With Brandon Sheppard Playing ‘Super Sub’ Role, Mark Richards Celebrates First-Ever Victory In Dirt Track World Championship
Veteran Team Owner Enjoys $50,000 Triumph In Ohio During Break From World of Outlaws Late Model Series Schedule
By Kevin Kovac, WoO LMS P.R. Director
CONCORD, NC – Oct. 21, 2013 – When Mark Richards added the 33rd annual Red Buck Dirt Track World Championship to his team’s racing schedule earlier this year, he assumed his son Josh would be behind the wheel of his familiar Rocket Chassis house car for the 100-lap event at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park.
But after Josh informed his father late in the summer that he couldn’t compete in promoter Carl Short’s traditional fall special because he had plans with his fiancée, the elder Richards kept the DTWC on his radar. He decided to enter the race with reigning DIRTcar Summer Nationals and UMP national champion Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., substituting for Josh – and considering the results, he’s glad he did.
In a dramatic cameo last Saturday night, Sheppard, 20, captured the DTWC’s $50,000 top prize to give Richards a coveted first-ever victory in the crown-jewel show that has its roots in his home state of West Virginia.
“What a great weekend,” said Richards, who returned Sheppard to the seat of the iconic blue No. 1 that the young star drove for most of the 2012 season while Josh Richards focused on NASCAR racing. “Over the years Rocket Chassis cars have won (the DTWC), but it seemed like that race had always eluded me personally. There were a number of times over the years where cars I’ve worked on or owned had a shot to win it – like the first one (in 1981 at West Virginia’s Pennsboro Speedway) when we were leading on lap 88 (with Rodney Combs driving) and got passed by (eventual winner) Jim Dunn and in 2007 (at Ohio’s K-C Raceway) when Josh got passed by Chub (Frank) and ran second – so it felt really good to finally get it.”
That Richards’s first DTWC score as a team owner came paired with Sheppard certainly was a surprise. With Josh Richards back firmly entrenched as the Rocket house car driver this season, few dirt Late Model observers could have envisioned the machine being steered in a major event by anyone but the current WoO LMS points leader.
But Mark Richards had no reservations about bringing Sheppard back when Josh confirmed that he would be vacationing with his future wife, Andrea Cleveland, during the DTWC weekend.
“When I put the (DTWC) on our schedule, Josh said, ‘Hey, I don’t think I can do that because that’s Andrea’s birthday and we’ve made plans to go away,'” said Richards, who celebrated his 53rd birthday while at Portsmouth. “Andrea has to schedule her vacation days early because of her job (she works as a public relations representative for NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Paul Menard), so they couldn’t change their plans. I told Josh, ‘Well, we’ll have Brandon do (the DTWC) then,’ and he was fine with that.”
Sheppard, of course, was a perfect fit for the ‘Super Sub’ role. Not only did he successfully campaign the Rocket house car last year from mid-May to the end of the season and maintain a close relationship with Richards and Co. while driving his family-owned equipment this year, he also has been a regular at Rocket Chassis headquarters in Shinnston, W.Va., for much of the past month.
“Brandon been with us here at the shop since just after Knoxville,” said Richards, referring to the Late Model Nationals at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway the last weekend in September. “He crashed out there and had to come out here and put a new clip on his car, so he stayed out here. He went to (Ohio’s) Eldora (Speedway the first weekend in October for the DIRTcar UMP Nationals) and got rained out, and then he came back here and went with us to Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania Motor Speedway) for the Pittsburgher (Oct. 11-12).
“He’s a great guy to fit in here because he’s very humble and very easy to fill the (house car) spot when we need him – and he’ll continue to fill that spot when we need him. He’s our backup plan whenever Josh isn’t here.”
Driving a 2012 car that Josh previously ran just a handful of times late last season (one start was his fourth-place finish in the DTWC at Portsmouth) and one weekend in 2013 (an August WoO LMS doubleheader in Michigan), Sheppard rewarded Mark’s faith. After setting fast time and finishing second in a heat race on Friday night, he worked his way forward from the seventh starting spot to become the youngest winner in the history of the DTWC.
Sheppard’s march to the biggest victory of his burgeoning career was highlighted by a spectacular high-side burst from fifth-to-first following a lap-40 restart. He overtook veterans Jackie Boggs, Billy Moyer and Steve Shaver in one deft swoop when the green flag flew to reach second place and then passed race-long pacesetter Scott Bloomquist on lap 43 to grab the lead for good.
