NEW RICHMOND, Wis. (Aug. 2) — Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., displayed his never-say-die desire once again Thursday night in the USA Nationals weekend opener at Cedar Lake Speedway.
Refusing to concede defeat after losing the lead to Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., on lap 37, Sheppard, 25, fought back to pull off a dramatic final-circuit pass and win Thursday night's 40-lap World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series feature.
When Davenport’s move lower on the track entering turn three on the last lap left a sliver of daylight open for Sheppard, the defending WoO champion seized the opportunity to shoot underneath Davenport, slide ahead in turn four and beat J.D. to the finish line by 0.266 of a second for a $6,000 victory.
Sheppard, who initially took the lead from the polesitting Davenport on lap three and set the pace until Davenport surged by with three laps remaining, registered his series-leading 10th WoO victory of the 2018 season in the lead-in to Friday’s USA Nationals double-heat qualifying and Saturday’s 100-lap, $50,000-to-win crown jewel finale.
Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, overtook Davenport for second on lap 11 and briefly challenged Sheppard for the lead before the race’s lone caution flag flew on lap 23 for a turn-four spin by Rick Eckert of York, Pa. The 23-year-old slipped to fourth after the restart but outdueled Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., in the closing circuits to finish third, less than 1 second behind the victor.
The 17-year-old O’Neal, who will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery after the Aug. 8-11 North-South 100 weekend at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky., settled for a fourth-place finish and two-time USA Nationals winner Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., placed fifth after starting in the same position by running outside the top five for more than half the distance.
Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., who entered the evening tied for the WoO points lead with Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., finished sixth after starting on the outside pole because he was hampered throughout the race by a broken throttle linkage. But with Marlar struggling to an 18th-place finish, Madden ended the night leading the standings by 24 points over Marlar and 34 points over Sheppard.
Sheppard, who started third in the Rocket Chassis house car, built an advantage of as much as a full straightaway at one point before slower traffic allowed Moran to close in before the lap-23 caution flag. Then, after the restart, Davenport, 34, stepped up to offer a challenge, surging around the extreme outside of the high-banked, third-mile oval to pass Moran for second on lap 24 and almost immediately catch Sheppard.
Finding Davenport breathing down his neck following the caution period wasn’t surprising to Sheppard.
“It was hard to lead that one,” said Sheppard, who recorded his 34th career WoO triumph. “The bottom was good early and I knew it was gonna slow down at some point, but it never really slowed down that much. So when that caution came out and I heard J.D. was on the top (in third place for the Delaware Double-File restart), I knew he was gonna be winging it out there. The bottom was slowing up just enough to where the top wasn’t bad.”
Simply moving up the banking to take Davenport’s hard-charging line wasn’t a simple maneuver, Sheppard pointed out.
“You’re dedicated to one line (while leading),” Sheppard said. “When you’re behind guys you can search around and figure out where you’re fast and where you’re not. But when you’re leading and you go from running the bottom the whole race to just moving right up to the top, you’re kind of lost because the guy behind you has been running that line for awhile. You move right up there and you’re all over the track. You don’t know where to go.
“That’s why it’s hard to leave the groove you’re running when you’re leading. Whenever you do have to move up, that guy behind you that’s in that line has already been running there. You move up and they got an advantage on you.”
Davenport made the outside work. His initial bid to overtake Sheppard shortly after the restart was turned back by B-Shepp’s successful slider, but the pilot of the Lance Landers Racing Longhorn Race Car steadily pulled back in on Sheppard, slid Sheppard in turn two on lap 36 and was in command as lap 37 was scored.
“The top was too dirty — at least I think it was, because I don’t know if anybody was up there before the caution come out,” Davenport said. “I went through the marbles up through there a couple times while we were racing, but I felt like I was hurting my tires too much. But then they packed (the outside) in really nice whenever we had that caution, and, of course, the double-file restart made everybody run two-wide so it helped clean it off up there.
