GIBSONTON, Fla. — On a full-moon night when no driver could successfully make East Bay Raceway Park's top groove work, week-long dominator Brandon Sheppard made it work — barely — on a single critical lap.
The 11th-starting Sheppard’s daring high-side move swept his Rocket Chassis house car around low-running leader Devin Moran exiting turn two on the 38th lap and the New Berlin, Ill., driver led the rest of the 50-lap Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event for his third victory of the 44th annual Wrisco Winternationals.
Maneuvering on a bizarrely slick track where most drivers had timed feature laps five seconds slower than the evening’s fast qualifying time, the winner took the checkers 3.239 seconds ahead of the polesitting Moran, Monday’s winner from Dresden, Ohio, and Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas. Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., and Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., rounded out the top five.
“The track, it was really tricky tonight. It got really slow. It was totally unexpected,” said Sheppard, who earned $24,000 in winner’s purses with victories every other night at the six-race Winternationals. “But it was typical East Bay: it didn’t give us the same thing twice this week.
“We had a different surface every night and that’s what makes it so much fun to come here. It’s a shame it’s going to be gone before long. Man, it was a lot of fun out there. I can’t thank my guys enough.”
The popular Georgia-Florida Speedweeks track that’s slated to close in 2024 after owners agreed to sale the property to neighboring Mosaic Co., one of the world’s largest fertilizer-producing firms, threw a curveball at all 30 starters. Most of the field tip-toed in the low groove in turning laps so slow that it sometimes appeared and sounded like the race was under a caution flag. Even on restarts, it often seemed like engines didn’t rise to full song.
Especially after the race’s early stages, drivers who dared to try the high groove either slammed the wall — like Boom Briggs mid-race — or quickly lost ground and retreated to the inside groove.
Moran jumped into the lead to lead the first 12 laps, but when tried the high side amid traffic on the 13th lap, Clanton scooted underneath to take the point. Clanton’s lead was short-lived, though, as he hit a tire barrier in turns on and two that caused left-front suspension problems, then lost momentum by bumping a slower car exiting turn four, allowing Moran to sneak back past on the 18th circuit.
From there, Moran hugged the inside lane — lower than ever with the track widened ahead of the event — and led Sheppard through the race’s middle stages. Sheppard occasionally tried out the high side in turns one and two, where he flirted with potential traction.
Moran held a mostly comfortable advantage as the race entered the late stages, but Moran’s high-groove run on the 38th lap carried him into a lead he’d never give up. On that circuit, Sheppard tripped the clock at 17.368 seconds — slow by normal standards, but speedy on this topsy-turvy night — while Moran trip around the bottom of the track took a lengthy 18.942 seconds. The race was over.
“I went up (to the high groove) a little bit earlier in the race, and I could really get a good run down the backstretch there,” Sheppard said, “but it was really tricky getting into (turn) one. I was so slow up the frontstretch on the outside.
“When I got to (turn) one, there was a few times there where I was right-front headed straight towards the wall and somehow it caught and turned. Man, it was a heckuva race. I can’t even believe we came from 11th.”
Moran couldn’t bookend his Winternationals with a victory to match his week-opening triumph but picked up $5,500 for his second-place finish.
“I think this is deja vu. Brandon’s done this to me here before. Just all part of it,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s seen the racetrack like this for the feature … I don’t know what did it or why it did it, that little bit of traction strip made us stick down there (on the bottom).”
Erb, who started eighth but ran in the top five the second half of the race, called the track surface “a little bit crazy.”
“You couldn’t get the top going, so just congrats to Shepp and Devin and everybody. It’s been a long week here and we got every race in,” Erb said. “I really enjoy racing here. It wasn’t the final night we were all kind of hoping for, but it was a good night for us, and we’ll go on to All-Tech.”
Sheppard’s victory makes him the fourth driver to captured three Winternationals races in a single week since East Bay’s marquee event was first sanctioned by the Lucas Oil Series in 2006, joining Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga. (2019), Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark. (2008 and ’15) and Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va. (2009).
