MADERA, Calif. – Two-time Nut Up Pro Late Model champion Buddy Shepherd climbed aboard a new car but delivered the same result, driving the Eshleman-owned No. 81 to victory lane in Saturday’s $2,000-to-win event at Madera Speedway.
Shepherd’s win puts a target on his back as a contender for the upcoming Short Track Shootout $10,000-to-win race in October.
Incoming points leader Austin Herzog, 17, started outside of second in points Dylan Zampa, 15, after the redraw of the top-10 qualifiers. Fast-time qualifier Jeremy Doss lined up ninth. Herzog led the first two laps of the 80-lap affair on the outside line before Zampa edged forward to take the top position on lap three.
Doss and fellow fifth row starter Jacob Gomes, each a former SRL Southwest Tour champion, tangled battling for seventh into turn three. Gomes spun and the caution waved, with Doss penalized to the rear of the field for his involvement.
Shepherd restarted outside Zampa, using the position to sweep into the lead on lap 16. Herzog drifted backwards to the seventh position on the run. Doss knifed through the field rapidly after restarting 21st, charging into the top-ten by lap 35. Herzog advanced back into fourth after a lap 35 restart.
Two-time champion Matt Erickson and Madera Late Model non-televised points leader Tyler Herzog had a skirmish in turn one on lap 42, derailing Erickson’s evening to put a dent in his 2019 championship aspirations. The following restart saw Herzog again shuffled back to seventh. Shepherd led Rocha, Zampa, Doss, and Vieira into the lap 50 scheduled break.
After adjustments, Doss immediately pounced. He drove into second and began attempting to dive underneath Shepherd for the lead to no avail. Austin Herzog spun in turn one after apparent contact from Joey Iest for a lap 58 caution. Both drivers had to restart at the tail of the field.
Their incident set off a wild series of events. Shepherd restarted outside Doss and nearly cleared him exiting turn two. Doss went up the hill but ran across Logan Zampa. Zampa had a grinding ride up against the backstretch wall while several cars deeper in the pack suffered damage as well.
Doss was again penalized to the back of the running order, thrusting Blaine Rocha into the second position inside of Shepherd. Vieira attempted to pass Rocha before Austin Herzog spun in turn three yet again. The caution then flew on the next attempt when Tim Skoglund, Rick Thompson, and Iest crashed down the front stretch.
Things settled down with Vieira getting around Rocha for second position but unable to clear Shepherd on a lap 65 restart. Shepherd took a 1.264 second victory for his first televised win with a GM 602 Crate Engine over Vieira, Jason Aguirre, Dylan Zampa, and Rocha, who fended off a late charge from Doss. Zampa emerges with the points lead ahead of ninth finishing Herzog with just two rounds remaining in the series. Aguirre unofficially cleared Erickson for third in the standings as well.
Although Iest had a tumultuous Pro Late Model race, he delivered a strong message for his fourth 51FIFTY Jr. Late Model victory. He increased his points lead in the series and increased his 2019 lap led figure to 191 in seven rounds of competition.
Jadan Walbridge led qualifying for the second consecutive event but Iest drew the coveted pole position. Iest drove ahead early while Seth Wise and Arizona’s Bradley Erickson battled for third. Wise earned the position after some contact but faced pressure from Jay Juleson a few laps later.
Juleson went outside in turn four and the pair made contact, sending Juleson into the front stretch wall. On the following restart, Walbridge challenged Iest on the outside for several laps before Iest cleared him on lap 16. Kasey Kleyn spun on two different occasions for brief spins. The second caution on lap 35 allowed Walbridge to go into the lead position. Walbridge and Iest went side-by-side all the way to the lap 40 break, when Iest grabbed the spot back on the 40th lap.
Iest faced little pressure over the final 30 laps of the race. A lap 57 caution saw Kercie Jung and Brody Armtrout come together in turn one, with Jung’s car going over the front end of Armtrout’s. Iest topped Walbridge, Wise, Erickson, and Bakersfield’s Kabe McClenny as the top-five finishers.
The Mini Cups vs. Bandoleros had a divisive night of their own with the heat race serving as the precursor for events to come. July winner Jeffrey Erickson, Mini Cup points leader Joey Kennealy, and second in Bandolero points Dylan Baptista all failed to continue into the feature after incidents in the heat race.
The incidents set the stage for points leader and 2018 champion Riley Massey of Bakersfield to drive to victory, using a three-wide maneuver on the opening lap for the lead. Nathaniel Edwards and Ethan Nascimento staged a great battle for second until they tangled on lap 18. The incident allowed Kena Mitchell to snake through to finish second behind Massey for a female 1-2. Edwards scored third at the finish.
Nick Halen grabbed the 35-lap Legends of the Pacific feature. A three-car pileup in turn two ended the evening for early leader Kevin Travels. Halen topped Chad Nascimento by over four seconds with Sheldon Crouse finishing third.