QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. — After five features where he never quite got into position to win, Brandon Sheppard concluded the 12th annual Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout in the perfect spot — out front for 50 laps.
The New Berlin, Ill., driver stayed far ahead of any challengers at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway in Sunday's miniseries final en route to a $13,000 payday as he shot a pair of six-shooters in victory lane to celebrate.
“We’ve been working hard all week and really wanting to get a win eventually,” Sheppard said after lapping all but five competitors in the 24-car field. “I guess they finally got the track to where we could get up on the wheel a little bit, and we got ‘er done. So we’re just real thankful to be here in victory lane.”
Sheppard took the checkers 1.8 seconds ahead of Wild West Shootout points champion Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., who survived a wild, back-and-forth battle for the runner-up spot with Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, over the final seven laps.
Don Shaw of Ham Lake, Minn., a two-race miniseries winner like Weiss, finished fourth while rookie Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., rounded out the top five. Ryan Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa, was the final driver on the lead lap.
The bad news for Sheppard? Engine woes struck on the final lap.
“I don’t know exactly what happened. As soon as I took the white flag it started vibrating,” said Sheppard, the reigning World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series champion who notched his first career victory in Arizona. “It’s a good thing I must’ve had a little bit of a lead, because I just eased it on around there and, right before I got to the checkered, it blew and shut off. I don’t know what happened, but I’m sure it’s going to be expensive.”
Fortunately, Bill Schlieper of Pro Power Racing Engines later discovered a broken fan nailed the crank trigger and caused the engine problems — a less serious issue than Sheppard initially feared.
Still, Sheppard thanked his father and grandfather for "giving me this opportunity and keeping me in great equipment” as he drove his family-owned No. B5 instead of the Rocket Chassis house car he pilots on the national tour.
The rugged conditions tested Sheppard, who got the initial jump on fellow front-row starter Tony Toste and led by two or three seconds much of the race.
“The track’s pretty treacherous up there, especially in (turns) one and two it’s getting pretty rough. It was slick to a ledge in (turns) three and four, so it was pretty tricky down there, too. I was having to bend the car a lot more than what I wanted,” Sheppard said. “We started off pretty tight. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to hang on or not. It was kind of wearing me out a little bit.”
Marlar, who held the second spot for 45 of 50 laps, said he was fortunate to turn back Weiss in a slide-job battle late in the race.
“I don’t know how I come out on top of (Weiss) because I was really on the short end of the stick there,” Marlar said. “I was slid up in the wrong part of the track most of the time there (but) it worked out and I hung onto second. Awesome race. I’d like to thank Ricky and Brandon and everybody for racing … me and Brandon, we've had a fun week, and congratulations to him for winning the race tonight.”
Marlar was glad to take home the lion’s share — $3,000 — of the $10,000 point fund, along with the glass-topped table on the base of a Late Model tire with an engine block part of the decoration.
“I was eyeballing that trophy when I got here the other day," Marlar said. "I said, ‘Man, I’d like to take that thing home.’ So we got it, and had a good week, had a fun week out here. I’m glad we were able to come out to this side of the country and race. They’ve got ‘em an awesome racetrack. I think it really showed tonight.”
Weiss, the four-time WISSOTA champion who won the series opener along with the previous night’s feature, would liked to have had a better shot at Sheppard instead of settling for the battle with Marlar.
“(Sheppard) was in clean air, but I don’t know if he could drive through the middle like I could drive through the middle,” Weiss said. “If I could’ve just cleared Marlar for a half a lap and quit sliding each other at the end there … I think we would’ve had a shot if I just could’ve cleared (Marlar), but I guess that’s racing, right?”
The 50-lapper was slowed two cautions, both on lap 43. The worse of the two came when Shaw got into Dillard at the flagstand with Dillard spinning into turn one and collecting Shaw, Gustin, Mike Maresca and Billy Franklin.
The caution followed the race’s first yellow when Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., slowed with a broken fan.
Miniseries promoters announced six race dates for next season along with plans to upgrade the Super Late Model purse for the 2019 finale. Next year’s winter miniseries is set for Jan. 5-6, 9, 11-13, co-promoter Chris Kearns announced at Sunday's drivers’ meeting.
Next year’s finale will pay $14,000-to-win — a $1,000 boost — while starting pay will go up to $1,000, up from $700 for drivers finishing 10th-24th this year.
