Buddy Shepherd enters the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tours Series “Bulwark ‘FR / Timberland Pro 101 presented by 51 FIFTY Energy Drink” at Kern County Raceway as one of the hottest drivers on the West Coast. The 18-year-old student at Centennial High School was the winner of eight Late Model, Pro Late Model and Super Late Model features in 12 pavement starts this season. In his fourth year of Late Model racing, Shepherd has already amassed four track championships, two at Madera Speedway (CA) and two at Kern County Raceway (CA). The Bakersfield native now turns his attention to winning his second SRL event of the season, this time at his home track of Kern County.
Shepherd began racing at the tender age of four on quads and dirt bikes. He won about 40 races in those divisions before moving up to Mini Sprints as a six-year-old. At the age of nine, he moved up to the 600cc Micro Sprint Division, where he won the King of California crown. In 2012, Shepherd continued to move up, racing in the Legend Division and racing on asphalt for the first time. He competed in the SRL Legends Tour, finishing sixth in the championship standings in 2012 and fourth in 2013. At Kern County Raceway, he took home the track championship in his second Legends season, winning four races that year.
Shepherd moved up to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Models at Kern County Raceway in 2014. He didn’t win a race that season, but he did finish third in the points, won the Rookie of the Year Award and was awarded the UNOH Youth Achievement Award that spotlights rising stars from across the country. In 2015, he won the championship at Kern County Raceway by winning three events. He also picked up his first two Pro Late Model wins at Madera Speedway. Additionally, Shepherd participated in two NASCAR K&N Pro Series West events, finishing in the top five in both, with a best finish of third at Meridian Speedway (ID).
In 2016, Shepherd concentrated on events at Kern County Raceway, winning all 11 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model events, while setting fast time in nine of them. He also participated in three SRL events and the $25,000 to win Winter Showdown. He was 11th at the Showdown and finished top 10 in all three SRL events, with a best result of seventh. That season set the table for the young driver’s most successful racing campaign to date.
“This year has been a really awesome year,” Shepherd told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We qualified fifth at the Winter Showdown, out-qualifying Kyle Busch in our family-owned car. We were running fifth until our motor started laying down and we had to drop back and then retire. We won five times in Madera (out of seven races) in their Pro Late Model series and two races at Kern (out of two) in their Late Model Division. Then we won the SRL event at Madera, so we ended up with eight wins on the season so far.”
What is even more impressive regarding his Madera Speedway championship was that he missed one of the eight races in order to participate in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West event. In fields that averaged nearly 30 cars per event, there were always talented drivers to contend with. He closed out the Madera season with a victory in their $10,000-to-win Short Track Shootout, beating out a field of 50 Pro Late Models. The field included drivers such as Eric Holmes, Jeremy Doss, Mike David, Trevor Huddleston and Blaine Rocha to name a few.
His success and improvement through the year has not gone unnoticed, as Madera Speedway promoter and former NASCAR Southwest Tour Series star Kenny Shepherd (no relation) detailed.
“We have watched Buddy grow from the Legend cars into a two-time Late Model champion in our MAVTV televised series against some of the best talent on the West Coast. This kid is a Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch kind of talent.”
The highlight of his season so far, however, was his victory at Madera Speedway in the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series “51 FIFTY Energy Drink 125.”
“The SRL race was just super fun,” Shepherd began. “We got to drive the number 15 car that weekend, for car owner Nick Sivesend, with Butch VanDoorn coming on as crew chief. We fell back at the beginning of that race, but we figured it out towards the middle of the race. We went three-wide a couple of times and it was pretty sketchy, but we made it through. It was super fun and was probably the best race I have ever run.”
The connection with Nick Sivesend and Wilson Motorsports was developed through many years of racing in the Bakersfield area. The association was profitable for both driver and car owner, as they both achieved their first wins in the highly-competitive SPEARS Southwest Tour Series. That success has led to Shepherd teaming up with Lance Wilson and once again driving the same car he piloted to victory at Madera Speedway.
