Story By: NICK GRAZIANO / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – FOUNTAIN CITY, WI – Brandon Sheppard went the first eight months of the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series season without a Feature win.
At Mississippi Thunder Speedway Friday night, he scored his second victory in less than a week.
The Series returned to Mississippi Thunder for the $20,000-to-win Milton Hershey School Back to Class Showdown after weather postponed the May event.
Sheppard won one of the preliminary races during the May race but didn’t credit that as an inspirational source for Friday night’s triumph.
This year has been a process for the four-time Series champion. A long process. One part, building a new team with Sheppard Riggs Racing. And another, learning his new Longhorn chassis. So, while the Victory Lane photos from May and now look similar, behind the curtain is a more evolved program.
“The team has been working their tails off, they deserve it,” Sheppard said. “We all deserve it. It’s been a long year. It’s finally starting to come our way.
“Back when we won the prelim here, we were doing a lot of different stuff to the car than what we’re doing now. I’ve tried a lot of stuff and been through a bunch of different set ups on this thing, just to get a lot of stuff out of my head that I was curious about. We got everything out of the way as far as that goes and have a pretty good program going.”
He entered the weekend as a 2023 World of Outlaws winner for the first time after his Davenport Speedway victory last Saturday. That confidence led to a second place run in his Heat Race and the luck of drawing the outside pole for the 50-lap Feature.
When the race commenced, polesitter Brian Shirley bolted to the early lead with Sheppard in tow. While they ran one-two, defending Series champion Dennis Erb Jr. closed in. What has forming to be a thrilling three-horse battle was tamed by the first caution of the night on Lap 14.
Tyler Erb slowed in front of current points leader Bobby Pierce, causing the #32 to run into the back of Erb’s new MB Customs chassis and puncture Pierce’s right front tire. It made a bad night worse for Pierce, who qualified 22nd and started 16th in the Feature. However, his story didn’t end there (more on that later).
When the race resumed, Sheppard stayed within striking distance of Shirley before throwing a slider at his fellow Illinoisian on Lap 17. The #B5 drifted from the bottom to the wall through Turns 1 and 2 to take the lead and drive off with it.
By the halfway point, two new movers came into play. Ryan Gustin, who started eighth, passed Erb for third and Pierce had already climbed his way into the top five.
After a restart with 21 laps to go, Gustin snuck by Shirley for second and gave fans a barn burner duel with Sheppard.
While Sheppard ran high, Gustin stayed low. Lap after lap, turn after turn, they battled side by side. Gustin had a strong entry into each corner, pulling even with Sheppard through the turns, but the blue #B5 had a better run off the top and pull ahead each straightaway.
The battle led to a key factor in helping Sheppard pull off the win.
“I kept seeing Gustin down there and thought, ‘Man, I got to change my line up a little bit,” Sheppard said.
“I moved up a little bit coming off of (Turn) 2. I was kind of coming off the cushion a little bit. Then I started staying up, not against the cushion but in the black a little bit more and my tires were working better up there.”
While Gustin watched Sheppard pull away, he also lost second to Pierce.
“It got so fast on the top there wasn’t much the bottom could do,” Gustin said. “But [my team] said it ended up rubbering at the bottom at the end. I probably should have stuck with it for a few more laps, but [Sheppard and Pierce] were driving away in a hurry so it was hard to watch them drive away like that.”
Once Pierce got to second with seven laps to go, Sheppard said he saw the #32 on the score board and thought “Oh shit, I better elbow up here.”
Banging his right rear against the wall every corner with sparks flying into the night sky, Pierce closed and closed on Sheppard as the race went six to go, five to go, four to go.
However, in the final three laps, Sheppard was able to gap Pierce by a couple car lengths and claim his second straight win.
“It was a very, very, fine treacherous line up there,” Pierce said. “That’s the kind of stuff I like. I’m just going to go send it… Just awesome to salvage a great points night out of this. Congratulations to Brandon on the win. I was catching him, and he really got up on the wheel hard.”
Gustin’s third-place finish is his seventh podium of the year and Pierce’s second-place finish is his 17th. Pierce also earned the Fox Factory Hard Charger award, going from 16th to second.
Kyle Bronson, debuting his new Longhorn chassis finished fourth and Chris Madden rounded out the top five. Cade Dillard, who finished eighth, started out the night earning the Simpson Quick Time Award – his fifth of the season.
Sheppard’s win is his 83rd career World of Outlaws victory – further extending his record as the winningest driver on tour – and put him eight points behind Madden for second in the championship standings.
Now, the New Berlin, IL driver’s focus turns to Deer Creek Speedway for the World of Outlaws Labor Day Duel on Saturday. The last time the Series visited the track in 2019, Sheppard won.
“Feeling good about it. Confident,” Sheppard said. “I don’t know, we’ll see what happens.”
The World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series returns to Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley, MN on Saturday, Sept. 2.
Feature (50 Laps): 1. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 2. 32-Bobby Pierce; 3. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 4. 40B-Kyle Bronson; 5. 44-Chris Madden; 6. 3S-Brian Shirley; 7. 9-Nick Hoffman; 8. 97-Cade Dillard; 9. 16-Tyler Bruening; 10. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 11. B1-Brent Larson; 12. 96V-Tanner English; 13. 76-Blair Nothdurft; 14. 2S-Stormy Scott; 15. 25-Shane Clanton; 16. 11-Gordy Gundaker; 17. 30-Todd Cooney; 18. 90-Lance Matthees; 19. 14W-Dustin Walker; 20. 49-Jake Timm; 21. 1-Tyler Erb; 22. 15-Nick Anvelink; 23. 77-Jordan Yaggy; 24. 28S-Dustin Sorensen