MACON – It’s been a few years since Brandon Sheppard was a 14-year-old kid behind the wheel of an 800-horsepower super modified roaring around the high banks of Macon Speedway. Nine years ago during his debut at the historic track, Sheppard just wanted some seat time and experience in the traditional Lite Beer Twin 50’s.
During that late model doubleheader, Sheppard finished both races somewhere around 12th or 13th. But he finished.
“We were just happy that we didn’t tear anything up,’’ Sheppard said.
Now 23, Sheppard is anxious for the start of the St. Louis U-Pic-A-Part 100 at Macon Speedway on Saturday for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. It’s the only national late model series to appear on the fifth-mile dirt track this season, bringing a combination of national stars and regional drivers hoping to protect home turf.
Sheppard, of New Berlin, would like nothing better than to win the $12,000 winner’s share while racing for a new team this season. In the process, he will need the experience gained from nearly a decade of cutting laps here in addition to the advice from his father Steve, a former Macon Speedway track champion.
“It’s very physical,’’ Sheppard said. “It tests your patience. The lapped traffic is really tough. You have to just bide your time and keep (the car’s) body clean.
“You can easily get torn up and get yourself in a bad position and get knocked out of the race. It’s knowing about where to go and where you might lose time.’’
Sheppard decided he needed a change heading into the season. He parked his equipment and an arrangement with local car owner Keith Brown for a chance to drive for Best Performance Motorsports from St. Mary’s, Ohio. The connection made sense because of crew chief Randal Edwards, who served in the same role at Rocket Motorsports when Sheppard drove for the team two years ago.
“He’s good at reading the cars,’’ Sheppard said. “We just have an experience at working together. He’s especially good when we go to new tracks.’’
Sheppard will run for the Best Motorsports during the Summer Nationals tour, including the Herald & Review 100 in July. That allows Sheppard to park his equipment and keep his own costs down while running for a competitive team.
Sheppard has finished second in the H&R 100 but hasn’t cracked the top five in the first two Lucas Oil Late Model events at Macon Speedway. His track knowledge is important, but the other national drivers are getting more experience with the tight confines of Macon.
“There’s definitely a little bit of home track advantage,’’ Sheppard said. “The past couple of years, those other guys have built up their notebooks. It’s going to be tougher this year.’’
Bobby Pierce, of Oakwood, won the inaugural Lucas Oil appearance at Macon in 2014. Last season, Jimmy Owens, of Newport, Tenn., took first.
Pierce and Moweaqua ace Shannon Babb join Sheppard on the list of the local and regional stars who will compete.
The St. Louis U-Pic-Part 100 is ready to join the H&R 100 as the track’s top two events of the season. Fans have identified with the annual 100 lapper in the summer. Heading into its third season, the Lucas Oil appearance will draw a similar crowd, said track promoter Bob Sargent.
“There are several national drivers that come to this event that won’t come to the Herald & Review 100,’’ Sargent said. “It’s a chance to see fan favorites like Scott Bloomquist plus the regional stars. This is the premier late model dirt series in the nation.’’
Steve Sheppard isn’t racing this season, so family bragging rights rely on his son, who gets a chance to stay close to home this weekend for more quality time with his 2-year-old son, Jase.
So will he be a racer, too?
“For sure, I don’t see why he won’t want to be,’’ Sheppard said.
In about 12 years or so, it might be the next generation of Sheppard to hit the Macon dirt.