GRAND FORKS, N.D. (July 12) — Brandon Sheppard continued to ride roughshod over his World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series foes as the tour made its way through the Roughrider State. Sheppard, of New Berlin, Ill., pulled ahead of early leader Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., on lap eight and led the rest of the way for a dominating victory Friday at River Cities Speedway.
Continuing his march through the upper Midwest, Sheppard finished 2.647 seconds ahead of sixth-starting Ricky Weiss of Headingly, Manitoba, for his fifth straight WoO victory and 13th on the season. Fifth-starting Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., took his typical inside route to a third-place finish for his first podium of the season.
“Anytime you can get a win with the World of Outlaws, it makes you feel good,” said Sheppard, who recorded his first career victory in North Dakota. “We’ve just had a phenomenal year. Hat’s off to the track crew. In the heat races it got pretty slick there and they kept working on it and working on it. Like every other year I’ve been here the track was awesome. It was racy. You could race all over it.”
Clanton, who zipped into the lead on the opening lap from the outside front row ahead of polesitter Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., slipped to fourth after leading the first seven laps. Fourth-starting Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., looking for his third career WoO victory at River Cities, dropped one spot to complete the top five.
Sheppard, who started third and quickly dispatched Mars, wasted little time catching Clanton. When the Georgian slipped slightly after getting bottled behind a lapped car in turn two, Sheppard darted by on the backstretch. But Clanton battled back, wrestling the lead away on the front straightaway as he split Sheppard and a slower car.
Undeterred, Sheppard took the lead away for good on the next lap and began to pull away. Sheppard’s only misstep came on lap 35 when he got all four tires into the cushion in turn four, but his lead was plenty big enough and he drove away unchallenged.
“We definitely had to work for it tonight you know, them guys were really good,” said Sheppard. “Shane (Clanton) and Ricky (Weiss) and them guys have been good night in and night out … Jimmy (Mars) of course too. We were quite a bit off there in hot laps and Mark (Richards) fine-tuned this thing right in.
“He kept tweaking on it and tweaking on it and got it just right for the feature there. And of course the track guys working on (the track) made it good too. It got a little bit choppy up there getting into (turn) three and then in the bottom getting into (turn) one, so it had a little bit of characteristics just like we like it.”
Weiss, who grabbed second from Clanton on a lap-18 restart, futilely chased Sheppard, unable to take advantage of cautions that waved on lap 24 and lap 43. He recorded his sixth podium finish of the season and third runner-up finish. In Sheppard’s 13 series wins this season, Weiss is the only driver to finish second more than once.
“It’s very close,” said Weiss, who’s finished second, third and second in the last three WoO races. “This is as close as I can get to home on this tour. It would’ve been great to be standing up there and winning it, but Brandon and Mark and all the guys have been having one heck of a year and they’re tough to beat. So if there’s a car out here I’d finish second to, it’d be them.”
Weiss said he had no problem putting his car anywhere on the 3/8-mile oval, but after briefly hanging close following the restarts, he simply couldn’t keep up with Sheppard as the laps piled up.
“A couple years back when I first started getting better at racing, I’d typically run the top and hang it off the edge and rip the spoiler off and do all that fun stuff, but since I’ve been getting into Scott (Bloomquist’s) cars they just seem to turn so good and you can kinda go wherever you want,” Weiss said. “I never really said I was one to run the bottom, but there’s a lot of racetracks where (the bottom) can be better. I just tried to go everywhere where I could (gain) a little bit on Brandon. I could stick with him for a few laps, then he’d just slowly pull away … I’ll have to call Scott and maybe get 1/10 (of a second) quicker or something.”
Erb patiently advanced two positions to record his best World of Outlaws finish of the season. While he allowed Weiss to get by, he slipped by Mars early before eventually taking third from Clanton on lap 27.
“I was real happy when they picked that (bottom) lane there (before the lap 18 restart),” said Erb. “The car was working good in the middle to the bottom so it helped us get up in there and get a top-three finish.
Notes: Sheppard recored his 49th career World of Outlaws victory. His five-race win streak is his second such streak of the season and brings him to within one win of Darrell Lanigan’s series-record six straight wins. … Lanigan booked his six-race streak in 2012. It also came during the series stretch through the upper Midwest and, like Sheppard’s current streak, included wins at River Cities and Independence (Iowa) Motor Speedway. … Fourteen cars finished the race, with 11 completing all 50 circuits. … The race was slowed by four cautions. … Cole Schill spun in turn four on lap 18 to draw the first caution; eighth-running Cade Dillard slowed to bring out a caution on lap 24 after making contact with Aaron Turnbull; Shane Edginton looped his machine toward the outside as he entered turn three on lap 43, bringing out the third caution; Boom Briggs spun on the restart for the fourth yellow. … Pat Doar of New Richmond, Wis., finished seventh to earn the tour’s $500 bonus for the highest finisher who has never won a WoO feature.