FAIRBURY, Ill. (July 27) — Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., dug deep to pull off a dramatic victory in Saturday night’s 30th annual Prairie Dirt Classic presented by Bank of Pontiac at Fairbury Speedway.
After losing the lead to Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., on lap 26 while negotiating heavy lapped traffic, Sheppard spent the vast majority of the 100-lap feature’s second half battling for second with Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., as Pierce maintained firm command of the top spot. But once the never-say-die B-Shepp gained control of the runner-up position with about five laps remaining, he threw caution to the wind to mount one final, all-out bid for the $30,000 winner’s prize.
“I seen a few laps to go there on the (score) board and I thought, You know what? We’ve got a little bit of a cushion on the points and I’m gonna go for it,” Sheppard said.
The result? Sheppard, 26, caught Pierce on the final lap, executed an aggressive, last-ditch slider through turns three and four to surge ahead of the 22-year-old sensation and, after Pierce bounced off Sheppard’s car and the outside wall exiting turn four, reached the checkered flag first to record his second PDC triumph in the last three years and his 14th World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series victory of 2019.
Sheppard kept his Rocket Chassis house car straight and under power when Pierce contacted its rearend and won by 0.309 of a second over Marlar, who slipped underneath Pierce off turn four in his Ronnie Delk-owned XR1 Rocket to claim the PDC’s $10,000 bridesmaid spot for the second consecutive year. Pierce settled for a third-place finish after leading laps 26-99, crossing the finish line with his XR1 Rocket machine sporting left-front and right-rear body damage.
WoO Rookie of the Year points leader Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, steered his Bloomquist Race Car to a fourth-place finish after passing polesitter Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., on the final lap. The 30-year-old Canadian’s up-and-down run saw him start 12th, climb to third place by lap 37, fall nearly out of the top 10 just 30 circuits later and finally rally over the last 20 laps to easily surpass the 24th-place finish he logged in his only previous PDC feature appearance in 2013.
Gordy Gundaker of St. Charles, Mo., who started 13th, completed the top five in his Black Diamond mount. The low-running racer also came on late in the distance, finally reaching fifth on the final lap when Clanton’s momentum was stunted by a bounce off the turn-two wall that dropped him to sixth in the official finish.
The wild last lap that defined the race left Sheppard, the runaway 2019 WoO points leader, almost speechless about his latest resume-padding accomplishment.
“I don’t even know what to say about it honestly,” Sheppard said, shaking his head in disbelief during an interview in victory lane.
Sheppard sent the quarter-mile oval’s capacity crowd into a frenzy with his stirring charge to deny Pierce, who appeared primed to secure his first-ever PDC crown after surging by Sheppard for the lead on lap 26 and proceeding to build an advantage that grew as large as 2-plus seconds. Pierce managed to stave off brief challenges following restarts on laps 46, 69, 79 and 89 to put a second five-figure winner’s purse in as many weeks squarely in his sights.
But with Pierce racing without power steering from the race’s initial green flag, remaining in front was more difficult than it appeared to the naked eye. He struggled throughout the wrestle his car around the track and wore down physically as the feature drew to a close.
Pierce was actually surprised that he didn’t face a serious challenge, extended challenge until the race’s final moments.
“The whole race, since I didn’t have power steering, I was thinking, These guys gotta be saving their tires until the last 10 laps because, like, where are they?” Pierce said.
Sheppard stepped up after finally breaking relatively free of Marlar in the battle for the second spot on lap 95. Deciding he would go down swinging, Sheppard began to dig on the cushion at both ends of the speedway like he hadn’t throughout the feature.
“There past halfway when me and Marlar were racing I started running the top, all the way up against it, getting into (turn) one a little bit, and I felt OK,” Sheppard related. “But I felt like I was gonna crash every time I did it so I stopped.
“I think we were three-wide for second there with (Marlar and Clanton shortly after lap 90) and I thought I was gonna run fourth there for a second, and then I just started driving harder and harder and harder and was giving it all it had there at the end.”
Pierce led Sheppard by over 0.8 of a second when the two-to-go signal was displayed. Sheppard sliced that deficit in half by the time the white flag flew and pulled right up on Pierce as the leaders traveled down the backstretch for the final time.
