From Mike Warren / worldofoutlaws.com
Brandon Sheppard knew less than 10 laps into Saturday’s Prairie Dirt Classic his ability to read Fairbury’s surface would pay off well. And pay off big.
As the New Berlin, IL driver saw a cushion building on the track’s high banks, he felt right at home.
The reigning World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series champion used his experience at the Illinois track to quickly take the lead—one he wouldn’t relinquish en route to his third Prairie Dirt Classic win, along with a $100,000 overall payday.
While he never relinquished the lead, “Rocket Shepp” didn’t go unchallenged. Fellow Illinois competitor Bobby Pierce chased Sheppard for more than 20 laps, trying to slide past the former champion and grab his first win in the prestigious event.
As Pierce gained momentum, heartbreak struck the Oakwood, IL driver. A brake issue sidelined Pierce to a 19th-place finish.
From there, Sheppard cruised to victory despite surviving several late-race restarts. He was grateful to lead all 100 laps as he dealt with changing track conditions throughout the race.
“With all that track prep and stuff, and the way that they did it, I felt like the cushion would be there,” Sheppard said. “The bottom was still pretty hard. It was wet down there, but I didn’t feel like it was going to keep up with the cushion if I could run it right.
“It was definitely tricky. It was rough around there after they tilled it, like a rut all the way around about a car lane off the top. It was tricky, and the transition from blowing the cushion over top of that, it was definitely tricky. I was about to turn over a couple of times, I thought, but it paid off, it was a crazy race, and we were very fortunate to lead all of the laps.”
Sheppard’s third Prairie Dirt Classic win earned him and Rocket1 Racing $100,000 after he grabbed the $50,000 check for the win and the $500 bonus per lap led – which for him was all 100.
He also adds his name to a list of Illinois legends who have won the event three times. Sheppard joins Shannon Babb and Bob Pierce as the only Prairie State drivers to win the event more than twice.
“It honestly means the world to me to win this race,” Sheppard said. “This place is like home for me. All the fans, and the people, and the atmosphere is electric. They’ve taken me in like it’s home, and it’s two hours away from the house, but it’s definitely turned into my favorite track.”
Sheppard’s Prairie Dirt Classic win is his 80th career World of Outlaws CASE Late Model victory—and third of the 2022 season.
Mike Marlar crossed the line second, his fifth straight top five in World of Outlaws competition.
The 2018 Series champion felt he was close to grabbing the win but didn’t have enough to get by Sheppard.
“Coming into this weekend, we had a little bit of a streak there, but I was like, ‘Dude, there’s 81 cars at this little bullring, and that’s asking a lot to come out of here with a good finish,’” Marlar said. “Not only did we have a good finish, we had a shot lots of times at [Sheppard], he just didn’t do anything wrong, and I needed just a little bit to pass him, but we were really close.”
Tanner English, the World of Outlaws Rookie of the race, crossed the line third for his second podium finish of the season.
The Benton, KY driver was resilient after dropping back to 10th in the first 50 laps.
“I fell back to about 10th there early on, and I just kind of waited around and just tried to hit my marks and go where they weren’t, and the car kept getting better,” English said. “I kind of stalled out there with about 50 to go, and we just kind of rolled there and caught people when they made mistakes.”
English moved into second in the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models points standings and now leads in the race for Rookie of the Year—two points ahead of Max Blair, who finished eighth.
Tyler Erb finished fourth after hovering in the top five for most of the race. The New Waverly, TX driver stated he was happy with his performance overall.
“I didn’t want to kill my stuff at the drop of the green, so I just tried to maintain as long as I could,” Erb said. “When Bobby [Pierce] passed me, it was kind of the sign that I needed to move up and maintain his pace. He got to [Sheppard] really quick, and I was like, man, if there’s still 70 laps left, or 40 or whatever, if I could just ride with him until the last 20 or 30, I could give myself a chance.”
Ryan Gustin rounded out the top five. The Marshalltown, IA driver used a different line than he’s used to, as he rolled the bottom patiently throughout the race.
“We’ve been doing some different things to the car where it’s a lot easier to driver here lately,” Gustin said. “You don’t have to go up there and live and die by the cushion. I just tried to be patient there. I kind of wanted to go hard at the beginning to make sure I didn’t get put a lap down or anything like that.
“The track went through a lot of different changes tonight, and it kind went the bottom, middle, top, diamond line, slider line, it was all over the place, which makes for good racing for sure.”
Brandon Sheppard felt at home at Fairbury Speedway, scoring another Prairie Dirt Classic win. His experience at the track paid off well and paid off big.
“It’s always racy, and my car’s really good here, and I have a good feel of this place,” Sheppard said. “It’s been good to me for sure.”
UP NEXT: The Most Powerful Late Models on the Planet return to Wisconsin for the $50,000-to-win USA Nationals Aug. 4-6 at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, WI.
Prairie Dirt Classic (100 Laps):
1. 1S-Brandon Sheppard; 2. 157-Mike Marlar; 3. 81E-Tanner English; 4. 1T-Tyler Erb; 5. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 6. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr; 7. 32S-Chris Simpson; 8. 111V-Max Blair; 9. 25F-Jason Feger; 10. 11-Gordy Gundaker; 11. 25-Shane Clanton; 12. 16-Tyler Bruening; 13. 1-Josh Richards; 14. 11R-Josh Rice; 15. 10-Garrett Smith; 16. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 17. B1-Brent Larson; 18. 6-Kyle Larson; 19. 32-Bobby Pierce; 20. 24-Ryan Unzicker; 21. 1ST-Johnny Scott; 22. 42-Mckay Wenger; 23. 22-Chris Ferguson; 24. 89-Mike Spatola; 25. 58W-Ashton Winger; 26. 20-Jimmy Owens; 27. 49-Jonathan Davenport; 28. 40B-Kyle Bronson; 29. 58-Garrett Alberson
See the full story and results:
Photo: worldofoutlaws.com / Jacy Norgaard