Brandon Sheppard fulfilled a lifelong dream for both he and the Rocket1 Racing team Saturday night, holding off Dale McDowell to win The Dream at Eldora Speedway (OH).
Sheppard inherited the lead with 29 laps to go when Earl Pearson, Jr. slowed with a right-front tire issue, bringing out a caution. Sheppard distanced himself from the field on the restart, but soon McDowell reeled in the 2017 World of Outlaws Late Models champion working the bottom groove around the famed half-mile.
Coming to the checkered flag, Sheppard and McDowell banged doors, with Sheppard winning by 0.056 seconds and McDowell spinning into turn one.
Not only was the triumph Sheppard’s first win in a major event at “The Big E,” it was also the first major Eldora win for Mark Richards’ Rocket Chassis house car.
“Words can’t express the way I feel, honestly,” Sheppard said on the Dirt on Dirt broadcast in victory lane. “My family’s here. That means the world to me. It means the world to me to get one for Mark Richards, Rocket Chassis, this Rocket House Car team. I couldn’t do it without these guys.
“My great-grandfather actually died this morning,” Sheppard added. “This one’s for him. It’s crazy, man."
Sheppard noted that, once upon a time, he was a pupil under McDowell’s tutelage. Now, he was racing him for a $125,000 win at Eldora.
“It was probably 12 years ago, I was at the Dale McDowell Driving School learning from that guy,” said Sheppard. “I’ve watched him win numerous times around this place on that middle-bottom.”
Richards was equally joyous in victory, after more than 40 years of pursuing an elusive major win at Eldora.
“It’s been 44 years, coming here running all the races at Eldora over the years,” said Richards. “This is the first time my personal car has been on stage. We’ve built cars that have won here, but for my own personal car to be here, or one that I’ve crew chiefed, back in the day when Rodney Combs drove the car I crew-chiefed, this is really special to me.”
McDowell tipped his cap to the victors, acknowledging their long pursuit of a big win at Eldora.
“Congratulations to those guys,” said McDowell. “They’ve been coming here a long time, hats off to those guys. The race track cleaned up. We got beat and banged a little bit early in the race. We weren’t as good, Brandon was better in the slick. When the track cleaned up, I was able to make some big gains.
“When we come to the flag, I don’t race that way, even for that much money,” McDowell added about the last-lap battle. “We’re going to rub a little bit, but we’re not going to crash. We rubbed a little bit, and I ended up spinning.”
While second place for the event paid $20,000, it was still a far cry from the winner’s share of the purse at The Dream.
“We had a good racecar all weekend,” said McDowell. “Just a little bit short. $105,000. I don’t need to say that, but I’ll need to think about it a little bit.”
Shane Clanton finished third, while Chase Junghans and Tyler Erb rounded out the top five.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Paul Arch