Then Sheppard made his move entering turn three, shooting underneath Pierce in a classic slider maneuver. Sheppard slid up in front of Pierce in turn four and, with Pierce unable to execute a crossover move to drag race Sheppard to the finish line, absorbed the contact to his car’s rearend from Pierce and beat Marlar to the checkered flag.
“I figured Bobby was gonna turn down underneath me (in turn four),” Sheppard said. “I didn’t think it was gonna stick. I figured he would see me coming and turn down, but it probably was hard to do that without power steering.”
Pierce agreed with Sheppard’s assessment.
“I think, me and Mikey (Marlar) were talking, (racing without power steering) actually kept me smooth because I couldn’t be out of control,” Pierce commented. “I wouldn’t be able to save it.
“And that’s why (on) that last lap I knew I wasn’t gonna be able to have the muscle to turn down (to cross over Sheppard in turn four) because I was, like, beat; my arms feel like noodles right now. So I gassed it to try and spin the wheels to make the car turn.”
“It was a clean slider,” he added. “I had to lift, but if I would’ve had power steering I would’ve tried to turn down. I tried and I couldn’t turn the (steering) wheel, so then I was like, ‘Well, maybe he’ll leave me a gap (between the wall and Sheppard’s car),’ and I shot in there and it wasn’t there.”
Pierce’s car ricocheted off Sheppard’s vehicle and rode up the turn-four wall, killing his momentum. He was heartbroken to come so close to elusive PDC triumph just one week after capturing the $53,000 Silver Dollar Nationals at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb., but he wasn’t angry. He calmly climbed out of his car to the side of victory lane and talked about the final lap with members of the Rocket house car team, including Sheppard.
“Brandon did nothing wrong,” said Pierce, who matched his career-best PDC finish (he also finished third in 2013). “But it was definitely … it was a weird deal. If I would’ve had a perfect-working race car I would’ve tried to turn under him (on the last lap), but in the same token, I probably could’ve been quite a ways ahead of the pack instead. I just couldn’t hustle the cushion like I normally do.”
Sheppard had only positive comments for Pierce as well.
“Hat’s off to Bobby. He did a really good job,” said Sheppard, who made his sixth career start in a PDC feature. “He got by me there in traffic and he’s definitely top-notch, especially when it comes to running the cushion like that. He said he didn’t have no power steering, so if he didn’t have no power steering for that race he’s a bad man.
“He just told me, ‘Good job,’ and he said it was clean,” he added. “I push myself to race clean with everybody because I don’t want to be raced dirty either. I don’t like to have to do extra work to my race car for no reason and I know my guys don’t either.”
Sheppard also relished his latest conquest, a victory that goes along nicely with his $125,000 Dream XXV score last month at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Since the Dream he’s won six times in 14 starts and hasn’t finished worse than fourth.
“It’s been a dream this year,” Sheppard said. “To put on a show at FALS like that, that’s what it’s all about it. That’s why the fans come here, because it’s amazing racing.
“I think everybody was on their feet for that one. If you weren’t then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. It was a blast out there.”
The 41-year-old Marlar, meanwhile, couldn’t quite take advantage of the final-lap battle between Sheppard and Pierce to steal the race, but his second straight runner-up finish in the PDC put a smile on his face.
“I’ve had good finishes here but I just really know how to get my car as good as these guys for the track,” Marlar said. “I’m out here driving straight as an arrow and these guys are sideways in front of me entering the corners sticking as good as I am, so I’m thinking, Man, if I could just do that a wee bit, I could pass ‘em all.
“It was a good weekend for us,” he added. “You gotta do everything right here all weekend to come out of here with a good finish.”
Five caution flags slowed the race, none for a significant incident. The first two yellows came for drivers who spun their cars following contact as they were being lapped by Pierce; Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., went around between turns three and four on lap 29 and Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., twirled entering turn one on lap 46.
Other cautions were needed for defending PDC champion Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, who stopped in turn three while running 11th after a slap of the wall damaged his Tye Twarog-owned car’s spoiler and front end; Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., who powered around the outside lane to briefly reach third shortly before slowing on lap 79 with a flat left-rear tire; and Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., who slowed on the homestretch on lap 89.
