JACKSONVILLE, Ill. (June 18) — Brandon Sheppard had a long drive ahead of him following Tuesday’s DIRTcar Summer Nationals race at Jacksonville Speedway. Hopefully the traffic from Illinois to West Virginia isn’t quite as bad as it was during Tuesday’s 40-lap, $5,000-to-win main event.
Sheppard planned to leave his New Berlin, Ill., home shortly after Tuesday’s main event to head to Rocket Chassis in Shinnston, W.Va., so he could drive the Rocket Chassis house car team’s transporter to Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa., where he plans to compete in the annual Firecracker 100, a race sanctioned by the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series.
Despite having a nine-hour drive ahead of him, he likely won’t see anything like the congestion he and Bobby Pierce faced in Tuesday’s feature event. If he does, well, he’ll probably know exactly what move to make.
Taking advantage when Pierce, of Oakwood, Ill., got hung up in traffic, Sheppard swung low, passed a pair of slower cars and went on to win at Jacksonville. Pierce led 37 laps but gave way to Sheppard as they raced through traffic on lap 38. Sheppard led the final three laps for his first Summer Nationals win of the season and second straight tour victory at Jacksonville, where a home crowd partial to Sheppard roared with approval when he stole the lead away and drove off to win by 3.024 seconds.
“It’s awesome. It’s hometown,” said Sheppard. “There’s no better way to make for a good drive out (to West Virginia) than to get the win before I leave.”
Pierce, who started from the pole position, held on for second, with sixth-starting Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., finishing third. Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., started ninth and finished fourth, while Tanner English of Benton, Ky., completed the top five.
While Pierce bolted into the lead ahead of Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., on the opening lap and immediately began to distance himself, the third-starting Sheppard settled in for the demanding 40-lap distance on the quarter-mile oval. Pierce had a three-second advantage over Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, on lap 15 and was still pulling away. Meanwhile, Sheppard was mired just at the edge of the top five for half the race.
“I knew I had a really maneuverable race car,” Sheppard said. “I knew I wasn’t turning laps as fast as (Pierce) was blazing the cushion like that. But I just thought if I could maintain and keep my (car) under me then if we got to lapped traffic I could move around a little bit … maybe better than he could because he was abusing his stuff up there.”
“A lot of times when you’re running second like that it’s good to kinda see where he’s gonna go. Luckily for me my car was maneuverable and I could move around a good bit and luckily I turned down to the bottom there and I gripped up pretty good and I thought, OK this is gonna be my only shot is to try to pass these two lapped cars in the bottom. So I passed them on the bottom there and Bobby got back beside of me and I had to move back up at that point.
“It was a crazy race for sure. I didn’t know if I was gonna get to him or not, but then we caught lapped traffic there really quick. He had a really good race car and I had a really good race car and it was just a heck of a race.”
Pierce agreed. “It was a pretty good race, just not for me,” he quipped.
Pierce had a solid lead when he caught the slower cars of Mark Voigt of Marine, Ill., and Paul Stubber of Bunbury, Australia, racing side-by-side with a just a handful of laps remaining, turning a ho-hum affair into a barnburner. He followed the two for two circuits as he tried to find away around.
“You never know what’s really going on behind you,” Pierce said. “I seen B-Shepp there, but I was just hoping they were gonna give me a little hole and I was gonna shoot in there and slide ‘em, but the next corner, Brandon got under both of them and he kinda just came on up and they had to get on the brakes.
“Next time I just need to be a little more aggressive, but at the same time you don’t want to tear your stuff up, take a chance trying to rough them out of the way and you end up spinning out. You don’t want that. All in all, second is a good points night. Congrats to Brandon. He was in the right spot at the right time and he seen that hole that they were leaving. For me I just didn’t want to leave the topside vulnerable. I had to stay up there were the line was and hope that something happened. I guess I should’ve just went on in there and kinda muscled on through if I could have.”
Notes: Sheppard recorded his 19th career DIRTcar Summer Nationals victory. … The win was Sheppard’s first this season behind the wheel of his family-owned No. B5 Rocket. … Seventeen of the 22 starters were running at the finish, with 11 completing 40 laps. … The race was slowed by four cautions. … Brian Shirley said felt good early, but quickly realized his car could’ve used a bit more adjustment. “I thought we were gonna be OK there for a minute, but we just didn’t tighten up enough,” said Shirley, who said if anything, he was prepared for the bullring’s treacherous cushion. “You went up there and laid on it and beat the wall in. And I knew that coming into here. Jacksonville, Belleville, Haubstadt, all them places you just gotta get that out of your head of knocking that right rear quarterpanel off. We come to places like this I just set it up to have it break off and start digging.” … Billy Moyer was running second when he was caught up in a melee in turn one. Greg Kimmons and Matt Bailey spun, leaving Moyer no where to go. He plowed into Kimmons in a shower of sparks. After pitting for repairs, Moyer returned to the track, made one more lap and retired. … Rusty Schlenk was running second when he too had bad luck not of his own doing. Schlenk ran over a bumper that had fallen off a car and punctured a tire. He pitted and rallied back to finish 11th. … One of the reason’s Sheppard was heading to West Virginia to handle transport driving duties: his Rocket Chassis house car crew chief Danny White’s wife Andrea gave birth to their first child Tuesday morning. … Sheppard joined Pierce and Jason Feger as the only repeat winners in Jacksonville Summer Nationals action. ... Sheppard won last year's race, which was completed in August following a rainout of the original June 20 program. … With Wednesday’s rainout at Belle-Clair announced during Tuesday’s drivers’ meeting, teams know they have an extra day off before heading to Spoon River on Thursday.