“He got a little wide off of (turn) four coming for the checkered (in the heat) and we got beat,” said Richards. “But I told him it wasn’t a bad thing because, in these big races, when you’ve never really run these racetracks – like he’s never raced Portsmouth much – you really don’t know where you need to be. So if you’re sitting out there leading and it’s hard to get hand signals – like it is at Portsmouth – you don’t know where you need to be.
“I said, ‘You’re better off to be behind these guys (at the start) and figure out where you need to be on the racetrack. Then you can pass them and go back to where you need to be to win the race.'”
That scenario played out after the caution flag flew on lap 40 of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event.
“I had been watching him occasionally jump up out there on that top and not lose anything,” Richards said of Sheppard. “There were also some guys farther back like (Jason) Feger and Jonathan Davenport who were running that top and cleaning it up pretty good and on lap 40 he was lining up on the outside (for the restart), so I told (crewman) Matt (Barnes), ‘We gotta get him to the top. I think he can go on that top now.’
“Well, on lap 40 he was running fifth, and when the next caution came out on lap 44 he was leading. Then we just put him back to the bottom because he didn’t need to stay out there and pound that top for the rest of the race. He was good enough on the bottom once he got the lead to run there.”
After enjoying a champagne-soaked Victory Lane ceremony, Sheppard noted that his deciding surge to the front was made possible by Richards’s advice.
“Mark kind of told me before this deal started, he said, ‘You’ve gotta be patient but you’ve gotta make the right moves when they’re needed to be made,'” said Sheppard. “I guess I made the right move when it was needed.”
With the victory, Sheppard further established himself as one of the sport’s top talents. On top of becoming just the fourth driver in DIRTcar UMP history to win the Summer Nationals and national points titles in the same season, he also won two WoO LMS A-Mains this year.
“Since the first day that he drove for us until now, he’s a whole different person,” said Richards. “He’s ready to be a championship driver. He can go out nationally now and compete.
“And what he’s done for us out there in the Midwest has been amazing,” he continued. “He’s helped turn things around for us as far as Rocket Chassis being represented out that way. We’ve got quite a few new customers from out there for next year – and it’s partially from what Brandon has done.”
Sheppard’s DTWC performance yielded a thumb’s-up from Josh Richards, who received word of his sub’s victory moments after the race ended.
“Josh texted Brandon and said he felt like a ‘proud papa,'” said Mark Richards.
Josh Richards will be back in the Valvoline-sponsored Rocket Chassis house car for the season-ending WoO LMS events in two weeks as he attempts to finish off his third career tour championship. With a commanding 106-point lead over Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., Richards can clinch the crown regardless of Lanigan’s results by finishing at least 17th in the final three scheduled races: Nov. 5 at Lavonia (Ga.) Speedway and the World Finals doubleheader on Nov. 7-9 at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C.
Coming off his conquest of the DTWC, Mark Richards is looking forward to closing the ’13 WoO LMS schedule at Charlotte, where Sheppard will also compete in his family’s No. b5.
“Truthfully, the way the year’s gone, I’d just as soon keep going,” said Richards. “It’s been the best year this race team has ever had. This weekend here (at Portsmouth) just put a little extra icing on the cake.”
Ticket information on the World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte – a weekend that includes racing for the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series and the Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modifieds – can be obtained by logging on to www.worldofoutlawsworldfinals.com.
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series is brought to fans across the country by many important sponsors and partners, including: American Racing Custom Wheels (Official Custom Wheel), Arizona Sport Shirts (Official Apparel Company), Armor All (Official Car Care Products), Hoosier Racing Tires (Official Racing Tires), KMC (Official Custom Truck Wheel), STP (Official Fuel Treatment), Vicci (Official Uniform), VP Racing Fuel (Official Racing Fuel), DirtonDirt.com (Hard Charger Award) and McCarthy’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning (Raye Vest Memorial Pill Draw Award); in addition to contingency sponsors: Butlerbuilt, Cometic Gasket, Comp Cams, Dominator Race Products, Edelbrock, Eibach Springs, JE Pistons, JRI Shocks, Klotz Synthetic Lubricants, MSD Ignition, Ohlins Shocks, QuarterMaster, Roush Yates Performance Parts, Superflow Dynos, Wrisco Aluminum and XS Power Racing Batteries; along with manufacturer sponsors Capital Race Cars, Integra Shocks, GRT Chassis, Jake’s Carts, Racing Electronics, Rocket Chassis, TNT Rescue, and Warrior Chassis.