Story By: WILD WEST SHOOTOUT – VADO, NM – Over 150 race teams crowded the pits at FK Rod Ends Vado Speedway Park on Saturday for the opening round of the 17th annual Rio Grande Waste Services Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts.
Banking victory in the lid-lifting round was Jonathan Davenport.
A new year and a new-look crew didn’t dull Jonathan Davenport’s momentum. Making his 2023 debut just over one month since closing out a historic $2 million ’22 season, the 39-year-old superstar from Blairsville, Ga., continued his winning ways with a $10,000 Super Late Model victory in Saturday night’s 40-lap Rio Grande Waste Services Wild West Shootout opener at Vado Speedway Park.
Anyone who wondered whether Davenport might need some time to find his rhythm working with two new Double L Motorsports crew members saw a driver already firing on all cylinders. He grabbed the lead for good from Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., following a lap-26 and never looked back en route to clinching the $10,000 first-place prize by 1.052 seconds over Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill. in the Dirt Track Bank Super Late Model division presented by Black Diamond Race Cars.
“I think that right there closed any doubts in any minds,” Davenport said confidently when asked about his quick return to victory lane with newcomers Cory Fostvedt (crew chief) and Michael Bixby (tire specialist) joining returning race engineer Vinny Guliani.
Davenport wasn’t seriously threatened after wrestling the lead from the 26-year-old Pierce, who paced all but one of the race’s first 26 laps — he was nosed out at the line by Davenport on lap 19 — before ceding the position to the eventual winner and then spinning out of contention on lap 30 while running second. Pierce slid high in turn two, scraped the outside wall and twirled, bringing out the second and final caution flag of the A-main.
Sheppard — like Pierce, debuting a new Longhorn car — inherited the runner-up spot with Pierce’s miscue and stayed there for the remainder of the distance. Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, ran third for the final 10 laps in his Sniper Chassis while Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., placed fourth in his Black Diamond mount and NASCAR Cup Series star Kyle Larson of Elk Grove, Calif., completed the top five in the K&L Rumley Enterprises Longhorn machine.
Davenport flashed vintage form in his first-ever start at the 3/8-mile Vado oval, racing patiently into contention during the race’s first half before seizing control.
“It was kind of a gamble on tires,” Davenport said. “Thanks to Hoosier Tire for finally listening to us, all the racers and all the crews and car owners. They kind of put us on a little bit different tire rule that’s gonna be all the way across the country now and they give us some choices tonight and we picked right.
“I just kept managing the racetrack, trying to manage my tires. I knew I was a little harder (on compound choice) than they was and I didn’t want to burn the edges off early. I thought I might catch (Pierce) in (lapped) traffic and I did one time (to peak ahead on lap 19) and Don (Shaw) come down … it just worked out for Bobby there. Then on that (lap-26) restart it kind of cleaned up right there around the top so I got me a big run there and just tried to slide him clean (to assume command at lap 27) and set a good pace from there.”
A winner 24 times in 2022, Davenport dived into the new campaign with Jason Durham, his crew chief for the past five years, gone to work with Stormy Scott of Las Cruces, N.M. But he showed no signs of a letdown as he logged his first victory much quicker than he did a year ago, when he finally broke through on April 23 in his 16th start of the season.
Davenport shined driving a fresh Lance Landers-owned No. 49 that seemed to fit him very well.
“This is one of (Longhorn’s) new race cars,” Davenport said. “They build a phenomenal piece. We almost had one-two-three (Longhorn finish) … I don’t know what happened to Bobby (Pierce) there.”
Davenport’s checkered flag also gives him a shot at the big prize of the miniseries: the $300,000 Penske Racing Shocks Paydirt Jackpot bonus for sweeping all six scheduled features. He can also pocket $100,000 for winning five times and $25,000 for capturing four races.
“You can’t win ‘em all if you don’t win the first one,” Davenport said with a smile.
Sheppard, who turns 30 on Jan. 27, climbed forward from the seventh starting spot to net a solid second-place finish in his first start in a Longhorn car for his newly-formed Sheppard-Riggs Racing operation.
“I’m tickled to death man,” Sheppard said. “The team’s been doing a phenomenal job. We’ve been working our tails off on this thing and getting this operation put together.
“I can’t say enough about this car. This Longhorn Chassis was awesome. I could put it wherever I wanted to.”
Weiss, 34, was satisfied with claiming the final podium spot after starting fifth.
“We were just trying to learn a little bit,” said Weiss, who won a World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series feature at Vado in January 2021. “It’s not really my style to go up and tear the fence down. We learned a lot tonight. I hope we can get a couple spots better and keep thanking all our sponsors this week.”
Action continues on Sunday, Jan. 8 with the second round of the mega miniseries. The evening’s festivities will include complete programs for the Dirt Track Bank Super Late Models presented by Black Diamond Race Cars ($10,000-to-win), the Mesilla Valley Transportation / Border Tire Modifieds presented by Rancho Milagro ($2,000-to-win), and Shocker Hitch X-Mods presented by Barnett Harley-Davidson ($1,000-to-win).
The pit gate opens at 1:00 p.m. MST with grandstand gates opening at 3:00 p.m. Hot laps are at 3:30 p.m. with racing action at 5:00 p.m.
Grandstand general admission (ages 13-and-up) is $25, while children (ages 6-12) are $10, and kids (ages 5-and-under) are free.
17th annual Rio Grande Waste Services Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts
FK Rod Ends Vado Speedway Park
Jan. 7, 2023
Dirt Track Bank Super Late Models presented by Black Diamond Race Cars
A Feature 1 (40 Laps): 1. 49-Jonathan Davenport; 2. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 3. 7-Ricky Weiss; 4. 97-Cade Dillard; 5. 6-Kyle Larson; 6. 2S-Stormy Scott; 7. 1T-Tyler Erb; 8. 157-Mike Marlar; 9. 58-Garrett Alberson; 10. 32S-Chris Simpson; 11. 21-Billy Moyer Sr; 12. 1ST-Johnny Scott; 13. 32-Bobby Pierce; 14. 49T-Jake Timm; 15. 75-Terry Phillips; 16. 15-Justin Duty; 17. 91-Rusty Schlenk; 18. 15S-Clayton Stuckey; 19. 42S-Don Shaw; 20. 86-Kyle Beard; 21. 14M-Morgan Bagley; 22. 04-Tad Pospisil; 23. 14S-Collen Winebarger; 24. 28-Dustin Sorensen; 25. 20-Rodney Sanders