CONCORD, N.C. – Brandon Sheppard came of age in 2012. In 2013, he became a star.
After bursting onto the national dirt Late Model scene in ’12 during his stint driving the Rocket Chassis house car, the 20-year-old driver from New Berlin, Ill., returned to his family-owned team this season and promptly made DIRTcar UMP history. He captured the DIRTcar UMP Summer Nationals ‘Hell Tour’ and national weekly-racing Late Model championships, becoming the youngest racer to win each title and just the fourth to sweep both points crowns in the same season.
For a driver who hails from the heart of DIRTcar UMP country and grew up watching his father, Steve Sheppard Jr., race a dirt Late Model across the Midwest, grabbing the circuit’s two biggest prizes is an accomplishment to savor.
“It feels awesome,” said Sheppard, who joined Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill. (2012), Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ind. (2007-08) and John Gill of Mitchell, Ind. (1986) on the short list of drivers with Summer Nationals/national title sweeps on their resumes. “UMP is the big thing around us – has been since I was little kid, really. I’ve been around it my whole life, so it’s real special for me personally to win both championships.
“We’ve been working really hard for a lot of years to get where we’re at right now and it was a long season, but it was all worth it.”
The stage was set for Sheppard’s spectacular campaign in the spring of 2012 when he made headlines as Rocket Chassis house car owner Mark Richards’s hand-picked replacement for his son, World of Outlaws Late Model Series star Josh Richards, who left the dirt-track wars to pursue a pavement career with a NASCAR Nationwide Series ride. Sheppard steered Richards’s familiar blue No. 1 to just a single Summer Nationals feature last year and finished a distant third in the points standings, but he authored plenty of head-turning outings throughout the season (including his first-ever WoO LMS triumph) and, perhaps most important, received an education from an established team that put him in position for future success.
Indeed, when Sheppard was pushed back to driving his family’s Rocket No. b5 machines this season by Josh Richards’s return to dirt racing, he had a new perspective.
“Mark and his guys taking me in did so much for me career,” said Sheppard, who not only drove the Rocket house car but also worked on the team’s equipment at their shop in Shinnston, W.Va. “They really helped me set my whole program up the right way. My hauler and stuff might not be as clean and tidy as theirs is because I don’t have as much help as they do, but as far as my car and my whole program – well, it’s on a whole other level now because of what I learned from them. Preparation, maintenance – all that is where it needs to be now.”