Turn 2 Blog: Has the old Brandon Sheppard returned? & Buzz around the ‘Chase’

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.

The latest edition of the Turn 2 Blog is presented by the American All-Star Pro Late Models Presented by PPM Racing Products

Has the Lucas Oil ‘Chase for the Championship’ created enough buzz so far?

Richard: It doesn’t seem as if there has been a lot of talk about the ‘Chase for the Championship’ to date. It was mentioned during the FloRacing broadcast of the ‘Rumble by the River’ at Port Royal Speedway, but apart from those airings, I haven’t seen or heard a great deal of discussion. That will almost certainly change going into the Dirt Track World Championship finale at Eldora Speedway in October as four drivers will enter that race with an equal chance of being crowned.

While the system does have some similarities to that used by NASCAR, there are still key differences.

I think the fact that there are no re-sets of the points after each cutoff is one thing that prevents there being greater attention paid along the way. Also, the fact that drivers cannot win their way into the next round as they can in NASCAR keeps the buzz limited. Keep in mind, I do not say that advocating for such re-sets. I am just saying the media really pushes the NASCAR model because of those elements.

Ricky Thornton Jr.

One thing that is most definitely a positive is the awarding of bonus money at various points in the season rather than drivers and teams having to wait until the end to collect those awards.

Again, I am anxious to see how the Chase format is viewed as the season draws to a close. But for now, I don’t know that there has been that much buzz surrounding the inaugural running of this system.

I also want to see what the reaction will be if Ricky Thornton Jr. continues to the type of season he is having then does win the title in the DTWC.

Michael: Unless I hear about it on Flo or read it in Lucas Oil press release, I keep forgetting about their Chase. I think that’s in big part because most fans aren’t talking about it and it’s rarely mentioned on social media.

I will say when I think about the Dirt Track World Championship now at Eldora, I do think about it. Myself, and others, have wondered if Ricky Thornton Jr. can hang on and win the championship knowing Eldora is such a strong place for both Jonathan Davenport and Brandon Overton.

Is Brandon Sheppard regaining his old form?

Richard: Since he drove for Kevin Rumley in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series weekend at Deer Creek Speedway in Minnesota, Sheppard has significantly picked up his pace. Following the time spent in the car with the guru of Longhorn Chassis/Bilstein Shocks setups, the No. B5 collected $53,000 for winning the Silver Dollar Nationals at Huset’s Speedway and another $30,000 this past weekend in the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series ‘Quad Cities 150’ at Iowa’s Davenport Speedway.

At the end of last season, Sheppard left the Rocket Chassis house car team in favor of moving closer to home and driving for a team that he serves as co-owner of(Sheppard Riggs Racing). He had won four World of Outlaws championships and scores of feature events in that Rocket car. No doubt the transition to a new team and a new chassis took some time.

It isn’t as if the New Berlin, Illinois driver had been slow prior to these recent victories, it’s just that he had not been winning at the pace followers of Dirt Late Model racing had grown to expect.┬áThe thing about Sheppard is that we have all become accustomed to such high performance from him that we begin to wonder what is wrong when he isn’t winning races by the dozen.

I don’t think it’s a matter of Brandon Sheppard regaining his old form as much as it is a matter of him growing into this new team and crew.

Brandon Sheppard

Michael: I agree that he and his team are finally getting things put together. We all know Sheppard is a great driver and it was a matter of time before he’d start knocking off some of these wins. It just took a little longer than expected.

I’d say don’t look now because Sheppard has crept his way back into the title hunt with the World of Outlaws. Bobby Pierce has been consistent all season long. But one bad weekend and Sheppard could be right there. And now, Chris Madden is in a Longhorn. The World of Outlaws title chase is about to get very interesting.

Why isn’t Labor Day weekend the home to a crown jewel type race on the Dirt Late Model schedule?

Richard: I have often wondered why there isn’t one of Dirt Late Model racing’s big events somewhere around the Labor Day weekend. There is a ton of racing going on largely consisting of shows paying decent but not necessarily huge amounts to win. Perhaps its a matter of there being a number of traditional races that just never grew into majors to have taken up the calendar.

Also, of course, the sport’s biggest race is close to the Labor Day weekend as the World 100 at Eldora Speedway comes on the very next weekend after the early September holiday. That said, though, it just seems as if, in this era of highly lucrative events, that perhaps some regional series might have taken a shot at having a $40,000 or $50,000-to-win show on that weekend date considering that most people have Monday off.

Michael: I have wondered the same thing. It’s like no one really wants to touch that weekend.

Lucas does have the Hillbilly 100, one of the country’s oldest races. I’m not sure how many drivers would go there if it wasn’t sanctioned by Lucas Oil. It’s a huge event in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. But it doesn’t get a lot of attention around the rest of the country.

We were on the verge of having such an event about 20 years ago when the old Atomic (TN) Speedway hosted a big two-day weekend for the Hav-a-Tampa series. In 2002, that race paid $20,000 to win which was huge back then. Owner Carson Branum sold the track to Jim Varnell who kept the weekend going with the Xtreme DirtCar Series in 2003 and the World of Outlaws in 2004. When Varnell sold the track to Ed Adams, that was the end of that. Adams had no interest in a big-time event and no one in our area or even around the country has jumped on that weekend.

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