ROSSBURG, Ohio — While Brandon Sheppard would dearly like to win a 100-lapper at Eldora Speedway, at least for now he’s earned a credible name at the historic half-mile oval: Mr. Preliminary.
Scoring a major-race 25-lap preliminary victory for the third time in a row, the New Berlin, Ill., driver repelled a dazzling charge from 14th-starting Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz., to complete a flag-to-flag triumph in Thursday's opening Dream XXII prelim.
Sheppard, who also won a pair of 25-lappers last September at Eldora’s World 100, earned $5,000 on a night that ended quite a bit better than it started.
“Early in the night, we struggled real bad. Me and (crew chief) Randall (Edwards) just knew we had to get to work there,” said Sheppard, who started outside the front row. “We did a little homework last year here at the World 100 and got a lot better with our older cars. We kind of did a little bit of stuff that we were doing to them and got a little bit better.
"We’re just really fortunate to be able to come off with a win. The invert kind of helped us there. It probably would have been hard to pass. We had a really good car and we’ve just got to be able to qualify a little bit better and that will make us better for the rest of the weekend.”
Thornton thrilled the crowd in finished second while Hall of Famer Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., who kept Sheppard in check early in the race, finished third. Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., was fourth and polesitter Terry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., rounded out the top five.
Thornton came alive after a lap-five restart, quickly moving into the top five and continuing to make progress while Sheppard stayed in control up front. Thornton took the second spot from Moyer while Sheppard a smattering of traffic ahead.
Thornton dove into turn three a few times to put a little pressure on Sheppard, but the winner edge ahead in the final laps for a victory by 1.190 seconds over Thornton.
“I was able to run the middle and kind of run my own race,” said Thornton, making another occasional start in the No. 33x owned by J.R. Haley of Baldwin, Wis. “Honestly, everybody was taking the bottom or the top, so I just figured as long as I didn’t do anything stupid, we’d be able to make some ground up.”
“Honestly, we were just hoping to get a top-10 and get some good points for Saturday. So we’ll definitely take second,” said Thornton, a modified ace who already has 23 victories in the division in 2016.
Sheppard was mediocre in time trials and finished second to Best Performance Motorsports teammate Jeff Babcock in his heat race, but he made the most of his outside front-row starting spot to grab a victory for Eric Brock’s St. Marys, Ohio-based team.
“Lapped traffic got really tricky there at one point,” Sheppard said. “I kind of got myself in a bad position on the outside of a couple of guys and I knew I should have slid (past) them. But that bottom was so slick, it was hard to get a run down there. I thought I was hearing somebody on the inside of me there, so I knew I had to get on it and go.
“Best Performance is only 15 miles from here. They’re a really good team. They’ve done a lot for me and I’m very appreciative of Eric Brock, the owner, and all the guys back at the shop that work hard so we get to come out here and have fun.”
The 25-lapper’s lone yellow flew on the fifth lap for a spinning Jerry Bowersock, while Jason Jameson pulled to the infield as the field slowed.
Action resumes Friday at Eldora with another twin-feature program featuring $10,000-to-win 25-lappers. Drivers accrue points in prelims Thursday and Friday that will set the lineups for six heat races before Saturday’s $100,000-to-win 100-lap feature, the sport’s richest feature event.
Notes: Sheppard notched his third victory of the season. … He won on the Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association at Lee County Speedway in Donnellson, Iowa, and on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at La Salle (Ill.) Speedway, both in May. … Sheppard’s World 100 preliminary victories in September came in his family-owned equipment before he climbed into the Best Performance ride. … Michael Chilton of Salvisa, Ky., ran fifth early but was shuffled back on the lap-five restart. … Fifteen of 24 starters completed 25 laps and 20 cars were running at the finish.
Editor's note: It was announced June 20 that five drivers (Scott Bloomquist, Brandon Sheppard, Jimmy Owens, Ricky Thornton Jr. and Gregg Satterlee were stripped of Dream weekend finishes and purses after tire samples failed to meet manufacturer benchmarks.
