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RACING SCENE (Buddy Shepherd)

RACING SCENE (Buddy Shepherd)
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For the first time in the 19-year history of racing at the half-mile Irwindale Speedway, something unheard of occurred June 9. The Spears Mfg Southwest Tour super late model series came to Irwindale with series rookie--Buddy Shepherd, an 18-year old Bakersfield resident and recent high school graduate--leading both the rookie and overall series driver point standings. He had 470 points to 460 for series veteran and two-time 2018 feature winner Jeremy Doss after three of nine scheduled point races.

Then the unthinkable happened. Shepherd and his No. 15S Wilson Industrial Pumps of Bakersfield Toyota Camry team did not enter the Irwindale 100. The reason was financial and the need for car owner Wilson to remain home to run his 17 employees business despite leading car owner points. He said he wishes he could do more for Buddy.

Shepherd and the Wilson team dropped from the point lead to 11th position. Doss now leads with 625. Irwindale runner-up and fastest qualifier Ricky Schlick, 21, has 605, and Irwindale 100 winner Eric Schmidt ranks third with 590. Schmidt won his first SWT event since his 2006 SWT championship season. He became the eighth different Spears SWT Irwindale feature winner since 2009 when the series ran two IS events.

Forty-five drivers have scored SWT points this season. Shepherd also dropped from the rookie point lead to third place, 96 points in back of Cole Moore. Fifteen SWT rookies have earned points.

Whether the Shepherd – Wilson team rejoins the SWT point chase in the future is uncertain. The next race, round five, will be July 14 at Irwindale. The 2018 schedule lists five speedways—one race at Stockton, with two stops at Irwindale, Madera, Bakersfield's Kern County Raceway Park, and the Bullring at Las Vegas.

The unexpected racing career set-back is so devastating for Shepherd because he is so talented as a driver against both local and national racing talent. Shepherd placed second to NASCAR star Kyle Busch on February 3, 2018 in the 4th annual Winter Showdown at the KCRP half-mile banked track.

The $150,000 event paid $30,000 to win a 300-lap feature and a minimum of $3,000 to the 36 starters. The prestigious short track event attracted 52 entries this year from numerous states. Shepherd, driving the same No. 15S Wilson Toyota, set the fastest qualifying time February 2 in time trials for 48 competitors.

Kyle Busch was the fourth fastest qualifier this in his KBM No. 51 Toyota Camry. Busch made his KCRP Winter Showdown debut in February, 2017 and finished third in a 250-lap feature. Derek Thorn won the 2017 third annual Winter Showdown. Bubba Pollard, from Georgia, won the 2015 and 2016 editions.

This year Busch led most of the laps and beat Shepherd by 1.783 seconds. Buddy outraced three 2018 NASCAR national series drivers for runner-up money. NASCAR Xfinity drivers Daniel Hemric, Ty Majeski, and Noah Gragson finished third through fifth respectively. Nine of 36 starters finished 300 laps.

Buddy was given the name Richard when he was born on October 9, 1999, but he has always been called Buddy. His father Dick Shepherd, a noted dirt late model driver, used No. 22 on his racing cars. He still owns the family late model No. 22 that Buddy drives at KCRP and the Madera third-mile. Buddy is a three-time track champion--two at Madera and one at KCRP.

The personable teen drove the family late model to the 2017 Pro Late Model Series Madera championship. He also set fast time and led all 100-laps in the season-ending Madera $10,000 to win Short Track Shootout that was televised by the MAVTV Network.

Buddy started racing at age 3 in a power-wheel and a quad through age 6. At 7 he raced junior micro sprints in Visalia and was rookie of the year. At 10 he raced in Lemoore and in the restricted 600cc micros sprint class with seven wins. At 12 he raced in the Spears SWT INEX Legend Car Series. KCRP opened in 2013 and Buddy became the first INEX LC track champion. He had five fast times and four feature victories.

At 14 Buddy became KCRP late model rookie of the year in his third year on asphalt. At 15 he raced two late models and won his first late model title. He also made his NASCAR K & N West debut for Washington-based Jefferson-Pitts Racing. He was the youngest series driver at the time. At age 16 Buddy won the KCRP late model championship and made one K & N West start in a Ford for Jefferson-Pitts.

In 2017, he raced whenever the family budget allowed. Buddy also raced a limited Spears SWT schedule in the No. 15S Wilson Toyota and won the July 15 Madera 125 in a 20-car field. He also had two SWT top fives. His success led to his 2018 ride in the respected SWT touring series that has numerous veteran drivers, race winners and champions.

With his No. 15S Wilson SWT ride parked, Buddy and his father will race their own No. 22 late model locally and at Madera. Buddy's career goal is to race in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series. After observing Buddy's racing talent first hand at KCRP in February, maybe Kyle Busch will offer Buddy one of his KBM super late model or NASCAR truck series rides. He did so for Eric Jones years ago after racing against Eric in a super late model at Florida's Snowball Derby. Now Eric is one of Kyle's two NASCAR Cup teammates on the Joe Gibbs Toyota team.