QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. — Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., captured the biggest prize of the 14th annual Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout on Sunday at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway, winning the $15,000 Shaw Trucking 50 finale along with a $10,000 bonus for his third victory of the miniseries.
Sheppard — who split six miniseries victories with fellow Illinois driver Brian Shirley — turned back the rallying Shirley’s mid-race charge and captured his second straight WWS title while winning the third-mile oval's finale for the second time in three years.
“We had a lot of fun and it’s going to make our 25-hour drive home a lot easier,” said Sheppard, who led all the way with the exception of lap 26, when Shirley briefly slipped ahead.
Johnny Scott of Las Cruces, N.M., scored his best career major-race Late Model finish, just 0.520 seconds behind Sheppard, while ninth-starting Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, survived an early tussle with Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., to finish third.
Shirley, who started 17th after a qualifying crash ruined his preliminaries, broke into the top five after just 14 laps and slipped into the lead for a single lap just past halfway in the 50-lapper. But restarting second on lap 33, he got too high and briefly fell to fifth before returning to third and slapping the same turn-three wall he hit in time trials on lap 39, ending his chances.
He lost the third spot to Weiss with two laps remaining in a race that would’ve paid him a $25,000 bonus from the Keyser Quarter-Million Challenge for his fourth victory in nine days. He settled for fourth and the $10,000 bonus he earned from the previous night’s third victory.
“That was a lot of fun,” Sheppard said in victory lane. “I looked underneath me — Shirley got beside me and I was like, ’Where in the world did he come from?’ Congratulations to him. He did a heckuva job this week.
“It’s just been a heckuva a week. For two (drivers) to get a ($10,000) bonus, that’s unheard of. It just so happens that we live 15 miles from each other — or probably 10 miles. It was a fun week. I wish we could’ve done a few things different. I know we had a car to win every night. There was a few mistakes we made there middle of the week and early this weekend that put us behind a few nights, but we’re definitely very thankful for what we have and what we’ve won and what we’ve done this week.”
Sheppard jumped into the lead from outside the front row with polesitter and home-state driver Ricky Thornton Jr. giving chase along with Dillard, Scott and Chase Junghans with Weiss moving into the top five by the seventh lap.
The Weiss-Dillard scramble on a lap-13 restart shuffled the field and Dillard ended up pointing the wrong direction on the frontstretch two laps later for another caution. Shirley took advantage to move into contention, grabbing third from Scott on the 18th lap and then taking second from Thornton on the backstretch three laps later.
Hot on Sheppard’s heels, Shirley dove inside turn the leader in turn one, and when Sheppard slipped up in turn four on the 26th lap, Shirley narrowly led at the flagstand. But Shirley pushed high in turn two on the next lap and Sheppard drove back to the lead, staying in control until the field bunched for a lap-33 caution.
On the restart, Shirley got too high in turn four and lost ground, salvaging the mistake nearly a lap later by diving under Thornton to regain third as Scott held the second spot. Scott stayed within striking distance of Sheppard without finding a way past while Shirley’s hopes fizzled against the turn-three concrete.
Scott, who was in contention for a podium finish the previous night before a flat tire forced him out, earned $5,000 for his runner-up finish.
“I was just watching Brandon, just trying to run the same line as he was. But I think the bottom was better in (turns) one and two and the top was better in (turns) three and four,” Scott said. “I was just waiting for him to make a mistake — but he never did.
“The lapped traffic, I didn’t know where they were going sometimes. But it worked out for us. After the week we’ve had, this feels like a win to me, running second to Brandon. He’s one of the best out there so I have nothing to complain about.”
Weiss posted his fifth top-five finish in the six-race miniseries.
“I can’t say enough about this team. We’ve been really digging,” Weiss said. “We’re learning a lot in the trailer, learning a lot of adjustments on the car and what it likes, and I think we can go further yet and be ever better. It’s a good start to the year (and) we’re consistent, and hopefully we can get a few more wins this year and keep it on top.”
Shirley was left to wonder what might've been after getting a legitimate shot for a $40,000 payday.
“When I was behind Sheppy it was like looking in the mirror. His car looked as good as mine ..." Shirley said. “It was just some errors in my own driving — maybe a little adrenaline. I mean, when you’re out there, you’re attacking this track, just attacking, attacking, attacking. Man, I was so good in (turns) three and four compared to those guys, I just charged too hard. I had that bad restart and once I climbed the wall, my car just wasn’t as balanced as it was, so I’m sure something got bent."