Preliminary results and notes:
Row 1: Bobby Pierce, Billy Moyer
Row 2: Brandon Sheppard, Rusty Schlenk
Row 3: Shannon Babb, Brian Shirley
Row 4: Alan Weisser, Tanner English
Row 5: Frank Heckenast Jr., Kolby Vandenbergh
Row 6: Rodney Melvin, Jason Feger
Row 7: Walker Arthur, Paul Stubber
Row 8: Rusty Griffaw, Matt Bailey
Row 9: Cody Maguire, Mark Voigt
Row 10: Chuck Hummer, Mike Hammerle
Row 11: Greg Kimmons, Jason Surhe
Bobby Pierce, gunning for his third career Summer Nationals victory at Jacksonville, drew the pole position for the feature in the redraw among heat winners. Billy Moyer will start second and Brandon Sheppard third. … Brian Shirley’s stirring heat race run fell just short as he finished second behind Moyer. Shirley said the hall of fame driver “did what he needed to do to not get passed” on the final lap of the heat. “Had he gone in and stayed high, I think I could have passed him,” said Shirley. “He slowed down some and that slowed my momentum.” … Pierce said his car was running much better after his father and crew chief Bob Pierce robbed a part from his backup car and then made some adjustments to the fuel flow. … Rusty Schlenk’s crew changed a radiator following Schlenk’s second-place finish in his heat. The radiator hadn’t failed, but Schlenk reported the engine in his C.J. Rayburn Race Car ran just a bit warm. … Rusty Griffaw was busy repairing the nosepiece on his car after climbing the wall in the third heat, thus giving up the fourth position. Griffaw, who was locked into the feature lineup via his fifth-place heat finish, said he hadn’t had time to look as the suspension on his No. 16, but didn’t show too much concern. … Jason Suhre rallied to finish fourth in the consolation race, one spot shy of transferring to the feature, after he got into the turn three and four wall during qualifying, while heavily damaged his Rocket Chassis. Suhre and his crew had to replace both right side control arms on his car’s suspension before his heat.
Polesitter Matt Bailey easily won the consolation race. Pulling away from a four-car battle in the first three laps, Bailey won by four lengths ahead of Cody Maguire. Sixth-starting Mark Voigt rallied to grab the final transfer spot.
Finish (top three transfer): Matt Bailey, Cody Maguire, Mark Voigt, Jason Suhre, Chuck Hummer, Mike Hammerle, Cliff Powell, Greg Kimmons, Daniel Jacober. Scratched: Jimmy Miller.
(12 laps; top 3 transfer)
Row 1: Matt Bailey, Cody Maguire
Row 2: Daniel Jacober, Jason Suhre
Row 3: Cliff Powell, Mark Voigt
Row 4: Chuck Hummer, Mike Hammerle
Row 5: Greg Kimmons, Jimmy Miller
Hall of Famer Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., turned back a furious charge from Brian Shirley to win the third heat. Shirley trailed Frank Heckenast Jr., for the first four laps, working both high and low. He finally grabbed the third set from Heckenast on lap six the ran Moyer down on the final lap. Shirley’s winning bid fell a half a length short, however as Moyer held on. Heckenast finished third, while Jason Feger finished fourth. Rusty Griffaw claimed the turn three wall on lap six but managed to keep going while only going one position and finished fifth.
Finish (top five advance): Billy Moyer, Brian Shirley, Frank Heckenast Jr., Jason Feger, Rusty Griffaw, Daniel Jacober, Mark Voigt, Greg Kimmons. Scratched: Jimmy Miller.
Polesitter Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., won the second heat comfortably ahead of Shannon Babb. Sheppard grabbed the lead on the opening lap and was never challenged, though Babb and third-place finisher Tanner English were on the same straightaway as the winner at the finish. Sheppard had to negotiate lapped traffic with three laps remaining, but Babb couldn’t close the gap. Rodney Melvin finished fourth, with Paul Stubber fifth.
Finish (top five transfer): Brandon Sheppard, Shannon Babb, Tanner English, Rodney Melvin, Paul Stubber, Cody Maguire, Cliff Powell, Mike Hammerle.