The feature was slowed by six cautions, including a turn-two spin for Friday’s winner Mason Zeigler on the first lap that quickly snuffed his hopes in the finale.
Other first-half yellows appeared for a slowing Mike Marlar (hit backstretch wall on first lap) and a turn-three tangle between Pearson Lee Williams and G.R. Smith (third lap). Smith slowed again for lap-19 caution. A lap-23 caution appeared when Briggs slammed the turn-one wall and bounced off, ending up with the right side of the car facing traffic. He wasn’t hurt.
A lap-42 yellow appeared for a slowing Tanner English and the final yellow appeared as the checkers fell when Josh Richards spun out of the eighth spot after contact from Shanon Buckingham, dropping Richards to 15th, the last car on the lead lap.
The Lucas Oil Series wraps up its lengthy Georgia-Florida Speedweeks trip on Sunday with a $10,000-to-win event at All-Tech Raceway in Ellisville, Fla., which hosts the national tour for the first time.
Main event lineup
Row 1: Devin Moran, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 2: Shane Clanton, Jimmy Owens
Row 3: Josh Richards, Brian Shirley
Row 4: Tim McCreadie, Tyler Erb
Row 5: G.R. Smith, Kyle Bronson
Row 6: Brandon Sheppard, Mason Zeigler
Row 7: Tyler Breuning, Trever Feathers
Row 8: Chase Junghans, Mike Marlar
Row 9: Rick Eckert, David Breazeale
Row 10: Jonathan Davenport, Matt Cosner
Row 11: Tanner English, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 12: Shanon Buckingham, Ken Monahan
Row 13: Billy Moyer, Boom Briggs
Row 14: Dennis Erb Jr., Pearson Lee Williams
Row 15: Charles Powell Jr., Dan Stone
Devin Moran starts from the pole position as he chases a victory in the Winternationals finale to bookend his first-ever East Bay triumph in Monday’s opener. He’s racing for the first time this week with his Hall of Fame father, Donnie, in attendance; a two-time Winternationals winner (1985 and 2004), Donnie made the trip over to East Bay on an off night from his UMP modified action at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. … Hudson O’Neal was transported to a local hospital after suffering a knee injury when he slammed into Jesse Stovall’s slowing car between turns three and four during heat action. While O’Neal’s MasterSbilt house car sustained primarily bodywork damage, his left knee swelled after he emerged from his car in the pit area and an EMT who examined him recommended that he be evaluated, ending his night early, according to a team member. … Brian Shirley wasn’t happy with Mason Zeigler after the two drivers engaged in a heated slider-trading battle for the lead in the sixth heat that eventually was won by Shirley. Contact between the two — who also came together during Thursday’s feature — left Shirley with left-front fender damage that he was pounding out and repairing with assistance from Michigan driver Brandon Thirlby, who stopped to help while walking through the pits as a spectator. … Shane Clanton posted his best qualifying performance of the week, winning the second heat. Josh Richards’s crewman, Cody Duncan, joked while chatting with Clanton that it “only takes him six days to figure the place out,” and Clanton didn’t exactly disagree. In fact, Clanton acknowledged that he’s been playing catchup in his effort to get up to speed at East Bay. “I’m 11 years behind here,” quipped Clanton, who is making his first Winternationals appearance in over a decade.
Consolation race results
(12 laps; winner transfers)
First consolation: Jonathan Davenport, Billy Moyer, Brian Birkhofer, Tim Dohm, Jason Riggs, Dan Stone, Blair Nothdurft, John Tweed, Ken Monahan. Scratched: Logan Roberson, Jesse Stovall, Hudson O'Neal, Vic Hill.
Second consolation: Matt Cosner, Shanon Buckingham, Boom Briggs, Blake Spencer, Kyle Lear, David Seibers, Austin Burns, Stacy Boles, Jeff Mathews. Scratched: Justin Rattliff, Stormy Scott, Allen Weisser.
Third consolation: Tanner English, Dennis Erb Jr., Colton Flinner, Pearson Lee Williams, Earl Pearson Jr., Freddie Carpenter, Chris Garnes, Charles Powell Jr., Joe Denby. Scratched: Jadon Frame, Kerry King, Joey Moriarty.
