Turn 2 Blog: Another successful Southern Nationals & Sheppard’s dominance

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*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideDirtRacing.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the dirt racing topics of the day from east Tennessee and beyond.

Richard: Another Southern Nationals is in the books and this year’s version certainly offered up some interesting story lines. Once it became apparent that Brandon Overton and his Chip Stone/Randy Weaver team planned to run the entire mini-tour they became the favorites to win the title. And ultimately, the No. 116 crew did exactly that.

However, it was noteworthy that Donald McIntosh and the Blount Motorsports organization definitely made a splash by scoring three consecutive victories during the early stages of the series. And, the No. 7m car came within just a couple of laps of adding a $10,000 win to their list of accomplishments in Tazewell last Saturday night.

Although I didn’t get to see as many of the races as I normally do due to my wife’s unexpected surgery, I did note that attendance was quite good at the races I did see, particularly for the finale in Tazewell. All in all, I would say the Southern Nationals proved to be a success in 2017.

What were some of things that stood out to you from the 2017 version of the series?

Michael: One of the things that stood out to me was the competition. The points battle was pretty close to the end. Even though Shanon Buckingham and Craig Vosbergen did not score any wins, they were right there in most of those races.

Another thing that stood out was the number of drivers that dropped off the series. It looks like the drivers from outside of this area need to be in the running for the championship or else they will load up and go home. That’s not out of the ordinary, just the way it is.

Brandon Overton

Richard: The series featured three races that paid $10,000-to-win which is very good money for such a tour. Considering that there will inevitably be races held in the middle of the week, the payouts are worth the effort for many regional teams.

As you noted, drivers such as Steve Casebolt and Ivedent Lloyd, Jr. did drop off the tour, it is notable that the average car count for the nine races that were ultimately contested was just over 26. That’s a very solid number for a tour that runs as this one does with weekday races.

It was interesting to note that two of those three $10,000 shows were won by guys who were not able to run the entire series. Vic Hill won the opener at Wythe(VA) Raceway and Casey Roberts took the big money at Screven(GA) Motor Speedway. The lone full-time competitor to collect the biggest of all payouts on the Southern Nationals was Overton who took home the check from Tazewell(TN) Speedway.

Unfortunately, weather claimed two of what was to be eleven scheduled events. The race at Rome(GA) Speedway will be made up on August 20th and could become part of a two-race weekend for the Southern Nationals Bonus Series, which has another make-up event at North Georgia Speedway planned for the preceding night.

To me, it seems as if the car count numbers and the fact that tracks are willing to put more and more money into the purses each year is a testament to the respect that drivers and track owners/promoters have for Ray Cook and his staff. They really do an excellent job of having the series organized and efficiently run, don’t they?

Michael: The middle of the week races are the key as to whether the series is successful or not. If fans don’t support those races, the series can’t exist. That leaves the Spring Nationals and the Bonus Series to carry the torch for weekend-only series under Ray and his crew. They do an excellent job of helping the tracks get the support they need to run both the mid-week shows and the weekend events. A $10,000 to win purse is huge, especially when the biggest names of the sport typically aren’t running in those races. Credit the fans that turned out for those events.

It’s hard to believe this was the 13th year of the Southern Nationals. Ray has this down pat as to how to line up the tracks and the drivers to run it. It seems as though he is running these races in the right part of the region. Most of the drivers and/or teams that support the series are right here in east Tennessee. If the majority of the races were held in Kentucky, Georgia, or another southern state, I’m not sure what kind of support the series would get as far as drivers running the whole circuit, and doing so year after year.

Richard: To switch gears here, the World of Outlaws Late Models Series recently completed one of its bigger events in the Prairie Dirt Classic at Fairbury American Legion Speedway in Illinois. Brandon Sheppard emerged from that race with the win and the $30,000 first prize that came with it. While it would be difficult to compare the season the Rocket Chassis house car driver is having to that of Jonathan Davenport in 2015, he is having a monster year.

I think many foresaw success coming for this driver and the Mark Richards-owned team when the season began, but I’m not sure anyone saw this kind of success coming. Sheppard has already scored twelve WoO Late Models wins as well as wins on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and other sanctions. He actually has 22 total triumphs on the season.

This has truly been a season of domination for the New Berlin, Ill. driver, hasn’t it?

Brandon Sheppard in the Rocket house car

Michael: It certainly has as far as that series goes. Sheppard has shown some flashes of this type of performance when he filled in for Josh Richards a couple of years ago and last year driving for the Best team. He’s won the Dirt Track World Championship race two different times. His win in the Lucas Oil series at Bubba Raceway Park where he passed Scott Bloomquist on the last lap was one of the more impressive wins of this season.

The one drawback to the World of Outlaws is they don’t sanction many of the premier races. I think any time a driver dominates that series, most fans think of it as it being a big deal; but would probably think more of it in impressive fashion if he was running the Lucas series and winning some of the crown jewels that series sanctions. Make no mistake, Sheppard is one of the top few drivers in the sport right now. I think the few holdouts on acknowledging how good he is might change their opinion if can win the World 100 this year or a couple of other remaining premier events.

Richard: And speaking of the Lucas Oil tour, it must also be noted that the car Sheppard drove last year before he and Richards essentially traded rides is now leading the standings in that series by an impressive margin. Richards did what many, including myself, thought would not happen this year when he tracked down and caught Scott Bloomquist in the series standings after Bloomquist had looked so dominant during the early part of the season.

Rocket Chassis with its new XR1 is now leading both of the national tours. If those two drivers hold on and win championships it’s going to be a major coup for Mark Richards and his company after the talk was all about Longhorn Chassis just a couple of seasons ago, isn’t it?

Michael: The Longhorns are still strong. But if Rocket can win both series titles this year, it will be a huge deal for them. We’re already seeing a number of drivers switching over to Rocket during the summer months. It’s like I’ve said for many years, racing is a monkey-see-monkey-do business. And Rocket is the one manufacturer reaping the benefits right now.

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