Notes: David Breazeale of Four Corners, Miss., scheduled to start third, pulled his smoking car to the infield before the race and wasn’t able to start because of undiagnosed engine problems. … Kyle Beard of Trumann, Ark., also detected problems before the race and retired without completing a lap. … Officials reworked the track surface before the main event. … Seven drivers made all six feature lineups: Cade Dillard, Chase Junghans, Mike Marlar, Bobby Pierce, Don Shaw, Brandon Sheppard and Scott Ward. … Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, the night’s second quickest qualifier, retired on the first lap of his heat race with rear-end problems; the team swapped rear ends but also retired quickly from the consolation race.
Editor's note: Updates with details of Sheppard's engine issue.
Row 1: Brandon Sheppard (B5), Tony Toste (91)
Row 2: David Breazeale (54), Don Shaw (42s)
Row 3: Mike Marlar (157), Austin Siebert (16)
Row 4: Ricky Weiss (7), Billy Franklin (17)
Row 5: Cade Dillard (97), Kolby Vandenbergh (15)
Row 6: Mike Maresca (7mm), Jason Rauen (98)
Row 7: Rodney Sanders (20), Justin Duty (15)
Row 8: Terry Phillips (75), Kyle Beard (86)
Row 9: Chase Junghans (18), Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt)
Row 10: Ryan Gustin (2T), Bobby Pierce (32)
Row 11: Scott Ward (37), Jake O’Neil (0)
Row 12: Clay Daly (32B), Clint Smith (44)
(12 laps; top four transfer)
First consolation: Chase Junghans, Ryan Gustin, Scott Ward, Clay Daly, Garrett Alberson, Lance Matthees, R.C. Whitwell, Tanner Kellick, John Cornell, Mike Spatola, Austin Theiss, Chris Simpson. Scratched: Lyndon Bolt, Rob Mayea, Nick Bartels.
Second consolation: Ricky Thornton Jr., Bobby Pierce, Jake O'Neil, Clint Smith, Justin Kay, Cody Barnett, Rob Sanders, Casey Skyberg, Jon Ortega, Terry Carter, Thomas Hunziker, John Brinkley, Ed Peters. Scratched: Eric Mass.
(12 laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Chase Junghans, Ryan Gustin
Row 2: Scott Ward, Clay Daly
Row 3: Garrett Alberson, R.C. Whitwell
Row 4: Lance Matthees, Rob Mayea
Row 5: Tanner Kellick, John Cornell
Row 6: Nick Bartels, Lyndon Bolt
Row 7: Mike Spatola, Chris Simpson
Row 8: Austin Theiss
Row 1: Ricky Thornton Jr., Bobby Pierce
Row 2: Clint Smith, Cody Barnett
Row 3: Jake O’Neil, Rob Sanders
Row 4: Justin Kay, Casey Skyberg
Row 5: John Brinkley, Eric Mass
Row 6: Jon Ortega, Ed Peters
Row 7: Thomas Hunziker, Terry Carter
(Eight laps; top four transfer)
First heat: Don Shaw, Mike Marlar, Cade Dillard, Rodney Sanders, Chase Junghans, Scott Ward, Garrett Alberson, Lance Matthees, Tanner Kellick, Mike Spatola, Nick Bartels, Austin Theiss.
Second heat: Tony Toste, Austin Siebert, Kolby Vandenbergh, Justin Duty, Ryan Gustin, Clay Daly, R.C. Whitwell, Rob Mayea, John Cornell, Lyndon Bolt, Chris Simpson.
Third heat: Brandon Sheppard, Ricky Weiss, Mike Maresca, Terry Phillips, Ricky Thornton Jr., Clint Smith, Jake O'Neil, Justin Kay, John Brinkley, Jon Ortega, Thomas Hunziker.
Fourth heat: David Breazeale, Billy Franklin, Jason Rauen, Kyle Beard, Bobby Pierce, Cody Barnett, Rob Sanders, Casey Skyberg, Eric Mass, Ed Peter, Terry Carter.
Along with the richest miniseries purse, Sunday’s Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout finale at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway gives two drivers a chance at a $10,000 bonus.
The Shaw Trucking-sponsored $13,000-to-win feature for Super Late Models highlights the last of six racing programs that includes modifieds and X-mods at the third-mile oval southeast of Phoenix.
