GRAND FORKS, N.D. — After an agonizing one-race losing streak, Brandon Sheppard and Rocket1 Racing returned to their winning ways on Sunday night at River Cities Speedway.
Taking advantage of lap traffic and reeling in early race leader Ricky Weiss, Sheppard guided his Valvoline No. 1 Durham powered Rocket to the lead on the 32nd lap and never looked back. Surviving a late bid from a charging Cade Dillard, Sheppard earned his second straight victory at the track and the 65th of his WoO career.
Sheppard officially became the first driver in the 19-year history of the World of Outlaws Late Models to record four different 10-wins seasons. With all four of those occurrences coming over the last four years, B-Shepp has rattled off campaigns of 18 wins in 2017, 13 wins in 2018, 18 wins again in 2019, and now 10 wins and counting in 2020.
“This is all so surreal for me,” Sheppard said. “I was a kid that grew up at Macon, Farmer City, Lincoln, Jacksonville; and now I’m out here on the road living the dream. Mark [Richards] picked me up and gave me this opportunity to get the experienced I needed at tracks all over the country and that is what got us here to be as consistent as we are. I’m just having a ton of fun. In my opinion, we can’t go to enough races right now. Let’s keep going!”
Starting on the outside pole of the 50-lap, $10,000-to-win feature, Sheppard lined up next to Weiss, who took the early lead.
A lap-13 caution flag for a slowing Boom Briggs proved to be the only stoppage of the race and gave fans a dicey restart to watch on the quarter-mile
Stalking Weiss in the midst of a lapped traffic frenzy, B-Shepp closed in on the No. 7 and finally struck on lap 32, darting to the outside and storming around the Canadian to take command of the race lead. The Headingley, Man. native stayed right with the points leader, however, offering a series of challenges to retake the top spot before a lap 36 bobble sent him slipping to third and gave Dillard the second spot.
“The way track was I was glad that we were getting to lap traffic, because I knew that was probably the only way I could get around him,” Sheppard said. “This place relies so heavily on momentum. Until lap traffic slows us down, you’re kind of married to a momentum line. Once we got there I could run the top, run the bottom, feel out where I needed to be and where I could pass him at. He kept guarding the bottom after I showed him a nose and then those lap cars went down low that one lap and left me a lane up high; and I just sent it off in there and it stuck.”
With Dillard controlling the runner-up slot over the final quarter, fans watched with anticipation as the MB Customs No. 97 consistently chopped into Sheppard’s lead and ran down the No. 1. Falling a few laps short, “Thriller” ran out of time in his pursuit of win No. 3 this year, but did come close to stealing one as he crossed the checkered flag a mere .347 seconds behind Sheppard.
“We’ve got a great baseline set up right now that seems to go well everywhere we unload, it’s just about making the right tweaks each night,” Dillard noted. “We went with a little different tire than everyone else, so I was worried about keeping it under me there at the beginning. About ten laps to go though I stepped up and the car felt a lot better. It’s a lot of run racing with Brandon and Ricky right, we all race hard, yet so clean with each other. It’s really rewarding to be up on here on the front stretch every night.”
Rounding out the top five were Dennis Erb Jr. and Dustin Strand.
Donny Schatz concluded his rare weekend with the late models by finishing out sixth in the 50-lapper.
Feature (50 laps): 1. 1-Brandon Sheppard [$10,000]; 2. 97-Cade Dillard [$5,000]; 3. 7-Ricky Weiss [$3,000]; 4. 28-Dennis Erb [$2,500]; 5. 71-Dustin Strand [$2,000]; 6. 15-Donny Schatz [$1,700]; 7. 18-Chase Junghans [$1,400]; 8. 29v-Darrell Lanigan [$1,300]; 9. 12s-Brad Seng [$1,200]; 10. 12-Ashton Winger [$1,100]; 11. 55c-Chad Mahder [$1,050]; 12. 0-Scott Bloomquist [$1,000]; 13. B1-Brent Larson [$950]; 14. 6m-Jeff Massingill [$900]; 15. 74-Mitch McGrath [$850]; 16. 44-Cole Schill [$800]; 17. 17-Lance Schill [$770]; 18. 14-Brody Troftgruben [$750]; 19. 56-Colton Horner [$730]; 20. 7p-Joey Pederson [$700]; 21. 16s-Jeff Hapala [$700]; 22. 99b-Boom Briggs [$700]; 23. C4-Ryan Corbett [$700]; 24. T1-Tom Corcoran [$700]. Lap Leader(s): Weiss 1-31; Sheppard 32-50. Hard Charger Award: 71-Dustin Strand[+9]