Sheppard Breaks Through At Belle-Clair

Brandon Sheppard (1) races around Shannon Babb en route to his first World of Outlaws Late Model Series triumph Friday at Belle-Clair Speedway in Illinois. (Don Figler photo)
Brandon Sheppard (1) races around Shannon Babb en route to his first World of Outlaws Late Model Series triumph Friday at Belle-Clair Speedway in Illinois. (Don Figler photo)

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Brandon Sheppard earned his first World of Outlaws Late Model Series A-Main victory with a picture-perfect performance on Friday night at Belle-Clair Speedway.

Racing in front of his home-state fans, the fast-rising 19-year-old star emerged triumphant in the Photobilly 50 to complete a sweep of the national tour’s inaugural program at the one-fifth-mile fairgrounds bullring.

Sheppard established a new track record in time trials, led every lap of his heat race and paced the evening’s headliner from start-to-finish behind the wheel of Mark Richards’s high-profile Rocket Chassis house car. He even ‘won’ hot laps, turning the quickest circuit of the program’s practice session to signal his ultimate supremacy.

“This is just an amazing feeling,” said Sheppard, who pocketed $12,550 for the biggest win of his young career. “It’s a huge confidence booster for me to get my first (World of Outlaws) win off my back. We had a close one a couple weeks ago (on Aug. 18 at Merritt Raceway in Lake City, Mich.) when Josh (Richards) won and we ran second, so it feels really good to know that I can do it.”

Sheppard, who started from outside of the front row, outgunned polesitter Brian Shirley for the lead at the initial green flag and never looked back. But he had to survive five caution flags and a late-race threat from dirt late model legend Billy Moyer to preserve the victory.

Moyer, who turns 55 next month, moved his Victory Circle machine into the runner-up spot on lap 25 when Shannon Babb was penalized two positions, to fourth place, by WoO LMS officials for firing early on a restart. The three-time WoO LMS champion fought off a brief challenge from Babb following a lap-39 caution period and drew close to Sheppard on the final lap but settled for a second-place finish, 0.675 of a second behind the winner.

Babb, 38, faded after crunching the right-rear corner of his Victory Circle car against the outside wall on lap 42, leaving him over three seconds behind Moyer in third place at the checkered flag. He started the race on a roll — advancing from the sixth starting spot to second in just 11 laps — but never seriously challenged Sheppard before absorbing his mid-race penalty.

WoO LMS point leader Darrell Lanigan finished fourth in his Rocket mount, breaking into the top five late in the distance after starting 14th. Kyle Logue registered a career-best WoO LMS finish of fifth in his Pierce car after overtaking Clint Smith on the last circuit.

Sheppard credited his success to his previous experience at the tricky Belle-Clair oval — specifically, his run to a third-place finish with the Rocket No. 1 in the track’s DIRTcar Summer Nationals event June 25.

“I think a big advantage for us over these Outlaw guys was that we were able to come here for the Summer Nationals,” said Sheppard, noting that none of the WoO LMS regulars had ever raced a dirt late model at Belle-Clair before Friday night’s show. “We got a little bit of an idea (of how to set the car up). Especially for feature time, we had a pretty good idea of where we needed to be at.”

Sheppard ended up with a virtually flawless car that he was able to expertly steer around the track’s cushion. But he did have some anxious moments in the final laps when he found himself stuck in heavy lapped traffic, which allowed Moyer to close in.

“I knew there weren’t no slouches behind me,” said Sheppard, “so I knew every lap the lapped cars were holding me up, that was time I was losing. I was just thankful to see the white flag come out because I could hear (Moyer) getting on me.”

Sheppard became the 47th driver to win a WoO LMS A-Main since 2004. He’s the tour’s fourth first-time winner this season and the third-youngest driver in history to win on the circuit, behind Josh Richards (17 years old when he won his first race in 2005) and Austin Hubbard (age 18 in ’10).

In addition, Sheppard is the third driver to put Mark Richards’ blue dirt late model in victory lane on the WoO LMS, joining Bart Hartman and Richards’s son Josh. Sheppard was tapped in May to replace Josh in the seat of the championship-winning No. 1 after the younger Richards decided to leave the World of Outlaws trail to pursue a NASCAR career on the Nationwide Series.

With Sheppard’s triumph, the elder Richards had reason to feel good about his driver choice.

“Brandon’s a great kid,” said Mark Richards. “We couldn’t ask for a better guy to be in here driving for Josh while Josh is off doing what he wants to do with the Nationwide deal.

“We came out and ran the Summer Nationals with Brandon and came here for a race. We got to learn Brandon a little bit and he got to learn us a little bit, and it paid off tonight.”

Sheppard broke through for his first WoO LMS win in his 16th career A-Main start. He has started 11 A-Mains this season, including his last five in the Rocket Chassis house car.

The finish:

Brandon Sheppard, Billy Moyer, Shannon Babb, Darrell Lanigan, Kyle Logue, Clint Smith, Tim Fuller, Tim McCreadie, Shane Clanton, Rick Eckert, Bub McCool, Matt Taylor, Billy Moyer Jr., Ryan Unzicker, Chub Frank, Vic Coffey, Dennis Erb Jr., Bobby Pierce, Brian Diveley, Mike Spatola, Mark Voigt, Ryan Little, Brian Shirley, Ed Dixon, Brent Kreke.