“We just got rolling around there pretty good and I passed Brandon (without officially leading a lap), and then he passed me back,” he continued. “Well, then he got to where he was moving around and I felt like he settled in on the bottom and he pulled away. Then I started inching back to him and got beside of him, and we were side-by-side coming to the white flag … and I didn’t really know what to do. I knew he was a little better on the bottom and I was a little better on the top, but he’d already slid me one time in three (to maintain the lead) and I couldn’t cross him over fast enough to get back to the line.”
A subtle adjustment Sheppard made in his line after Davenport went in front proved to be the catalyst for his thrilling final-circuit pass.
“What I felt like won me the race was, whenever J.D. passed me, I started running the middle and I felt really, really good,” Sheppard said. “That let me get back to his quarter-panel, and then the last lap there he left me just enough room. He chopped the bottom off getting into three, but he left me just enough down there to where I could chop it off harder.
“I caught the grip more than he did, not necessarily before him. He drove off the bottom, and I drove off lower than he did. It allowed me to get some grip and just shoot across there. If we would’ve had to make another lap he would’ve probably passed me back because once I got to the straightaway I was hung out there and he was probably trying to turn down, but it was just one of them deals. If he would’ve cut down harder, I don’t know if I would’ve beat him. If he would’ve run the top and turned down coming off of four, I don’t know if I would’ve beat him.”
Sheppard’s last-lap plan worked to perfection.
“I didn’t know what he was gonna do, but I knew what I was gonna do,” Sheppard commented. “I was gonna run the bottom. The momentum’s just there too much (on the inside) and the top wasn’t good enough (in turns three and four) to try sailing it in there to make a pass.
“It was worked out for me,” he continued. “I couldn’t really see him (off four), but when I knew I had him cleared I moved on out and just tried to keep my speed up and carry it on as much as I could. I knew it was gonna be close because I knew as soon as he seen me he was either turning down or trying to carry it on out there too.”
Davenport struggled with his strategy for the last circuit.
“I was trying to figure out in my head what to do,” Davenport said of his mindset as he flashed under the white flag side-by-side with Sheppard. “If I got through (turns one and two) good enough and didn’t see him, I was gonna go ahead and go to the top (in three and four). But then it didn’t work out that way because I could still see him (on the inside off turn two), so I just tried to maybe surprise him a little bit and go to the bottom (in three) so maybe he would hit the brakes too hard and shear or something like that and I could beat him back to the line.
“I’d say if I went to the top he would’ve slid me, so I was just kind of protecting all I could there. He was still in the bottom and I didn’t take his whole line away. I just tried to maybe surprise him to where he would slide, but he was in the preferred line because he was running down there and he already knew how to enter the corner and everything he needed to do. He done what he was supposed to do.
“I think it still might have been the same outcome if I would’ve went to the top because he would’ve probably tried to slide me,” he added. “He’d already done it one time and prevailed getting back to the line first, so I just did what I thought I had to do. We’ll never know, but I thought that (moving down in turn three) was my best chance to win the race.”
Moran, meanwhile, had an up-close-and-personal view of the dramatic finish after pulling ahead of O’Neal for third place in the closing laps.
“I swear we ran side-by-side for about 15 laps,” Moran said of his battle with O’Neal. “I finally cleared him and I could focus back in on the top two, and man, were they having a heck of a race.”
Despite threatening Sheppard before the lap-23 caution flag, Moran didn’t feel his Tye Twarog-owned XR1 Rocket was quite good enough to deal with the top two finishers.
“We got by J.D. (for second) and Shepp was out probably a straightaway ahead of us,” Moran said. “We couldn’t really catch him in the open, but once he caught that (lapped) traffic I reeled him right in. He started moving to that top and that’s when I got real close.
“I about got right to him there and that caution came out. It was just one of them deals. Tonight wasn’t our night. I don’t feel like we had the best car to win anyways. We were just hugging them tires so the track kind of fit us, but the car wasn’t where we needed it to be.”
Preliminary results and notes:
After Dan Gullikson overtook Lance Hofer on the final circuit to win the 20-lap USRA Limited Late Model feature (with Jimmy Mars’s 14-year-old son, Sam, finishing third), the 40-lap WoO A-main’s field began rolling onto the racetrack at 9:31 p.m.