“We have known Nick for a while and he has super-good equipment,” Shepherd commented. “The weekend we went to Madera, Lance (Wilson) was supposed to drive, but he ended up having to work. Nick wanted to race, so he called me up and wanted me to come and drive for him. He said that Butch VanDoorn was going to be the crew chief and they were going to have the best of the best people working on it. We won for him the first time in the car and that was really cool. It was his first SRL win and our first SRL win, so it was super cool for both of us.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to drive for him at Kern again. His cars are really good. He has got the VanDoorn cars that have some really tricky stuff on them. My cars are a couple years old and his are brand new. It is just amazing the technology difference between them and the geometry differences. It is so cool that he wants me to come and drive for him again. When he offered it to me, I was nothing but smiles.”
Headed to Kern County Raceway this weekend, Shepherd hopes to have similar success on his home track, but knows the competition will be tough.
“We had a really great result the first time I drove for Nick and the Wilson Industrial Pumps, VanDoorn Racing Development Team. It was awesome getting that first win for them and hopefully, we can build up more wins for him now and possibly in the future. For this race, we really want to finish good but we know the competition level is super stiff. You have Derek Thorn out there, the Collins Motorsports teams, (Craig) Raudman and Ricky Schlick, who has been really fast this year and has been really getting after it. Derek Thorn will definitely be tough to beat in his backyard and he won the Winter Showdown earlier this year. We will really be up against some still competition.”
For Shepherd, the opportunity to race at his home track in the SRL is a challenge that he really looks forward to. He knows that the track has its own set of challenges that every driver must deal with.
“I love racing here at Kern because it is right here in our backyard. We all get to go home and have a good night’s rest in our own beds, and then come back rested and prepared for the next day,” Shepherd related. “The most challenging thing about racing here is that it is really important to have the right setup under the car. Most short tracks you go to, it is okay to be a little off and a little down on speed. You may be able to save your tires enough at a shorter track to be good enough at the end. At Kern, you have to be pretty much on point. The speeds are so high there and everyone is so good. It seems like the setup is a huge factor in terms of how good you will be in the race.”
Shepherd will face one of the strongest SRL fields of the season with approximately 25 cars expected. This includes seven former Northwest and Southwest Tour Series champions. In addition to champions Derek Thorn (SRL 2012, 2014, 2016) and Craig Raudman (SWT 2001), the pre-entry list also contains former champions Jacob Gomes (SRL 2015), Eric Schmidt (SRL 2006), Ron Esau (SWT 1986), M.K. Kanke (SRL 2009) and John Dillon (NWT 1990). John Moore, the 2015 Pacific Challenge Series champion, is also on the list, as well as 2017 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship runner-up Trevor Huddleston, as well as many more local track champions.
If Shepherd can bring home a victory against such a talent-laden field, he hopes it will springboard him into future opportunities to race in the SRL and beyond. At this point in time, however, his plans for next season are still up in the air.
“We would like to run the whole SRL Tour and all their race tracks with their drivers and teams, but with a small team like ourselves it’s hard to be competitive,” Shepherd claimed. “We could run all the events, but we don’t want to be competing for just top 10’s. We want to compete for wins. We still have our Madera Late Model that we won five of seven races with, so we will probably run the big money shows there. They have some really talented drivers up there.
“But it seems like the Southwest Tour Series is really out of our budget right now unless we could join a team that has good equipment. Then it would be worth it to go to another team and work with them. Right now, the financials are just not there for us, but we have been trying hard over the last two years to get sponsorship help. It just seems like the economy has taken a dive bomb on us at a time where I am trying to come up through the ranks and trying to become a NASCAR driver. It’s tough, the position I am in right now, but I am sure there are a lot of other talented kids out there that are in the same situation as me. It’s one of those deals where you have to make the best of it and never give up on your dreams.”
Shepherd will look to continue following his dreams when the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series invades Kern County Raceway on Saturday, October 28 for the penultimate event of the season. Front gates open at 4:30 pm with SPEARS Southwest Tour Series qualifying set for 5:00 pm. There will be a “Trick or Treat” autograph session set from 6:00 to 6:40 pm with opening ceremonies set for 6:50 pm. The NASCAR Spec Mods will run their feature first, followed by the first 51 laps of the SRL Feature. During the break, the Mini Stocks will be in action, followed by the final 50 laps of Main Event action for the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series. In addition, a “Halloween Spooktacular” Fireworks display will also be featured to make for a full evening of fun and excitement for all ages.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com