Buddy Shepherd visited All American Speedway (CA) for the first time in a Late Model and made it pay off with a rich $10,000 victory in the JM Environmental Highline 150 Saturday night.


The win was a big one for the 18-year-old driver from Bakersfield, but it did not come easily.  Shepherd had to fight of a strong effort from Madera Speedway’s (CA) winningest driver Matt Erickson, who appeared to wrestle the lead from Shepherd late in the race.  A lap 137 caution, however, nullified the pass and set up a late race six-lap dash to the finish.


“I definitely got lucky there that the caution came out,” Shepherd told Speed51.com.  “Our car was going away quick and I needed to cool my tires down, and that’s all we needed at the end.  It is what it is and we pulled it off.  I was adjusting everything I could inside the car and we were able to pull it off.  It was pretty cool.”


Saturday’s event was unique for the All American Speedway patrons and competitors, as the speedway erected a barrier on the outside of the lower groove in turns three and four to force the competitors to use a higher line through those turns.  This, along with a sticky compound on the outer groove on the 1/3-mile asphalt oval, led to a revival of the outside line that many racers were able to take advantage of.


The evening started with fellow Bakersfield, CA competitor Racin Vernon setting fast time over the 18-car field with a 14.288 second lap.  Buddy Shepherd was second quick, with Cole Moore, Matt Erickson and John Moore rounding out the top five.


The top 10 all redrew for starting positions at the front of the field and Erickson drew the lucky “Ace” to put him on the pole for the rich event.  Jim Vermillion pulled the number two, followed by John Moore, Jason Romero, Cole Moore and Vernon.  Shepherd drew the unlucky “10” to start last amongst the redraw group.


Upon the start, Erickson got the jump and headed the field, as Vermillion dropped back in the outer groove.  On lap 6 the first yellow flew, with one of the early favorites Cole Moore heading to the pits with power steering issues.


The lap 14 restart found John Moore making a bid to keep the rich payday in his own pocket, as his company JM Environmental supplied the $10,000 first place prize.  Moore jumped to the lead on the outside lane and fended off Erickson until another yellow on lap 25.  With yellow flag laps counting, the ensuing lap 33 restart found Erickson retaking the lead and establishing a comfortable lead on the field.


The first big turning point of the race occurred on lap 61, when John Moore spun from the runner-up position, with Ryan Philpott unable to avoid the ensuing contact.  By that time Shepherd had made his way up to fourth but was not happy with the cars performance.  When the field paced itself to lap 72, halftime was called early and Shepherd was able to head to the pit for changes.  At that point, Erickson led Jason Romero, Michael Mitchell, Shepherd and Kyle Gottula.


“We were up in the air at the halfway break because we didn’t get too many green flag laps,” Shepherd commented.  “We wanted to get more (laps) for the halfway break, so we could fine-tune the car a little more.  I have all my faith in Mike Keen to make this thing better and he sure did.  We called him and he put the magic touch on it to take us right to the front.  I’ve got to thank him quite a bit this weekend, as I wore him out the first time I was here.


Erickson, on the other hand, was very happy with his car and didn’t make any changes.


“We didn’t adjust anything at halftime and just put two gallons of fuel in it for a little bit of rear weight.  The car was perfect and we just tried to keep the car as light as possible, since everyone else was refueling,” Erickson stated.


On the restart, Shepherd took advantage of the outside line, following Erickson into the runner-up position.  Fast Qualifier Racin Vernon hit the wall two laps later to set up the second turning point of the event.


The eventual lap 91 restart, after the cleanup, found Shepherd grabbing the lead from Erickson with a strong inside move.


“I kind-of muscled my way in there a little bit,” Shepherd admitted.  “That’s kind of the way we race each other at Madera (Speedway), so it is what it is.  There was no-way we were going to come all the way up here and not win.  We gave it everything we had and I can’t say enough about the guys that make us go fast.”


After a yellow on lap 100, the field settled down and Shepherd led Erickson on a high-speed chase through lapped traffic, with Erickson applying heavy pressure by lap 130.  On lap 135 Erickson got under Shepherd and the two battled side-by-side, until Erickson retook the top spot on lap 137.  A spin by John Moore, who had recovered to sixth using the extreme highline in turns three and four, negated the pass, leaving Shepherd in the lead and resulting in the final turning point of the event.


“On the long runs, he was pushing up in the middle and I was cutting good,” Erickson explained.  “I was able to get underneath him a little bit and he would guard me down the straightaway.  I used the lapped traffic for a pick and was set to checkout, but unfortunately things didn’t work my way.  You win some and you lose some.”


The final restart occurred on lap 144, with Shepherd getting a strong jump, leading the final six laps to the finish.


“I was pretty confident once we cooled the tires down,” Shepherd proclaimed.  “I knew we would be good for three of four laps and that would be all we need.  He got side by side with the eight-car (Jason Romero) and that held him up for a little bit and I was able to pull away and we got to victory lane.  I’ve really got to thank my crew and sponsors, AXALTA Worldwide, FinishMasters, Wilson’s Industrial Pumps, Schaeffer’s Racing Oil and all the fans for coming out.”


“I got hit in the middle of the shift and it wouldn’t get into high gear,” Erickson recalled.  “Luckily I got it into high gear just before the exit, but Romero got inside and it let him (Shepherd) get away a little.  I was hoping to be right there on his bumper over the last six laps and hoped that he would make a mistake and it would be a drag race to the finish.  At least that is what I was hoping for.”


Hope is a good word for All American Speedway after this weekend’s event.  With Bill McAnally now in charge, the event was a huge success in the grandstands.  The next event for the facility is the annual NASCAR K&N West Series Event on October 13, which frequently draws a sellout crowd.  Optimism reigns supreme at All American Speedway, for both the track and for the $10,000 winner Buddy Shepherd.


Unofficial Results: 1. Buddy Shepherd, 2. Matt Erickson, 3. Jason Romero, 4. Kyle Gottula, 5. Michael Mitchell, 6. Jack Wood, 7. Ryan Philpott, 8. Travis Milburn, 9. David Lewellyn, 10. Shannon Mansch, 11. Cameron LeGue, 12. Chris Scribner, 13. John Moore, 14. Shane Butler, 15. Randy Hedrick, 16. Racin Vernon, 17. James Vermillion, 18. Cole Moore


-Story by Kevin Peters, Speed51.com Southwest Editor

-Photo credit: Speed51.com

Six-Lap Dash Settles $10K California Late Model Race