Courtesy of Jason Wedehase
Buddy Shepherd climbs out of his car to celebrate winning the $10,000 Short Track Shootout on Saturday.
Buddy Shepherd claimed his third career Late Model track championship and outlasted Eric Holmes to win the fifth $10,000 Short Track Shootout in the season finale for the RPM Mortgage Pro Series at Madera Speedway.
The young driver’s win Saturday night was his biggest in a productive career at the fastest one-third mile in the west on a night televised for MAVTV.
Ninety-five cars lined the pits, including 50 Pro Late Models, 14 51FIFTY Junior Late Models, 24 Lucas Oil Modifieds, and seven Mini Cups.
Shepherd qualified third behind 3-time defending Shootout winner Holmes, but drew the pole for the 26-car, 150-lap feature. Shepherd had no trouble scooting ahead of Glen Cook with the lead. The first caution flew on lap 10. Cook drifted backwards on the restart with Doss moving up to second and Holmes up to third. The yellow flew again on lap 12.
Second in points Logan Zampa entered the night five points behind Shepherd and found himself in numerous battles, including early with NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national runner-up Trevor Huddleston. Tyler Herzog had been a strong story all year before he fell back to 14th. Contact with 2007 Altamont champion Ryan Philpott in turn two sparked a wild crash that included Lawless Alan making hard contact with Herzog. Eric Nascimento, Jr. launched over them, causing Kolby Berry to slow and send Rick Thompson hard into the turn two wall.
Zampa snaked up to fourth while the back-and-forth musical chairs among the top-three of Shepherd, Doss, and Holmes began. Inaugural Short Track Shootout winner Mike David worked past Hailie Deegan in her debut and she was bumped back behind Ross Strmiska as well. Cook took over fourth from Zampa and ran nose-to-tail with the top-three in a strong showing early.
Doss applied pressure at the lap 50 mark showing his nose inside Shepherd before a caution on that lap. David’s race ended when he collided with Strmiska in turn three and stalled a handful of laps later with broken rear trailing arm. Zampa returned the pass on Cook in the ensuing restart and still 21 cars were running at the lap 70 mark.
Hailie Deegan’s brilliant debut hit a snag when she bounced off the wall and collected Herzog on the front stretch. The race stayed green despite debris on the entry to turn one. Holmes went for a Bonzai charge on Shepherd in lapped traffic in turn four with the pair sliding and making contact. The following lap Holmes developed a right front flat tire as more debris appeared in turn three. The race went yellow on lap 96 for the debris, bringing the lap 100 race break four laps early. Holmes was forced to restart last after the break after he changed a tire in the pits.
Coming out of the break after the Lucas Oil Modified feature was completed, Strmiska looked outside Doss for second. Doss jumped out of line with a mechanical problem on the following lap for a caution to end his night.
The 2016 RPM Pro LM champion Matt Erickson had worked from 17th to fourth. A caution for a spin in turn two saw Deegan retire to the pits with mechanical problems. Kolby Berry’s series debut was interrupted by a flat tire for another caution on lap 101.
Six-time 51FIFTY Jr. Late Model winner Austin Herzog began to make his presence felt. The 15 year-old drifted backwards on the inside, then turned up the wick, passing Huddleston, Erickson, and Strmiska to take over on second by lap 111. Zampa stopped in turn four for a yellow and Holmes had worked from 21st up into sixth. Holmes then moved up to fourth on the restart and began a long-term battle with Herzog and Strmiska for the second position. The battle never really relented until the final stages.
A lap 121 caution saw Kevin Thompson suffer a stuck throttle and go hard into the turn one wall with Zampa along for the ride. Zampa’s night and championship chances were ended and had to settle for second in the points.
Holmes used the inside to get past both Herzog and Strmiska after numerous side-by-side duels with each, to assume second on lap 140. He put Shepherd in the crosshairs as Jagger Jones spun in turn four with five to go. Holmes had run his best lap of the race on that lap, and had a solid restart that gave him a good look at Shepherd. They ran within inches of each other before Matt Erickson crashed hard on the front stretch in a tangle with Garland Tyler.
That set up a three-lap shootout, but Shepherd was much better on this attempt at a restart. Holmes made one last dive inside on the final set of turns, but came up short.
Shepherd won the 2017 RPM Mortgage Pro Late Model championship and $10,000 for winning the Short Track Shootout. Three-time defending winner Eric Holmes was second with Strmiska snookering Herzog for third. Trevor Huddleston rounded out the top-five.
Robby Hornsby won from the C Main event from the outside pole in his first Madera start with Canadian Geoff Morris, Ray Mayer, and Del McIntosh transferring to the B Main event.
Morris then drove through the field to take the $1000 grand prize of the 40 lap B Main event, after the four transfers of Lawless Alan, Racin Vernon, Ryan Hart, and Kevin Thompson were pulled out at lap 25.
Linny White won the Lucas Oil Modified Dash, then followed that up with victory in the Lucas Oil Modified 75 presented by K&N Filters.
A lengthy red flag on lap 38 came out after Blake Rogers tagged the front stretch wall and caught fire. The driver was uninjured.
Jesse Love IV put on arguably the best display of driving in the championship race for the 51FIFTY Junior Late Models, making passes high and low to win the 75-lap season finale. Top finishers Love, Kolby Berry and Austin Edwards were the top-three in the championship points, as well.
Tyler Reif wrapped up a strong rookie Mini Cup campaign, leading all 20 laps of the season finale. The win also gave Reif the championship for the youngest drivers at Madera. Kale McClenny and Aaron Thomas rounded out the top-three.
Madera’s season concludes Oct. 21 with the 11th Annual Pumpkin Smash Halloween Bash and Blow Up. West Coast Sportsman Series, MST’s, Toyota Sedans, $2,000-to-Win 250-lap Enduro, the Extreme Barrel Racing Series, a Trick or Treat thru the Pits and on Track pumpkin smash for the kids is on the schedule.
For information about Madera Racing on MAVTV, visit www.racemadera.com or www.mavtv.com.