With Keyser Mfg.’s bonus program posting $10,000 for any Late Model driver with three victories, two-race winners Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, and Don Shaw of Ham Lake, Minn., could earn $23,000 with a Sunday victory. Weiss is coming off a dominating 40-lap victory Saturday when he took the checkers nearly six seconds ahead of his closest competitor.
Miniseries points leader Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., the only other Arizona winner in 2018, will try to stop Weiss and Shaw along with other top competitors Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., and Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa. The $10,000 Late Model points fund pays $3,000 to the champ.
Sunday's program splits Late Model entries into four groups for combined hot laps/time trials followed by four heat races. Four drivers from each heat transfer to the main event with heat winners drawing for the first two rows. Four drivers from each of two consolation races join the field for the finale.
Time trials (unofficial)
(Heats start straightup by time)
Cade Dillard (97), Robeline, La., 14.997
Don Shaw (42s), Ham Lake, Minn., 15.176
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 15.206
Scott Ward (37), Watertown, S.D., 15.222
Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 15.247
Rodney Sanders (20), Happy, Texas, 15.303
Lance Matthees (90), Winona, Minn., 15.304
Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 15.322
Austin Theiss (7D), Hockley, Texas, 15.497
Tanner Kellick (3k), Mer Rouge, La., 15.552
Nick Bartels (12), El Segundo, Calif., 16.121
Garrett Alberson (01), Las Cruces, N.M., no time
Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 15.000
Tony Toste (91T), Pismo Beach, Calif., 15.130
Austin Siebert (16), Grandview, Mo., 15.232
Ryan Gustin (2T), Marshalltown, Iowa, 15.416
Justin Duty (15), Mulino, Ore., 15.574
Clay Daly (32B), Watsonville, Calif., 15.586
Rob Mayea (37), Bend, Ore., 15.602
Kolby Vandenbergh (15), Ashland, Ill., 15.609
John Cornell (28), Phoenix, Ariz., 16.041
R.C. Whitwell (96), Tucson, Ariz., 16.101
Lyndon Bolt (3x), Rapid City, S.D., 16.448
Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 15.318
Mike Maresca (7mm), Potsdam, N.Y., 15.435
Ricky Weiss (7), Headingley, Manitoba, 15.438
Terry Phillips (75), Springfield, Mo., 15.724
Clint Smith (44), Senoia, Ga., 15.741
Ricky Thornton Jr. (20RT), Chandler, Ariz., 15.947
Justin Kay (15K), Wheatland, Iowa, 16.201
Jake O’Neil (0), Tucson, Ariz., 16.300
Thomas Hunziker (38), Bend, Ore., 16.335
Jon Ortega (22), Las Cruces, N.M., 16.352
John Brinkley (26), Prescott, Ariz., 16.754
David Breazeale (54), Four Corners, Miss., 15.324
Billy Franklin (17), Calera, Ala., 15.523
Kyle Beard (86), Trumann, Ark., 15.526
Jason Rauen (98), Farley, Iowa, 15.582
Rob Sanders (10N), Bakersfield, Calif., 15.617
Eric Mass (45), Rapid City, S.D., 15.846
Cody Barnett (18), Hesperia, Calif., 15.972
Terry Carter (6T), Edmonton, Alberta, 16.056
Casey Skyberg (6), Rapid City, S.D., 16.253
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 16.296
Ed Peters (78), Eugene, Ore., 17.707
Wild West Shootout points
(Through five of six races)
1. Mike Marlar - 313
2. Brandon Sheppard - 283
3. Don Shaw - 277
4. Bobby Pierce - 267
5. Chris Simpson - 239
6. Ricky Weiss - 237
7. Garrett Alberson - 197
8. Cade Dillard - 195
9. Scott Ward - 182
10. David Braeazale - 164
11. Ryan Gustin - 162
12. Chase Junghans - 160
13. Mike Spatola - 144
14. Terry Phillips - 137
15. Kyle Beard - 130
16. Austin Siebert - 127
17. R.C. Whitwell - 118
18. Rodney Sanders - 106
19. Clay Daly - 101
20. Ricky Thornton Jr. - 93
(All times Mountain)
2:30 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting
3:30 p.m - Hot laps
Late Models (combo hot laps/time trials)
4:50 p.m. - National anthem
4:55 p.m. - Heat races
Modifieds (8 laps)
X-mods (8 laps)
Late Models (8 laps)
Modifieds (12 laps)
X-mods (10 laps)
Late Models (12 laps)
Modifieds (25 laps)
X-mods (25 laps)
Late Models (40 laps)