For Sweeping Summer Nationals & National Weekly Series Titles, Young Driver Will Receive Nearly $50,000 At Organization’s Awards Banquet
CONCORD, NC – Nov. 22, 2013 – Brandon Sheppard came of age in 2012. In 2013, he became a star.
After bursting onto the national dirt Late Model scene in ’12 during his stint driving the Rocket Chassis house car, the 20-year-old driver from New Berlin, Ill., returned to his family-owned team this season and promptly made DIRTcar UMP history. He captured the DIRTcar UMP Summer Nationals ‘Hell Tour’ and national weekly-racing Late Model championships, becoming the youngest racer to win each title and just the fourth to sweep both points crowns in the same season.
For a driver who hails from the heart of DIRTcar UMP country and grew up watching his father, Steve Sheppard Jr., race a dirt Late Model across the Midwest, grabbing the circuit’s two biggest prizes is an accomplishment to savor.
“It feels awesome,” said Sheppard, who joined Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill. (2012), Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ind. (2007-08) and John Gill of Mitchell, Ind. (1986) on the short list of drivers with Summer Nationals/national title sweeps on their resumes. “UMP is the big thing around us – has been since I was little kid, really. I’ve been around it my whole life, so it’s real special for me personally to win both championships.
“We’ve been working really hard for a lot of years to get where we’re at right now and it was a long season, but it was all worth it.”
The stage was set for Sheppard’s spectacular campaign in the spring of 2012 when he made headlines as Rocket Chassis house car owner Mark Richards’s hand-picked replacement for his son, World of Outlaws Late Model Series star Josh Richards, who left the dirt-track wars to pursue a pavement career with a NASCAR Nationwide Series ride. Sheppard steered Richards’s familiar blue No. 1 to just a single Summer Nationals feature last year and finished a distant third in the points standings, but he authored plenty of head-turning outings throughout the season (including his first-ever WoO LMS triumph) and, perhaps most important, received an education from an established team that put him in position for future success.
Indeed, when Sheppard was pushed back to driving his family’s Rocket No. b5 machines this season by Josh Richards’s return to dirt racing, he had a new perspective.
“Mark and his guys taking me in did so much for me career,” said Sheppard, who not only drove the Rocket house car but also worked on the team’s equipment at their shop in Shinnston, W.Va. “They really helped me set my whole program up the right way. My hauler and stuff might not be as clean and tidy as theirs is because I don’t have as much help as they do, but as far as my car and my whole program – well, it’s on a whole other level now because of what I learned from them. Preparation, maintenance – all that is where it needs to be now.”
Sheppard used all the lessons learned during his march to the championship on the grueling Summer Nationals series, which featured 26 races at 25 tracks in eight states over a 39-day period in June and July. He bagged a modest four wins (Spoon River Speedway and Belle-Clair Speedway in Illinois, and Clarksville Speedway and Clay Hill Motorsports Park in Tennessee), but consistent performance (19 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes) propelled him to the title by 75 points (1,675-1,600) over 16-year-old Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill.
Clinching the $25,000 Hell Tour crown brought a sense of Mission: Accomplished to Sheppard, who began traveling the circuit with his father before even reaching high school and has been a fixture in Summer Nationals fields for most of his seven years behind the wheel.
“My dad worked hard a lot of years trying to win it and he was never able to,” said Sheppard. “I guess me winning it kind of fulfilled both of our dreams. I was always there when he was doing it and he’s there helping me now, so it meant a lot to both of us.”
Despite the joy that accompanied the Hell Tour title, Sheppard and his crew barely paused to celebrate. Even with fatigue overtaking them upon completion of the Summer Nationals on July 20 at Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio, there was no time for a break.
“Honestly, after the last night at Oakshade, we were like, ‘Well, I guess we gotta load up and go to Quincy (Ill.) on Sunday so we can start running for national (DIRTcar UMP weekly) points,’” said Sheppard. “Summer Nationals kind of put me in position to go for the national deal, so we decided to keep going and do as many nights as we could. It was never-ending this year.”
With Sheppard in the driver’s seat for the circuit’s national weekly-racing points crown after the Hell Tour, he threw his focus into chasing that honor for the first time. Twenty-eight of his 86 DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned starts came during the two-plus months of racing after the Summer Nationals ended; with a driver’s best 35 finishes/points nights used to determine the national champ, he had the volume of race appearances necessary to ensure his worst runs of the season were scratched from his ledger.
While Pierce made a late push to close the gap, Sheppard beat his teenage rival for the $20,000 national title by 47 points (2,549-2,502). On the strength of a season that saw him lead the DIRTcar UMP Late Model ranks with 14 feature wins (at nine tracks) and record 47 top-five and 66 top-10 finishes, B-Shepp found himself standing as a national champ before even reaching the legal drinking age.
“In the beginning, you never think you’d do something like win a national championship that young,” said Sheppard. “But we’ve been improving as a team and I’ve been improving as a driver every year. I can see myself getting better every year, driving harder and driving better. It all came together this year.”
When the 2013 DIRTcar UMP awards banquet is held on Jan. 11 in Springfield, Ill., Sheppard’s total earnings for his championships and other awards will near the $50,000 mark. Thrown in the $50,000 first-place check he collected for winning the prestigious 100-lap Dirt Track World Championship event on Oct. 19 at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park in a return engagement with the Rocket Chassis house car team, and it’s abundantly clear that Sheppard has become one of dirt Late Model racing’s titans.
For ticket information on the annual DIRTcar UMP ‘Night of Champions’ Awards Banquet on Jan. 11, 2014, at the Crown Plaza in Springfield, Ill., call the DIRTcar UMP office at 618-450-2072.
Sheppard will be one of eight DIRTcar UMP national champions honored during the gala, joining Devin Gilpin of Columbus, Ind. (UMP Modifieds), Aaron Heck of Mt. Vernon, Ill. (Pro Late Models), Jon Ripperda of Bartelso, Ill. (Sportsman), Brad DeYoung of Wheatfield, Ind. (Limited Modifieds), Josh Frye of Coopersville, Mich. (Stock Cars), Jason Worley of St. Genevieve, Mo. (Factory Stocks) and Adam Webb of Decatur, Ill. (Sport Compacts).
For more information on DIRTcar Racing and to see the complete final points standings for all DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned divisions, visit www.DirtCar.com.
1. Brandon Sheppard 35 2549
2. Bobby Pierce 35 2502
3. Rusty Schlenk 35 2357
4. Eric Spangler 35 2273
5. Scott Schmitt 35 2259
6. Alex Ferree 35 2252
7. Kevin Weaver 35 2229
8. Shannon Babb 35 2221
9. Ryan Unzicker 35 2161
10. Rich Neiser 34 2124
11. Randy Korte 35 2087
12. Scott Bull 35 2063
13. Michael Kloos 35 2048
14. Brian Shirley 35 2025
15. Brandon Thirlby 35 1956
16. Mark Burgtorf 35 1948
17. Michael Norris 35 1872
18. Jesse Stovall 31 1847
19. Rickey Frankel 35 1846
20. Dona Marcoullier 29 1833
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