Each year as the NFL Draft approaches, aspiring professional football players see their draft stock rise, fall or hold steady. Similarly, short track racers see their stock rise and fall ahead of the Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes.
Our short track racing experts have taken a look at some of the drivers in this year’s draft to determine whether their stock is rising, falling or holding steady leading up to the 2017 Short Track Draft on Speed51.com.
Be sure to use hashtag #51Draft on Twitter and let us know whether you agree or disagree with our experts.
Austin Theriault – Stock Rising
Hometown: Fort Kent, ME
Current Level: ARCA
Last Year’s Pick: 33rd
Austin Theriault made his first appearance in the Short Track Draft back in 2012 when he was selected 41st. He jumped up to eighth the following year before dropping to 16th in 2014. During his year competing part-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2015, Theriault was not eligible for the draft. He returned last year and was selected 33rd.
This year, Theriault appears to be on his way to having his name called sooner in the Short Track Draft on Speed51.com. With a full-time ARCA Racing Series schedule planned with Ken Schrader Racing, Theriault is locked in on winning races. He did that early in the year by scoring a big win at Daytona (FL) during Speedweeks.
Anytime you can win, it helps your stock. Anytime you can win at Daytona, it really helps your stock.
Theriault is also improving when it comes to his performance off the track with speaking engagements and an improved presence on social media. Fans can often find him going live on Facebook as he travels around the country and back and forth from his home state of Maine.
Brandon Sheppard – Stock Rising
Hometown: New Berlin, IL
Current Level: Dirt Late Models
Last Year’s Pick: 28th
Brandon Sheppard has heard his name called as the 28th pick in the Short Track Draft for two consecutive years. Our experts expect that to change, in a good way, this time around.
Since last year’s draft, Sheppard has found a new “rocket” to strap into, and a very good one at that. Over the offseason, Sheppard was tabbed as the driver of the Rocket Chassis house car for Mark Richards Racing. The car previously driven by Josh Richards is a proven winner and “B-Shepp” has already demonstrated that he can get the job done as well.
Already in 2017, Sheppard has two Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series wins, a pair of World of Outlaws Late Model Series victories and a NeSmith Late Model Series win.
Off the track, Sheppard is a joyous 24-year-old who has established a strong fan base that can be seen wearing “B-Shepp” shirts at dirt tracks throughout the country.
Gracin Raz – Stock Falling
Hometown: Lake Oswego, OR
Current Level: Super Late Models
Last Year’s Pick: 16th
In his first ever appearance in the Short Track Draft one year ago, Gracin Raz was selected 16th. Expectations were high and the West Coast driver appeared to have a solid path to the next level, but things have changed since then.
Raz is no longer competing full-time on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West circuit. In fact, as of right now he’s only competing in select Super Late Model races on the West Coast.
In order to grab the attention of scouts, you need to win. In order to win, you need to compete. Unfortunately for Raz, a lack of racing plans has hurt his chances of doing any of that.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re not counting him out at this point in his career; he’s still only 19 years old. But in order to get his name back on the map, he needs to race more and win more.
Matt Craig – Stock Rising
Hometown: Kannapolis, NC
Current Level: Super Late Models
Last Year’s Pick: Not Selected
What a difference a year, a handful of wins and a championship can make.
After not being selected in last year’s Short Track Draft, Matt Craig seems destined to be at least a top 25 pick in this year’s draft.
Craig, the defending Pro All-Stars Series (PASS) South champion, recorded his first career PASS South victory and CARS Super Late Model Tour victory in 2016. He used that momentum to get off to a hot start in 2017, scoring two PASS South wins already this season.
One big knock on Craig right now is his attitude and style of driving. We understand being a teenager, but some of his fellow drivers don’t have a lot of nice things to say about Craig’s style of racing. He needs to be able to earn the respect of the veterans (and everyone for that matter) whom he shares the track with and that could go a long way.