Ninth-starting Casey Roberts grabbed the lead exiting turn four on the fourth lap and raced to a 12-lap victory, holding off tail-starting Shane Clanton. Austin Smith was the third Georgian across the line in third while Jason Jameson got the final transfer spot over Arizona invader Jason Noll. Early leader Jimmy Mars got into the turn-one concrete on the sixth laps.
Finish (top four transfer): Casey Roberts, Shane Clanton, Austin Smith, Jason Jameson, Jason Noll, Ryan King, Mike Mataragas, Doug Sanders, Charles LaPlant, Eddie Carrier Jr., Dustin Nobbe. Scratched: Rusty Schlenk, Matt Miller.
Odd heat notes
Rusty Schlenk could only shake his head as he eyeballed his heavily-damaged Lawrence Motorsports entry after a crash during the first heat. He hit the turn-four wall and then took a hard shot to his machine’s rearend from Eddie Carrier Jr., who couldn’t avoid Schlenk’s disabled Lawrence Motorsports entry. “I drove into three and hit that hole,” he said. “I don’t know if I broke the lower-control arm or got a flat first, but it just turned me to the right.” Significant right-front suspension damage damage was accentuated by the additional hit from Carrier. … Carrier was dejected after the incident. “We’re OK … it’s just one of them deals,” said Carrier, whose Rocket XR1 sported plenty of right-front and nosepiece damage. “Just typical Eldora anymore.” … Jeff Babcock’s return to Eldora crown-jewel action after a year’s absence not only began well (with a Heat 5 victory) but in interesting fashion as well. His triumph came over his Best Performance Motorsports teammate Brandon Sheppard. Did the finish mean Babcock could at least temporarily claim team bragging rights? “No, no,” Babcock repeated when asked that question. B-Shepp, meanwhile, was impressed by Babcock’s run. “He was good,” he said. … Matt Miller’s Dream weekend came to a quick end when he pounded the turn-three wall with extreme force during the seventh heat, severely damaging his Rick Delong Racing Rocket. “Something broke before I even got to the hole (in turn three),” said Miller, who wasn’t injured. “Looks like we had a lower ball-joint failure going into turn three … she’s done. It’s a shame … we had a real shot at winning the race. We just had to have a little luck and we didn’t have it.” … Shane Clanton’s Capital Race Car sustained right-front suspension damage after he bounced into the turn-three hole during the fifth heat and slapped the outside wall. New Capital campaigner Frank Heckenast Jr. was seen working on the right-front of Clanton’s machine to help with repairs. … Gregg Satterlee had to rebuild the right-rear bodywork on his car after he was shoved into the outside wall in turn one at the start of the third heat.
Odd B-main lineup
(12 laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Dustin Nobbe, Jimmy Mars
Row 2: Jason Jameson, Jason Noll
Row 3: Doug Sanders, Mike Mataragas
Row 4: Austin Smith, Ryan King
Row 5: Rusty Schlenk, Mike Mataragas
Row 6: Casey Roberts, G.R. Smith
Row 7: Eddie Carrier Jr., Charles LaPlant
Row 8: Shane Clanton, Matt Miller
Becoming the third Kentucky heat winner of the night, polesitter Michael Chilton cruised to a 10-lap victory without a challenge, building nearly a straightaway lead by halfway. Behind Chilton, Terry Phillips took second from former track champion Jerry Bowersock on the eighth lap with Terry Bruening fourth ahd Tim Manville getting the final transfer spot. Former Dream winner Matt Miller wasn't around at the finish He smashed the turn-three wall hard on the second lap while running third; Miller wasn't hurt but it likely ended his night if not his weekend with the No. 3's heavy right-front damage. G.R. Smith retired after five laps.
Finish (top five transfer): Michael Chilton, Terry Phillips, Jerry Bowersock, Tyler Bruening, Tim Manville, Jason Noll, Ryan King, G.R. Smith, Matt Miller.
