OCALA, Fla. — Just call him Super Sub.
Continuing his spectacular performance as the interim driver of the Rocket Chassis house car, Brandon Sheppard powered to a convincing victory in Saturday night’s 50-lap World of Outlaws Late Model Series A-Main at Bubba Raceway Park.
Sheppard, 21, surged forward from the fifth-starting spot to take the lead from hometown favorite Ivedent Lloyd Jr. on lap seven and never looked back.
The 2014 DIRTcar Summer Nationals and DIRTcar Late Model national champion easily handled four restarts over the remaining distance to defeat Friday-night winner Brady Smith by 4.348 seconds in the second night of action during the third annual Bubba Army Dirt Late Model Winter Nationals.
Lloyd, who started from the pole position and led laps 1-6, swapped second place with Smith twice before settling for a career-best WoO LMS finish of third. Tim Fuller ran as high as second midway through the race but slipped to fourth at the finish and outside-polesitter Darrell Lanigan placed fifth after starting second.
The $10,050 triumph was Sheppard’s first of the season and the fourth of his career on the national tour. Two of his World of Outlaws checkered flags have come behind the wheel of Mark Richards’s familiar Valvoline-sponsored Rocket No. 1, which he is steering while reigning WoO LMS champion Josh Richards is sidelined by undisclosed medical issues.
Sheppard also earned his first win during Georgia/Florida Speedweeks, which he has been attending annually since he was a high-school student.
“We’ve been trying a lot of years to get a win down here and had never been able to do it,” said Sheppard, who had made all his previous Speedweeks appearances in family-owned equipment. “We never really had any runs to write home about, but this year we’ve had a really good car the whole time we’ve been down here. This team is awesome and I felt like it was a matter of time before we’d get one.”
Sheppard’s great start in the first 50-lapper of the WoO LMS campaign was the key to his success. He passed three cars on the opening lap to reach second place and then measured Lloyd’s Snow Brothers car for several circuits before grabbing the lead on lap seven with an inside move rounding turn four.
“Everything fell into place right,” said Sheppard. “We came up through there pretty quick. We had a ton of traction off of four. I feel like that’s where a lot of guys would lose time, but I could really get through there and get down on that bottom pretty good and drive off.”
Sheppard maintained a modest edge once in command, holding his rivals at arm’s length as he marched to a victory that gave him a rare sweep of a WoO LMS program. He had some close calls in lapped traffic late in the distance but turned up the wick to power away from the 36-year-old Smith in the final circuits.
“I saw my guys telling me they were getting a little bit close to me when I was in lapped traffic,” said Sheppard, whose perfect night included fast-time honors in qualifying and a heat-race win. “I was kind of trying to save my tires a little bit there, but I knew we were pretty good on the top. I looked up and seen a couple laps to go and put it on the top and got something done.”
Smith, who hustled his Rocket machine forward from the eighth starting spot to reach second for the first time with a lap-26 restart pass of Fuller, happily accepted his runner-up finish.
“I’m not gonna complain about a second,” said Smith, who ended the night tied for the WoO LMS points lead with Sheppard. “I was probably a little too conservative trying to save my tires, but we’ll take second.”
Lloyd, meanwhile, felt a prime opportunity to snatch a memorable first-ever WoO LMS win on home turf might have slipped through his fingers.
“The track got a little rough and we had hard tires on,” said Lloyd, whose previous career-high WoO LMS finish was a fourth in last year’s Winter Nationals opener at BRP. “I never would’ve thought four 10s (soft compound tires) would beat us here, but that’s how it goes. We were hoping for a little bit better, but it was a pretty good run. It’s an accomplishment to run third with these guys.”
Sheppard was fastest in Ohlins Shocks Time Trials for the second consecutive night, turning a lap of 13.955 seconds.
Brandon Sheppard, Brady Smith, Ivedent Lloyd Jr., Tim Fuller, Darrell Lanigan, Tim McCreadie, Mike Marlar, Rick Eckert, Frankie Heckenast Jr., Casey Roberts, Morgan Bagley, Brandon Overton, Chub Frank, Shane Clanton, Eric Wells, Chase Junghans, Austin Kirkpatrick, Clint Smith, Raymond Merrill, Mark Whitener, Rick ‘Boom’ Briggs, John Winge, Jack Sullivan, John Garvin Jr.