Sheppard Caps Off Wild Dirt Late Model Dream In Photo Finish With McDowell

Story By: ELDORA SPEEDWAY – ROSSBURG, OH – Taking the lead from Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., on lap 72 when Pearson suddenly slowed with a deflating tire, 15th-starting Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., led the final 28 laps to win the 25th running of the Dream Saturday at Eldora Speedway. Sheppard withstood a furious last-lap charge from Dale McDowell, nipping the hard-charging McDowell, of Chickamauga, Ga., at the line on the final circuit.

With McDowell hugging the bottom and Sheppard busting the cushion around the outside, the two met on the front straightaway as they raced to the checkered flag. Slight contact left McDowell’s car spinning on the front stretch as his furious rally over the final three laps fell short by a mere 0.056 of a second — barely the length of the hood on his Sweet-Bloomquist Race Car.

Sheppard earned a career-high $125,000 for his first Dream triumph, while handing Mark Richards’s Rocket Chassis house car team its first-ever Crown Jewel victory at historic Eldora Speedway.

“It means the world to me to get one for Mark Richards and Rocket Chassis and this Rocket house car team for sure,” said an emotional Sheppard in victory lane. “I couldn’t do it without them guys, Mark, Dan, Austin, Joel … definitely the heart and sole behind this team. They make my life a lot easier you know, I get to go home and be with my family and I can’t thank them enough for sure.

“Man this is phenomenal. It’s hard to talk right now. My emotions are all over the place. It was definitely close there at the end. It’s hard to believe, I think it was 12 years ago now, I was at the Dale McDowell driving school learning from that guy.”

Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., a preliminary feature winner on Friday night, finished third after starting 11th, while 18th-starting Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., slipped by seventh-starting Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas, to take the fourth spot on the last lap.

While Sheppard celebrated, McDowell lamented his second straight runner-up finish in the Dream and the $105,000 difference between winning and finishing second.

“It was a good night for us and a fairly decent weekend,” said McDowell. “We had a good race car all weekend. (Car owner and brother) Shane (McDowell) and all the guys had this Ez-Go hot rod pretty good. Just a little bit short … $105,000 … I don’t need to say that. I’ll have to think about that for a little bit.”

With McDowell charging the bottom as they took the white flag, Sheppard stayed committed to the outside line and simply peddled as hard as he could, hoping he’d beat the fast-closing McDowell back to the line.

“I really didn’t want to run that top all the way around,” Sheppard said. “I thought I was better entering on the top and then turning down off of it, but every time I went by, (crew chief) Dan (White) was telling me to ring the top. He showed me that my gap was closing up there at the end and I looked on the screen there and noticed that Dale was right there and I knew if he was right there it was gonna be tough. I’ve watched him win numerous times at this place (running) the middle bottom (groove).”

After securing third from Erb, Clanton could do little more than watch as the two front runner banged off of each other at the finish line.

“We needed a little more adjustment there to be in lapped traffic,” said an upbeat Clanton. “If I could have got out in the lead by myself and had enough air on my nose I think I could have run. But I just had a little aero-push behind those guys. All in all, it was a good weekend to win a preliminary (feature) and run third ain’t too bad.”