Berry Barn Strawberry Dash (two transfer): Billy Moyer, Boom Briggs, Kyle Lear, Dennis Erb Jr., Tim Dohm, Brian Birkhofer, Pearson Lee Williams, Jason Riggs, David Seibers, Colton Flinner, Blake Spencer, Freddie Carpenter.
Heat race recap
Polesitter Jonathan Davenport had a rough first heat, spinning early (but regaining his spot because the caution was for Vic Hill’s spin), then slipping up on the restart and ending up fourth, failing to transfer. … In the second heat, Jesse Stovall spun between turns three and four, collecting Hudson O’Neal. Ken Monahan led early, gave up the lead to winner Shane Clanton, then spun in turn two. … Josh Richards repelled challenges from Brandon Sheppard to win the third heat. … Billy Moyer Jr. edged away from Tyler Erb in winning the fourth heat. … In the fifth heat, Jimmy Owens outdueled Kyle Bronson on the first lap and raced to victory over Bronson and Mike Marlar. … Brian Shirley and Mason Zeigler swapped the lead multiple times in the sixth heat with Shirley pulling away late.
Heat race results
(10 laps; top three transfer)
First heat: Devin Moran, Tim McCreadie, Tyler Bruening, Jonathan Davenport, Billy Moyer, Brian Birkhofer, Jason Riggs, Logan Roberson, John Tweed, Vic Hill.
Second heat: Shane Clanton, G.R. Smith, Chase Junghans, Tim Dohm, Dan Stone, Blair Nothdurft, Ken Monahan, Jesse Stovall, Hudson O'Neal.
Third heat: Josh Richards, Brandon Sheppard, Rick Eckert, Shanon Buckingham, Blake Spencer, Kyle Lear, David Seibers, Jeff Mathews, Stormy Scott.
Fourth heat: Billy Moyer Jr., Tyler Erb, Trever Feathers, Matt Cosner, Boom Briggs, Austin Burns, Justin Rattliff, Stacy Boles, Allen Weisser.
Fifth heat: Jimmy Owens, Kyle Bronson, Mike Marlar, Tanner English, Charles Powell Jr., Colton Flinner, Joey Moriarty, Kerry King, Jadon Frame.
Sixth heat: Brian Shirley, Mason Zeigler, David Breazeale, Dennis Erb Jr., Pearson Lee Williams, Earl Pearson Jr., Freddie Carpenter, Chris Garnes, Joe Denby.
Time trials (unofficial)
Driver (car no.), hometown
Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 14.511
Ken Monahan (311), Lakeland, Fla., 14.516
Josh Richards (14), Shinnston, W.Va., 14.561
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 14.568
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 14.604
Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill., 14.666
Devin Moran (9), Dresden, Ohio, 14.679
Tim Dohm (6T), Cross Lanes, W.Va., 14.713
Rick Eckert (0), York, Pa., 14.804
Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, 14.817
Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 14.849
Shanon Buckingham (50), Morristown, Tenn., 14.914
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 14.958
Jesse Stovall (00), Billings, Mo., 14.982
David Seibers (18), Chapel Hill, Tenn., 15.006
Brian Birkhofer (15B), Muscatine, Iowa, 15.045
Hudson O’Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., 15.050
Blake Spencer (6), St. Augustine, Fla., 15.093
Logan Roberson (17), Waynesboro, Va., 15.146
Dan Stone (2), Thompson, Pa., 15.187
Stormy Scott (2s), Las Cruces, N.M., 15.189
John Tweed (5), Greeneville, Tenn., 15.194
G.R. Smith (89), Cornelius, N.C., 15.199
Kyle Lear (000), Severna Park, Md., 15.229
Jason Riggs (81r), Harrisburg, Ill., 15.334
Blair Nothdurft (76), Sioux Falls, S.D., 15.429
Jeff Mathews (33), Brandon, Fla., 15.477
Vic Hill (1), Mosheim, Tenn., 15.570
Billy Moyer Jr. (21jr), Batesville, Ark., 14.485
Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 14.656
Brian Shirley (3S), Chatham, Ill., 14.707
Trever Feathers (20), Winchester, Va., 14.742
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 14.763
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 14.765
Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, 14.846
Colton Flinner (48), Allison Park, Pa., 14.876
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.884
Boom Briggs (99B), Bear Lake, Pa., 14.906
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 14.921
Pearson Lee Williams (2), Dublin, Ga., 14.924
Matt Cosner (66c), Ridgeley, W.Va., 14.927
Jadon Frame (J8), Decherd, Tenn., 14.955