Making an impressive high-side move out of turn two on the first lap, outside front-row starter Jeff Babcock led a sweep of Best Performance Motorsports cars as fellow St. Marys, Ohio-based team driver Brandon Sheppard finished second. Babcock, a former full-timer for the team now making occasional starts, was making his first start in a major Eldora event since 2014. Illinois drivers Shannon Babb and Frank Heckenast Jr. were third and fourth while Jared Landers got the final transfer spot. Fourth-starting Shane Clanton climbed the outside wall between turns three and four on the first lap and ran last the rest of the way.
Finish (top five transfer): Jeff Babcock, Brandon Sheppard, Shannon Babb, Frank Heckenast Jr., Jared Landers, Jason Jameson, Austin Smith, Casey Roberts, Shane Clanton.
In a race with No. 21s up front all the way, outside front-row starter Robby Hensley led all the way for a victory in the second heat over fourth-starting Billy Moyer. "Wow is all I can say," Hensley said. "I need to work on my cardio; I'm out of breath." Hensley did have a tense moment late in the race when he came upon the slower Charles LaPlant on the frontstretch, but after nosing under him he slid succesfully into turn one and continued to victory. Fifth-starting Devin Moran was third, holding off a charging Ricky Thornton Jr., the young Arizona driver making his first Eldora start. Polesitter Scott James got the final transfer spot.
Finish (top five transfer): Robby Hensley, Billy Moyer, Devin Moran, Ricky Thornton Jr., Scott James, Jimmy Mars, Mike Mataragas, Gregg Satterlee, Charles LaPlant.
Outside front-row starter Dale McDowell led all 10 laps to capture the first heat. Overall fast qualifier Brian Shirley ran a solid second while seventh-starting Devin Gilpin took third from Shanon Buckingham in the final laps. Buckingham and Chris Ferguson got the final two transfer spots. A red flag appeared on the second lap when polesitter Rusty Schlenk got into the turn-three wall and was slow on the track when he collected Eddie Carrier Jr. in a heap, eliminating both. "It just went right on me," Schlenk said.
Finish (top five transfer): Dale McDowell, Brian Shirley, Devin Gilpin, Shanon Buckingham, Chris Ferguson, Dustin Nobbe, Doug Sanders, Rusty Schlenk, Eddie Carrier Jr.
Odd pre-heat notes
Jared Landers damaged the right-rear corner of his car’s bodywork when he slipped high between turns three and four on his second qualifying lap. “I just entered too low and hit the hole,” said Landers, who pushed across the track. … The nose of Jason Jameson’s car folded under during his qualifying laps. … Casey Roberts slapped the wall between turns three and four on his second qualifying lap to scrape off mud that was caked on the concrete. He immediately slowed with his car’s right-rear bodywork mangled and was looking over the machine’s front end to determine if it sustained more damage. …. G.R. Smith didn’t log a qualifying time because his car’s driveshaft broke. He acquired a new one to install in his car but will have to start at the tail of a heat.
Odd heat race lineups
(10 laps; top five transfer)
Row 1: Rusty Schlenk, Dale McDowell
Row 2: Eddie Carrier Jr., Brian Shirley
Row 3: Dustin Nobbe, Shanon Buckingham
Row 4: Devin Gilpin, Chris Ferguson
Row 5: Doug Sanders
Row 1: Scott James, Robby Hensley
Row 2: Ricky Thornton Jr., Billy Moyer
Row 3: Devin Moran, Gregg Satterlee
Row 4: Jimmy Mars, Mike Mataragas
Row 5: Charles LaPlant
Row 1: Chris Madden, Steve Francis
Row 2: Kent Robinson, Josh Richards
Row 3: Mike Benedum, Jeep Van Wormer
Row 4: Bryant Dickinson, Rodney Sanders
Row 5: Bobby Pierce
Row 1: Michael Chilton, Tyler Bruening
Row 2: Jerry Bowersock, Matt Miller
Row 3: Terry Phillips, Ryan King
Row 4: Tim Manville, Jason Noll
Row 5: G.R. Smith
Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., topped 72 entries Thursday on the opening night of Eldora Speedway’s Dream XXII presented by Ferris Mowers with a 15.310-second lap at the historic half-mile oval.