Tanner Thorson – Holding Steady
Hometown: Kannapolis, NC
Current Level: Super Late Models/USAC Midgets
Last Year’s Pick: 20th
After making his Short Track Draft debut last year at the 20th pick, Thorson seems to be on pace to be selected in the same range this time around.
Some people you ask will tell you that Thorson’s stock has fallen because of his lack of performance in an asphalt Super Late Model. Others will tell you that has stock has risen because he’s attempting to race on asphalt and take that next step in his racing career.
On the track, Thorson had an impressive 2016 season that culminated with a USAC National championship. He scored six USAC National victories and seven POWRi National Midget Series wins last season, as well as a handful of Outlaw Kart checkered flags at Millbridge Speedway (NC).
So far, Thorson’s best finish in an asphalt Super Late Model is a fifth-place finish in the PASS South race at Southern National Motorsports Park (NC). He will certainly need to improve on that and pick up a few wins in order to follow the path of other dirt stars including Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell.
Outside of the car, Thorson is considered by some of his fellow competitors as being “cocky.” There’s a difference between confident and cocky, and hopefully with time Thorson will come across as being more of the confident type.
Raphael Lessard – Stock Rising
Hometown: St-Joseph de Beauce, Quebec, Canada
Current Level: Super Late Models/ARCA
Last Year’s Pick: 50th
It’s hard to think that Raphael Lessard didn’t hear his name called until the 50th pick in last year’s draft. In 2017, Lessard could end up being one of the biggest movers in the Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes.
Lessard picked up four CARS Super Late Model Tour wins on his way to the championship last season. He has also proven that he can compete well in big events with a top-five finish in the prestigious All-American 400.
The Quebec driver also offers his sponsors a unique opportunity to reach an audience outside of the United States. His ability to speak the English language also continues to improve as he matures.
Spencer Davis – Stock Falling
Hometown: Dawsonville, GA
Current Level: SLM/K&N East
Last Year’s Pick: 8th
Spencer Davis is only 18 years old and it seems like he’s been around the short track ranks forever. He first appeared in the Short Track draft in 2013 when he was the 46th pick. Since that time, he’s been selected 47th, 35th and a career-best eighth last year.
But now Davis is getting older (in NASCAR years) and his lack of a consistent ride in a major series is hurting his stock.
At this time last year, Davis seemed to hit the highest point of his career when he recorded three straight top-five finishes to start the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season. He eventually scored his first career win at Dominion Raceway (VA), but then things began to go down hill.
During the middle of the season, just one race after his first career win, Davis parted ways with MDM Racing. He attempted to finish the season with his family-owned team, but didn’t experience a lot of success.
Now he has returned to the Late Model ranks on a more consistent basis and has struggled to find success as of late. His one Super Late Model win to kick off the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) has been the highlight of his year so far.
Zane Smith – Stock Falling
Hometown: Huntington Beach, CA
Current Level: ARCA/K&N East
Last Year’s Pick: 3rd
Zane Smith burst onto the scene by winning the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing Super Late Model championship at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) in 2015. He then went on to win three PASS South races and a CARS Tour race before finishing second in the 48th Annual Snowball Derby.
At this time last year, his stock was flying high. But since last year’s draft, Smith hasn’t made a single visit to victory lane. Bad luck plagued him a number of times last season when he was having strong runs with Crooks Racing. Eventually, Smith and the Crooks team parted ways; Smith hasn’t found much success since the split.
The California native has a full ARCA Racing Series schedule planned with Venturini Motorsports this season, but is unable to compete at Daytona and Talladega due to the age requirements to compete at those tracks. He has also made two K&N East starts and a single K&N West start in 2017, tallying one top-five in each series.
Moving forward, Smith will need to race more and win more in order to find his stock rising once again. He’s a personable kid with a good appearance who still has a good chance of getting to the next level, but he needs to show that he’s still able to win.
-Text by Speed51.com Staff