David Breazeale (10), Four Corners, Miss., 14.995
Stacy Boles (11B), Clinton, Tenn., 15.010
Tanner English (81e), Benton, Ky., 15.020
Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., 15.033
Austin Burns (22B), Morgantown, Ind., 15.059
Charles Powell Jr. (94), Brookville, Pa., 15.124
Chris Garnes (42), Evans, W.Va., 15.152
Justin Rattliff (16), Campbellsville, Ky., 15.171
Joey Moriarty (51), Phoenix, Ariz., 15.201
Freddie Carpenter (K), Parkersburg, W.Va., 15.411
Allen Weisser (25w), Peoria, Ill., 15.486
Kerry King (KB0), Delmar, Del., 15.735
Joe Denby (27), Tullahoma, Tenn., 15.766
Saturday pre-qualifying notes
The 44th annual Wrisco Winternationals concludes on a gorgeous Saturday boasting sunny skies and an afternoon high temperature topping 70 degrees. … Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., will bid to become the fourth driver to win three times in a single Winternationals since East Bay’s marquee event was first sanctioned by the Lucas Oil Series in 2006, joining Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga. (2019), Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark. (2008 and ’15) and Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va. (2009). … Here’s a neat stat about Friday feature winner Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa.: his two career Winternationals triumphs — which also represent both of his Lucas Oil Series wins to date — have come by a combined winning margin of a mere 0.244 seconds. He won 2016’s 60-lap finale by 0.176 of a second over Scott Bloomquist and nipped Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., by a even slimmer 0.068 of a second on Friday. … Josh Richards appeared primed for at least a podium finish Friday after hustling from the 10th starting spot to third by lap 16, but one circuit later his Clint Bowyer Racing car slowed with broken quick-change gears that resulted from several hard bounces he took while racing off the outside of turn two. “I don’t know how we would’ve ended up, but we had a good car,” Richards said. … After enjoying one of his best Winternationals in years in 2019, Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., is struggling this week. He’s used a provisional to start four of the five features (the only night he didn’t need one was when he finished second in the Strawberry Dash) and has a top finish of 15th. Even changing cars after the first three nights scarcely bolstered his performance. “At this place, having an unbalanced car that a driver doesn’t have confidence in makes it even harder for him to put it where it needs to be,” said Black Diamond house car crewman Garrett Alberson. “We’ve changed a lot of things this week but we’re still struggling.” … East Bay’s average car count of 59.7 is a 10-car jump from last year and the highest car count since East Bay drew an average of 62 cars in 2011.
Saturday's prerace setup
A busy six-race week is set to wrap up Saturday at East Bay with a $12,000-to-win finale at third-mile oval following Friday’s dramatic finish.
Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., on Friday won a late-race, back-and-forth battle with home-track standout Kyle Bronson to join the week’s parade of winners. Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill. (Tuesday and Thursday), Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio (Monday) and Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y. (Wednesday) are the week’s other winners.
More than 50 cars are expected to compete in the week’s finale. Saturday's action includes hot laps, time trials, six heat races (top three transfer), three consolation races (winner transfers) and 50-lap main event paying $12,000-to-win for what’s expected to be a 30-car field.
2 p.m. - Pit gates reopen
5 p.m. - Grandstands open
5 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting
5:30 p.m. - On-track action
7 p.m. - Opening ceremonies
7:10 p.m. - Racing begins
- Heat races (10 laps)
- Consolation races (12 laps)
- Berry Barn Strawberry Dash (8 laps)
- Main event (50 laps)