QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. — With his toughest competitor failing to hunt him down, Brandon Sheppard continued his hunt for a five-figure bonus Wednesday at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway.
The New Berlin, Ill., driver clicked off his second straight victory on the Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout with a flag-to-flag triumph paying $5,000 after challenger Cade Dillard climbed the wall on a late restart and retired.
The victory keeps alive Sheppard's hopes for a five-figure prize from the Keyser Quarter-Million Challenge, which pays $100,000 for any driver who can win five races. (Brian Shirley’s opening-race victory eliminated Sheppard’s shot $250,000 for the six-race sweep; the bonus program also pays $25,000 for four victories and $10,000 for any Super Late Model driver who grabs three victories.)
“It’s been phenomenal,” Sheppard said of his Rocket Chassis that also carried him to victory Sunday at the third-mile oval southeast of Phoenix. “I had a really good car the first night, and Sunday night it was great again, and it carried over to tonight, too. We were able to qualify good and win a heat race, and that’s what it takes to (start up front and) make life a lot easier.”
With Dillard the only driver who could keep up, Sheppard took the checkers 3.228 seconds ahead of polesitter Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., while Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, was third in a 30-lap feature run on a high-speed track reworked just prior to the green flag. The ninth-starting Shirley of Chatham, Ill., was fourth and 23rd-starting Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., rallied to round out the top five.
Sheppard took command early from outside the front row while the fourth-starting Dillard of Robeline, La., tracked him down by the 10th lap. But Dillard got sideways in turn two, nearly coming to a complete stop, and fell from four-tenths of a second behind to more than two seconds behind.
A lap-13 caution for Garrett Alberson helped Dillard reset and resume his pursuit while Mars, Weiss and Shirley battled in the top five through the race’s middle stages. Another yellow flag on lap 21 for Jason Papich bunched the field again, but Dillard slid too high on a restart and slid into the turn-two wall with his right-side wheels briefly climbing the concrete. He was forced to retire.
Sheppard’s remaining pursuers sliced and diced over the last nine laps, but they couldn’t keep up with the winner.
“My crew guy was telling me how close (Dillard) was and whatnot, and he showed me it was getting closer there a little bit, so I picked up the pace some,” Sheppard said. “This thing was just really good. I could put it wherever I wanted to. It’s really hard to tell exactly where you need to be when you’re out there leading.”
Mars, the 47-year-old who started on the pole and held a top-three spot all the way, was glad to battle against fellow heat-winning drivers with an average age nearly 20 years younger.
“Brandon, he’s just a helluva driver, Ricky’s a good driver, Cade, all them guys. Just to be hanging with ’em, that’s pretty fun,” Mars said. “Our cars were kind of giving us some fits here. (I’ve been) scratching my head the last week, but we finally got it going pretty good.”
Weiss was trying to work under Mars before the final caution but could never complete the pass.
“I just could never clear him after that caution. I was trying and trying and he just was able to be better on the bottom there,” Weiss said. “Little did we know we sat in staging for way too long, and I didn’t think they’d (rework) the track that much. I mean, hat’s off to them for doing as much as they did in that short amount of time, but hopefully we can build a racetrack tomorrow and slow it down a little bit.”
Thursday is the final off-day of the miniseries with action returning Friday with a $5,000-to-win program. Another $5,000-to-win program is scheduled for Saturday with the $15,000-to-win finale scheduled for Sunday.
Notes: The track surface was aggressively reworked for about 20 minutes before the main event while drivers sat in the starting grid. … A turn-two scramble in the third heat forced Earl Pearson Jr. to retire when the rear of Dennis Souza’s car entered his cockpit, bending his seat and folding up his car’s decking to prevent him from easily climbing from the car. Pearson had his bell rung but was OK later in the pits, except for a sore left shoulder. … Terry Phillips also saw his night end in the fourth heat when he lost a driveshaft and hit the turn-two fence.