Row 1: Jonathan Davenport, Chris Madden
Row 2: Brandon Sheppard, Shannon Babb
Row 3: Jimmy Mars, Kyle Bronson
Row 4: Devin Moran, Shane Clanton
Row 5: Hudson O’Neal, Brian Shirley
Row 6: Chase Junghans, Jimmy Owens
Row 7: Don O’Neal, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 8: Rick Eckert, Jason Rauen
Row 9: Chris Simpson, Billy Moyer
Row 10: Ricky Weiss, Tyler Bruening
Row 11: Mike Marlar, David Breazeale
Row 12: Tyler Erb, Brent Larson
First B-main finish (10 laps; top 3 transfer): Chris Simpson, Ricky Weiss, Mike Marlar, A.J. Diemel, Dale McDowell, Bobby Pierce, Brent Larson, Lance Matthees, Craig Vosbergen, Nick Anvelink, Justin Duty, Don Shaw, Austin Theiss, Mitch McGrath, Rob Mayea.
Second B-main finish (10 laps; top 3 transfer): Billy Moyer, Tyler Bruening, David Breazeale, Jordan Yaggy, Dennis Erb Jr., Charlie McKenna, Tyler Erb, Matt Furman, Jason Feger, Jared Siefert, Al Humphrey, Jeff Massingill (DNS) Joey Moriarty, Steven Roberts.
(10 laps; top 3 transfer)
Row 1: Chris Simpson, Mike Marlar
Row 2: A.J. Diemel, Ricky Weiss
Row 3: Dale McDowell, Brent Larson
Row 4: Bobby Pierce, Lance Matthees
Row 5: Nick Anvelink, Justin Duty
Row 6: Craig Vosbergen, Mitch McGrath
Row 7: Austin Theiss, Don Shaw
Row8: Rob Mayea
Row 1: Tyler Erb, Tyler Bruening
Row 2: Billy Moyer, Jason Feger
Row 3: Matt Furman, Jordan Yaggy
Row 4: Dennis Erb Jr., Jared Siefert
Row 5: Jeff Massingill, Al Humphrey
Row 6: Charlie McKenna, Joey Moriarty
Row 7: David Breazeale, Steven Roberts
Leading all the way, Shannon Babb pulled away late in the distance to beat Jimmy Mars by 0.641 of a second. Jimmy Owens’s attempts to overtake Mars fell short leaving him third while Jason Rauen came out on top of a battle for fourth. A caution flag was needed on lap four after Arizona’s Joey Moriarty pounded the backstretch wall and limped to a stop between turns three and four.
Finish: Shannon Babb, Jimmy Mars, Jimmy Owens, Jason Rauen, Tyler Bruening, Jason Feger, Jordan Yaggy, Jared Siefert, Al Humphrey, Joey Moriarty (DNS) Steven Roberts.
Jonathan Davenport ran away from the pack, leading from wire-to-wire en route to a 2.296-second victory over Shane Clanton. Brian Shirley and Frank Heckenast Jr. finished third and fourth, respectively, close behind Clanton. David Breazeale was an early retiree after sliding sideways in turn four and ending up in the infield while bidding for a transfer spot.
Finish: Jonathan Davenport, Shane Clanton, Brian Shirley, Frank Heckenast Jr., Tyler Erb, Billy Moyer, Matt Furman, Dennis Erb Jr., Jeff Massingill, Charlie McKenna, David Breazeale.
Brandon Sheppard controlled the action from flag-to-flag, defeating Kyle Bronson by 1.62 seconds. Chase Junghans turned back repeated challenges from Rick Eckert to finish third. Mike Marlar, who enters the night tied for the WoO points lead with Chris Madden, finished fifth and will have to run a B-main.
Finish: Brandon Sheppard, Kyle Bronson, Chase Junghans, Rick Eckert, Mike Marlar, Ricky Weiss, Brent Larson, Lance Matthees, Justin Duty, Mitch McGrath, Don Shaw.