The feature was slowed by four cautions, none for serious incidents. Terry Phillips slowed and pitted to change a flat left-rear tire on lap two and Frank Heckenast Jr., who entered the race fourth in WWS points, stopped with right-front damage and a missing air filter on lap 13, and another yellow for Dillard two laps later. The final yellow appeared on lap 33 when John Cornell slowed in turn two.
Notes: Sheppard has four career WWS victories; he earned $13,000 for winning the 2018 finale at Arizona Speedway. … Sixth-place finisher Ricky Thornton Jr., who was second the first 20 laps, ran most of the race without power steering. ... The Late Model feature started about 7:30 p.m. and ended before 8. … Thirteen of 24 starters completed 50 laps. … John Cornell of Phoenix, Ariz., and Casey Skyberg of Rapid City, S.D., made the most of their last chances to make their first WWS features by transferring through heat races for Sunday’s finale; it was timely with every starting earning at least $1,000 (double the start money from earlier in the week). … Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, earned $1,000 from the Premier Waste Services Shock the Clock Challenge with Jan. 12’s 14.790-second lap, the best of the week in the Super Late Model division. Sheppard set fast time three of six events but couldn’t eclipse Birkhofer’s mark.
Main event lineup
Row 1: Ricky Thornton Jr., Brandon Sheppard
Row 2: Johnny Scott, Cade Dillard
Row 3: Chase Junghans, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 4: Bobby Pierce, Kyle Beard
Row 5: Ricky Weiss, Chris Simpson
Row 6: Jimmy Mars, Casey Skyberg
Row 7: Frank Heckenast Jr., John Cornell
Row 8: Brian Birkhofer, Tony Toste
Row 9: Brian Shirley, Terry Phillips
Row 10: Don Shaw, Jay Morris
Row 11: Ryan Gustin, Mitch McGrath
Row 12: Garrett Alberson, Clay Fisher
(12 laps; top four transfer)
First consolation: Brian Shirley, Don Shaw, Ryan Gustin, Garrett Alberson, Stormy Scott, Mike Spatola, Steve Stultz, McLain Beaudoin, Lyndon Bolt, Jimmy Whisler, John Morris, Rick Ortega.
Second consolation: Terry Phillips, Jay Morris, Mitch McGrath, Clay Fisher, Allen Murray, Jason Papich, Blair Nothdurft, Thomas Hunziker, Richard Wallace, Kenny Densman. Scratched: Dennis Souza.
(12 laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Ryan Gustin, Don Shaw
Row 2: Brian Shirley, Mike Spatola
Row 3: Garrett Alberson, McLain Beaudoin
Row 4: Lyndon Bolt, Jimmy Whisler
Row 5: Rick Ortega, Steve Stultz
Row 6: Stormy Scott, John Morris
Row 1: Terry Phillips, Jay Morris
Row 2: Blair Nothdurft, Clay Fisher
Row 3: Jason Papich, Thomas Hunziker
Row 4: Richard Wallace, Mitch McGrath
Row 5: Allen Murray, Kenny Densman
Row 6: Dennis Souza
(Eight laps; top four transfer)
First heat: Cade Dillard, Chase Junghans, Ricky Weiss, Frank Heckenast Jr., Ryan Gustin, Brian Shirley, Garrett Alberson, Lyndon Bolt, Rick Ortega, Stormy Scott.
Second heat: Brandon Sheppard, Earl Pearson Jr., Chris Simpson, John Cornell, Terry Phillips, Blair Nothdurft, Jason Papich, Richard Wallace. Scratched: Kenny Densman, Dennis Souza.
Third heat: Johnny Scott, Bobby Pierce, Jimmy Mars, Brian Birkhofer, Don Shaw, Mike Spatola, McLain Beaudoin, Jimmy Whisler, Steve Stultz, John Morris.
Fourth heat: Ricky Thornton Jr., Kyle Beard, Casey Skyberg, Tony Toste, Jay Morris, Clay Fisher, Thomas Hunziker, Mitch McGrath, Allen Murray.
(Eight laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Ricky Weiss, Cade Dillard
Row 2: Stormy Scott, Chase Junghans
Row 3: Ryan Gustin, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 4: Garrett Alberson, Lyndon Bolt
Row 5: Rick Ortega, Brian Shirley
Row 1: Brandon Sheppard, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 2: Chris Simpson, Blair Nothdurft
Row 3: John Cornell, Kenny Densman
Row 4: Terry Phillips, Richard Wallace
Row 5: Jason Papich, Dennis Souza
Row 1: Johnny Scott, Jimmy Mars
Row 2: Bobby Pierce, Brian Birkhofer
Row 3: Mike Spatola, Don Shaw
Row 4: McLain Beaudoin, Jimmy Whisler
Row 5: John Morris, Steve Stultz
Row 1: Kyle Beard, Ricky Thornton Jr.
