Column By: ROBERT SYMONDS / RPW – ROSSBURG, OH – The Dirt Track World Championship was full of stories throughout the entire weekend’s events.
Brandon Sheppard would win the $100,000 race while Hudson O’Neal would win the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Championship.
However this isn’t all of the news from arguably the craziest Dirt Late Model race we’ve ever seen.
Weather: Rain dominated most of the weekend with about 3 days worth of rain falling on the speedway & surrounding grounds. This prompted the speedway and event management to postpone the event multiple times, though Sunday was when the majority of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series events would take place. Regardless of the way the surface turned out, I’d like to send a big hats off to the track prep crew for making a surface so the drivers could race.
Rough Day For Ricky: After starting 5th, Ricky Thornton Jr had high hopes to win the championship & the race. With a record setting year, the championship hopes went up in smoke before the lap counter turned to 10. Coming off turn 4, RTJ hit a groove on the inside of the speedway which sent the 20RT bouncing into Jimmy Owens and then into Bobby Pierce. The 20RT suffered major right front damage which put Thornton Jr behind the 8 ball for the rest of the event. The 20RT crew for Todd & Vickie Burns had worked tirelessly to get the car back on the right track but would end up several laps down. The night came to an end on lap 86 where RTJ would take the 20RT to the pit area, ending up 8th overall in the finish and 3rd overall in the Series Finale Points Standings. After winning so much this year, RTJ and his crew tried their hardest but would not end up winning the series championship.
8 Different Race Leaders: At the start, everyone’s favorites were picked and most likely thrown aside as the race went on as there were only about 6 drivers that made it across the finish line when the checkered flag flew but there were multiple lead changes. Jonathan Davenport led the opening 6 laps of the event but would be passed by Mike Marlar who would lead briefly for 2 laps. Another championship contender, Hudson O’Neal would take over at lap 8 and led through lap 23. During this time multiple contenders had either pulled off the speedway or had a mechanical malfunction which led them to exiting early. Coming from deep, 17th starting place, Tyler Carpenter would grab the lead from O’Neal and lead from lap 24 -32. After running a difficult line on the speedway, Carpenters car tightened up and Brian Shirley would take over leading laps 33-40. During a caution on lap 40, Shirley would pull his number 8 into the infield with a broken radiator, which ended his run for the rest of the event. Tim McCreadie would then lead for 3 laps until Bobby Pierce would take over leading from laps 44-59. Pierce would then lose the lead to race winner Brandon Sheppard who lead from lap 60 to lap 100.
Hudson O’Neal Prevails, Wins Championship: Throughout the event, Hudson O’Neal led some laps, had some trouble mid race which led him down pit lane, and barely held off Devin Moran at the line to win the Lucas Oil Late Model Series Championship. After leading 15 laps early on, Hudson O’Neal thought his championship hopes were over as he took the Rocket Chassis House Car to the hot pit. Upon arriving, his crew went to work, changing out the right front, changing suspension parts. O’Neal returned to racing action on the lead lap and worked his way up to the top 5. In the final laps of the race, McCreadie, O’Neal and Moran all fought for a 2nd place finish while O’Neal & Moran were fighting for the championship. Moran would pass O’Neal with 4 to go to take over the third spot behind McCreadie but the yellow flag would fly for the last time as Thornton Jr slowed on the speedway. This would put setup another chance for O’Neal. On the ensuing restart, Moran would slide McCreadie to take 2nd at the line with 2 laps to go. O’Neal would get a run on the outside to pass McCreadie and end up on the back bumper of Devin Moran. With 1 lap to go, the New Deal would slide Moran in turns 3 and 4 then would nearly pass Sheppard at the line for the win. This was Hudson O’Neal’s first Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Championship.
Brandon Sheppard Won The DTWC After A Race Of Attrition: If anything, the DTWC 2023 was a race of attrition. With the weekend being weather filled and the track conditions being what they were, the track prep crew did their job with what they could but not all drivers were going to end up making it to the finish line. Six (6) drivers ended up crossing the finish line after a long, drama filled 100 laps. Perhaps one of the biggest story lines came from the race win itself. Brandon Sheppard went from Rocket house car last year to a new Longhorn Chassis for 2023 and took on the DTWC. After winning 4 Dirt Track World Championship features in the past, Sheppard is no stranger to the event or the Eldora Speedway. BShepp started his night off in the 14th position and would methodically make his way through the pack however BShepp did have trouble along the way. Sheppard would come down the hot pit a few times throughout the event making adjustments to make the B5 even better.
After making some passes to get himself into the top 10, Sheppard started to get faster and faster. Sheppard made himself known just after the midway point of the event putting himself solidly into the top 5. With 41 to go, BShepp would pass McCreadie for 2nd then would put his moves on Bobby Pierce to take over the lead. McCreadie would get by Pierce as well and attempt to pass Sheppard for the lead but it was to no avail. With 6 laps to go, a caution came out for the 32 of Bobby Pierce because fuel was out which raised concerns throughout the pit area. However with 1 lap to go, Sheppard had a solid lead when the fuel was out on the B5. Final trip through turns 3 & 4, Sheppard ran the B5 as hard as he could to seal off competitors behind him. At the line, BShepp won by just about a car length over Hudson O’Neal. This win was Brandon Sheppard’s 5th Dirt Track World Championship Victory, tying the legendary Freddy Smith who just passed away earlier this week due to cancer. Freddy Smith previously held the record for most amount of Dirt Track World Championship Wins and he now shares that title with Brandon Sheppard.
Take-a-ways & Positive Vibes: Honestly this event was one for the record books in so many ways. If you hadn’t seen the event, I would recommend watching it on FloRacing. I would like to commend the management & staff of the Eldora Speedway, Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, & the Dirt Track World Championship. Not to mention the thankless efforts of the track prep crew! Regardless of how we feel, I would stress that we, as race fans, should not bash the track, officials, or the drivers. The weekend was a rainy weekend, the track prep crew did what they could to provide a racing surface and the surface was a lot better than what we saw Saturday evening so please keep the bashing off social media and to yourself. After seeing what had happened this year in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, I am curious to see what the drivers choose for next year or what most of the other drivers did say about the championship this season. Stayed tuned here to Race Pro Weekly for more information on upcoming Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series news for 2024.