30th annual Prairie Dirt Classic finish
Pos. Driver (car no.), hometown, earnings
1. Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill., $33,400
2. Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., $11,100
3. Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., $9,000
4. Ricky Weiss (7), Headingley, Manitoba, $6,500
5. Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., $4,300
6. Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., $6,350
7. Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., $3,000
8. Chris Ferguson (22), Mount Holly, N.C., $5,000
9. Brian Shirley (3S), Chatham, Ill., $2,800
10. Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., $3,100
11. Billy Drake (75), Bloomington, Ill., $2,950
12. Cade Dillard (97), Robeline, La., $2,750
13. Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., $2,525
14. Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., $1,875
15. Hudson O’Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., $1,800
16. Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., $1,830
17. Boom Briggs (99B), Bear Lake, Pa., $2,610
18. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., $3,090
19. Ashton Winger (12), Hampton, Ga., $1,745
20. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., $2,000
21. Kent Robinson (7R), Bloomington, Ind., $1,750
22. Devin Moran (9), Dresden, Ohio, $2,500
23. Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., $1,725
24. Jay Morris (77M), Watseka, Ill., $1,700
25. Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., $2,250
26. Blake Spencer (6), St. Augustine, Fla., $1,700
27. Kevin Weaver (B12), Gibson City, Ill., $860
Lap leaders: Sheppard 1-25, 100; Pierce 26-99
Fast qualifier (among 72 cars): Sheppard, 13.112 seconds
Qualifying feature winners: Sheppard, Pierce, Ferguson, Clanton
Consolation winners: Winger, Junghans, Owens
Provisional starters: Dillard, Larson, Weaver, Unzicker, Spencer
Non-qualifiers’ race winner: Allen Weisser, Peoria, Ill.
Preliminary results and notes:
Row 1: Shane Clanton, Brandon Sheppard
Row 2: Bobby Pierce, Chris Ferguson
Row 3: Devin Moran, Mike Marlar
Row 4: Billy Drake, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 5: Boom Briggs, Brian Shirley
Row 6: Shannon Babb, Ricky Weiss
Row 7: Gordy Gundaker, Kyle Bronson
Row 8: Frank Heckenast Jr., Kent Robinson
Row 9: Ashton Winger, Chase Junghans
Row 10: Jimmy Owens, Darrell Lanigan
Row 11: Hudson O'Neal, Jay Morris
Row 12: Cade Dillard, Brent Larson
Row 13: Ryan Unzicker, Kevin Weaver
Row 14: Blake Spencer
Prairie Dirt Shootout non-qualifiers’ race
Allen Weisser ran down Billy Moyer and passed the Hall of Famer for the lead with three laps remaining to capture the 25-lap Prairie Dirt Shootout non-qualifiers’ race.
Staying strong in the inside groove that carried him to the front, the third-starting Weisser maintained command over the remaining circuits to take the checkered flag 0.729 of a second in front of Moyer, a five-time Prairie Dirt Classic champion who led laps 10-21.
“Man,” Weisser said in victory lane, “to pass Billy Moyer with three laps to go, it can’t get any better than that.”
The Peoria, Ill., driver called the triumph the biggest of his fledgling Dirt Late Model career as he accepted the $2,000 winner’s prize rather than forfeit the money to move onto the feature. With Weisser also competing in the 40-lap UMP modified A-main, he decided against starting the PDC 100-lapper from the 27th and final starting spot.
Mason Zeigler finished third after leading laps 1-9. Derek Chandler and Mike Spatola completed the top five.
Finish (25 laps): Allen Weisser, Billy Moyer, Mason Zeigler, Derek Chandler, Mike Spatola, Gregg Satterlee, Jason Feger, Bob Gardner, Joey Moriarty, Scott Schmitt, Mike Mataragas, Steve Thorsten, Rich Bell, Myles Moos, Tim McCreadie, Jimmy Mars, Chris Simpson, Victor Benedetto (DNS) McKay Wenger, Allen Murray, Derek Doll.
After some quick track reconditioning work as just some sprinkles were falling, the Prairie Dirt Shootout took the green flag at 9:09 p.m CT.
At 8:35 p.m. CT, moments after the completion of the third B-main, a burst of rain struck the track, putting the program into a holding pattern. It appears to be an isolated passing shower; in fact, the intensity of the precipitation slowed mere minutes after it started.
Officials said the next event on the schedule will be the 25-lap Prairie Dirt Shootout for non-qualifiers.
