Story By: BEN SHELTON / ROCKET1 RACING – SHINNSTON, WV – After a successful tenure together Rocket1 Racing and Brandon Sheppard will amicably split at the end of the 2022 season.
Sheppard has raced for the team in various capacities since the 2012 campaign, including on a full-time basis since 2017. He’s collected four World of Outlaws (WoO) Late Model Series championships with the team along with dozens of high-profile wins.
“I hate to see Brandon (Sheppard) leave because he’s a great friend and a great asset to the legacy of Rocket1 Racing, but I also understand that he now has a family and wants to spend more time with them,” said Rocket1 Racing owner, Mark Richards. “When Brandon first came to the team in 2012, he came with a greasy fire suit, used gloves, and a used helmet. He’s grown a ton during his time here, and I think the world of him.
“I’m going to miss having him as part of the team, but he will go on and do well, and we wish him nothing but the best with his family’s team. Just like Josh (Richards), Brandon will always be part of this team, and I’ll always help him in any way that I can. In the meantime, Rocket1 Racing and Brandon are focused on the 2022 Lucas Oil (Late Model Dirt Series) championship. From there we are excited to welcome Hudson (O’Neal) to the team for 2023 and beyond.”
Sheppard will finish the 2022 season with Rocket1 Racing before turning his attention to his family-owned No. B5 in 2023.
“With the recent birth of my newest son, Baylor, it was the deciding factor in me coming home to race with my family team. It’s been weighing on me for a little while, and while I’ll still be on the road racing most weeks, I want to make sure that whenever possible I’m at home with my family more,” Sheppard shared. “Mark (Richards), Steve (Baker), and everyone at Rocket Chassis have done more for me in my career than I could’ve ever dreamed. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“However, the time has come for me to make a change and come home. I’m looking forward to campaigning the ‘B5’ full time again next year and making the most of my own operation with my Dad and Grandpa.”
With Sheppard’s departure, Indiana standout, Hudson O’Neal has been tabbed to take over the driver’s seat of the Rocket1 Racing / Valvoline / Seubert Calf Ranches No. 1 Ace Metal Works / XR1 Rocket Chassis / Durham Racing Engine Super Late Model for the 2023 season.
The past two seasons have seen the 21-year-old racer claim major wins, including the 2021 Show-Me 100 and 2021 Topless 100 with Double Duty Motorsports. O’Neal is both thankful for his new opportunity with Rocket1 Racing as well as everything that Roger Sellers and Double Down Motorsports did for him over the past two years.
“As a racer this is the type of opportunity you dream of…. to drive for the top team in Dirt Late Model racing. I’m kind of shocked. It’s an unbelievable opportunity, and to have the full support from Roger (Sellers) in this move is just incredible. Without Roger and what he has done for me, I wouldn’t be getting this opportunity. He picked me up in in late 2020 when I was really down, and since then he’s given me every single thing I needed to be successful – great equipment, a great team, and great leadership,” O’Neal shared. “Even to be considered for the Rocket1 Racing driver’s seat is unreal, much less to be picked. The relationship that Mark (Richards) and I have built is second-to-none, and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together. This is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Seeing O’Neal move onto Rocket1 Racing is bittersweet for Double Down Motorsports’ Roger Sellers.
“I think the world of Hudson and his whole family, and I’m going to definitely miss him with our team, but I couldn’t be prouder for him. He’s worked hard and the Rocket1 Racing ride is the pinnacle of our sport,” Sellers noted. “I want it to be known that Rocket1 Racing didn’t steal Hudson from our team. Mark (Richards) called me first to discuss, and we both agreed that this was the best opportunity for him to progress his career. Hudson’s ceiling is limitless, and I know that big things are on the horizon. As far as the future of my team, details will be released soon.”
This weekend will find the team competing with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park on Saturday night before rolling into West Virginia’s Tyler County Speedway on Sunday evening for the $30,000-to-win Hillbilly 100.
From there, September 7-10 will find Rocket1 Racing and Brandon Sheppard return to Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway. On Wednesday night the 28th annual Dirt Late Model Dream will resume with 86 laps remaining. Brandon currently sits 14th in the running order in the $128,000-to-win event.
On Thursday and Friday the 52nd annual World 100 comes to life with twin $12,000-to-win programs each day. The weekend draws to a close on Saturday night with a $55,000-to-win finale.