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Clayhill Speedway

B-Shepp bags $5,000 UMP victory at Clayhill

June 28, 2012, 6:55 pm
By Joshua Joiner
DirtonDirt.com staff writer
Brandon Sheppard (1) heads for victory. (Richard Cunningham)
Brandon Sheppard (1) heads for victory. (Richard Cunningham)

ATWOOD, Tenn. (June 28) — Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., raced to his first victory on the 2012 UMP DIRTcar Summernationals tour Thursday night at Clayhill Motorsports Park, earning $5,000 in the 14th leg of the 29-race tour.

Sheppard overtook race-long leader Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., on lap 16 of the 40-lap race and pulled away from runner-up finisher Klint Byars of Carrollton, Miss., to earn his third-career victory on the month-long series.

Patience was key for the 19-year-old Sheppard, who quickly charged to third from his sixth starting spot before riding behind front-row starters Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., and Shirley.

With Feger and Shirley mixing it up for the top spot ahead of him, Sheppard waited for the right moment to make his move. He drove low to take the second spot from the high-running Feger on lap 14 and two laps later moved by Shirley for the lead.

“I was just kinda being patient at the start there. I knew I had 40 laps and I knew my car was good right off the bat,” said Sheppard. “I could just tell that I had plenty of traction and was good through the corners. That’s what it’s all about, is corner speed.”

Eighth-starting Wendell Wallace of Batesville, Ark., finished third with polesitter Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., fourth and 15th-starting Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., fifth. Shirley, the series points leader, faded back to sixth at the finish.

The victory marked Sheppard’s first special event triumph since climbing behind the wheel of the Rocket Chassis house car earlier this season. Sheppard and the Mark Richards-owned race team had high hopes for the Summernationals tour, but struggled early on the series with a few disappointing finishes, including a near-miss victory June 17 at Wilmot (Wis.) Speedway.

“It feels good to get one. We had one won at Wilmot but unfortunately had the flat tire,” said Sheppard, who earned his third straight top-three finish on the tour Thursday after failing to crack the top five in the tour’s first 11 races. “I know they know I can do it. It’s just hitting the right combination and figuring out what we like. These past few nights we’ve improved 100 percent. We’re just improving every night.”

Making his first Summernationals appearance, Byars used the low side of the track to advance to second from his fifth starting spot. He attempted to run down Sheppard late in the race before settling for the runner-up finish.

“It seemed like there with about 10 or 15 to go I was starting to reel toward Sheppard a little bit,” said Byars, an up-and-coming driver who claimed the 2011 championship on the Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series. “Seemed like I’d reel toward him a couple laps, then he’d pull back out. … I thought about trying the line he was running, but I hated to give up that bottom because I didn’t know who all had made up ground down there and come up through the field. I didn’t wanna give any spots, so I just kinda settled for second.”

Byars’ solid finish came in what was also his first visit to Clayhill. He found the clay oval to his liking, comparing it to one of his local tracks, Hattiesburg (Miss.) Motorsports Park.

“This track’s kinda like Hattiesburg back home with some different dirt on it,” Byars said. “Hattiesburg’s been good to me and this one was pretty good to me tonight. I kinda like this little place.”

Wallace’s run from eighth came during his first outing in a car owned by Steve Lampley. Wallace needed some time to get comfortable behind the wheel of Lampley’s Barry Wright Race Car before making his run toward the front.

“The car started getting good. I had two or three seat cushions under me and I moved one in the right place where I could see over the dash,” Wallace said. “The car started getting better and better the longer we ran. I’d like to seen a caution there late. Everybody was on a little different tires, but I think we had a good tire choice.”

Notes: Sheppard’s Rocket Chassis is powered by a Roush-Yates Engine with sponsorship from Petroff Towing, Ernie D’s Enterprises, Seubert Calf Ranches. ... The race was slowed by three cautions with the first coming when hometown driver Dale Nelson and Jon Henry of Ada, Ohio, spun on the second lap. Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., slowed to bring out the second caution on lap 16, and the final caution on lap 21 was for debris. ... Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., was running fourth when he slowed and pulled to the infield on lap five. ... The Summernationals moves to Paducah (Ky.) Speedway Friday night. The $12,000-to-win event is the highest paying race on this year's tour.

Summernationals @ Clayhill: (1) Brandon Sheppard, (2) Klint Byars, (3) Wendell Wallace, (4) Jason Feger, (5) Shannon Babb, (6) Brian Shirley, (7) Rodney Melvin, (8) Jason McBride, (9) Dennis Erb Jr., (10) Tanner English, (11) Randy Sellars, (12) Terry English, (13) Frank Heckenast Jr., (14) Jon Henry, (15) Bobby Pierce, (16) Mike Spatola, (17) Nick Bartels, (18) Billy Moyer Jr., (19) Dale Nelson, (20) Billy Moyer, (21) Caleb Ashby, (22) Ryan Unzicker. Fast qualifier (among 28 cars): Byars, 15.190 seconds. Heat race winners: Feger, Shirley, Erb. Consolation race winner: Terry English. Provisional starters: Henry, Spatola, Moyer Jr., Bartels.

