Many racers who had won a $25,000-to-win feature along with three other triumphs would consider that a great first half of the season. However, when the driver in question is a four-time World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series champion, those accomplishments may be less than what was expected. That is the position Brandon Sheppard now finds himself in as the 2023 Dirt Late Model heads into its second half.
Sheppard, who currently sits 5th in the World of Outlaws standings, has ended five of his last six races on the podium. That includes a solid third-place run in Friday night’s Johnny Mulligan Memorial at the Ponderosa Speedway in Junction City, Kentucky.
With that momentum on his side, is Sheppard set up for a strong second half of the campaign?
“Man I sure hope so,” Sheppard said in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com following the Ponderosa feature. “Our car is really good. We’ve been learning a lot on this thing and I’ve got a good feel for it, I’ve got some confidence in it now. It’s just a matter of making the right decisions at this point in time. Tonight, I was just a little bit tight in the center all night long and I never really got that fixed. And for the feature, that kind of hurt me late in the race. I couldn’t drive into the center as hard as those guys could.”
With 81 wins on the tour, Sheppard tops the World of Outlaws Late Model Series all-time victory list. Obviously, he hopes that number rises in the coming weeks and months and he believes that will happen as the No. B5 Sheppard-Riggs Racing team is in the process of squaring up one key element of their program.
“I’m really happy with the way everything is going, we’re just lacking the wins,” he explained. “Our consistency is starting to show and we’re starting to turn it around. Like I said, confidence is getting pretty high and we’ve just got to have some things go our way and we’ll be right there.”
To boost his own team’s efforts, Sheppard recently drove the Longhorn car owned by Kevin Rumley in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series-sanctioned events at Minnesota’s Deer Creek Speedway. That resulted in a third-place finish in the $50,000-to-win weekend finale.
“We definitely learned some stuff with that deal,” Sheppard pointed out. “I’m super excited about everything that I have going in my career right now. Working with Kevin and Matt Langston and Steve Arpin and the Bilstein(Shocks) guys, everybody at Longhorn has been really great to me. I’ve got a really great crew and a really great team thanks to Scott and Tera Riggs and Jason, my dad, my grandpa, everybody involved with Sheppard-Riggs Racing . We’re having a lot of fun and we’re doing what we love. We’re just trying to get some consistency. We know we can win races, we’ve just got to get a car that’s consistent and make it show in the points. We’re getting there.”
For the better part of the past decade the 30-year-old driver from New Berlin, Illinois has driven for two highly successful organizations in Best Performance Motorsports and Mark Richards Racing. Both of those teams employ the Rocket Chassis. Not only did Sheppard move from the Rocket house car at the end of 2022 but he also began driving a Longhorn for his new operation.
“Obviously, like I said, we’re lacking in the win column this year, but overall, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy transition,” Sheppard stated. “A lot of guys want to jump from chassis to chassis and they just think they’re going to buy speed, but that’s not how this deal works. You’ve got to work on your stuff and you’ve got to make it better. I’m fortunate to have great people behind me with my family, the Riggs family, Longhorn, and Bilstein and everybody that’s not given up on me through the first half of the year. It’s been up and down, it’s been tough. We’ve had moments of brilliance, but all in all, we’ve been lacking consistency so that’s what we’ve got to get turned around this year then we should be good for the second half of the season.”
Many who have never driven a race might wonder just how big of a change it is to go from one chassis brand to another. Sheppard insists that there is a significant difference.
“It’s big time,” he declared. “Nothing about these cars are like a Rocket car. They’re very adjustable and they’re very, for lack of a better term, they’re very high tech. They’re a difficult car to get down to a science. For me, coming from something that’s 180 degrees opposite of that, it’s been difficult.”
Sheppard sees this move as a watershed moment in his career. And he has a message for those who have questioned the choices he has made.
“We’re determined to make it work. I’m not giving myself any options, it’s either going to work or I guess I’ll go work at the scrap yard or something. But like I said, everybody on my team and at Sheppard-Riggs Racing have given me everything I need to make all this happen and do it the way we want to do it so that’s what we’re going to do. The haters can say what they want to say but just know that I’m having a lot of fun. I’ve got a lot of great people supporting me. I’m just living the dream right now. We’re having fun and we’re learning a lot- the second we quit learning, that’s when stuff goes downhill.”
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