BROWNSTOWN, Ill. (July 3) — Brandon Sheppard was a bit nostalgic after cracking victory lane in 2021 DIRTcar Summer Nationals action for the first time Saturday night at Fayette County Speedway.
The 28-year-old superstar from New Berlin, Ill., after all, dominated the caution-free 50-lap feature to pocket a $10,000 prize exactly 10 years to the date that he captured his first-ever Hell Tour checkered flag at Lincoln (Ill.) Speedway.
“That’s pretty cool,” Sheppard said of the symmetry in play with his 25th career Summer Nationals triumph coming a decade after his breakthrough win as fresh-faced, up-and-coming teenager in 2011. “I’ve been racing for a long time it seems. I’m only 28, and to say I won my first Summer Nationals race 10 years ago now, that’s pretty crazy.”
Sheppard added that was “pretty sure we’ve won at least one Summer Nationals race every year since then,” and he did indeed extend that streak. After recording consecutive finishes of second, third and sixth in his first Hell Tour action of 2021 — he’s spending the week chasing the circuit with his family-owned XR1 Rocket No. B5 while off from World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series competition — he flashed vintage form in running away with Fayette County’s show.
Bolting into the lead from the pole position at the initial green flag, Sheppard brushed off a tangential early threat from Ashton Winger of Hampton, Ga., to easily emerge triumphant. He crossed the finish line with a commanding victory margin of 5.339 seconds over Tanner English of Benton, Ky., who outdueled Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., for the runner-up spot in a battle that raged throughout the race’s second half.
Babb settled for third after ceding second place to English for the final time on lap 44. Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., slipped into fourth on lap 44 and stayed there to the finish while Mitch McGrath of Waukesha, Wis., overtook Winger and Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., on the final lap to round out the top five.
Shirley, the four-time and defending Summer Nationals champion, settled for sixth and poking into fifth place on lap 48-49. Winger slipped to seventh in the final rundown after running second for the race’s first 20 circuits.
Sheppard was in a league of his own at the quarter-mile oval, circling the top and handling lapped traffic with aplomb. It was his third career Summer Nationals win at Fayette County, but he was aware that his last two Hell Tour starts at the track didn’t end in satisfying fashion.
“I’ve been really fast here the past couple years,” said Sheppard, whose previous Summer Nationals scores at Fayette County came in 2014 and ’17. “I felt like I gave it away two years ago, and then last year we had a really good race and were really fast and got into it with Brian (Shirley) and Frankie (Heckenast Jr.) and it cost us a chance at it.”
Noting that in general “this place has always been really good to me,” Sheppard nonetheless needed to correct some frustrating troubles he had experienced over the previous three days of Hell Tour racing to put himself in position for the win.
“We’ve had a fast car all week but we’ve finding some engine gremlins and we got them taken care of I believe,” Sheppard said. “This thing was just super fast tonight.
“It’s definitely a big weight off my shoulders to get this thing back in victory lane. We’ve been struggling and don’t know if it’s the motor problems we’ve been struggling with or not having the car right … probably a little bit of both. Now we’ve got everything dialed in and back together.”
The race’s most intense showdown was between English and Babb, who swapped second place several times during the second half while racing roughly a straightaway behind Sheppard. English, a first-time Summer Nationals regular driving for Riggs Motorsports, finally wrestled the spot from Babb with an inside move past the four-time series champion.
"After Babb kind of pulled away from me on the bottom, I just kind of fell in there in the middle and got a rhythm going and started catching 'em," English said. "I thought, you know, at one time I felt like I was turning faster laps than Brandon. But after we got through lapped traffic and everything, he pulled off.
"That was a heckuva race with me, Babb and Ashton (Winger). Me and Babb raced forever side-by-side it seemed like and we finally got in some lapped traffic and that made it a little bit interesting. A pretty good night all in all."
Babb held the second or third spot most of the race, eventually ceding the runner-up position to English amid traffic on lap 44.
