VADO, N.M. — In trying to avoid a slowing driver with a flat tire on the fifth lap, Brandon Sheppard nearly wrecked twice, his hopes for the Penske Racing Shocks $300,000 Paydirt Jackpot looking dim.
Twenty minutes later, the 28-year-old New Berlin, Ill., driver was standing in Hoker Trucking victory lane at Vado Speedway Park after a dramatic rally to outduel home-state driver Garrett Alberson and Tyler Erb in the second round of the Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts.
“We didn’t come here to run second,” the 10th-starting Sheppard said after adding another $5,000 miniseries payday to go along with Saturday’s victory.
The four-time World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series champion is in position for a $300,000 bonus if he can sweep the final four Dirt Track Bank Super Late Model events presented by Black Diamond Race Cars beginning Wednesday at the three-eighths-mile oval, with hefty consolation prizes of $100,000 for five victories or $25,000 for four victories also in play in the bonus program.
If Sheppard collects bonus money, Sunday’s victory might rank as the most unlikely as he was the fourth leader in a race where Alberson — leader of laps one through five and laps 12 through 38 — and Erb and Mike Marlar were official leaders in a 40-lap thriller with a dozen or more unofficial lead changes.
“Honestly I don’t even remember half of it. It was definitely crazy,” Sheppard said after his last-corner crossover move repelled Erb’s last-ditch slide job. “It reminded me a lot of Fairbury (Speedway in Illinois) when it’s really good and there’s a lot of sliders going on. That was a heckuva fun race. Me and Terbo and Mikey and Alberson there. It was a good, hard, clean racing, and you can’t ask for much more than that. I know we put on a good show for the fans tonight.”
Sheppard’s sixth career Wild West Shootout victory came by 0.189 of a second ahead of Erb, the New Waverly, Texas, driver who dove under the leader in turn three on the final lap to briefly edge ahead. The pole-starting Alberson, the Las Cruces, N.M., driver for Iowa-based Roberts Motorsports seeking his first miniseries victory, settled for third with Winfield, Tenn.’s Marlar and Jake Timm of Winona, Minn., rounding out the top five.
Alberson was in control with a two-second lead with 11 laps remaining, but he continually struggled on the high side in turns three and four as Sheppard closed in, pulling alongside exiting turn two with four laps remaining. Alberson edged back ahead, but when he bobbled and was forced to drop low exiting turn four on lap 38, it allowed Sheppard to go by and nip Alberson at the line at the white flag.
On the final lap, Erb grabbed second from Alberson and took his best shot at Sheppard in the final corners, but it wasn’t enough.
“As long as (Sheppard) entered on the top there, he was probably going to be able to cross me back. I definitely had to give it hell,” Erb said. “We’re going to make Shepp work for it. We can’t just give him the money. I think tonight he should split it with me for putting on a show.”
Sheppard, who started outside the fifth row, would like to win without so much drama.
“We’ve gotta do better qualifying,” said Sheppard, who has been in the top five in WWS competition for each of his last 16 starts. “We got behind qualifying there and started third in the heat race and that put me behind and made me have to work a lot harder than I wanted to, that’s for sure. I’m sure that’s fun for the fans, but that’s definitely harder on my equipment than I want to be.”
Alberson promised his fans that “we’ll get one for you guys,” but it was a disappointing defeat.
“I’m not going to lie. I’m really bummed out. I’ve tried so hard to win one of these things and man it hurts to see it taken away at the end like that,” he said. “Good job to Brandon and Tyler. We had a good race right there. I just got so tight I just couldn’t (hang on) anymore. That just bums me out really bad.”
Six cautions slowed the action, none for serious incidents.
A caution flew for a tangle between Jeff Schildmeyer and Clayton Holland on the backstretch before the field could take the green. Holland retired. Schildmeyer drew the race’s second on the second lap when he spun in turn four.
The third yellow dropped on the fifth lap when Ricky Weiss, who ran in the top-five early, slowed with a left-rear flat tire and nearly left Sheppard nowhere to go.
A fourth-running Rusty Schlenk drew the fourth caution when he slowed on the ninth lap with engine failure.
The fifth caution appeared just before halfway when Cade Dillard, who started outside the front row, slowed while running fifth with issues to the right front.
The sixth and final yellow flag dropped on lap 23 for a turn three incident involving Terry Phillips, Jason Papich and Johnny Scott, who retired with damage.
In the night’s second feature, Cole Campbell survived a late-race tangle to bag the X mod division victory. Campbell led the first two circuits of the 25-lapper before Saturday night’s winner Kris Jackson took control on the third circuit.
Jackson’s stay at the front would be short lived as mechanical issues sidelined him on the fifth lap as Campbell jumped back to the top spot.
Campbell maintained the top spot until lap 21, when Andy Bryant raced past. Entering turn one on lap 22, Campbell made a bid to retake the lead, which saw him make contact in turn 2 with Bryant. The ensuing contact ended Bryant’s night, while Campbell inherited the lead and went on to survive a last-lap challenge from Aasa Flores to take the win. Thirteenth-starting Jake Smith finished third with Josh Cain and Greg Gorham rounding out the top five finishers.
The night drew to a close with Tanner Mullens rallying sixteen positions to take the $2,000 victory in the Mesilla Valley Transportation / Border Tire competition presented by Rancho Milagro. Third-starting Tyler Wolff led the first circuit before Fito Gallardo took control and paced the next 12 laps.
Unfortunately for the Las Cruces native he jumped the cushion on the 14th circuit, which allowed Mullens to take over the top spot. Once out front Mullens raced to his first victory of the week. He was followed across the finish line by Tyler Wolff, Bo Day, and Fito Gallardo.
Racing action continues on Wednesday afternoon with the pit gate opening at 2 p.m. MST, and grandstand gates opening at 4 p.m. The driver’s meeting for the second round of the mega miniseries is at 3:30 p.m. with on-track action beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Super late models ($5,000 to win), modifieds ($1,000 to win) and X mods ($500 to win) will contest complete programs.
A Feature 1 (40 Laps): 1. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 2. 1-Tyler Erb; 3. 58-Garrett Alberson; 4. 157-Mike Marlar; 5. 49-Jake Timm; 6. 86-Kyle Beard; 7. 7-Ricky Weiss; 8. 32-Bobby Pierce; 9. 42S-Don Shaw; 10. 29-Austin Kirkpatrick; 11. 15-Donny Schatz; 12. 75-Terry Phillips; 13. 38-Thomas Hunziker; 14. 14W-Dustin Walker; 15. 01-Devan Smith; 16. 503-Jason Miles; 17. 91P-Jason Papich; 18. 1ST-Johnny Scott; 19. 97-Cade Dillard; 20. 46-Earl Pearson Jr; 21. 1CJ-Rusty Schlenk; 22. 93-Mason Oberkramer; 23. 02-Kent Rosevear; 24. 19-Jeff Schildmeyer; 25. 71-Clayton Holland