Preliminary results:

Provisionals and notes

The 40-lap Late Model main event will be up next after a brief intermission for track prep. The intermission began at 10 p.m. ... Jon Henry and Nick Bartels will use Summernationals provisionals to start the feature while Mike Spatola is the UMP national points provisional and Billy Moyer Jr. gets the track provisional. ... Set to start from the pole, Jason Feger is looking for his third consecutive victory on the Summernationals tour. But the 2010 series champion knows it won’t be easy. “We were fast in our heat and I’ve always like this place,” said Feger, who will be joined on the front row by points leader Brian Shirley. “But you never know; that’s a pretty fast car starting beside me.” … Shirley was happy to hold on to win his heat in a race that included a number of heavy hitters like Brandon Sheppard, Billy Moyer and Shannon Babb. “I feel like we got half the battle won holding off those guys,” Shirley said. After getting pressured heavily by Sheppard late in his heat race, Shirley thinks he could be contender in the main event. “He really had something for me at the end,” Shirley said. “He could be someone that comes through there.” ... Billy Moyer had trouble getting traction on the loose track surface during his heat race. "It's like racing on a beach," Moyer said.

B-main

Leading every lap of the caution-free race, polesitter Terry English won the 12-lap B-main to earn a feature starting spot. English won by a half-straightaway over track owner Dale Nelson, who's competing in a Super Late Model for the first time in a number of years. Bobby Pierce moved by Dillan White late in the race to claim the third and final transfer spot.

Finish: Terry English, Dale Nelson, Bobby Pierce, Billy Moyer Jr., Dillan White, Mike Spatola, Jeff Watson, Chris Shelton, Todd Hall, Jerry Lierly, Nick Bartels, Steve Karnes, Jon Henry.

Redraw

Looking for his third consecutive series victory, Jason Feger will start from the pole of tonight's 40-lap feature after a redraw among heat race winners. Points leader Brian Shirley will start second while Dennis Erb Jr. will start third.

Third heat

Turning back Brandon Sheppard's late challenge, points leader Brian Shirley led every lap after grabbing the lead from the outside pole. The polesitting Sheppard faded behind Shirley early in the race and survived a side-by-side battle with Billy Moyer before resetting his sights on Shirley. He closed to Shirley's bumper with two laps remaining, but couldn't find a way around in settling for second. Moyer was just behind the two leaders to finish third while Frank Heckenast Jr. was farther back to finish fourth with Shannon Babb fifth to also transfer to the main event. Nick Bartels spun on lap two to bring out the race's only caution.

Finish: Brian Shirley, Brandon Sheppard, Billy Moyer, Frank Heckenast Jr., Shannon Babb, Dillan White, Jeff Watson, Billy Moyer Jr., Nick Bartels

Second heat

Outside polesiter Dennis Erb Jr. came out on top of a side-by-side battle with polesitter Klint Byars that lasted nearly the entire distance of the caution-free race. Erb edged ahead on the start, but Byars pulled back even on the low side on the second lap and raced alongside the leader until slight contact on lap eight allowed Erb to pull ahead. Byars challenged back the final two laps, but had to settle for second. Wendell Wallace was third with Rodney Melvin fourth and Randy Sellars in the fifth and final transfer position. The race took three attempts to get started. Byars was charged with jumping the first start, while Erb was said to jump the second. Chris Shelton was set to start fourth, but slowed trailing smoke after the race's second attempted start.

Finish: Dennis Erb Jr., Klint Byars, Wendell Wallace, Rodney Melvin, Randy Sellers, Dale Nelson, Jerry Lierly, Steve Karnes

First heat

Third-starting Jason Feger pressured polesitter Ryan Unzicker through the first half of the 10-lap race and led pulled away during the second half after taking command on lap six. Unzicker was able to keep Feger at bay early in the race, but slid high in turns one and two on the sixth lap. He settled or second in the caution-free race with outside polesitter Caleb Ashby finishing third. Tanner English overtook Jason McBride on the final lap to claim the fourth spot in a race that transferred the top five finishers to the main event.

Finish: Jason Feger, Ryan Unzicker, Caleb Ashby, Tanner English, Jason McBride, Terry English, Bobby Pierce, Jon Henry, Mike Spatola, Todd Hall

Time trials

Making his UMP DIRTcar Summernationals debut, Klint Byars of Carrollton, Miss., topped Ryan Unzicker by .0002 seconds during time trials for Thursday's Summernationals event, earning fast time honors over 28 qualifiers at Clayhill Motorsporst Park.

Byars' lap of 15.1906 seconds earned him the pole for one of three 10-lap heat races coming up at the 3/8-mile oval. Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., and Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., will be the other two heat-race polesitters.

Each 10-lap heat race will transfer the top four drivers into tonight’s 40-lap main event, while B-main transfers and provisional starters will make up the remainder of the 22-car starting field.

