VADO, N.M. — A schedule conflict prevented Brandon Sheppard from competing in last season’s Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts, but in Saturday’s opener at FK Rod Ends Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, the two-time mini series champion picked up right where he left off.
Posting his 15th consecutive WWS top-five finish, the 28-year-old driver blew past fellow Illinois driver Bobby Pierce on high side on the 14th of 40 laps and cruised to his fifth mini series victory, earning $5,000 for the Dirt Track Bank Super Late Model presented by Black Diamond Race Cars triumph as Vado hosted its first mini series event.
The four-time World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series champion who moonlights in his grandfather’s No. B5 when he’s not dominating the WoO circuit in the potent Rocket Chassis house car thanked his team and sponsors for the winning ride.
“This is a brand-new car, the first race on it,” Sheppard said, thanking his uncle Ed Bauman and Chuck Oberreiter for putting the Rocket together. “It’s definitely tough out here and we’ve definitely been putting the work in and we’ve got a really good race car. So, hopefully, we can keep it that way all week. I don’t know, I’ve been known to mess it up pretty bad, so, hopefully, we can just massage on it and just keep improving.”
The third-starting Sheppard, who took the checkers 2.987 seconds ahead of the pole-starting Pierce, will now take aim at the Penske Racing Shocks $300,000 Paydirt Jackpot for a six-race sweep. Everyone else must settled for the bonus program’s consolation prizes ($100,000 for five victories or $25,000 for four) as the miniseries continues Sunday at Vado before taking a two-day break.
Pierce, who has six career WWS victories, edge Mike Marlar for the runner-up spot while outside front-row starter Stormy Scott was fourth. Earl Pearson Jr. rounded out of the top five in California teammate Jason Papich’s second entry.
Pierce kept Scott in check early in the race, but when Sheppard grabbed the second spot on the ninth lap, his car’s high-side speed was too much for the race-long leader.
“I don’t think they told (Pierce) to go to the top yet at that point, and I think I kinda just snuck up on him there. I was getting good runs through (turns) one and two and I kept getting better every time,” Sheppard said. “Hat’s off to all these drivers out here for racing clean. It was a fun race and definitely a cool deal to be a part off. Glad we got to come (out) here again this year.”
Asked if he might have been able to hold off Sheppard if he had switched to the top lane as his pursuer was approaching, Pierce said, “I would’ve had a chance, but … I don’t know. It is what it is. I thought whoever was in second was probably running my line. Obviously, he wasn’t, so we gotta get better at that (signal communication).”
In modified competition, Dereck Ramirez dominated the Mesilla Valley Transportation / Border Tire competition presented by Rancho Milagro. The Oklahoma driver brought the field to the green flag for the $2,000-to-win, 25-lap feature with Jacob Bleess joining him on the front row.
The 2021 United States Modified Touring Series champion jumped to the lead at the drop of the green flag and never looked back en route to the win, which came by over four seconds. Blees held off a hard-charging Tyler Peterson to finish second with Dan Ebert and Rodney Sanders rounding out the top five.
Meanwhile, Kris Jackson rode his self-built J2 Race Car to a $1,000 victory in the RHRSwag.com X-Mod division presented by Barnett Harley-Davidson.
Feature (40 Laps): 1. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 2. 32-Bobby Pierce; 3. 157-Mike Marlar; 4. 2S-Stormy Scott; 5. 46-Earl Pearson Jr; 6. 7-Ricky Weiss; 7. 97-Cade Dillard; 8. 1-Tyler Erb; 9. 86-Kyle Beard; 10. 15-Donny Schatz; 11. 1ST-Johnny Scott; 12. 20-Rodney Sanders; 13. 1CJ-Rusty Schlenk; 14. 49-Jake Timm; 15. 75-Terry Phillips; 16. 58-Garrett Alberson; 17. 29-Austin Kirkpatrick; 18. 14W-Dustin Walker; 19. 93-Mason Oberkramer; 20. 6T-Terry Carter; 21. 02–Kent Rosevear; 22. 78S-Steve Stultz; 23. 91P-Jason Papich; 24. 38-Thomas Hunziker; 25. 42S-Don Shaw