"You needed to be able to get by some lapped cars (on the higher side) and I just couldn't," Babb said. "I set up for the bottom ... it was good, but when I had to go out to the outside there, I just couldn't get off (the corners) like I wanted to."
Notes: Sheppard won four times on last year’s Summer Nationals; all of the successes came in a six-race stretch of August when he ran his family-owned machine while the WoO circuit was idle. … The victory was Sheppard’s third in 12 starts this season with his family’s No. b5. He also has three triumphs in the Rocket Chassis house car, including one WoO semifeature on a preliminary night. … Ninth-place finisher Gordy Gundaker was the final driver on the lead lap at the checkered flag. … Summer Nationals points leader Bobby Pierce was absent from competition to attend his sister Ciara’s wedding ceremony, but his edge was large enough for him to remain atop the standings. … The feature began at 11:23 p.m., nearly an hour after the B-main ended. Fayette County management took an intermission following the consolation to shoot off fireworks and recondition the racing surface. … With the nonstop race lasting 12 minutes, it ended at 11:35 p.m. Still left on Fayette County’s marathon program, however, were features for modifieds and B-mods plus the full cards (including hot laps) for street stocks, hornets and team cars.
Row 1: Brandon Sheppard, Ashton Winger
Row 2: Tanner English, Shannon Babb
Row 3: Jason Feger, Kolby Vandenbergh
Row 4: Brian Shirley, Mitch McGrath
Row 5: Dennis Erb Jr., Joe Godsey
Row 6: Frank Heckenast Jr., Tim Lance
Row 7: Trevor Gundaker, Gordy Gundaker
Row 8: Michael Kloos, Rusty Griffaw
Row 9: Blaze Burwell, Mark Voigt
Row 10: Brandon Lance, Tim Lance Jr.
Row 11: Jordan Bauer, Jeff Roth
B-main (12 laps; top two transfer): Blaze Burwell, Mark Voigt, Jordan Bauer, Paul Kuper, Shannon Kuhn, Adam Tischhauser, Claude Walker, Kaeden Cornell, Doug Tye, Josh Heuiser, Dan Jacober, Jimmy Miller, Brandon Lance, Jeff Roth, Thomas Hunziker, Tim Lance Jr., Mark Oller.
Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., got the pole in the redraw among heat winners with Ashton Winger alongside. Tanner English and Shannon Babb, who is chasing his 100th career series victory, are in the second row. ... Sheppard is trying to stretch a streak of at least one series event per season since his first Summer Nationals victory on July 3, 2011, at Lincoln (Ill.) Speedway. ... For the second time this week, drivers have issued complaints to series officials about starts that favor drivers starting outside the front row. Frank Heckenast Jr. was among those complaining about start procedures Thursday at Davenport (Iowa) Speedway (Heckenast was eventually docked a row for jumping the start) while at Fayette County, first-heat polesitter Jason Feger registered his displeasure of Shannon Babb getting the jump on exiting turn four for the start. Feger's complaint: Babb had more speed built up on the outside while Feger's car was in a slippery part of the track that didn't allow him to fire as quickly. Feger petitioned to series director Sam Driggers to adopt the starting "box" many tours use that allow the polesitter to fire anywhere between two cones. ... Series points leader Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., skipped the Fayette County event to attend his sister Ciara's wedding ceremony. With his 100-point lead entering the event, he's still assured of holding the points lead for his next event Sunday at Lincoln. The maximum points a driver can earn for a single event is 80. ... Brent McKinnon of Carlyle, Ill., who notched his first career Super Late Model victory June 11 at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill., qualified well to earn a front-row starting spot in his heat, but he got squeezed into the backstretch fence on the first lap and suffered nosepiece damage he wasn't able to immediately repair. ... The track has moved the flagstand from the infield to outside the frontstretch. ... Driggers pointed out in the drivers' meeting that the start-finish line is closer to turn four than turn one, which is different than most tracks. "Brownstown isn't like most tracks," Driggers said with a wry smile. ... The C-Main was scratched from the program when just five cars showed up to the starting grid. Those five cars will be added to the rear of the B-main lineup, which will transfer two cars to the main event.
