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Sheppard Cashes in on $100,000 Payday With Third Prairie Dirt Classic Win

McKinney Wheels Cushion To Win $5,000 Summit Modified Nationals Thriller

Results | Story by Mike Warren | Pictures by Jacy Norgaard & Rocky Ragusa

sheppard lmBrandon 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.

marlar lmMike 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.”

McKinney Wheels Cushion To Win $5,000 Summit Modified Nationals Thriller

Results | Story by Jordan DeLucia | Pictures by Jacy Norgaard & Rocky Ragusa

mckinney mdFrom Summit Modified races, the FALS Super Nationals, to the FALS Cup points championship, Mike McKinney had won just about every marquee DIRTcar UMP Modified race on the Fairbury Speedway schedule, except one. The Prairie Dirt Classic had evaded his grasp throughout his career, but now, it’s finally his.

“I wanted it more than anybody here, I can promise you that,” McKinney said. “It doesn’t matter who we beat, I just wanted to win this race. I’m glad it’s on our list now.”

Though his determination seemed unmatched, McKinney was forced to fend-off another driver with equal drive to win Saturday night – the newly crowned five-time DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals champion, Nick Hoffman.

he two waged a war of epic proportions throughout the final 15 laps of the 40-lap main event, swapping the lead twice in that span and bringing the crowd to the feet as they zoomed around the quarter-mile oval.

In the end, Hoffman came up just one spot short. For the second time this season, McKinney had gotten the best of the winningest Summit Modified driver.

“Mike just hit six perfect laps to beat me,” Hoffman said. “He did a great job.”

Their lane choices acted as weapons in their bullring battle for $5,000 – McKinney firing on the high side, right against the wall, while Hoffman swung down low, hugging the extreme bottom lane.

Hoffman had to drive from 11th on the starting grid after a rough Qualifying result on Friday set him back in his Showdown Feature. But with 15-to-go, Hoffman had just made the pass for second and was coming after leader McKinney.

Caution was displayed just two laps later, erasing McKinney’s half-second lead and putting Hoffman right on his bumper for the restart. The green dropped and Hoffman immediately challenged McKinney to his inside, taking the lead for the first time on Lap 28.

“Up until about 15-to-go, I thought I was gonna finish fifth in that race,” Hoffman said. “I just couldn’t get breaks and didn’t feel great in the car either. But some lanes opened-up and I was able to get to the lead.”

mckinney hoffman mdHoffman led through Lap 34, when the caution was displayed for the final time. Though Hoffman got a great jump on the restart, McKinney hit his marks on the cushion, reeling the leader in and making the pass back for the lead with four-to-go.

“The harder I was running, the better it actually got,” McKinney said. “We had that last restart with six-to-go, and it took me a couple laps to get into a rhythm and get wound-up. Finally, I was able to shoot the gun and drive back by [Hoffman].”

Hoffman gave it everything he had on the bottom in the final laps to close on McKinney, but it proved fruitless. McKinney rounded Turn 4 for the final time and beat Hoffman to the line by .361 seconds to score a dramatic victory in the 32nd annual Prairie Dirt Classic.

“Getting out of the car and seeing all those people, it’s exactly what I thought it would be,” McKinney said. “It feels damn good.”

Though Mike got the biggest slice of Victory Lane glory, his father and crew chief David shared a part in the shining moment as well. The two took on a brand-new gameplan and joined the new Longhorn Chassis Modified program for the start of the 2021 season, putting in a ton of time and energy into learning how to master the new car. Though it wasn’t easy at first, David has helped accelerate Mike’s learning curve with the setup help, and together, they’ve finally bagged one of Fairbury’s most prestigious events.

“Sometimes I nail it and he can drive it with one hand,” David said. “Sometimes I miss it and he says, ‘I’ll make up for it.’

“How good is it for father and son to spend time together and race. I wouldn’t do it with anybody else, and he’s the same way.”

Though it doesn’t happen often in Summit Modified competition, Hoffman conceded to McKinney for the second time this season. He was bested by McKinney a few weeks earlier at Shadyhill Speedway in Indiana, and this time around, just didn’t feel as comfortable as he normally does out front at Fairbury.

“I just felt terrible everywhere in Turns 3-4,” Hoffman said. “I ran the bottom most of the race, but I tried the middle with a couple guys and just couldn’t make any speed off of 4. Normally, I feel like I get from Turn 4 to the flag stand better than anybody. I just didn’t feel that way tonight.”

Outside of the top-two, Tyler Nicely came home third after running up front all night. Six-time Summit Modified champ Mike Harrison came all the way out of a Last Chance Showdown event (17th on the Feature starting grid) to finish fourth, while Allen Weisser charged from 14th to round-out the top-five.

