight:

The teenage wonder opened eyes in 2014, though for diehard modified fans it was never a question of “if” but “when”.  Wight was a weekly visitor at some tough places this year including Fulton and Utica-Rome where he won twice at each and put almost ever finish in the top 10.

That’s a pretty fine year, but perhaps not top 10 material. The fact that he bested both Friesen and Sheppard in September at UR in the “New Yorker 200” RoC tour event and competed in the full SDS tour cements him. As in the case of Rudolph, be on the lookout for him in 2015!

From Nat’l Speed Sport News

10. Anthony Perrego:

Perrego was the king of the southern tier/catskills in 2014 as evidenced by his combined 10 wins in 30 weekly shows at Five Mile Point and Accord respectively.

But outside of that, there was much to consider for the young pilot. He took home four top 10’s in five SDS tour starts, three of which were in Volusia. Perrego also proved he can win the bigger shows with a Southern Tier 100 win at FMP, and a STSS win at Accord. He also managed a top five point finish in the RoC tour points in 2014 as well.

He proved that his win in the 2013 Gobbler was no fluke and that he’s ready for more prime time in 2015 whether it’s the full SDS or simply more travelling in general, the future looks bright!

And that’s all folks! We hope you enjoyed our 2014 Northeast modified coverage here at TDN and hope you have a safe and happy holiday season! We’ll see you next April, thanks for checking us out!



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