Story By: BEN SHELTON / ROCKET1 RACING – SHINNSTON, WV – Rocket1 Racing will see the team’s new driver make his debut on November 2-5 at the NGK NTK World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, N.C.) as Hudson O’Neal takes the wheel of the Rocket1 Racing / Valvoline / Seubert Calf Ranches No. 1 Ace Metal Works / XR1 Rocket Chassis / Durham Racing Engine Super Late Model.
With Brandon Sheppard’s departure from the Rocket1 Racing driver’s seat after a six-year full-time tenure, team members recently reflected on what the Illinois driver meant to them.
“Brandon first came to us in 2012 and became part of the Rocket1 Racing team on a part-time basis. From the first time we met him until the end, he was nothing but class. He will always be part of this team and this family, and we can’t thank him enough for his time with the team,” said Rocket1 Racing co-owner Mark Richards. “His first World of Outlaws win came in the Rocket1 Racing car and along the way he won several dozen national touring races along with multiple crown jewels and championships. We wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”
Fellow Rocket1 Racing co-owner, Steve Baker echoed Richards’ sentiments.
“When Brandon joined the program, he immediately picked up the torch from his predecessors and helped us both continue and grow what was already in place. He did a great job for not only Rocket1 Racing but also for Rocket Chassis. He was excellent to work with from the feedback he provided us to the support he gave our customers. We look forward to continuing working with Brandon to help him grow his program, while also making ours even better.”
During his time as the full-time Rocket1 Racing driver, which began in 2017, Sheppard also earned the respect and friendship of the team’s crew.
“It was a great six years with Brandon as our driver. I didn’t really know him in the beginning, so I didn’t know what to expect when he came here. However, he turned into arguably one of the best house car drivers, who has ever been here,” shared crew chief, Danny White. “It was neat to see him mature as both a driver and a family man. I wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
Rocket1 Racing tire and body specialist, Austin Hargrove saluted Sheppard’s accomplishments as well.
“Brandon came here and did his job, that’s for sure. In six years here he won over 3.5 million dollars, which is pretty strong in my book. I know times and life changes, and it’s good for him to go home and be with his family. We’ll definitely miss him, but everyone has got to do what’s best for them.”
Last but not least, Sheppard also had a great impact on crew member, Joel Rogers.
“I don’t even know where to start on what Brandon has meant to me. This was my first opportunity to go full-time racing, and I could write a book about what has been some of the best years of my life on the road with Sheppy. I won’t lie, initially it was hard for me to wrap my head around him leaving, but I get it now. He’s got a family that he needs to be home for whenever he can. I’m going to miss him a lot, but I’m happy for him and wish him the best.”
With the Brandon Sheppard tenure coming to an end at Rocket1 Racing, which has included four World of Outlaws Late Model Series titles, the team now eagerly prepares for the debut of its new driver, Hudson O’Neal.
“When the decision was made that Brandon was leaving, we gave a lot of thought of who his replacement could be,” Richards noted. “As we went through the possible candidates, everything pointed to Hudson O’Neal. He 100% fit all the criteria. We’re extremely happy to have him and look forward to next year and beyond.”
Meanwhile, Steve Baker eagerly anticipates the fresh start that O’Neal represents for the team.
“To me the biggest thing with Hudson is he brings a breath of fresh air and something new. New things are usually good, and there’s a lot of anticipation and excitement for what he brings to our team. Hudson’s a great talent, and just like Brandon did, I know he’ll be great with our customers and our team. He’s a great young man.”
For Austin Hargrove his career in racing has deep roots with the O’Neal family.
“Back in like 2002, Don O’Neal (Hudson’s dad) gave me my first job in racing. Hudson was only like a year-and-a-half old at the time, and I watched him grow up. Since day one he’s always loved racing no matter whether it a bicycle or a car, he wanted to race. It was obvious to me immediately that racing is in his blood. It’s pretty cool that my career has come full circle to work with another member of the O’Neal family.”
Danny White shares his fellow team members sentiments, and said, “I’m really excited. This is a good deal because he’s young and hungry and eager to learn and better himself. All that makes the team better, the cars better, and everybody better. Bottom line, we all benefit from Hudson joining this team.”
For Joel Rogers, he knows there will be initial adjustment to a new driver, but he’s excited on what the future could hold.
“It’ll obviously be different starting with Hudson, but I’m very much looking forward to it. While it might not always be easy, change isn’t a bad thing, and I look forward to seeing what he can accomplish with us here at Rocket1 Racing.”
Hudson O’Neal will officially make his debut with Rocket1 Racing during the upcoming NGK NTK World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, N.C.) on November 2-5. The weekend includes $15,000-to-win programs on Wednesday, November 2 and Thursday, November 3 followed by a $25,000-to-win finale on Saturday, November 5.