Aaron Clay, SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. (January 19, 2020) – There’s a common saying that nearly everyone has heard at least once before; “the cream always rises to the top”. No words can more accurately describe how Sunday night’s Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts finale unfolded. Skeeter Estey of Kelly Lake, Minn., took care of business in the RHRSwag.com Barnett Harley-Davidson X-Mod feature, Dustin Strand of Grand Forks, N.D., finished third in the Mesilla Valley Transportation/Border Tire and Arizona Differential Modified race, while Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., dominated the Dirt Track Bank Super Late Models presented by Black Diamond Race Cars main event.
Sheppard’s night started out perfectly, claiming the $100 fast qualifier award, presented by SportTruck RV and Screven Motor Speedway, after speeding around FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway in 15.299 seconds. Sheppard then backed that up by cruising to win his heat race by nearly two seconds. Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., Johnny Scott of Las Cruces, N.M., and Ricky Thornton Jr of Chandler, Ariz., also earned heat race victories and would join Sheppard in the redraw. Sheppard drew the outside front row starting position for Sunday’s Shaw Trucking 50-lap, feature and he would start alongside Thornton Jr, who collected the $100 Gorsuch Performance Pole Award.
“B-Shepp” wasted absolutely no time once the green flag dropped, utilizing the outside line and firing out to the early lead. He stretched his lead quickly, as Thornton Jr did everything he could to remain within striking distance. The first Midwest Sheet Metal caution flag was displayed on the second lap, when Terry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., spun in turn one with a flat left rear tire. This setup the first of many restarts throughout the long race and allowed deeper-starting drivers like Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, and Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., the opportunity to gain ground. Weiss did just that on the ensuing restart, charging up to fifth place, behind the top-four starters.
Lap 12 saw the next yellow flag, as Frank Heckenast Jr of Frankfort, Ill., suffered mechanical problems and slowed on the front straightaway, ending his night. Dillard and Weiss got busy on the next restart, with Weiss sliding higher than Dillard expected, running them both above the cushion in turn four and causing both of them to lose several positions. Dillard spun a few laps later, possibly from the earlier contact with Weiss and the caution flag was displayed once more.
Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., worked his way up to fourth position, with Shirley right behind him for the following restart. Shirley seemingly hit the afterburner on his Rocket Chassis, as he charged all the way up to second position on the next restart, bringing Weiss with him, who was now back in the top five. Shirley set his sights on Sheppard and tracked him down quickly, reaching his rear bumper just before the halfway point of the 50-lap race. Lap 27 saw Shirley dive underneath Sheppard at the entrance of turn one and execute a perfect slide job, briefly taking the lead. However, Sheppard had a crossover up his sleeve and executed that move perfectly, powering back underneath Shirley at the exit of turn two and carrying that momentum back into the lead, by the entrance of turn three. In hindsight, that was the largest challenge that Sheppard would face throughout the entire evening.
The final Midwest Sheet Metal caution flag of the night flew on lap 33, when John Cornell of Phoenix, Ariz., spun in the middle of turns one and two. Unfortunately for Shirley, he stumbled on the ensuing restart and dropped several positions. This allowed Johnny Scott to obtain the runner-up position and he would give everything he had to keep pace with Sheppard. Ricky Weiss was back up to the fourth spot on that same restart and quickly overtook Thornton Jr for third, as he lost the handle on his Black Diamond Chassis and began fading outside the top-five.
Johnny Scott closed within a half second of Sheppard with less than 10 laps remaining, nearly getting to B-Shepp’s back bumper, as he was delayed by lapped traffic. However, no one had anything for Sheppard on Sunday night, allowing the defending Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout champion to park in Hoker Trucking victory lane for the third time this week. Sheppard not only collected $15,000 for winning Sunday’s finale, he also collected a $10,000 bonus, courtesy of Keyser Manufacturing. In addition to that, Sheppard was also crowned the 2020 Dirt Track Bank Super Late Model Champion, presented by Black Diamond Race Cars, netting him another $3,000. For those who are counting, that’s a $28,000 payday for Sheppard and team, on Sunday.