Row 2: Jay Morris, Tony Toste
Row 3: Allen Murray, Casey Skyberg
Row 4: Clay Fisher, Thomas Hunziker
Row 5: Mitch McGrath
Time trials (unofficial)
Driver (car no.), hometown
Ricky Weiss (7W), Headingley, Manitoba, 15.395
Cade Dillard (97), Robeline, La., 15.496
Stormy Scott (2s), Las Cruces, N.M., 15.652
Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 15.671
Ryan Gustin (19R), Marshalltown, Iowa, 15.705
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 15.769
Garrett Alberson (2), Las Cruces, N.M., 15.896
Lyndon Bolt (3x), Rapid City, S.D., 17.025
Rick Ortega (24), Las Cruces, N.M., 17.740
Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., no time (damage after hitting turn-three wall)
Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 15.299
Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., 15.714
Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 15.714
Blair Nothdurft (76), Sioux Falls, S.D., 16.002
John Cornell (28), Phoenix, Ariz., 16.150
Kenny Densman (75), Lolita, Texas, 16.221
Terry Phillips (75), Springfield, Mo., 16.426
Richard Wallace (7m), Gold Coast, Ore., 17.228
Dennis Souza (83), Pescadero, Calif., no time
Jason Papich (91P), Nipomo, Calif., no time (lost power)
Johnny Scott (1st), Las Cruces, N.M., 15.524
Jimmy Mars (28), Menomonie, Wis., 15.542
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.745
Brian Birkhofer (15B), Muscatine, Iowa, 15.797
Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 15.933
Don Shaw (42s), Ham Lake, Minn., 16.337
McLain Beaudoin (17), Lebanon, Ore., 16.485
Jimmy Whisler (28), Otis, Ore., 16.614
John Morris (18az), Queen Creek, Ariz., 16.923
Steve Stultz (78), Peoria, Ariz., 16.967
Kyle Beard (86), Trumann, Ark., 15.729
Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., 15.785
Jay Morris (77M), Watseka, Ill., 15.990
Tony Toste (91T), Pismo Beach, Calif., 16.084
Allen Murray (2), San Antonio, Texas, 16.092
Casey Skyberg (6), Rapid City, S.D., 16.165
Clay Fisher (99), DeWitt, Ark., 16.186
Thomas Hunziker (38), Bend, Ore., 16.450
Mitch McGrath (74), Waukesha, Wis., 16.682
Heading into the record-setting $15,000-to-win finale, bonuses are the story of the day for a pair of Illinois drivers who have dominated the miniseries at the third-mile oval southeast of Phoenix. Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., secured a $10,000 bonus Saturday with his third victory, but he can trade that in for a $25,000 check if he can capture a fourth victory. Two-time winner Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., is also alive in the Keyser Quarter-Million Challenge with the opportunity for $10,000 himself if he can capture a third victory.
The rest of the 40 or so competitors will try to put an end to the Shirley-Sheppard strangehold on the event in the Shaw Trucking-sponsored 50-lapper that wraps up a week of desert racing. Late Models will be split into four groups for time trials with officials employing combination hot-lap/time trials to set the lineups for four heat races. Drivers start heats straightup by time.
The top four finishers in each of four heats transfer to the 40-lap main event with the winners redrawing for the first two rows of the feature lineup. Consolation races will transfer four drivers apiece to the 24-car main event.
Officials announced next year’s miniseries dates are Jan. 9-10, 13, 15-17; practice is set for Jan. 8
12:30 p.m. - Pit gate opens
2 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting
2:30 p.m. - Grandstands open
3 p.m. - On-track action
- X-mod hot laps
- Modified hot laps
- Late Model (combo hot laps/time trials)
4:20 p.m. - National anthem
4:25 p.m. - Racing begins
- X-mod heats (eight laps)
- Modified heats (eight laps)
- Late Model heats (eight laps)
- X-mod consolations (10 laps)
- Modified consolations (12 laps)
- Late Model consolations (12 laps)
- X-mod feature (25 laps)
- Modified feature (25 laps)
- Late Model feature (50 laps)