Prairie Dirt Shootout lineup
(25 laps; winner has option to take $2,000 or berth in PDC)
Row 1: Mason Zeigler, McKay Wenger
Row 2: Allen Weisser, Billy Moyer
Row 3: Tim McCreadie, Mike Spatola
Row 4: Bob Gardner, Derek Chandler
Row 5: Steve Thorsten, Myles Moos
Row 6: Chris Simpson, Joey Moriarty
Row 7: Mike Mataragas, Gregg Satterlee
Row 8: Allen Murray, Jason Feger
Row 9: Scott Schmitt, Victor Benedetto
Row 10: Jimmy Mars, Rich Bell
Row 11: Derek Doll
Jimmy Owens officially scored a flag-to-flag victory, but it was anything but an easy triumph for the three-time Lucas Oil Series champion. Jay Morris reached second place just after the halfway point and spent the remainder of the distance running side-by-side with Owens, who stuck to the cushion while Morris raced around the bottom. Owens held on to beat Morris by a mere 0.172 of a second. Allen Weisser was a close third while Mike Spatola fell to fourth after running second for brief periods. The race was red-flagged on lap nine after Ricky Thornton Jr. got into the wall and slowed with right-front corner damage and was clipped in his left-rear by the charging Tyler Erb, whose Best Performance Motorsports car teetered over and came to rest on its left side. Both drivers escaped injury in the incident, which came as Erb had advanced from the 14th starting spot to sixth. Caution flags also flew on laps four and 10 for spins by Brent McKinnon.
Finish (20 laps; top 2 transfer): Jimmy Owens, Jay Morris, Allen Weisser, Mike Spatola, Steve Thorsten, Joey Moriarty, Allen Murray, Victor Benedetto, Derek Doll, Jeff Curl, Glen Thompson, Brent McKinnon, Brent Larson, Kevin Weaver, Ricky Thornton Jr., Tyler Erb (DNS) Curtis Radke, Matt Shannon.
Chase Junghans dominated the last-chance race, leading all the way to win by 1.865 seconds over Hudson O’Neal. The 18-year-old O’Neal overtook Ryan Unzicker for second with a slider on lap 13 and cruised in the position for the remainder of the caution-free distance.
Finish (20 laps; top 2 transfer): Chase Junghans, Hudson O’Neal, Ryan Unzicker, McKay Wenger, Tim McCreadie, Derek Chandler, Chris Simpson, Gregg Satterlee, Scott Schmitt, Rich Bell, Kolby Vandenbergh, Steven Roberts, Greg Wagner, Bill Kettering Jr., Jason Wagner (DNS) Jay Sparks, Kody Evans, Jonathan Brauns, Paul Parker.
Gaining a dose of redemption after falling from the lead to one spot short of transferring in a Friday qualifying feature, 19-year-old Ashton Winger scored a flag-to-flag victory in the first B-main. Darrell Lanigan nipped Mason Zeigler by 0.006 of a second for second place after Zeigler pulled a slider on the final lap to get ahead of Lanigan in turn four but then had Lanigan duck low to win the drag race to the finish line. The race’s lone caution flew on lap 17 when Jonathan Davenport, driving Zeigler’s second car, slowed while running third due to a blown right-rear tire.
Finish (20 laps; top 2 transfer): Ashton Winger, Darrell Lanigan, Mason Zeigler, Billy Moyer, Bob Gardner, Myles Moos, Mike Mataragas, Jason Feger, Jimmy Mars, Paul Stubber, Justin Reed, Tyler Dietz, Lyle Zanker, Jonathan Davenport, Cade Dillard, Daniel Flessner, Blake Spencer, Mike McGuire (DNS) Cullen Breeden.
