By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
It's been a crazy summer for Brandon Sheppard, the 20-year-old who won the UMP Summer Nationals Hell Tour and looks at Quincy Raceways as his home away from home.
Sheppard, who is a resident of New Berlin, Ill., dominated the Hell Tour from start to finish and is now setting aim for the UMP national points championship.
"It's been great," he said of the summer of 2013.
That might be an understatement.
Sheppard was at 8000 Broadway last Sunday, and it was obvious how important winning the Summer Nationals was to him.
"Next to the (World Series of) Outlaws and the Lucas Oil series, I think the Hell Tour is the most prestigious (title)," Sheppard said.
Sheppard likes to talk how important the title was for him and his family -- father Steve Sheppard Jr. still races a late model on occasion, too -- and what it could mean.
Winning the Hell Tour has brought some additional sponsorship possibilities for the Sheppards, and that's important for Brandon, whose job is racing.
Along with collecting checkered flags and trophies, a full-time racer needs to collect paychecks, too. Not only for himself, but for his crew. And there are supplies to buy. Those $70,000 late models and $200,000 to $250,000 haulers are not cheap to operate or maintain.
But that's the gypsy-esque life Sheppard has chosen, and make no mistake, he loves every second of it.
"We'll probably be doing the same thing next year," he said.
That means being on the road to somewhere just about every night of the week, hitting as many major shows in the region -- and otherwise -- as possible.
Those who race for a living have to track the biggest possible paydays.
Sheppard races at Quincy just about every Sunday night he is within driving distance. The Bullring is the only UMP track in the region that runs on Sunday night, which translates into "bonus" points for those chasing honors like national, region and state championships.
One bonus Sheppard has going is an understanding significant other.
Nikki Hart is a dental assistant in Springfield, which is just down the road from New Berlin.
"I've had the same girlfriend for four years, and she's understanding," he said. "She accepts the racing lifestyle."
That racing lifestyle is always a little better when the driver in question is winning.
Shorter sked in 2014?
Sam Driggers, the director of UMP's DirtCar division, says to look for a change in next year's UMP Summer Nationals Hell Tour.
Driggers said, in all likelihood, the schedule would be shortened from six weeks to five. The extra week was added this year to figure in some additional off days for the series that had always run about 30 races in roughly 34 days.
Driggers said the added time off cost the series some fluidity, and also felt it cost the tour some drivers as the tour advanced across eight states, covering 5,700 miles.
"With the off days, some of the guys had a chance to go home and think about things … and never came back," Driggers said.
Driggers said from what he gathered at the participating tracks all promoters made a profit, some "more than ever."
The shrunken schedule sounds like a good idea. We don't want those drivers getting "soft" with all of those days off, do we? They call it the Hell Tour for a reason, right?
Driggers was also confident Quincy Raceways would be operating next year. He thinks it will be with some sort of a lease agreement.
"Who wants to buy property in this day and age?" he said with a smile.
The Bullring was put on the market in late July by owners Paul Holtschlag and Bob Rhinberger. At least five parties have shown some degree of interest.
Holtschlag told me there was nothing new to report about the sale, lease or lease-to-buy possibilities.
Picks to Click
Here's what to watch for Sunday night at the cathedral of commotion:
Pick to click: Defending track champ Jason Perry cracks the victory column.
Best comeback bet: Clint Kirkham returns to his top-five ways.
That's a fact, Jack: The last four 30-lap features have all been under 8 minutes, with a combined four cautions, including two that were caution-free.
Pick to click: Steven DeLonjay continues his historic run with a fifth straight victory, but there's a new gunslinger in town that may provide a challenge down the road.
Best comeback bet: Keith Pratt continues his comeback tour and moves into the top five and begins to reel in Mr. DeLonjay.
That's a fact, Jack: DeLonjay and Dave Wietholder have qualified for all 12 Fast 6 dashes. DeLonjay has won six, Wietholder three.
Pick to click: Seriously? You even have to ask?
Best comeback bet: Nathan Anders. The guy is due for a break.
That's a fact, Jack: Tony Dunker topped the $4,000 mark in money earned last week with $4,128. Runner-up is Jeff DeLonjay with $1,415, followed by Tanner Klingele at $1,325.
Pick to click: Brandon Savage maintains his hot streak.
Best comeback bet: Abe Huls. Hey, a third-place finish like last Sunday for The Honest One is an off week.
That's a fact, Jack: The stock cars have seen at least one lead change in every feature this season, the only series at the track that can make such a claim.
Pick to click: Laine Van Zant wins for the fourth time.
Best comeback bet: Pat Dunker, who for the first time in a month did not lead at least one feature lap last Sunday.
That's a fact, Jack: There have been 144 feature laps run this season in the sport compact series. Only four drivers -- Kim Abbott, Austen Becerra, Dunker and Brandon Lambert have run more than 100.