Sheppard Bags Rocket Chassis House Car Seat
CONCORD, N.C. — Could Brandon Sheppard be the next Josh Richards?
The rising young star and the dirt late model world is ready to find out.
The 19-year-old driver from New Berlin, Ill., was hired Monday to drive the Rocket Chassis house car, giving him a golden opportunity to make his mark on the national scene in a high-profile ride that Richards recently vacated to pursue a NASCAR career.
Rocket Chassis co-owner Mark Richards, whose race team reached championship heights on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series during his son Joshs seven-plus-year full-time stint behind the wheel, decided to offer the ride to Sheppard after initially giving WoO LMS veteran Tim Fuller a three-race try-out.
Richards sat out last weekends World of Outlaws doubleheader, marking just the second and third tour events since 2004 in which he did not enter at least one car.
Sheppard is scheduled to make his debut in Richardss familiar No. 1 machine the weekend of May 18-19 at tracks near the Rocket shop in Shinnston, W.Va. His first World of Outlaws Late Model Series starts with the team are planned for May 25 at Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, Ohio, and the $25,000-to-win Jackpot 100 on May 26 at Tyler County Speedway in Middlebourne, W.Va.
“I couldn’t get a better opportunity than this,” said Sheppard, who ran the first seven events of the 2012 WoO LMS season in family-owned equipment before skipping the tours four most recent races. “Mark definitely has one of the top teams out there. I’m really excited about having the chance to drive his car, and I hope that when I get in it I can keep impressing Mark and we can make something happen out of the deal.”
According to Richards, his pairing with Sheppard is currently set to run through the DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned Dream June 8-9 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. But he’s hopeful that the up-and-coming Midwesterner will mesh well with his team and sponsorship can be arranged to keep them running a special-event schedule together for the remainder of the campaign.
”He’s coming to our shop next week to work on the cars with us,” Richards said of Sheppard. ”I just told him, ‘Come on out. I dont know when you’re gonna be going home…well go racing and figure it out from there.'”
Sheppard, of course, has no reservations about leaving Illinois for an undetermined period of time.
The son of DIRTcar UMP Late Model veteran Steve Sheppard, Jr., he has been eying a career on dirt since running his first race in the division as a 14-year-old in 2007. His grandfather, Steve Sheppard, Sr., told him that he would enthusiastically back his efforts for a few years to give him every opportunity to someday race for a living and lo and behold, Sheppard has already gotten his big break.
”My Grandpa is definitely real happy with me getting this opportunity,” said Sheppard. “We didn’t have a doubt that if I worked hard and did the right things it would happen someday, but we didn’t expect an opportunity like this to happen so soon. Now I just have to make the most of it.”
Richards, who, before installing his son as his full-time chauffeur in 2005, enjoyed success with such talented drivers as Steve Francis, Bart Hartman, Davey Johnson and Tim Hitt, is very high on Sheppard’s potential.
”Brandons run good for a young guy,” said Richards. “I think he’s an up-and-coming driver. He’s really working hard to try and make it, and thats a big plus right now — a guy thats young and wanting to try and move up and better himself.
“The biggest thing I see is that being a young guy, he’ll have confidence in the car and the crew and what decisions are being made. Josh was always like that in his younger days. He pulled on the race track with confidence. Today, thats what you need in a driver.”
Sheppard, who scored a career-best WoO LMS finish of eighth on Feb. 17 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., is hopeful that results and sponsorship (Petroff Towing is currently providing backing to assist the Rocket/Sheppard combination) will extend his run in the house car through the end of 2012 and beyond.
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