Main event lineup
Row 1: Jimmy Mars, Brandon Sheppard
Row 2: Ricky Weiss, Cade Dillard
Row 3: Mitch McGrath, Chris Simpson
Row 4: Garrett Alberson, Bobby Pierce
Row 5: Brian Shirley, Mike Spatola
Row 6: Stormy Scott, Cody Laney
Row 7: Don Shaw, Ryan Gustin
Row 8: Rick Eckert, Clay Fisher
Row 9: Frank Heckenast Jr., Jason Papich
Row 10: Johnny Scott, Rob Mayea
Row 11: Ricky Thornton Jr., Steve Stultz
Row 12: Chase Junghans, Terry Carter
(12 laps; top four transfer)
First consolation: Frank Heckenast Jr., Johnny Scott, Ricky Thornton Jr., Chase Junghans, Kyle Beard, Tony Toste, Justin Duty, Jay Morris, McLain Beaudoin, Rick Ortega, Dan Deibele, Matt Sparby. Scratched: Dennis Souza, Earl Pearson Jr.
Second consolation: Jason Papich, Rob Mayea, Steve Stultz, Terry Carter, Casey Skyberg, John Cornell, Thomas Hunziker, Richard Wallace, Brian Schultz, Blair Nothdurft. Scratched: Nick Deal, Kenny Densman, Terry Phillips, Lyndon Bolt.
(12 laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Johnny Scott, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 2: Ricky Thornton Jr., Kyle Beard
Row 3: Chase Junghans, Justin Duty
Row 4: McLain Beaudoin, Jay Morris
Row 5: Tony Toste, Dan Deibele
Row 6: Matt Sparby, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 7: Rick Ortega, Dennis Souza
Row 1: Jason Papich, Rob Mayea
Row 2: Terry Carter, Nick Deal
Row 3: Steve Stultz, John Cornell
Row 4: Kenny Densman, Brian Schultz
Row 5: Blair Nothdurft, Richard Wallace
Row 6: Thomas Hunziker, Terry Phillips
Row 7: Casey Skyberg, Lyndon Bolt
Heat race results
(Eight laps; top four transfer)
First heat: Brandon Sheppard, Mitch McGrath, Brian Shirley, Don Shaw, Johnny Scott, Ricky Thornton Jr., Chase Junghans, McLain Beaudoin, Tony Toste, Matt Sparby, Rick Ortega
Second heat: Ricky Weiss, Chris Simpson, Mike Spatola, Ryan Gustin, Jason Papich, Terry Carter, Steve Stultz, Kenny Densman, Blair Nothdurft, Thomas Hunziker. Scratched: Lyndon Bolt.
Third heat: Jimmy Mars, Garrett Alberson, Stormy Scott, Rick Eckert, Frank Heckenast Jr., Kyle Beard, Justin Duty, Jay Morris, Dan Deibele, Earl Pearson Jr., Dennis Souza.
Fourth heat: Cade Dillard, Bobby Pierce, Cody Laney, Clay Fisher, Rob Mayea, Nick Deal, John Cornell, Richard Wallace, Brian Shultz, Terry Phillips, Casey Skyberg.
Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., the runner-up in the miniseries opener, will have to dig from the back Wednesday after breaking a driveshaft in time trials. … Wednesday’s fast qualifier Brandon Sheppard has two fast time awards on the week. … Brian Birkhofer isn’t in action tonight, but one of his former cars is on track. Arizona driver Steve Stultz purchased one of Birkhofer’s older Black Diamond Chassis from Jason Rauen, practiced it Tuesday and debuted it Wednesday. … Rick Eckert slipped into an Allen Murray-owned ride to compete in Wednesday’s action; Murray drove his own car over the weekend. … Another newcomer was Brian Schultz of Casa Grande, Ariz., a regular in Southwest Dirt Racing Association action.
Heat race lineups
(Eight laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Brandon Sheppard, Johnny Scott
Row 2: Brian Shirley, Mitch McGrath
Row 3: Chase Junghans, Ricky Thornton Jr.