Second-starting Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., used the outside line to get the jump on polesitter Rusty Schlenk on the opening lap and pulled away to win the first heat. Pierce, behind the wheel of his 2016 Bob Pierce Race Car, finished 2.267 second ahead of Schlenk. Allen Weisser, Kolby Vandenbergh and Walker Arthur completed the top five.
Finish (top five transfer): Bobby Pierce, Rusty Schlenk, Allen Weisser, Kolby Vandenbergh, Walker Arthur, Matt Bailey, Jason Suhre, Chuck Hummer.
FInally a nice day to race. Temperatures are in the low-80s and the sun is blazing at Jacksonville. ... Jason Suhre of Grantfork, Ill., tagged the wall during qualifying, cutting a right front tire down. ... There are five previous Jacksonville winners signed in for Tuesday’s program: Bobby Pierce, Jason Feger, Billy Moyer, Shannon Babb and Brandon Sheppard. … Feger of Bloomington, Ill., felt good about his hot lap session, but said the speed chart didn’t match the way he felt behind the wheel of his MB Customs machine. “It felt good, but the time wasn’t that fast,” said Feger. “I kinda got caught in that traffic and they slowed me down.” Feger's crew was thrashing to get his car ready for qualifying. “It’s such a short turnaround from practice to qualifying. We’ll see.” … Oakwood, Ill., driver Bobby Pierce’s father and crew chief Bob, worked to get Pierce’s full system in line before qualifying. Pierce said a cracked diaphragm was the issue. … Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., is in the Jacksonville pit area. Bronson said his car “wasn’t quite ready after those (Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series) races in Tennessee,” but he planned to compete in up to four Summer Nationals races. … Tanner English of Benton, Ky., is in his family-owned No. 96 with plans to follow the series through next Monday at Clarksville (Tenn.) Speedway. ... Paul Stubber of Bunbury, Australia, is set for his third career Jacksonville start. Stubber said Jacksonville is always one of his favorite stops on the tour. “It’s fun. We always have a good time here,” said Stubber. … Late Model hot laps began at 6:27 p.m. CST.
Hoping the gain a little momentum Tuesday following a bevy of rainouts during the opening week of the DIRTcar Summer Nationals, the tour rolls into Jacksonville Speedway, which is set to host a Summer Nationals race for the eighth straight season and the 11th time overall.
There have been eight different winners at Jacksonville, including three different victors in the last three visits. Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., and Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., are the only two drivers with multiple series wins here. Pierce went back-to-back in 2015-’16 and Feger won in 2012 and again in ’14. Both Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., and Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill. — the tour’s winningest two drivers — each have a Jacksonville win also.
With only one feature complete, series champion Brian Shirley is the tour’s lone winner thus far. He enters Jacksonville looking for his first-ever series win on the 1/4-mile oval. Tuesday’s race is co-sanctioned by the Midwest Big 10 Series and it’s the only appearance by Late Models at Jacksonville this season. Hot laps, time trials and heat races will precede a 40-lap feature for Super Late Models with a $5,000 winner’s purse on the line.
Group qualifying results
(Heat lineups; 10 laps; top 5 transfer)
Rusty Schlenk (91), McClure, Ohio, 12.266
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 12.319
Allen Weisser (25w), Peoria, Ill., 12.359
Kolby Vandenbergh (15), Ashland, Ill., 12.533
Jason Suhre (4), Grantfork, Ill., 12.733
Walker Arthur (87), Forest, Va.,12.851
Matt Bailey (55), Highland, Ill., 13.035
Chuck Hummer (25), Lyons, Ohio, 13.697
Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 12.405
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 12.515
Tanner English (96), Benton, Ky., 12.539
Rodney Melvin (33), Benton, Ill., 12.838
Paul Stubber (31aus), Bunbury, Australia, 12.851
Cody Maguire (32M), Carlinville, Ill., 13.224
Mike Hammerle (16), St. Charles, Mo., 14.155
Cliff Powell (6), Hannibal, Mo., 14.696
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 12.318
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 12.479
Brian Shirley (3S), Chatham, Ill., 12.598
Rusty Griffaw (16), Festus, Mo., 12.901
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 12.942
Daniel Jacober (22), Highland, Ill., 13.174
Mark Voigt (30), Marine, Ill., 13.220
Greg Kimmons (27), Pleasant Plains, Ill., 13.371
Jimmy Miller (18), Arthur, Ill., no time
4 p.m.: Draw opens
5:45 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
6:15 p.m.: Hot laps
- Late Model hot laps
- Modifieds hot laps/time trials
- Late Model time trials (2 laps)
- Street stock hot laps
- Late Model heats (10 laps)
- Modified heats (8 laps)
- Street stock heats
- Late Model B-main (12 laps; if needed)
- Modified B-main (10 laps; if needed)
- Late Model feature (40 laps)
- Modified feature (25 laps)
- Street stock feature (15 laps)