Sheppard Banks $100,000 PDC Win

Story & Picture by Rocky Ragusa

Under ideal weather conditions and a standing-room-only crowd, race teams and fans gathered at the Fairbury Speedway Saturday night for the 32nd Annual Prairie Dirt Classic presented by the Bank of Pontiac and the Illinois State Rifle Association. The winner would earn a check for $50,000. As a bonus, the speedway gave a driver $500 for every lap led.

Three 20-lap last chance races were held for the World of Outlaws Late Models with two drivers making the cut for the PDC. In the first race, Chris Ferguson edged Ryan Gustin by one car length for the victory. McKay Wenger took the win in the second race with Johnny Scott in second. 2015 PDC winner Jonathan Davenport took a 10-car length win in the third last chance showdown over Ashton Winger to make the show. The winner of the 25-lap Prairie Dirt Shootout non-qualifier race would have the option of taking the first prize of $2,500 or start in the rear of the PDC. Chris Simpson got by race leader Mason Zeigler with five laps to go for the win. 2016 PDC winner Josh Richards overtook Zeigler for second. Simpson elected to take a spot in the main event and forfeited the check.

sheppard pierce lmFour-time WoO champion Brandon Sheppard used his past experience at Fairbury to his advantage. Sheppard took the lead on the opening lap and never looked back leading all 100 laps around the ¼ mile dirt track. He took home $100,000 with his third PDC victory. Mike Marlar was able to keep pace with Sheppard but couldn’t make the pass for the lead. Bobby Pierce, who started in the 16th position, charged to the front and made several attempts to take the top spot, but he pulled to the infield with brake failure and was finished for the night. “It honestly means the world to me to win this race,” Sheppard commented. “This place is like home for me. All the fans and the atmosphere are electric. They have taken me in like it’s home. Fairbury is two hours away from my home, but it’s definitely turned into my favorite track.”

The Modifieds had two 15-lap last chance races that would see the top two finishers moving to the featured race. After a lap 11 caution, Curt Spalding and Mike Harrison raced side by side for the lead. Harrison went on to take the win over Spalding in the first race. The second race saw Steven Brooks hold off Ethan Dotson to earn his place in the main race. The 40-lap, $5,000 to win Summit Modified Nationals race came down to longtime rivals on the track. Mike McKinney, in a race that has long eluded him, battled with five-time Summer Nationals champion Nick Hoffman. The two titans swapped the lead several times over the final 15 laps. After a yellow flag with six laps to go, McKinney, riding the FALS cushion, made the pass for the win as the capacity crowd gave the “Magic Man” a standing ovation. “Getting out of the car and seeing all those people, it’s exactly what I thought it would be,” McKinney said. “I wanted it more than anybody here, I can promise you that. It doesn’t matter who we beat. I just wanted to win the race.” Hoffman, who started 11th, finished a car length behind with Tyler Nicely in third. Mike Harrison, Allen Weisser, Chase Holland, Josh Harris, Kyle Steffens, Jason Hughes, and Trevor Neville completed the top ten.

In Friday’s preliminary action, a new event record of 81 Late Model drivers went under the clock in qualifying. Ashton Winger led group A with a lap of 12.952 seconds. Current World of Outlaws points leader Dennis Erb Jr.’s time of 13.397 seconds led group B.

There were four 25-lap, $3,000 to win Showdown features. The top four finishers from each race would advance to Saturday’s Prairie Dirt Classic. In the first race, Garrett Smith took advantage of Winger’s power steering failure and held off Garrett Alberson to take the win. Tyler Bruening finished in third and Jimmy Owens was fourth. After battling for the lead with McKay Wenger for the first 10 laps, Brandon Sheppard took command of the second showdown and won going away. Jason Feger, who started 11th, finished second, followed by Kyle Bronson and Gordy Gundaker. Mike Marlar edged Tanner English to win the third race. Ricky Thornton Jr. took third and Shane Clanton was fourth. Defending PDC winner Kyle Larson won by a comfortable margin in the fourth showdown. Tyler Erb finished in second, Josh Rice was third, and 19th starter Bobby Pierce weaved his way through traffic to finish in fourth.

62 Summit Modified Nationals drivers made qualifying attempts. Frank Marshall crossed the line with a time of 13.859 seconds to lead group A. Michael Long laid down a lap at 13.902 seconds in leading group B qualifiers. Four $500 to win, 20-lap showdown features would see the top four finishers move on to Saturday’s main event. In dominating fashion, Marshall went wire-to-wire for the win in the opening race. Chase Holland, Josh Harris, and Chase Allen followed. Keeping race long leader Brian Shaw within his sights, Mike McKinney made a dramatic last lap pass for the win in the second showdown. Nick Hoffman finished in third and Levi Kissinger was fourth. Long turned back a bid for the lead from Austin Holcombe in the closing laps to win the third race. Kyle Steffens was third and Allen Weisser finished fourth. Tyler Nicely half-tracked the field to win the fourth showdown. Danny Schwartz edged Ethan Weber by a ½ car length to take second and Jason Hughes took fourth.

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