Heat race results
(10 laps; top four transfer)
First heat: Shannon Babb, Jason Feger, Dennis Erb Jr., Trevor Gundaker, Blaze Burwell, Adam Tischhauser, Paul Kuper, Tim Lance Jr., Brandon Lance.
Second heat: Ashton Winger, Brian Shirley, Frank Heckenast Jr., Michael Kloos, Jordan Bauer, Thomas Hunziker, Dan Jacober, Josh Heuiser, Ryan Warren.
Third heat: Brandon Sheppard, Kolby Vandenbergh, Joe Godsey, Gordy Gundaker, Jeff Roth, Doug Tye, Jimmy Miller, Mark Oller, Brent McKinnon.
Fourth heat: Tanner English, Mitch McGrath, Tim Lance, Rusty Griffaw, Mark Voigt, Shannon Kuhn, Claude Walker, Kaeden Cornell.
Time trials (unofficial)
Driver (car no.), hometown, time
- Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 12.942
- Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 13.302
- Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 13.312
- Ashton Winger (12), Hampton, Ga., 13.601
- Paul Kuper (14k), Aviston, Ill., 13.618
- Frank Heckenast Jr. (99jr), Frankfort, Ill., 13.647
- Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 13.680
- Thomas Hunziker (38), Bend, Ore., 13.963
- Trevor Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 13.984
- Michael Kloos (6K), Trenton, Ill., 13.985
- Blaze Burwell (44), Mount Vernon, Ill., 13.998
- Jordan Bauer (10J), St. Jacob, Ill., 14.121
- Adam Tischhauser (T4), Mulberry Grove, Ill., 14.475
- Dan Jacober (22), Highland, Ill., 14.522
- Tim Lance Jr. (148), Brimfield, Ill., 14.581
- Josh Heuiser (1H), St. Jacob, Ill., 15.043
- Brandon Lance (248), Brimfield, Ill., 15.117
- Ryan Warren (52), Mattoon, Ill., no time
- Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 13.176
- Tanner English (81E), Benton, Ky., 13.383
- Brent McKinnon (26M), Carlyle, Ill., 13.552
- Mitch McGrath (74), Waukesha, Wis., 13.755
- Kolby Vandenbergh (15), Ashland, Ill., 13.768
- Mark Voigt (30), Marine, Ill., 13.909
- Joe Godsey (14G), Edinburgh, Ind., 13.946
- Tim Lance (48), Brimfield, Ill., 13.948
- Gordy Gundaker (11), St. Charles, Mo., 14.070
- Rusty Griffaw (16), Festus, Mo., 14.124
- Jeff Roth (14R), Bentonville, Ark., 14.196
- Kaeden Cornell (50), Willard, Mo., 14.311
- Doug Tye (4D), Collinsville, Ill., 14.428
- Shannon Kuhn (11k), Highland, Ill., 14.441
- Mark Oller (67), Highland, Ill., 14.469
- Claude Walker (35), Meadowbrook, Ill., 14.561
- Jimmy Miller (18), Highland, Ill., 14.721
5:30 p.m. - Drivers' meeting
6 p.m. - On-track activity
- Late Model hot laps
- Modified hot laps/time trials
- Late Model time trials (2 laps)
- Late Model heats (10 laps)
- Modified heats (8 laps)
- Late Model C-main (10 laps if necessary)
- B-mod heat races
- Modified consolation (10 laps if necessary)
- Late Model B-main (12 laps if necessary)
- B-mod consolations (if necessary)
- Late Model feature (50 laps)
- Modified feature (30 laps)
- B-mod feature
- Street stock hot laps
- Hornet hot laps
- Team car hot laps
- Street stock heats
- Hornet heats
- Team car heats
- Hornet consolations (if necessary)
- Street stock feature
- Hornet feature
- Team car feature