Fast Talk: Another look at B-Shepp's big victory
Here’s the latest edition of Fast Talk, a DirtonDirt.com feature appearing each Monday and sponsored by Out-Pace Racing Products. Staffers Michael Rigsby, Todd Turner and Joshua Joiner gather weekly for a roundtable discussion about who’s hot, who’s not and other issues regarding Dirt Late Model racing (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: Let’s jump right in with Saturday’s key moment in the 33rd annual Red Buck Dirt Track World Championship when winner Brandon Sheppard picked off three drivers in less than a half-lap span, setting him up to overtake race-long leader Scott Bloomquist. Best move of the season? Best move in recent Dirt Late Model history?
Michael Rigsby: Best move of Sheppard's career ... best winning move of the year perhaps ... best move of the season? I'll have to comb through some video archives to determine that, but I do know that when I saw it, I thought, “Holy cow what a move!” From a 20-year old against that field ... that was incredible.
TT: It wasn't really a hum-drum race to that point, but that move really shook things up.
Joshua Joiner: I'm sure there are other moves out there that many would consider better based on the moves themselves, but when you consider the circumstances — an up-and-coming driver to capture one of the sport's biggest races — Sheppard's move is without a doubt one of the best I've ever seen. For him to take the chance up top and make it stick like that, it was really a thrilling move and also says a lot about how far he's come as a driver and his confidence right now.
TT: Sheppard’s victory not only makes him the youngest-ever DTWC winner (surpassing 24-year-old Marshall Green’s ’97 victory at Pennsboro), but the youngest-ever winner among the current crown jewel races. Heady stuff for a 20-year-old who took a big step in replacing Josh Richards in the Rocket Chassis house car in 2012, then had a career-best season in 2013 in his family-owned equipment in capturing the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals and UMP weekly crowns.
Returning to the potent Rocket team with Josh taking a weekend off, Sheppard gave Mark Richards his first DTWC victory. Richards praised Sheppard’s humbleness, and I know you, Michael, were a surprised about how even-keel Sheppard was after the victory. He certainly wasn’t fazed by the pressure. He really seems to have his head on straight, doesn’t he?
MR: Brandon is one of those kids who is completely unrattled by the moment/ He doesn't get too high, he doesn't get too low, and even after a big victory — did I mention this victory was a huge deal? — he doesn't seem to let it change the way he approaches racing. I just know I would have attempted a back-flip off the car had I just won $50,000 at 20 years old. He did admit to me he had some tears in his eyes when he made weight, and the gravity of the situation set in, but otherwise he is completely cool.
TT: He’d helped his dad on the Summernationals circuit for a few years when I remember talking to a fresh-faced Sheppard at Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway in the Hell Tour opener as he tackled the series for the first time. He was maybe 15? He struggled for a year or two, but he's really matured as a driver, especially the last two seasons. He's come a long way.
MR: Not trying to be an Illinois homer, but not sure there is a better 1-2 young punch than Brandon Sheppard and Bobby Pierce out there right now in the 20-and-under club.
TT: That’s a good point. Also four Illinois drivers entered and two among the top four (Sheppard and Jason Feger, too, for the first time in DTWC history.
JJ: That's one thing I immediately noticed about Sheppard while covering my first Summernationals three seasons ago. Even when he broke through for his first big victory at Lincoln Speedway and again at Farmer City, he showed very little emotion, and he's continued to do that even with his bigger wins more recently and while chasing his first Summernationals title this summer. Some people find drivers like that boring as far as victory lane celebrations, interviews, etc., but I think that's what helps him to be able to jump up to the top side and make a big move like he did Saturday night. To him, it's just another lap. I'm sure he was ecstatic to win the DTWC, but he didn't let the thought of it keep him from getting the job done on the racetrack.
TT: Any other thoughts about the DTWC? It was announced Portsmouth will host the race for the third time next season, when the track hopes again for better weather after weekend rain was less than optimal. How about Portsmouth favorite Jackie Boggs staying in contention throughout the 100-lapper despite struggling with his car’s steering on restarts? Longhorn Chassis drivers winning two heats but failing to contend past the halfway point?