Johnny Scott enjoyed his best run of the 2020 Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts, finishing second to Sheppard by just over half of a second. Ricky Weiss came home in third spot on Sunday, his fifth top-five finish of the week. Shirley also earned his fifth top-five finish of the event, charging from his 17th starting position, to finish fourth, while Pierce rounded out the top-five.
Competitors in the Mesilla Valley Transportation/Border Tire and Arizona Differential Modified division would have trouble living up to the action provided by Saturday night’s feature, a race that saw the top-four finishers cross under the checkered flag with less than half of a second separating all of them. However, Sunday night’s 25-lap main event featured another first-time winner at the 2020 Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts and the sixth different Modified winner of the week. Joe Duvall of Justice, Okla., took advantage of his pole starting position and quickly jumped to the early lead, pacing the first eight laps. However, it didn’t take long for Rodney Sanders of Happy, Texas to track-down Duvall and pass him on the bottom of the FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway track surface, gaining the race lead. Lap 16 featured the first of two Midwest Sheet Metal caution flags, as sixth place running Kelly Estey of Kelly Lake, Minn., slowed before pulling into the pits, ending his night. While Sanders lost his lengthy advantage, he remained unchallenged by Duvall on the ensuing restart. Dustin Strand of Grand Forks, N.D., lost the third position to Tyler Peterson of Hickson, N.D., on that same restart and Tanner Mullens of Wichita, Kan., slipped by Lucas Schott of Chatfield, Minn., for fifth.
Peterson began to close on Duvall for the runner-up position, while Sanders seemed to be checked-out and well on the way to his second feature victory of the week. However, with five laps remaining, Rodney Sanders made a very rare unforced error. Sanders lost control of his MB Customs Chassis in the middle of turns one and two, completing a half-spin and forcing him to drive through the infield on the exit of turn two. While Sanders was able to regroup in fifth position, he lost the lead and lost his chance at victory. Just as Sanders was taking his infield excursion, Peterson powered around the outside of Duvall and claimed the race lead. The final Midwest Sheet Metal caution flag flew on lap 22, as two California-natives, Dustin Grabowski of Upland and Alex Stanford of Cowchilla, simultaneously slowed on the track. This setup a three lap sprint to the finish and Peterson was not to be denied for the second consecutive night. Peterson opened up his lead on that final restart and cruised to claim his first career Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout victory in the Modified division.
Duvall took runner-up honors on Sunday, by far his best finish of the entire event. Strand came home in third, allowing him to clinch the 2020 Mesilla Valley Transportation/Border Tire and Arizona Differential Modified miniseries championship, earning him an additional $1,000. Sanders recovered to finish fourth, with Schott rounding out the top-five.
The proverbial cream literally rose to the top in RHRSwag.com Barnett Harley-Davidson X-Mod competition, with Skeeter Estey of Kelly Lake, Minn., leading all 25 laps and securing his second consecutive Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout feature victory. Estey started on the pole for Sunday’s main event and never looked back, rarely receiving a challenge from his competitors and winning by nearly four seconds. Two-time feature winner Josh Cain of Albuquerque, N.M., was Estey’s closest competition, but just didn’t have enough to keep pace and settled for the runner-up position. Estey’s dominating performance not only netted him $1,000 for winning the race, but he also collected an additional $1,000 for being crowned the 2020 RHRSwag.com Barnett Harley-Davidson X-Mod division champion.
With the 2020 Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts coming to an end on Sunday, we already look forward to the 15th annual edition, which will be held on January 9, 10, 13, 15, 16 and 17, 2021. For more information on the Wild West Shootout, please visit www.WildWestShootout.net
The Wild West Shootout is made possible by Keyser Manufacturing, O’Reilly Auto Parts, FK Rod Ends, Dirt Track Bank, Black Diamond Race Cars, Shaw Trucking, Schaeffer Oil, SportTruck RV, Mesilla Valley Transportation, Border Tire, Arizona Differential, RHRSwag.com, Barnett Harley Davidson, Shocks by Hammer, Hoker Trucking, Premier Waste Services, MidWest Sheet Metal, Rodeo Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, VP Racing Fuel, Hoosier Racing Tires, Pro Power Engines, Penske Racing Shocks, Five Star Graphix, Beaver Stripes, Gorsuch Performance Solutions, Screven Motor Speedway, Total Ag Solutions and DirtonDirt.com