The rest of the top five on the clock were Tim McCreadie (15.318) of Watertown, N.Y., Billy Moyer (15.341) of Batesville, Ark., Josh Richards (15.348) of Shinnston, W.Va., and Shane Clanton (15.349) of Zebulon, Ga.
Shirley drew a four-car inversion for heat race lineups, putting him outside the second row of his heat race.
The 72 entries is the fewest in race history; the previous low car count was 78 in 2014. … A new addition to Eldora: a digital readout posted about 30 feet above the pole on the scales. That way fans can see how much each car weighs when it rolls on the scales (2,300 pounds is the minimum). … Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., spent the past week working at Eddie Burgess’s shop in Cincinnati, Ohio — about an hour-and-a-half from Eldora — but his Sweeteners Plus Racing hauler was the last rig to enter the pit area. He arrived at about 4:30 p.m. after highway traffic en route doubled his travel time. … Jeff Babcock of Wayne, Ohio, will make his first crown jewel start at Eldora since he registered the fastest overall lap in qualifying for the 2014 World 100 and finished 20th in the feature. He sat out Dirt Late Model competition last year due to a heavy work schedule but has reunited with Eric Brock’s St. Marys, Ohio-based Best Performance Motorsports team to run a Rocket car as a teammate to the operation’s primary driver, Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill. Babcock is coming off a runner-up finish in Eldora’s May 29 ALMS-sanctioned Johnny Appleseed Classic. … The back row of the pit area includes a virtual row of Capital Race Cars campaigners — six in all, including lead driver Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., a former Dream and World 100 winner; Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., who joined the Capital clan last month; Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan.; Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn.; and T.J. Reaid of Acworth, Ga., a 26-year-old convert from Late Model racing who will make his Eldora debut in his second season of competition on dirt. … Shanon Buckingham of Morristown, Tenn., who started from the front row of both the Dream and World 100 in the late 2000s, is back at Eldora for the first time since 2010. “It feels good, but I’m a little nervous,” said Buckingham, who has made about a half-dozen starts with his Longhorn Race Car this season after being out of the cockpit for several years. … The two major players in last year’s Dream — winner Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., and Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., who crossed the finish line first but was disqualified for weighing in light — are parked side-by-side in the fourth-turn end of the pit area. … Jason Jameson of Lawrenceburg, Ind., has his Lanigan Autosports machine in the field in hopes of cracking the starting lineup of an Eldora major for the first time in his career. The handful of Eldora starts he’s made in his career include a third-place finish in last year’s Labor Day weekend Earl Baltes Classic and a less-memorable accident that kept him out of the May 29 Johnny Appleseed Classic. … Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, said his left hand is still sore from the jolt it took in the cockpit two weeks ago during the Show-Me 100 weekend at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., but he fortunately didn’t fracture a bone and has just needed some for the deep bruise he suffered to heal. He had some discussions about driving a Childress Racing car this weekend but is behind the wheel of his familiar family-owned Longhorn machine. … Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, had a decision to make tonight: enter the Eldora action or the $6,000-to-win American Ethanol Late Model Tour opener at Merritt Speedway in Lake City, Mich. He plans to chase the championship of the new Michigan-based series, but the circuit’s rules allow drivers to drop one race so he opted for a Dream assault in the Mike Lawrence Motorsports Rocket that he runs exclusively at Eldora.
