LANCASTER, S.C. — Brandon Sheppard’s World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series dry spell lasted exactly … one race.
Twenty-four hours after surprisingly failing to convert a pole position start into a win or even a podium finish, Sheppard roared back Saturday night to score a convincing victory in the national tour’s 50-lap feature at Lancaster Speedway.
Sheppard, 26, of New Berlin, Ill., quickly recovered from his off night Friday at Cochran (Ga.) Motor Speedway, where he slipped to a fourth-place finish after leading the first 13 laps of the 50-lap A-main. He advanced from the fifth starting spot to grab the lead on lap 20 as race-long pacesetter Ben Watkins of Rock Hill, S.C., slowed with a blown right-rear tire and dominated the remainder of the distance.
The 2017 WoO champion’s eighth victory in 14 WoO events this season behind the wheel of the Rocket Chassis house car came by 2.075 seconds over a late-charging Ross Bailes of Clover, S.C., and earned him $10,000. It also pushed his lead in the WoO standings to 118 points as continues to run roughshod over the circuit.
“This thing’s just super good right now,” Sheppard said of his car owner Mark Richards’s familiar blue No. 1 machine, which he’s piloted to 13 top-five finishes in WoO action this season (his finish outside the top five is a sixth). “The car was flawless.”
It was, as the modest Sheppard bottom-lined after his latest conquest, “Another good night.”
The 29-year-old Bailes never had a chance to challenge Sheppard after surging from fourth to second in a span of seven circuits following the race’s final restart on lap 37. A first-time WoO winner in the tour’s last South Carolina visit on May 3 at Gaffney’s Cherokee Speedway, Bailes completed his march from the seventh starting spot to a runner-up finish in the Barry Wright Race Cars house car with a lap-44 pass of Pageland, S.C.’s Michael Brown, whose third-place finish in Billy Hicks’s No. 79 was a personal best in WoO competition.
Third-starter Johnny Pursley of Clover, S.C., settled for a fourth-place finish after ceding the final podium position to Bailes on lap 40 and eighth-starter Zack Mitchell of Enoree, S.C., completed the top five.
With Daulton Wilson of Fayetteville, N.C., placing sixth in his 10th career Super Late Model start, Sheppard was followed across the finish line by a succession of five drivers from the Carolinas.
Watkins, meanwhile, saw his hopes of registering a career-first WoO triumph at a track in his backyard evaporate with the lap-20 explosion of his car’s right-rear tire. He had shot off the outside pole at the initial green flag to outgun Friday-night Cochran winner Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., for the lead and controlled the top spot until the tire problem materialized just as Sheppard drew close.
While Watkins returned to the fray after changing the tire and climbed as high as ninth, he slid back slightly in the final laps and was credited with a 14th-place finish.
Sheppard, who moved up to third on lap 17 when the second-running Overton slowed with a flat right-rear tire, slid underneath Brown for second exiting turn four on the way to scoring lap 20. B-Shepp ended up crossing the line first that lap as Watkins pulled up lame just before the starter’s stand, triggering a caution flag after the circuit was already recorded.
There was simply no touching Sheppard over the remainder of the feature. He made no mistakes en route to making his first-ever start at Lancaster a winning one.
“It was a lot of fun out there,” Sheppard said. “Track’s really big, it’s a lot different than anything else we’ve ever raced on, for sure. It was definitely cool to do something a little bit different like that, and it’s a lot of fun when your car is that good.”
Sheppard strategically chose to stay away from the top groove after noticing that others were using up their tires running the high side.
“My car was really good and maneuverable around the middle-bottom,” Sheppard said. “I went up and ran the top just for a couple laps and I felt like I was wheel-spinning real hard. If I did that too many laps in-a-row, I’d really overheat my right-rear tire.”
Bailes did flash speed in the final circuits that left observers — and Bailes — wondering if he possibly could have threatened Sheppard’s hold on first place had there been more time.
“I think the way I was going I needed more laps,” Bailes said. “Maybe I’d have had a shot at him.
“I was riding behind Michael (Brown) and Johnny (Pursley) — I think I had the best seat in the house to see a good race, they were going hard at it. I just waited a little bit too late to get by ‘em. Once I did I felt like I was running (Sheppard) down a little bit, but he drove a good race. I think we had a little bit of an advantage on him coming into tonight — he’d never been here — but he did what he had to do.
“I was wanting to get one for the hometown,” he added, “but couldn’t quite do it.”
Brown, 26, ran in second place for more than half the race’s distance but was hampered by a deflating tire as the feature wound down.
“About the last 10 or 12 laps, that thing started wheelie-ing with me real bad so I knew I was starting to get a flat,” said Brown, who started fourth. “I had to nurse it home there at the end. I wish I would’ve done things a little bit different and maybe saved some so we could’ve at least charged at the end. I don’t know if I would’ve given (Sheppard) a run for his money, but at least I could’ve given something.
"I’ll learn from it,” he continued. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
Watkins, meanwhile, kept his head up after experiencing heartbreak in his pursuit of victory at his home track.
“We were married to the top side, and I felt like I had a pretty good car,” Watkins said. “Our tire choice was pretty comparable to everybody else’s. Not sure if we just got into some debris or something.
“This is my hometown crowd, and they definitely back the hometown boys good here. I love stepping up and racing with these national (tour) guys, showing how good we can do too.”
Three caution flags slowed the race. In addition to the tire woes suffered by Overton and Watkins, Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., fell off the pace due to a flat left-rear tire on lap 37.
A red flag was displayed on a lap-17 restart when fifth-running Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., slowed with mechanical trouble on the homestretch, triggering a multi-car tangle in turn one. Swept up in the chain-reaction scramble were Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., Boom Briggs of Bear Lake, Pa., Anthony Sanders of Charlotte, N.C., and Larson.
Notes: Sheppard’s 45th career WoO victory — third most on the tour’s all-time win list — came on the day his grandfather, Steve Sheppard Sr., celebrated a birthday. … Lanigan’s early retirement from the feature due to damage sustained in the lap-17 accident caused him to cede second place in the WoO points standings to Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., who advanced from the 21st starting spot to finish ninth and move two points ahead of Lanigan. … While Sheppard is building a hefty points lead, the drivers ranked 2-7 in the standings are separated by just 42 points. … WoO rookie Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., was running inside the top 10 when he pitted during the lap-20 caution period. He returned but soon afterward pulled out of the race. … Chris Ferguson of Mount Holly, N.C., scratched from the night’s action after his car sustained a broken oil-pump belt during qualifying. … The event marked the first-ever visit to Lancaster for the WoO tour.