MADERA, Calif. – Withstanding challenges from Cole Moore over a series of late race restarts, two-time Nut Up Pro Late Model champion Buddy Shepherd won Saturday’s Madera Speedway MAVTV season opener.
The Bakersfield driver started on the outside pole position, took over the lead on lap 26, then never relinquished it in the 80-lap contest.
Saturday’s televised season opener was likely the latest in track history, originally scheduled for March 14th before COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders shut down the sport throughout California.
Jeff Bischofberger made his return to racing after a 16-month hiatus and drew the pole, leading the opening lap over the 26-car field. Lapped traffic became a factor on lap 14, with Shepherd and Moore in hot pursuit of Bischofberger.
Blaine Rocha got hung out on the outside and fell to 14th, behind fast-time qualifier Racin Vernon of Bakersfield who was mired in 13th as well.
Shepherd looked inside Bischofberger for the lead on lap 25 and nabbed the top spot on lap 26. A caution on lap 28 allowed Moore to take over second from Bischofberger. Bischofberger managed to slide into third ahead of Ross Strmiska.
Ryan Philpott challenged Matt Wendt for fifth for several laps, with several cars lining up behind them. 2019 season opening winner Dylan Zampa was one of them, with Zampa getting shuffled to the end of the line in the intense jockeying.
Moore clamped down on Shepherd on lap 48 but could not manage to get around him for the lead before the break on lap 50 for adjustments and MAVTV interviews.
Shepherd emerged from the break with Moore closely in tow. Moore had a tremendous shot underneath Shepherd on lap 62 entering turn one but was unable to complete the maneuver. Moore pulled up alongside Shepherd in a drag race for the lead on lap 73, but the move was nullified by a caution.
The caution was for an incident in turn two which ended Dylan Zampa’s evening while also involving Wendt and Tim Skoglund. On the restart, Logan Zampa suffered a blown engine which resulted in a lengthy cleanup in turn one.
Moore seized the chance to challenge Shepherd and nearly ran up alongside him on several occasions. Shepherd persevered for a .239 second victory ahead of Moore, Strmiska, Bischofberger, and a nice comeback from Blaine Rocha.
“The cautions helped us a lot,” Shepherd said. “I want to thank (Cole Moore) for running us clean there at the end.”
“We’ve been racing for years and we always race hard and clean,” Moore said. “The cautions went in his favor. I knew if we made contact there was a 50-50 chance that we’d both wreck and that’s not how I roll.”
Seth Wise started 2020 the way he ended 2019, claiming the 70-lap 51FIFTY Jr. Late Model Series feature over an 18-car field. Wise entered the main event for drivers ages 10-16 years old as the only driver with a win in the series.
Bradley Erickson started on the pole with fast-time qualifier Jadan Walbridge quickly advancing from fourth to second. The first caution came on lap 11 when Jake Bollman and Calvin Hegje collided in turn three. Both were relegated to restarting at the rear.
Seventh starting Wise advanced to fourth on the restart while Colorado’s Holly Clark was shuffled back to seventh. Wise then passed Cole Brown for third. Wise then moved past Oregon’s Walbridge and began to challenge Erickson for the lead.
Wise used a bump and run in turn four to muscle past Erickson into the lap 40 break with the bonus points in hand for leading at the break as well.
Wise led Erickson, Walbridge, Brown, and Brody Armtrout out of the break with 30 laps to go. An incident in turn four brought out the caution and saw Kercie Jung’s night end early. Kale McClenny and Colorado’s Cassidy Hinds made contact that brought out a caution on lap 51. McClenny was then involved in a turn four incident that included Utah’s Kylie Ith and Washington’s Kasey Kleyn.
Walbridge took over second on lap 60 but it was too little, too late. Wise drove to a 5.475 second victory over Walbridge, Erickson, Brown, and Armtrout.
Jeffrey Erickson won the Bandolero portion of the Mini Cups vs. Bandolero feature, topping debutant Jace Hale. Rebecca Dubie won the Mini Cup trophy ahead of Harley Kennealy.