Chris Madden outgunned polesitter Devin Moran for the lead at the initial green flag and never looked back, beating the recent Prairie Dirt Classic winner to the checkered flag by 1.564 seconds seconds. Hudson O’Neal finished close behind Moran in third while O’Neal’s father, Don, placed fourth over 2 seconds in arrears of his son.
Finish: Chris Madden, Devin Moran, Hudson O’Neal, Don O’Neal, Chris Simpson, A.J. Diemel, Dale McDowell, Bobby Pierce, Nick Anvelink, Craig Vosbergen, Austin Theiss, Rob Mayea.
Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, continued his red-hot qualifying efforts, registering the overall fastest time for the third straight WoO event with a lap of 13.563 seconds. He will start from the pole position in the first of four 10-lap heats.
Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., was quickest in the second group with a lap of 13.992 seconds, earning him the pole for the third prelim.
Steven Roberts of Jesup, Ga., and Charlie McKenna of Clear Lake, Iowa, did not record qualifying times. Roberts’s car broke in the staging area while McKenna arrived late and did not make it out for time trials.
Weather conditions are absolutely perfect for Thursday’s USA Nationals weekend opener: partly sunny skies and a high temperature in the low 70s. Tempers are actually expected to slip into the high 50s by the end of the evening. … A 45-car field is signed in for action, up three entries from last year’s USA Nationals preliminary program. … Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., is trying to keep a smile on his face as he enters what will be his next-to-last weekend of racing in 2018. The 17-year-old sensation will compete at Cedar Lake and in next weekend’s North-South 100 activities at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky., before undergoing season-ending surgery on his torn left labrum to correct the problem he’s had with his left shoulder popping out of its socket. … Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., has entered his father Bob’s Pierce Race Car in the weekend’s action — the same machine the 21-year-old drove to a third-place finish in last year’s USA Nationals finale. Bob Pierce said the XR1 Rocket Bobby ran last weekend at Fairbury (Ill.) American Legion Speedway is “a little wounded,” prompting him to pull his self-built mount out of mothballs. … Jason Rauen of Farley, Iowa, has some high-profile pitside assistance this weekend. Three members of the Black Diamond house car team that travels the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series with driver Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla. — owner Ronnie Stuckey and crewmen Garrett Alberson and Marshall Hooter — will turn wrenches for Rauen, who has allowed Stuckey’s house-car operation to use his toterhome and trailer all season. … Matt Furman is on hand making his first start since experiencing a car-destroying crash during Memorial Day weekend’s Show-Me 100 at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo. He picked up a new MB Customs car exactly two weeks ago and has spent the interim assembling it for competition. Furman has been quite busy this summer away from the track; he and his wife have relocated from Portland, Ore., back to his native Iowa City, Iowa, while also finding time to sneak off on a two-week vacation to Alaska. … Two-time USA Nationals champion Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., made an engine change in his No. 28 for the weekend after experiencing terminal powerplant trouble during time trials for Monday’s WoO event at Plymouth (Wis.) Dirt Track. He will have his eyes on Thursday evening’s companion USRA Limited Late Model program as well because his 14-year-old son, Sam, is entered in the division’s action and making his third career start at Cedar Lake and fifth full-fender appearance overall.
The 31st annual USA Nationals weekend at Cedar Lake Speedway begins on Thursday night with a 40-lap, $6,000-to-win World of Outlaws-sanctioned show. It marks the fifth consecutive year that Thursday’s lead-in to the USA Nationals carries WoO sanctioning.
Thursday’s action features the customary series format of time trials, heat races and B-mains to set the field for the headline event, which offers full points toward the national tour’s championship battle.
The USA Nationals competition continues on Friday night with a double-heat format in place for the first time in event history. No time trials will be run; drivers will draw for starting positions and transfers to Saturday’s 100-lap, $50,000-to-win headliner will be determined by accumulated passing points.
Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., was the winner of last year’s WoO preliminary feature, which was contested on Friday as part of a twilight doubleheader with the USA Nationals qualifying program after rain on Thursday.
