Buddy Shepherd scored the biggest win of his young career Saturday night at Madera Speedway (CA) in the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series “51 FIFTY Energy Drink 125”. The $5,000 win bested a field of 20 Super Late Models at the 1/3-mile paved facility. The Rookie of the Year competitor passed a three-time series champion and held off two former Southwest Tour Series Champions to score his first career SRL Series win in a race that was peppered by a succession of cautions.
The winning move was punctuated by a three-wide move past Carlos Vieira, Derek Thorn and a lapped car that triggered the maneuver. It came at the tail end of a 40-lap green flag run, which saw Shepherd pressing the leaders on the bottom, bouncing back and forth from second through fourth below Vieira, Thorn and Craig Raudman.
As the lead quartet approached Colby Potts exiting turn two, Shepherd dove low and Vieira went high. As they exited turn four, Shepherd emerged with the lead, earning the “FLUIDYNE High Performance Move of the Race.”
“There is no holding back with these guys,” Shepherd told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “If you give these guys an inch, they will take every bit of it. I really had to dig, but I knew we could get around the 51 (Vieira) and the 43 (Thorn), but I didn’t know how long it would take us. The lapped car came at the perfect opportunity and I took it.”
The weekend started off with Derek Thorn recording his record 43rd career fast-time effort with a 13.850, besting Shepherd by 0.041 seconds.
The top eight drivers redrew for position at the front of the field with Valley Springs, CA driver Tracy Bolin drawing the number one card. Carlos Vieira drew the lucky number two at a track that turned out to be top-side friendly, with Shepherd, Raudman, McGhee, Schlick, Thorn and Gomes following.
Vieira got the jump at the drop of Noel Dawson’s green flag to take an early lead. In a sign of things to come, Bobby Lyon cut down a tire after contact from close racing and hit the turn three wall hard, only two laps in. The driver was okay, but he was done for the night.
A series of cautions plagued the next 30 laps, as Thorn advanced forward to run second over a revolving door at third featuring Bolin, Raudman and Schmidt. Each caution resulted in the lower line loosing position and a constant shuffling of the field.
Following a lap 33 restart, the field finally settle down, as Vieira and Thorn moved out to a comfortable lead ahead of Bolin. As the field singled out, Shepherd made his way by Bolin, as Raudman did the same a few laps later. Shepherd caught the lead duo first, around lap 50, and proceeded to begin work on the two leaders running nose to tail. As Shepherd fought under Thorn, Raudman caught the trio and trapped Shepherd in the bottom groove, as the race reached the midway point.
On lap 71, Shepherd made the winning move in lapped traffic. Two laps later Vieira’s stellar run was over from contact and the ensuing cut tire. He hit the turn three wall hard to end his night.
On the restart, 2006 SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Champion Eric Schmidt entered the fray, battling Thorn and Raudman for the second spot closely behind Shepherd.
Several cautions followed, including one on lap 90 when three-time and defending SRL champion Thorn cut a tire and hit the turn two wall to slow the field again. Thorn rejoined the field two laps down, but retired shortly thereafter due to damage.
In the meantime, championship leader Bobby Hodges had worked his way into the top five, but contact shortly after the lap 93 restart between Bolin and Schmidt resulted in Hodges being shot into the outside retaining wall to end his day. In all it was a difficult night for everyone in the top six in the standings.
Over the last 25 laps, Shepherd was able to hold off Raudman and Schmidt, with Christian McGhee advancing to fourth after a spirited battle with his teammate Blaine Rocha. Keith Spangler came on strong at the end, with one of the fastest cars on track, to round out the top five finishers.
Spangler finished ahead of Colby Potts, Donny St. Ours, Jack Wood, a fading Blaine Rocha and Justin Westmoreland, with Scott Sanchez the final lead lap car in 11th.
For Shepherd, winning at Madera Speedway was a familiar feat, as he was the 2015 Late Model Champion at the track and currently leads the televised Pro Late Model Division at the track. The win was even sweeter beating his driver coach and friend Derek Thorn. In addition, it was his first race in a car owned by Nick Sivesind and normally piloted by Lance Wilson.
“All the laps that I have put in here in a Late Model have really paid off,” Shepherd began. “With Nick behind me, giving me this ride, I just can’t thank him enough. He has just done so much for me over the last couple of weeks. Butch (VanDoorn) is crew chiefing the deal and the car turned awesome. I got on the throttle and the car was just awesome.
“I would have really liked to have battled it out with him (Thorn), but I saw him going to the pits early and that sucks for him. I had a really great battle with him earlier, and I knew I could trust him because he normally drives pretty clean. That whole Campbell Motorsports bunch, they are the thing, and I’m just glad to be in victory lane tonight in front of all these great racers.”
Thorn may have finished 15th in the event, but he was happy for Shepherd and the success he found Saturday night.
“Buddy is a great kid and has a lot of talent. It’s great to see him get to showcase his talent in the SRL. I was pumped to see him get the win last night,” Thorn stated.
2001 NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour (NFSWT) Series Champion Craig Raudman finished second behind Shepherd, with a car that showed the scars of short track racing. For the Dave Reed Racing Team, it was a step in the right direction as they get closer to victory lane.
“It was kind of frustrating for a little while there,” Raudman said. I got banged around a lot, especially in the first three or four laps with the 15 car (Shepherd). The cautions kept killing me because I kept getting the odd number, so I was on the bottom. The bottom was just too hard to get around here, to keep up with the outside line. I think we got back to seventh or ninth there and had to dodge a lot of wrecks. Luckily on that last restart, we got the topside and were able to truck on and pull away.”
Eric Schmidt entered the event eighth in the championship standings. It is not a familiar place for the former series champion, but he feels they may have finally turned the corner in a race that proved to be a challenge.
“The car was good, and we kind of tripped on to something in the practice today, because the car wasn’t so good yesterday,” Schmidt said. “We tweaked on it a little for the race and it really woke up. The topside was the place to be. Being second was bad (the leader can pick inside or outside). You needed to be fourth tonight because you couldn’t roll the bottom.
“It’s a good run for us, as we have been struggling for a while and we have finally turned the corner, I think tonight. So I am looking forward to the rest of the season. I did have fun out there tonight.”
The victory for Shepherd produced the fourth different winner in four SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series events thus far in 2017. He follows Bobby Hodges, Blaine Rocha and Derek Thorn in that category. Only one driver in the top six in points finished the event with Rocha in the ninth position. As a result, Rocha unofficially takes the championship lead by two points over Hodges.
The next event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series is the “Patriots Honor 100 presented by Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse” on August 19 at Irwindale Speedway (CA).
Official Results: 1. Buddy Shepherd*, 2. Craig Raudman, 3. Eric Schmidt, 4. Christian McGhee, 5. Keith Spangler, 6. Colby Potts, 7. Donny St, Ours, 8. Jack Wood*, 9. Blaine Rocha, 10. Justin Westmoreland, 11. Scott Sanchez, 12. Michael Sandoval, 13. Tracy Bolin, 14. Bobby Hodges, 15. Derek Thorn, 16. Jacob Gomes, 17. Carlos Vieira, 18. Dennis Furden*, 19. Ricky Schlick*, 20. Bob Lyon.
*Registered Rookie of the Year Candidate
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com