Devin Moran Ends Eldora Drought While Sheppard and Hoffman Take Top-5s

While Devin Moran finally exorcised he and his family’s racing demons at Eldora Speedway by winning the Friday preliminary Feature in the 30th Dirt Late Model Dream, DIRTcar champions Brandon Sheppard and Nick Hoffman made their presence felt as well on Dirt Late Model racing’s biggest stage.

Moran, 29, of Dresden, OH, took the lead from the pole on Lap 1 and never looked back, leading all 50 laps of the main event for his first career Eldora triumph. The win ended a 23-year-long drought of no Moran-family racers in Victory Lane at the historic half-mile oval – going back to 2001 when his father, Donnie Moran, won the first edition of the Eldora Million.

A few spots behind the winner laid the battle for second between 2013 DIRTcar Late Model national points champion Sheppard and 2014 Dream winner Dale McDowell. Sheppard – the four-time World of Outlaws CASE Late Model Series champion from New Berlin, IL – started seventh and by the race’s first restart on Lap 22 was challenging third-starting McDowell for the third spot.

Sheppard stuck to the top side around the track’s wide, sweeping corners, while McDowell raced on the bottom.

“Yeah, we used the cushion a lot tonight, but I think we had speed off it too,” Sheppard said. “A lot of them early passes that I had to make was get up there and hustle. When you do that and you knock the deck out, you kinda commit yourself up there.”

Sheppard did get by McDowell at the halfway point, and the two swapped spots twice more over the next five laps as they remained committed to their preferred racing grooves. But as they dug deeper into lapped traffic, going three-wide with McDowell and the slower cars at one point, Sheppard eventually switched to the bottom temporarily in his efforts to catch second-place Jonathan Davenport.

“It was starting to clean up on the bottom so it was starting to speed up down there, and I kinda stuck on the top too long,” Sheppard said. “Once it started to clean up, I just stayed up there and I shouldn’t have.”

In the end, Sheppard got by Davenport but was unable to hold back McDowell, who drove back by him around the bottom lane on Lap 39 and never relinquished the position. Sheppard settled for third in the Sheppard-Riggs Racing No. B5 and pointed to his semi-veteran status in the national Dirt Late Model ranks as a big reason why he continues to run up front in big events.

“It’s just experience – the laps here are what get you where you need to be,” Sheppard said. “I’ve been coming here since 2011. The 2011 World 100 was my first race here, I believe. I’ve been coming here every big race they have since then. It’s finally starting to pay off for me, getting laps in, experience and being able to manage tires when I need to and go when I need to.”

Coming from 11th on the starting grid, multi-time DIRTcar UMP Modified national points champion Nick Hoffman drove his way to fourth using both grooves on the racetrack.

“I would say from Lap 15-to-22 range, I ran all the way against the fence all the way around and made a lot of speed doing that,” Hoffman said. “Then that caution came out, and the top in (Turns) 3 and 4 looked like it was super thin, and I was so scared to get up there and make a mistake and plug it in the fence. So, I started to just venture back down the racetrack, and found a home a little bit lower than halfway up.”

However, Hoffman – the 32-year-old World of Outlaws Rookie of the Year Award winner from Mooresville, NC – fell back to fifth before crossing under the checkered flag, pointing to his performance in slower traffic as the culprit for the loss of position in the end.

“Got to fourth and got kinda caught-up in lapped traffic the wrong direction,” Hoffman said. “I feel like I picked the wrong lane a couple times, and [Jonathan Davenport] got back by me. I feel like I was good enough to run second, but coulda-shoulda-woulda.”

The former UMP Modified racer reflected on how far his career has come at Eldora – from winning what was his biggest career victory in the 2012 DIRTcar Fall Nationals to now driving full-time for a national Dirt Late Model team and team owner Tye Twarog – and detailed how exactly he’s changed his mind and body to handle the pressures as a national Late Model series points leader.

“I do drive myself crazy a lot, and I lose sleep and everything,” Hoffman said. “I work as hard as I can, whether it’s on the racetrack… I’m working out in the gym every single day. I’ve got a trainer with Ricky Stenhouse, I work out with him every single day.

“If I came out here in this 100-lapper and fell out of the seat on like Lap 75 or whatever, I’d be so pissed-off at myself. I feel like you’ve gotta take care of yourself and work as hard as you can on the Late Model because everybody else is.”

Further back in the pack was reigning DIRTcar Summer Nationals champion Ashton Winger, who crossed in 13th place after starting 12th.

“We actually had a rock get in our left-rear wheel pretty early I think,” Winger said. “I think I had a left-rear tire going down for a minute. I probably wasn’t as good as I needed to be. About halfway through there after that caution, I just decided to get on the top and just rip as hard as I could.”

The 24-year-old from Hampton, GA, has now made multiple starts at Eldora in his career and is getting around to figuring out one of the track’s most challenging aspects for drivers relatively new to its confines.

“The first Heat Race coming to the green at the World (100) and the Dream, man I swear you can hear the people coming to the green over the racecars,” Winger said. “It’s definitely an event, and I think once you get past that, you just kinda look at it like another race.”

World of Outlaws Rookie of the Year contender Cody Overton qualified for the main event and started 20th before driving the Tri Star Promotions No. 97c up to a 14th-place finish. Right behind him in 15th came six-time Summer Nationals champion Billy Moyer, who started 15th on the grid.

Fellow Summer Nationals champions Jason Feger and Brian Shirley both had their struggles in the main event, as they finished two laps down in 19th and 20th place, respectively.

UP NEXT

The 30th Dirt Late Model Dream continues at Eldora Speedway on Saturday, June 8, with a full preliminary program including Heats, Last Chance races and the 100-lap, $100,030-to-win finale on tap.

ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)

Feature (50 Laps): 1. 99-Devin Moran[1]; 2. 17M-Dale McDowell[3]; 3. B5-Brandon Sheppard[7]; 4. 49-Jonathan Davenport[6]; 5. 9-Nick Hoffman[11]; 6. 7-Ricky Weiss[13]; 7. 2S-Stormy Scott[9]; 8. 10S-Garrett Smith[4]; 9. 20-Jimmy Owens[23]; 10. 1G-Devin Gilpin[18]; 11. 1T-Tyler Erb[2]; 12. 58-Garrett Alberson[14]; 13. 12W-Ashton Winger[12]; 14. 97C-Cody Overton[20]; 15. 21-Billy Moyer Sr[15]; 16. G4-Trent Ivey[5]; 17. 19M-Spencer Hughes[21]; 18. 11-Austin Smith[17]; 19. 25F-Jason Feger[22]; 20. 3S-Brian Shirley[16]; 21. 12R-Ryan Payne[19]; 22. 12-Jason Jameson[24]; 23. 157-Mike Marlar[8]; 24. 19R-Ryan Gustin[10]

DIRTcar Series PR