Heat race lineups
(10 laps; top 4 transfer)
Row 1: Devin Moran, Chris Madden
Row 2: Hudson O’Neal, Chris Simpson
Row 3: Don O’Neal, A.J. Diemel
Row 4: Nick Anvelink, Dale McDowell
Row 5: Bobby Pierce, Craig Vosbergen
Row 6: Rob Mayea, Austin Theiss
Row 1: Brandon Sheppard, Chase Junghans
Row 2: Kyle Bronson, Rick Eckert
Row 3: Mike Marlar, Lance Matthees
Row 4: Don Shaw, Ricky Weiss
Row 5: Brent Larson, Mitch McGrath
Row 6: Justin Duty
Row 1: Jonathan Davenport, Shane Clanton
Row 2: Frank Heckenast Jr., Brian Shirley
Row 3: David Breazeale, Billy Moyer
Row 4: Matt Furman, Tyler Erb
Row 5: Dennis Erb Jr., Jeff Massingill
Row 6: Charlie McKenna
Row 1: Jimmy Mars, Shannon Babb
Row 2: Jason Rauen, Jimmy Owens
Row 3: Jordan Yaggy, Joey Moriarty
Row 4: Tyler Bruening, Jason Feger
Row 5: Jared Siefert, Al Humphrey
Row 6: Steven Roberts
Devin Moran (9), Dresden, Ohio, 13.563
Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill., 13.791
Chris Madden (44), Gray Court, S.C., 13.894
Chase Junghans (18c), Manhattan, Kan., 13.929
Hudson O'Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., 13.936
Kyle Bronson (40b), Brandon, Fla., 13.952
Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 13.984
Rick Eckert (7), York, Pa., 14.022
Don O'Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 14.036
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 14.052
A.J. Diemel (58), Elk Mound, Wis., 14.073
Lance Matthees (90), Winona, Minn., 14.114
Nick Anvelink (15), Bonduel, Wis., 14.178
Don Shaw (42s), Hamm Lake, Minn., 14.180
Dale McDowell (17M), Chickamauga, Ga., 14.189
Ricky Weiss (7w), Headingly, Manitoba, 14.248
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 14.270
Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 14.329
Craig Vosbergen (8), Perth, W. Australia, 14.475
Mitch McGrath (74), Waukesha, Wis., 14.496
Rob Mayea (37), Bend, Ore., 14.647
Justin Duty (15d), Mulino, Ore., 14.723
Austin Theiss (7D), Hockley, Texas, 14.889
Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 13.992
Jimmy Mars (28), Menomonie, Wis., 14.120
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 14.160
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.210
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 14.247
Jason Rauen (98), Farley, Iowa, 14.247
Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 14.357
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 14.422
David Breazeale (54), Four Corners, Miss., 14.422
Jordan Yaggy (77), Rochester, Minn., 14.453
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 14.461
Joey Moriarty (51), Phoenix, Ariz., 14.536
Matt Furman (51), Iowa City, Iowa, 14.570
Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, 14.615
Tyler Erb (91), New Waverly, Texas, 14.710
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 14.746
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.766
Jared Siefert (25j), Luxemburg, Wis., 14.813
Jeff Massingill (6m), Keewatin, Wis., 15.034
Al Humphrey (6H), Giltner, Neb., 15.299
Charlie McKenna (22c), Clear Lake, Iowa, no time
Steven Roberts (111), Jesup, Ga., no time
Thursday’s schedule of events
6 p.m.: Drivers meeting
6:30 p.m.: USRA Limited Late Model hot laps
6:40 p.m.: WoO hot laps
7 p.m.: WoO time trials
7:30 p.m.: Opening ceremonies
7:35 p.m.: WoO heat races (10 laps)
8:15 p.m.: USRA Limited Late Model heats (10 laps)
8:35 p.m.: Track prep/WoO redraw
8:50 p.m.: WoO B-mains (12 laps)
9:20 p.m.: Track prep (if necessary)
9:30 p.m.: USRA Limited Late Model feature (20 laps)
9:50 p.m.: WoO A-main (40 laps)