(Unofficial; the field will be halved by odd-even qualifiers; first, third fifth, etc., in first group; second, fourth, sixth, etc. in second group)
Driver (car no.), hometown, time
Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 15.310
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 15.318
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 15.341
Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va., 15.348
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 15.349
Don O’Neal (5) Martinsville, Ind., 15.365
Matt Miller (3), Whitehouse, Ohio, 15.384
Jon Henry (15), Ada, Ohio, 15.443
Eddie Carrier Jr. (28), Salt Rock, W.Va., 15.452
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 15.478
Ricky Thornton Jr. (33x), Chandler, Ariz., 15.503
Chris Madden (44), Gray Court, S.C., 15.518
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 15.558
Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 15.583
Jerry Bowersock (95j), Wapakoneta, Ohio, 15.592
Steve Casebolt (c9), Richmond, Ind., 15.596
Dale McDowell (17m), Chickamauga, Ga. , 15.607
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 15.633
Robby Hensley (21H), Walton, Ky., 15.644
Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., 15.679
Jeff Babcock (7B), Wayne, Ohio, 15.698
Jonathan Davenport (6), Blairsville, Ga., 15.724
Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, 15.738
Darrell Lanigan (15), Union, Ky., 15.744
Rusty Schlenk (11), McClure, Ohio, 15.746
Wendell Wallace (6m), Batesville, Ark., 15.748
Scott James (15), Bright, Ind., 15.779
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.779
Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 15.780
T.J. Reaid (41), Acworth, Ga., 15.794
Michael Chilton (97), Salvisa, Ky., 15.811
Billy Moyer Jr. (21jr), Batesville, Ark., 15.822
Dustin Nobbe (5N), Batesville, Ind., 15.825
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 15.827
Devin Moran (99m), Dresden, Ohio, 15.847
Kent Robinson (7r), Bloomington, Ind., 15.849
Jared Landers (777), Batesville, Ark., 15.850
Chris Brown (21B), Spring, Texas, 15.851
Terry Phillips (75), Springfield, Ill., 15.856
Brandon Overton (76), Appling, Ga., 15.858
Shanon Buckingham (50), Morristown, Tenn., 15.859
Nick Latham (31), Winchester, Ohio, 15.873
Gregg Satterlee (22), Indiana, Pa., 15.904
Jeep Van Wormer (55), Pinconning, Mich., 15.931
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 15.981
Kody Evans (4G), Camden, Ohio, 15.982
Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 15.994
Ryan King (1G), Seymour, Tenn., 16.013
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 16.020
Devin Gilpin (1G), Columbus, Ind., 16.034
Duane Chamberlain (20c), Richmond, Ind., 16.055
Jimmy Mars (28), Menomonie, Wis., 16.056
Mike Benedum (1B), Bristol, W.Va., 16.091
Austin Smith (11a), Cedartown, Ga., 16.134
Gavin Landers (77), Batesville, Ark., 16.223
Tim Manville (33), Highland, Ill., 16.269
Austin Rettig (94), Sikeston, Mo., 16.290
Chris Ferguson (22), Mount Holly, N.C., 16.360
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 16.364
Mike Mataragas (1m), Dekalb, Ill., 16.374
Rodney Sanders (20), Happy, Texas, 16.430
Jason Jameson (12), Lawrenceburg, Ind., 16.484
Jay Johnson (93), West Burlington, Iowa, 16.528
Jason Noll (51), Peoria, Ariz., 16.548
Brian Ligon (4), Augusta, Ga., 16.952
Doug Sanders (42), McAdenville, N.C., 17.021
Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., 17.148
Charles LaPlant (3c), East Prairie, Mo., 17.219
Bryant Dickerson (5*), Ionia, Mich., 17.232
Casey Roberts (101), Toccoa, Ga., 17.855
G.R. Smith (22*), Cornelius, N.C., no time
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., no time
5 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
6 p.m.: Hot laps
8 p.m.: Racing begins
• Eight alternating odd-even heat races (10 laps; top five transfer)
• Odd consolation race (12 laps; top four transfers)
• Even consolation race (12 laps; top four transfers)
• Odd main event (25 laps)
• Even main event (25 laps)
Thursday night party: Following the completion of racing in the Fan Zone