A small, isolated thunderstorm cell threatened the Fairbury oval late in the afternoon, but the brunt of the rain fortunately slid to the south of the track. Just some light sprinkles fell for a short time at the speedway on a day when temperatures have risen into the 80s. … Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., will remain behind the wheel of his Pennsylvania buddy Mason Zeigler’s second car in his bid to qualify for the PDC headliner through a B-main. His Lance Landers-owned team’s trailer wasn’t repaired in time for crew chief Jason Durham to make it to Fairbury for this evening’s program. … Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., said he stalled his car’s engine between turns one and two while challenge Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., for the lead in Friday’s second 25-lap qualifying feature because he hit the brakes too hard. He felt fortunate that he was able to recover in time to lock into tonight’s 100-lapper with a third-place finish. … WoO rookie Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., has a backup engine in his MB Customs car after terminal motor problems knocked him out of Friday’s first qualifying feature as he ran a strong third. … Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., cracked the PDC starting field with a fourth-place finish in his qualifying feature after apparent engine woes in his fresh car during Friday’s hot laps forced him into his battle-weary DIRTcar Summer Nationals machine. … Gregg Satterlee of Indiana, Pa., and his crew extensive repairs to his car’s front suspension after he made hard contact with the spinning car driven by Blake Spencer of St. Augustine, Fla., early in Friday’s second qualifying feature. He is buried deep in the second B-main’s field (17th), giving him a major challenge get in the PDC A-main for the first time since his only previous start in 2014 (when he finished 20th). … Other notables facing long uphill climbs in the B-mains after running into trouble during Friday’s qualifying features include Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis. (pulled out of his qualifier due to a wicked vibration), Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa (his car sustained front-end damage in a prelim tangle with a lapped vehicle) and Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas (retired from his qualifier due to front end damage sustained when he spun while racing for second place).
(20 laps; top 2 transfer)
Row 1: Darrell Lanigan, Ashton Winger
Row 2: Jonathan Davenport, Myles Moos
Row 3: Mike Mataragas, Mason Zeigler
Row 4: Jason Feger, Bob Gardner
Row 5: Paul Stubber, Billy Moyer
Row 6: Justin Reed, Daniel Flessner
Row 7: Cade Dillard, Lyle Zanker
Row 8: Tyler Dietz, Blake Spencer
Row 9: Jimmy Mars, Cullen Breeden
Row 10: Mike McGuire
Row 1: Ryan Unzicker, Chase Junghans
Row 2: McKay Wenger, Hudson O’Neal
Row 3: Jason Wagner, Jay Sparks
Row 4: Derek Chandler, Tim McCreadie
Row 5: Greg Wagner, Kody Evans
Row 6: Scott Schmitt, Steve Roberts
Row 7: Rich Bell, Chris Simpson
Row 8: Kolby Vandenbergh, Jonathan Brauns
Row 9: Gregg Satterlee, Paul Parker
Row 10: Bill Kettering Jr.
Row 1: Jimmy Owens, Jay Morris
Row 2: Ricky Thornton Jr., Mike Spatola
Row 3: Allen Murray, Steve Thorsten
Row 4: Brent McKinnon, Kevin Weaver
Row 5: Jeff Curl, Derek Doll
Row 6: Joey Moriarty, Brent Larson
Row 7: Allen Weisser, Tyler Erb
Row 8: Curtis Radke, Glen Thompson
Row 9: Victor Benedetto, Matt Shannon
The conclusion of the biggest Dirt Late Model weekend of the season in the state of Illinois includes B-Mains, a non-qualifiers’ race and the 100-lap Prairie Dirt Classic paying $30,000 to win. It’s the third consecutive year that the event offers a 30-grand top prize.
The PDC field will be filled by B-main transfers, two WoO points provisionals, two track provisionals and any WoO drivers who are eligible for emergency provisionals, plus the possible addition of the non-qualifiers’ race winner.
The first- and second-place finishers in Friday night’s four 25-lap qualifying features — winners Brandon Sheppard, Bobby Pierce, Chris Ferguson and Shane Clanton — will redraw for positions 1-4 in the 100-lapper. Friday’s runners-up — Dennis Erb Jr., Devin Moran, Mike Marlar and Billy Drake — will redraw for spots 5-8.
Saturday’s program, which also includes B-mains and a 40-lap, $5,000-to-win feature for UMP modifieds, is scheduled to begin with hot laps at 5:45 p.m. CDT.
Saturday’s schedule of events (all times CDT)
4 p.m. - Drivers autograph session (vendor row)
5:15 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting
5:45 p.m. - On-track action begins
UMP modified hot laps
WoO hot laps for B-Main cars
Opening ceremonies and WoO/mod feature redraws
UMP modified B-Mains
UMP modified Friday qualifiers hot laps
WoO feature qualifiers hot laps
Modified feature (40 laps)
Prairie Dirt Shootout for Late Models (25 laps)
Prairie Dirt Classic (100 laps)