After five seasons driving on tour for Rocket1 Racing, the New Berlin, IL driver is navigating a new challenge—running his own race team on a national tour while learning a new chassis.
So far, he’s managed four top fives and nine top 10s in 14 points-paying events but is still looking for his first points-paying World of Outlaws win of the season.
Despite being kept out of Victory Lane, his confidence grows as the Series kicks off the World of Outlaws Heartland Speedweek at 81 Speedway in Wichita, KS, where he’s won twice.
“Our confidence is definitely getting better,” Sheppard said. “We’ve learned a lot in the last few months and just found us a little baseline where we can unload and be halfway in the ballpark.
“That’s what we’ve kind of been missing a little bit. We’ve been guessing when we get there. I think we’ve found what we’re looking for as far as that goes, and now it’s building up some consistency.”
Sheppard’s consistency leaves him within striking distance of a fifth title, as he sits seventh in points—86 points behind Chris Madden after three top tens last weekend.
However, every night is still a learning curve for the four-time Series champion as he navigates the differences between a Longhorn Chassis and a Rocket.
“The cars are just different,” Sheppard said. “They’re built different. The frontends are different. The suspension’s different. The seat’s mounted in there different. There’s so many different things that come into play.
“I feel like the Longhorn drives really well. It steers good. I think the changes and stuff we’re doing are similar in some ways compared to what we did with the Rocket stuff. At the end of the day, they’re all just tubing. You have to figure out what works for you, and you have to figure out a program that fits your style.”
Figuring out that program has led to ups and downs in his first year as a team owner.
But the 81-time World of Outlaws winner believes he isn’t far away from being a threat to win every night.
“There’s not really one thing on this Sheppard-Riggs Racing team that’s been the same as anything I’ve had in the last 10 years,” Sheppard said. “I knew it was going to be a process.
“You hear all the rumors and whatnot. Oh, Shepp’s losing his touch, blah, blah, blah. Whether other people were starting not to believe in me, that’s their problem. We’re starting to show some consistency and getting a little bit better here. So, it won’t take too much longer, and we’ll have her pretty close.”
Despite the challenges of the process, Sheppard has found time to keep his mind clear on the road.
His wife and kids have traveled with him to most World of Outlaws events in 2023, allowing him to spend time with them at the track.
“It’s just something you have to hit head-on,” Sheppard said. “You can’t let that build up too much, or it just gets in the way of everything. Luckily, I get to bring my wife and kids to a lot of the races with me. So, just spending a little bit of time with them after the races and stuff clears my mind enough to where I can get right back to it the next day.”
No matter how he navigates the 2023 season, it’s a new experience for the most accomplished driver in World of Outlaws history.
But with his confidence building, Sheppard hopes to return to the form fans saw in his first five years with the Series.
UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws CASE Late Models head to 81 Speedway on Friday and Saturday, June 23-24, to kick off the inaugural World of Outlaws Heartland Speedweek. Then, the Series heads North to Nebraska for a trip to Off Road Speedway in Norfolk, NE, on Sunday, June 25.
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