CONCORD, NC – Brandon Sheppard stunned the enormous crowd at the Dirt Track at Charlotte on Friday after he commanded the lead of the World of Outlaws Craftsman® Late Model Series feature with only two laps remaining in the 50-lap event at the Textron Off Road World Finals. As the Rocket #1 passed beneath the checker flag, the packed house jumped to their feet and erupted in cheers.
Moments later in Victory Lane, Sheppard jumped to the rooftop of his Rocket XR1 and let out a battle cry with a huge grin on his face. The young driver from New Berlin, IL solidified his 18th Series victory of the season tying him for the all-time single season wins record with his predecessor in the Rocket House Car, Josh Richards.
“Man, I tell you what, I haven’t been this pumped up in a while and I hope I put on a good show for you fans,” said Sheppard. “I have to thank all of the fans for coming out. We couldn’t do this without you all and Dirt Late Model racing wouldn’t be what it is without all of these fans out here this weekend.”
While majority of the focus in the 50-lap feature was on the battle up front between Mike Marlar and Dennis Erb Jr., Sheppard stealthily began slicing his way forward from his sixth position start. With 10 laps to go, Marlar and Erb Jr. were dodging lapped traffic on the bottom of the track so Sheppard decided to take it to the high side leaving the pair in the dust on lap 48.
“The bottom was starting to latch up a little bit on both ends really and I got around Dale [McDowell], and I got around Josh [Richards], and [Mike Marlar, Dennis Erb Jr. and Jimmy Owens] were bunched up in front of me messing around with some lapped cars, and I knew we had the points wrapped up already, so I knew we were either going to crash it or we were going to win,” said Sheppard.
The final 10 laps of the feature saw six lead changes between Marlar, Erb Jr., and eventual winner Sheppard. The battle for second between Marlar and Erb Jr. came down to the wire but Erb Jr. was able to hold off the “Winfield Warrior”.
“[Marlar and I] were both racing hard, we were both racing side-by-side and then Sheppard came up on the outside,” said Erb Jr. “We’ve had a good start to the week so far and to bring home second we are happy with that.”
“It was an awesome race there,” said Marlar. “Dennis and I got to racing and when I got around [a lapped car] and squeezed past Dennis I thought I was alright and that I could ride this thing out and keep my momentum… but then comes Brandon and I thought, new game plan we’re going to have to do something else. If anyone can get up there around that wall and ride it wide open, it’s [Brandon].”
New Single-Season Wins Record in Rocket-Shepp’s Reach
The route which led the Rocket #1 to Victory Lane on Friday evening was eerily similar to the one they took in 2016. During the 2016 World Finals feature on Friday, Richards set the current single-series win record of 18 on a near last lap pass. This year, Sheppard tied the record after passing for the lead with two laps to go.
While Sheppard claimed earlier in the season breaking the single-season wins record wasn’t on the forefront of the teams’ mind, it probably is now. Sheppard has one more chance to break the record- Saturday evening at the Textron Off Road World Finals.
“What a phenomenal year man,” said Sheppard. “We tied the record and I guess we have a chance at it now. We have to win tomorrow and I know it will be tough but we’ll just see what we can do.”
Sheppard will start out the evening in the pole position for his heat race.
Additional Race Notes
Brandon Overton charged from a 15th position start to finish sixth. Right behind him, Chris Madden finished 7th from a 20th position start.
Full-time World of Outlaws regular, Frank Heckenast Jr. has been sidelined with an injury from completing the final two races of the season but will receive medical provisional points in the Series standings (60 points)
The closest points battle remains between Chub Frank (eighth) and Morgan Bagley (ninth) who are only two points apart headed into Saturday’s events. Two points is the difference of only one position during the feature.
The Dirt Track at Charlotte Abbreviated Results:
Craftsman Club Feature: 1. 1- Brandon Sheppard; 2. 28- Dennis Erb Jr; 3. 157- Mike Marlar; 4. 20- Jimmy Owens; 5. 17M- Dale McDowell; 6. 116- Brandon Overton; 7. 44- Chris Madden; 8. 1r- Josh Richards; 9. 22*- Brian Shirley; 10. 9- Devin Moran; 11. 39- Tim McCreadie; 12. 25- Shane Clanton; 13. 0- Scott Bloomquist; 14. 5- Don O’Neal; 15. C9- Steve Casebolt; 16. 71- Hudson O’Neal; 17. B1- Brent Larson; 18. 18- Eric Wells; 19. 18c- Chase Junghans; 20. 18K- Brandon Kinzer; 21. 2H- Nick Hoffman; 22. 14m- Morgan Bagley; 23. 7- Rick Eckert; 24. 91- Tyler Erb; 25. 111- Steven Roberts; 26. 1*- Chub Frank; 27. 55- Benji Hicks; 28. 72c- Jason Covert; 29. 101- Casey Roberts; 30. 14z- Zach McMillan; 31. 49- Jonathan Davenport