MR: I think Portsmouth certainly deserves another shake. And I know everyone always says, “Well the weather is always iffy for the DTWC," but honestly if they could just get two 55-degree and sunny days, it's hard telling how many people they would pack in that place. I wish that for promoter Carl Short, for sure. Nothing new for Boggs at PRP — he's always good, and was just missed winning the race, really.
TT: One thing I'll toss out there is the kerfuffle over the way the series lined up the first three rows. Basically it was the typical Lucas Oil format, but they moved the original front row to the third row. ... I think once everyone heard how it was set up, they understood to some degree, but it was certainly a case of where the specific format needs to be explicity set forth ahead of time so there's no confusion among drivers who thought they were starting on the front row and later found out they weren't.
JJ: I for one am glad to see the Dirt Track World Championship staying at Portsmouth for a third year in 2014. While I think it's unique that the event has moved around to different tracks — and I think it should move some more in the future — it feels like a good fit at Portsmouth. The event needs some stability for a few years after after it seemed to be forced to move around because of a variety of issues.
TT: We’ll likely touch on our Driver of the Year thoughts for the next few weeks, and while Jimmy Owens was never in contention at the DTWC, he officially wrapped up his third straight Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series title. And he managed to finish fifth, giving him 12 top-five finishes among races 75 laps or longer paying at least $20,000-to-win — four more top-fives than any other driver nationally. He’s also got a nation-leading four victories in the 23 Super Late Model races that fit that criteria.
It’s pretty clear that Owens, along with World of Outlaws Late Model Series stars Darrell Lanigan and Josh Richards, are the top Driver of the Year contenders. How are you all seeing it stack up?
MR: I'm not trying to dodge the question, but to me, there is too much racing remaining this season to determine a definitive Driver of the Year. I think at this point I still lean towards Lanigan, but we'll see what happens at the World Finals, etc. The statistics our Andy Savary put up the other day regarding 100-lappers was a powerful piece of data for Owens, but was it enough? Ehhh, I don't know. Not answering yet ... there's a ways to go.
TT: It’ll be a hot topic at the World Finals again, no doubt.
JJ: I'm still leaning toward either Lanigan or Richards at this point, but that could definitely change before the end of the season. Last season, what really sold me on Owens, besides his unbelievable run to end the year, was his performance in World of Outlaws events, specifically, him sweeping the WoO World Finals, which should've been Lanigan's time to shine. This year, it's kind of the opposite. Lanigan and Richards really stole the spotlight at Lucas Oil’s Knoxville Nationals, and that's one of the biggest things that has me favoring one of those guys right now. With that in mind, another great World Finals performance from Owens could definitely sway my opinion.
TT: Among races coming up this weekend is the $15,000-to-win Coors Light Fall Classic at Whynot (Miss.) Motorsports Park, an event that’s showcased some exciting action in the long-distance race over the years. Anything you all are looking for from this event? The first home-state winner since the race returned to Whynot in 2006? Bub McCool and race promoter Charles Thrash patching things up after their victory lane dispute from a few weeks back in Greenville, Miss.?
MR: I often refer to Whynot as one of the top 10 raciest tracks in the United States, and it always delivers in that department. I'd like to see what non-regional guys show up, as that event has a way to make you say, “That guy came all the way down here?”
I think McCool could be a huge threat to win, and yes, I'm expecting him to have a lot less eventful victory lane if he does!
JJ: The Fall Classic is always one of my favorite races every year. Just like Magnolia's Cotton Pickin' 100, it always draws one of the most interesting mixes of national and regional drivers, where the regional guys always contend against the national drivers. I'm looking for McCool to have a big weekend. Bub's proven he's a great driver with his success on the World of Outlaws tour, but there's something about his home state's biggest races. He just hasn't had the same success in the race's you would think are tailor-made for him to win. He's really running well this year, so maybe this weekend is his chance to break through.