Tonight’s race is the 14th of 29 races for the Summernationals tour, which visits 28 tracks in 32 days.

Pre-race notes

Tonight's program is slated to get under way at 7 p.m., an hour later than most Summernationals events. ... Brian Shirley continues to lead the series standings with 855 points while reigning series champion Shannon Babb closed to within 11 points of Shirley with is runner-up effort last night at Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill. Jason Feger, winner of the tour’s last two races, is third with 750 points followed by Brandon Sheppard (690) and Ryan Unzicker (655). … With temperatures peaking at over 100 degrees earlier this afternoon, some drives are worried the extreme heat could make for dry track conditions tonight. “It seems like it’s always 110 degrees when we come here and you just can’t keep much water in the track on days like that,” said Billy Moyer, who’s rejoining the tour for the first time since winning the tour’s race at Tri-City Speedway last Friday. … Wendell Wallace of Batesville, Ark., is rejoining the tour, driving a No. 33 Barry Wright Race Car normally driven by Steve Lampley of Benton, Ill. Wallace plans to also field the car in the tour’s races at Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway and Friday Federated Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Mo., on Saturday … After recently parting ways with Upton Motorsports, Tanner English of Benton, Ky., is set to debut a brand new family-owned Pierce Race Car. English will make his first laps in the car tonight as he looks to shake it down in preparation for the tour’s race tomorrow at Paducah, his home track. English will carry a No. 1 on the plain red car because it was “the easiest number to make with duct tape.” … With English moving back into his family-owned equipment, Upton Motorsports will have Clayhill track owner Dale Nelson behind the wheel of their Pierce Race Car tonight. Kyle Beard of Trumann, Ark., is slated to drive the car at Paducah and I-55. … Rodney Melvin of Benton Ill., has scored his best two finishes on this year’s tour by moving up through the field during the main event, but he’d like to make things easier on himself tonight. “It’s all about qualifying good and running good in your heat. That just makes thing so much easier,” said Melvin, who advanced from seventh to win the tour’s race at Highland (Ill.) Speedway and advanced from 14th to fifth last night at Belle-Clair. “Maybe we can figure out how to do that and quit having to dig ourselves out of holes.” … Klint Byars of Carrolton, Miss., is making his first-ever appearance at a Summernationals event. He plans to run tonight through Saturday at I-55, but three nights on the Hell Tour is enough for him. “I just don’t know how these guys race every night like that,” he said. “That sounds like a lot of work to me.” Byars, who’s making his first visit to Clayhill, found out the hard way that there’s only one road into the track that can accommodate large trucks. He came in the wrong route, and his hauler bottomed out on a railroad crossing. He had to have a bulldozer pull him off the tracks. ... During the pre-race drivers' meeting, series director Sam Driggers reminded drivers and teams that series officials were testing for illegal chemically enhanced tires at each race. After the meeting, Driggers said that he heard rumors that drivers were trying "new methods" to illegally prep tires, but that there was nothing "out of the ordinary" to report.

Qualifying results (unofficial)

First group

  1. Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 15.190
  2. Caleb Ashby (61), Cunningham, Tenn., 15.281
  3. Jason Feger (25) Bloomington, Ill., 15.387
  4. Jason McBride (77), Carbondale, Ill., 15.433
  5. Terry English (33), Benton, Ky., 15.433
  6. Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.571
  7. Tanner English (96), Benton, Ky., 15.579
  8. Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 15.589
  9. Jon Henry (15) Ada, Ohio, 15.815
  10. Todd Hall (99), Charleston, Mo., 15.978

Second group

  1. Klint Byars (5), Carrolton, Miss. 15.190
  2. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill. 15.213
  3. Rodney Melvin (27), Benton, Ill. 15.253
  4. Chris Shelton (16), Paducah, Ky. 15.418
  5. Randy Sellars (3), Mayfield, Ky. 15.567
  6. Wendell Wallace (6m), Batesville, Ark. 15.634
  7. Jerry Lierly (7L), Camp Point, Ill. 15.848
  8. Steve Karnes (11), Marion, Ill. 16.007
  9. Dale Nelson (9), Atwood, Tenn. 16.644

Third heat

  1. Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill. 15.271
  2. Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill. 15.345
  3. Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill. 15.363
  4. Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark. 15.368
  5. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill. 15.401
  6. Dillan White (54), Crofton, Ky. 15.442
  7. Jeff Watson (56), Paducah, Ky. 15.506
  8. Nick Bartels (27), El Segundo, Calif. 15.587
  9. Billy Moyer Jr. (21jr) Batesville, Ark. 15.657

Feature lineup

Row 1: Feger, Shirley
Row 2: Erb, Unzicker
Row 3: Byars, Sheppard
Row 4: Ashby, Wallace
Row 5: Moyer Sr., English
Row 6: Melvin, Heckenast
Row 7: McBride, Sellars
Row 8: Babb. English
Row 9: Nelson, Pierce
Row 10: Henry, Spatola
Row 11: Moyer Jr., Bartels

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