GAFFNEY, S.C. — Eleven races into the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series season and the series saw its first first-time winner Friday night at Cherokee Speedway. Ross Bailes claimed victory in front of his home state crowd.
Brandon Sheppard yet again scored another second-place finish, after starting fifth and chasing Bailes throughout the latter part of the race. Don O’Neal had a solid showing as well, coming from ninth and climbing to third after battling with Chris Madden and Brandon Overton.
It was almost a perfect night for the Clover, S.C.-native, as he picked up the PFC Brakes Fast Time Award, won his Drydene heat race, redrew the outside pole and led all 50 laps. But it certainly was no cakewalk, as Bailes had the Rocket1 Racing ride of Sheppard knocking on his door for over half of the race.
Sheppard started out steady, passing a car for position here and there before finally making the move around Madden for second on lap 17. It was at that moment Sheppard began to track down the Bailes Construction No. 87. Several restarts presented opportunities for Sheppard to make the move, but to no avail. Until the final 10 laps …
Bailes said he initially didn’t see the No. 1 of Sheppard stick his nose underneath. A late restart put Sheppard right on the Barry Wright house car’s rear bumper, and despite “The Rocket Shepp’s” best efforts, Bailes rode the high line and hold off Sheppard’s heavy pressure.
“I had a guy spotting for me and he’s the one who told me to move up top,” Bailes said. “I thought when he told me to move up, Sheppard was five or six car lengths back, but I guess he was underneath me. I didn’t know exactly where he was, but I knew he was closing in on me and I knew just had to hit my marks.”
Lapped traffic is usually always something the leaders run into over the course of 50 laps, and tonight was no exception. Early on in the longest wave of traffic the leaders faced, Bailes was moving through swiftly. Sheppard then began to close the gap rapidly, actually trimming Bailes’ lead to under one second before the caution came back out. But the real story behind his triumph may have been a collective decision made by the driver and crew before they even hit the race track.
“We went with a softer tire, I thought it was the right call, my team thought it was the right call,” Bailes said. “We got [the harder compound] ready but I never once thought I was going to need it. And I’m glad we did go with the softer tire because it allowed me to get that jump and get out front.”
Look back on the season, Bailes has had so far through the first three months of the racing season, and it’s not hard to see the giant wave of success Bailes is now riding. Since becoming the face of the Barry Wright Race Cars house ride over the winter, Bailes scored a big win at the 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, Tenn., back in early April and picked up another win exactly one week ago at the Laurens County Speedway in South Carolina.
“This is the most confident and comfortable I’ve felt in a car this early in the year,” Bailes said. “We’ve won three races, but we started up front almost every single race, so I feel like I let a few go that we should have won. But we’ve just been fast all year.”
Saturday’s event at the Lavonia Speedway has been postponed to October 3, due to impending inclement weather.
Morton Buildings Feature (50 Laps) – 1. 87-Ross Bailes [$10,000]; 2. 1-Brandon Sheppard [$5,000]; 3. 5-Don O’Neal [$3,000]; 4. 2-Brandon Overton [$2,500]; 5. 44-Chris Madden [$2,000]; 6. 28-Dennis Erb [$1,700]; 7. 22-Chris Ferguson [$1,400]; 8. 101-Casey Roberts [$1,300]; 9. 18-Chase Junghans [$1,200]; 10. 75-Donald Bradsher [$1,100]; 11. 25-Shane Clanton [$1,050]; 12. 7-Ricky Weiss [$1,000]; 13. 29-Darrell Lanigan [$950]; 14. D89-Dustin Mitchell [$900]; 15. 99B-Boom Briggs [$150]; 16. 2c-Joey Coulter [$800]; 17. 97-Cade Dillard [$110]; 18. B1-Brent Larson [$110]; 19. 1m-Devin Moran [$730]; 20. 8-Jacob Hawkins [$700]; 21. 9-Johnny Pursley [$700]; 22. 57-Adam Yarbrough [$700]; 23. 14-Josh Richards [$700]; 24. 88-Trent Ivey [$700]; 25. 79-Michael Brown [$700]; 26. 18h-Brett Hamm [$700]; 27. 36v-Kyle Hardy [$700]; Hard Charger: 18-Chase Junghans[+14]