Row 4: Don Shaw, Tony Toste
Row 5: McLain Beaudoin, Rick Ortega
Row 6: Matt Sparby
Row 1: Ricky Weiss, Mike Spatola
Row 2: Ryan Gustin, Chris Simpson
Row 3: Blair Nothdurft, Steve Stultz
Row 4: Jason Papich, Thomas Hunziker
Row 5: Lyndon Bolt, Terry Carter
Row 6: Kenny Densman
Row 1: Garrett Alberson, Jimmy Mars
Row 2: Stormy Scott, Rick Eckert
Row 3: Jay Morris, Kyle Beard
Row 4: Earl Pearson Jr., Justin Duty
Row 5: Dan Deibele, Dennis Souza
Row 6: Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 1: Cade Dillard, Terry Phillips
Row 2: Bobby Pierce, Cody Laney
Row 3: Nick Deal, Rob Mayea
Row 4: Clay Fisher, Casey Skyberg
Row 5: John Cornell, Richard Wallace
Row 6: Brian Schultz
Time trials (unofficial)
Driver (car no.), hometown
Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 14.896
Johnny Scott (1st), Las Cruces, N.M., 14.906
Brian Shirley (3S), Chatham, Ill., 14.934
Mitch McGrath (74), Waukesha, Wis., 14.965
Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 15.094
Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., 15.201
Don Shaw (42S), Ham Lake, Minn., 15.259
Tony Toste (91T), Pismo Beach, Calif., 15.383
McLain Beaudoin (17), Lebanon, Ore., 15.658
Rick Ortega (24), Las Cruces, N.M., 16.047
Matt Sparby (81), Bemidji, Minn., 16.694
Ricky Weiss (7W), Headingley, Manitoba, 14.940
Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 15.202
Ryan Gustin (19), Marshalltown, Iowa, 15.237
Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 15.389
Blair Nothdurft (76), Sioux Falls, S.D., 15.595
Steve Stultz (78), Peoria, Ariz., 15.658
Jason Papich (91P), Nipomo, Calif., 15.680
Thomas Hunziker (38), Bend, Ore., 15.742
Lyndon Bolt (3x), Rapid City, S.D., 15.922
Terry Carter (6T), Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, 15.970
Kenny Densman (75), Lolita, Texas, 16.096
Garrett Alberson (2), Las Cruces, N.M., 15.310
Jimmy Mars (28), Menomonie, Wis., 15.310
Stormy Scott (2s), Las Cruces, N.M., 15.385
Rick Eckert (0), York, Pa., 15.459
Jay Morris (77M), Watseka, Ill., 15.532
Kyle Beard (86), Trumann, Ark., 15.699
Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., 15.776
Justin Duty (15), Mulino, Ore., 16.194
Dan Deibele (74), Lebanon, Ore., 16.232
Dennis Souza (83), Pescadero, Calif., 17.312
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 20.694
Cade Dillard (97), Robeline, La., 15.365
Terry Phillips (75), Springfield, Mo., 15.459
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.494
Cody Laney (32B), Torrance, Calif., 15.549
Nick Deal (55D), Walnut, Iowa, 15.560
Rob Mayea (37), Bend, Ore., 15.732
Clay Fisher (99), DeWitt, Ark., 15.873
Casey Skyberg (6), Rapid City, S.D., 15.909
John Cornell (28), Phoenix, Ariz., 16.059
Richard Wallace (7m), Gold Coast, Ore., 16.896
Brian Schultz (L8), Casa Grande, Ariz., no time
Illinois drivers will try to maintain domination of the 14th annual Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout during Wednesday’s third round of action, a $5,000-to-win midweek event at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway.
Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., and Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., won the weekend’s miniseries-opening events and are chasing a $100,000 bonus if they can grab five victories, part of the Keyser Manufacturing Quarter-Million Challenge in the six-race miniseries. The bonus program also pays $25,000 for four victories or $10,000 for three victories in the Late Model division.
Wednesday's field of Late Models will be split into four groups for time trials with officials employing combination hot-lap/time trials to set the lineups for four heat races. Drivers start heats straightup by time.
The top four finishers in each of four heats transfer to the 30-lap main event with the winners redrawing for the first two rows of the feature lineup. Consolation races will transfer four drivers apiece to the 24-car main event.
Wednesday's event is the third of six races through Jan. 19 at the third-mile oval southeast of Phoenix. Competitors take Thursday off and return Friday for another $5,000-to-win event.
2:30 p.m. - Pit gate opens
4 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting
4:30 p.m. - Grandstands open
5 p.m. - On-track action begins
- X-mod hot laps
- Modified hot laps
- Late Model (combo hot laps/time trials)
6:20 p.m. - National anthem
6:25 p.m. - Racing begins
- X-mod heats (eight laps)
- Modified heats (eight laps)
- Late Model heats (eight laps)
- X-mod consolations (10 laps)
- Modified consolations (12 laps)
- Late Model consolations (12 laps)
- X-mod feature (20 laps)
- Modified feature (25 laps)
- Late Model feature (30 laps)