By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo by Stacy Kolar/Southern Sass
WACO, Texas — After a season most racers would only dream about in 2020, one IMCA Southern Sport Mod driver from north Texas is gearing up to chase more wins this year. He still has that burning desire to succeed that's driven him throughout a stellar 21-year career, but his perspective has changed.
For 40-year-old multi-time champion Jeff Shepperd, a major life event this past January forced him to reflect on the bigger picture, if you will. After a 22-race season last year that brought five wins, 13 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes en route to the title at Heart O' Texas Speedway, this year, he's raced once.
“Right now, I'm at my son's baseball game,” Shepperd said via telephone on Monday evening. “I'll be attending these and spending quality time with family a while longer before we get back to racing regularly. I lost my mother back in January, and that kind of put some things into perspective for me.”
That incredibly successful 2020 campaign was the result of a skilled driver, great equipment and good people involved with his program.
“We've had two great seasons in a row,” Shepperd said. “We won the points championship in 2019 and again in 2020. Last year, the car was awesome all season. I think we finished off the Tech pad maybe two or three times.
“We won the first two nights in a row, had a 10-week break for COVID-19, then went back the next night and made it three in a row. My son-in-law was driving one of my backup cars for his first full season in a Sport Mod, as well. We had a great year and both had a lot of fun.”
In over two decades of competition, Shepperd has enjoyed a great deal of success. His long term performance chart is the absolute model of consistency. The easy-going racer from Waco is smooth.
“I didn't start racing until I was 20 years old,” he said as he reflected on those formative years. “I ran the old Pure Stock division at Heart O' Texas. We ran that class for three years, but back then, I truly was a poor-boy racer and was lucky just to make it to the track most nights.
“I didn't finish very well in the points, never won a race, so we built a SIMS Sport Mod when those came around. We built that in 2004, and I won my very first race at what was called the Bonner's Bellmead Speedway. We ran that car through mid-2007, and I won two more races with it.”
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, just as it is today, it was no cakewalk to win a Sport Mod feature.
“Back then, there was a lot of guys that were really fast. We switched gears and got back into a Pure Stock in 2008, and I won the championship by a landslide. We had like seven or eight feature wins. We missed the first two races of 2009 and fell short of the title by about 20 points. We almost pulled it off.
“Between 2008 and this past year, we've been fortunate enough to finish top-five in points every year. From 2010 through 2012, we were either second or third. In 2013, I went back to a Southern Sport Mod. The next year, I only raced a half season and helped my friend Ryan Hopkins in my Pure Stock.”
In his first stint as a car owner, Shepperd found plenty of success. And it didn't hurt his own efforts.
“We won championships with him driving in 2014, 2015, and 2016 in Pure Stock. I finished second in Southern Sport Mod in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. We were very consistent, but each year we also had one horrible night that cost us the title. The past two years, we were able to seal the deal.”
If you've ever attended or even watched a night of racing at Heart O' Texas Speedway, you know when the green flag waves over that high-banked 1/4-mile oval, things get serious in a hurry.
“I've said this before and I'll say it again, if you can win a Sport Mod feature there, you can one win anywhere,” Shepperd said with a little extra emphasis. “I've raced at a lot of tracks and won at most of them, but year after year, Heart O' Texas Speedway has always been extremely competitive.”
Earlier this year we spoke with racers who prefer several brands of chassis, in everything from Mods, to Factory Stocks to the mighty Southern Sport Mods. For Shepperd, one brand stands above the rest.
“My son-in-law is racing the car I won two titles with this year at Heart O' Texas,” he explained. “I drove the Hellion Chassis house car in my lone start at HoT this year on April 9. It's basically brand new, it only has three nights of racing on it.
“We had a problem with the distributor in the first lap of the feature; I made one trip around and pulled off the track. So that's why you see a 16th-place finish for your two-time Sport Mod points champion.”
Shepperd will have a different car under him when he return to action sometime in May.
“I have a brand new 2021 Hellion Race Chassis that we're working on here. It will be powered by a engine from Performance Automotive Machine built by Mike Barnard. It will have all the best pieces. We've been waiting on good weather, and the chance to get from a baseball diamond to HoT on time.”
Along with his amazing natural talent behind the wheel and other-worldly consistency, Shepperd also has several fine people working behind the scenes to keep his racing program on-track.
“I want to give a special thank you to my wife and kids, my Dad and Dale, my sister, Trey, Michael W., Ryan, Charles, Zane, Michael BJ, Brian, Mike B. and Jack; Dustin and Kelley; and all the race fans.”
Along with a supportive family and friends, Shepperd also has a group of marketing partners who make him so competitive on race day, week in and week out.
“I have so many great companies on board,” he said. “I need to thank Hellion Race Chassis, Dynamic Fabrication Solutions, Cornerstone Plumbing, Fat Daddy Designs, Bell Land Clearing, DDR, Performance Automotive Machine, W. E. Electric, Brake & Clutch Supply, Tomas Lawn & Tree, Les Clark Remodeling, A & C Mobile Home Transport, AAA Rebel Enterprises, Dmar Concrete, Herrera Custom Cabinets, TruForm and 41 Shocks. I truly appreciate the support of each and every one.”
Once this devoted family man, gifted racer and just plain nice all-around guy gets back to the business of racing, you can bet he'll be a factor. Despite the late start with only a single race under his belt as we enter the month of May, Shepperd says there are goals to achieve.
“We're going to race hard when we go back at it, for sure,” he concluded. “We're shooting for another five to 10 feature wins this year, so we're going to race some Saturday nights along with HoT on Friday nights. We want to get up to Kennedale and maybe win a few more there. It's going to be a fun year.”