NEW RICHMOND, Wis. — The greatest summer of Brandon Sheppard’s life grew even better on Thursday night at Cedar Lake Speedway.
Building on the first DIRTcar Summer Nationals ‘Hell Tour’ title he clinched less than two weeks ago, Sheppard drove to a convincing $6,000 victory in the 40-lap World of Outlaws Late Model Series A-Main that kicked off the 26th annual USA Nationals weekend.
Sheppard, 20, started from the pole position and controlled the entire distance. He hammered his family-owned Rocket car around the top side of the high-banked, three-eighths-mile oval to register his second career WoO LMS triumph without receiving a single serious challenge.
“We’ve been working hard a lot of years, me and my dad (veteran racer Steve Sheppard Jr.), to try and accomplish that Summer Nationals deal,” said Sheppard, who became the youngest champion in the history of the famed ‘Hell Tour.’ “To finally do it was really uplifting for me. It was almost like a weight lifted off my shoulders. There’s not as much pressure now. We can go out there and know we can run with them all the time.”
WoO LMS point leader Josh Richards crossed the finish line 2.051 seconds behind Sheppard in his Rocket Chassis house car after slipping by Shannon Babb for the runner-up spot on lap 37. Babb settled for third place in his Victory Circle mount, Don O’Neal placed fourth in Larry Moring’s MasterSbilt car and World of Outlaws rookie Eric Wells finished fifth after starting from the outside pole.
The night belonged to Sheppard, who two years ago made a stirring run into the top five in the USA Nationals 100 before breaking and last year entered the event in the Rocket Chassis house car that he drove for much of the 2012 season while Richards raced on the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Driving a 2007-vintage car that his team purchased two years ago from fellow Illinois driver Brian Shirley, Sheppard thrust himself onto the list of favorites to capture the $50,000 top prize on the line in Saturday night’s 100-lap USA Nationals finale.
“This is by far my favorite racetrack,” said Sheppard, who won for the first time at the Badger State facility. “Since the day I came here, I’ve loved it. It’s super racing. It’s hammer-down, get-up-on-the-wheel, run-the-cushion – just like our Midwest tracks. I definitely get along with it pretty good, so we’re looking forward to tomorrow and Saturday.”