CONCORD, NC – The World of Outlaws Craftsman® Late Model Series is beginning its stretch run to the World Finals season finale November 2-3-4 at the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway. All dirt roads lead to Charlotte, and 36 races have led us to this point in the season.
Current points leader Brandon Sheppard, of New Berlin, IL, has undoubtedly been the most dominant driver in the nation this year, ranking No. 1 on Dirt on Dirt’s Top-25 National Power Rankings for the past 10 weeks and 25 weeks total this year.
“Honestly, we’re just taking it day-by-day,” Sheppard said. “We just want to win races and stay in the top three and be as consistent as we can be. At the end of the day everyone out here is just trying to make a living, so we just have to make sure we run consistent.”
Sheppard’s consistency throughout the season has earned him 30 top-five finishes in 36 races. He has also collected an impressive 14 wins so far, putting him only four wins behind the single-seasons wins record of 18. The record was set in 2016 during World Finals by his predecessor in the Rocket Chassis #1 machine, Josh Richards.
“It’s on my mind; it’s on all of our minds, but it’s nothing we’re really focused on. Mark is more worried about getting fast time every night,” said Sheppard. “If it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t there’s always next year. But you know, we might not be this good next year. The way Mark Richards runs his program, it doesn’t make it easier, but it does give us a better chance at winning. We always know that, night in and night out, we are going to have top-notch equipment and that nothing on this car is going to go unseen or untouched.”
After Sheppard’s recent win at Eriez Speedway on Aug. 20, Rocket Chassis President and Rocket 1 Racing owner Mark Richards commented on how well Sheppard has filled the shoes of four-time World of Outlaws Champion Josh Richards.
“[Brandon] has done an incredible job this year,” Mark Richards said. “When Josh decided he was going to go take that other ride, we knew Brandon was the guy that was going to take that seat. And he has lived up to it. You know, there’s a lot of nights spent in Victory Lane that I can’t tell the difference.”
Sheppard not only has top-of-the-line equipment, he has a lot of luck on his side as well. He has transferred into the redraw from the heat races 30 times and has pulled the pole position nine times and drawn outside of the pole five times.
Sitting second in the points race, Chris Madden of Gray Court, SC feels as though the redraw has been one of the biggest hindrances of his 2017 season.
After his recent second-place finish at Shawano Speedway on Aug. 2 Madden commented:
“Man, this redraw is killing us. If we could just ever put this thing on the front row, I think we could get quite a few more wins than what we have been getting.”
Madden has redrawn the seventh and eighth starting positions each four times. On most occasions during the redraw, series announcer Rick Eshelman calls on children in the stands to draw the drivers’ starting numbers. Although Madden hasn’t had much luck, he always smiles and gives the young fan a high-five, no matter what fate they chose for him.
Madden sits tied with veteran Shane Clanton for total number of wins collected this season. Clanton and Madden both hold five Series wins, collecting their fifth during the same weekend at Merritt Speedway: Clanton on Aug. 26 and Madden on Aug. 27. They tied for second on the series win list of the season behind Sheppard. Madden currently leads Clanton in the points race by 50 points.
With 13 seasons in the books with the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series, Clanton, the 2015 champion, has been patiently making his way through the points race all season. Early on he fell as far as 11th in the points race after Whynot Speedway on March 24. He has now made his way to third and is steadily working to cut Madden’s points lead in this final quarter of the season.
Rookie of the Year Contender Devin Moran currently sits with two wins so far, which ties him with Austin Hubbard (2010) and Billy Moyer Jr. (2016) for most wins collected during a rookie season. Moran’s two wins came from Atomic Speedway on May 26 and Georgetown Speedway on Aug. 17. His consistent runs have boosted him to fourth in the points race, ahead of a tie for fifth between 2011 champion Rick Eckert and young gun Tyler Erb.
Eckert joins Moran with two wins, while Erb is still searching for his first career win with the Outlaws during his sophomore season. Since the halfway point of the season, Erb has continued to battle in the highly competitive points race, finding himself tied for fifth and hoping to gain.
“My only goal for the rest of the season is to pass Clanton and Madden back in points,” Erb said. “I gave it away the past few weeks. From Fairbury [American Legion Speedway] on I literally have broken every night. I’m going to start going to church. Maybe that will help. I have to do something.”
Eric Wells, Chub Frank, Frank Heckenast Jr., and Morgan Bagley join Erb in the search for Victory Lane. All five drivers have appeared on the podium this season but finished short of claiming the checkers.
A mere 16 points lie between Frank in eighth, Heckenast in ninth, and Bagley in 10th. With plenty of time left in the season, any given race night is likely to scramble the points standings.
Although the season is winding down, several action-packed weekends still lie ahead, including their last jaunt through Pennsylvania at Lernerville Speedway on Sept. 2 and Selinsgrove Speedway on Sept. 3; the swing through the Great Plains to Lakeside Speedway (Sept. 22), Salina Highbanks Speedway (Sept. 23), and 81 Speedway (Sept. 24); the second stop at The Dirt Oval at Route 66 for the Chi-Town Showdown; and the 2017 season finale World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Nov. 2-4.