Notebook: 14th Annual Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout

The 2020 edition of the Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout was held January 11-19 at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway in Phoenix. Six events in nine days were held at the ⅜-mile clay oval as more than $200,000 in purse money was doled out.

The 14th running of the mega miniseries was headlined by six complete programs for Super Late Models, Modifieds, and X-Mods. With drivers from across North America looking to grab early-season success, there was no shortage of action. With that said, let’s dive into the happenings and notes from the Arizona classic.

More than 150 drivers from across North America entered the 2020 Wild West Shootout. (Tyler Rinken photo)

By The Numbers

More than 150 racers from 19 states and two Canadian provinces took their respective shots at glory throughout the 2020 Wild West Shootout. With a total of 18 Features contested, there were a dozen different winners.

The Super Late Model ranks found Illinois’ hot shoes, Brandon Sheppard and Brian Shirley, being stingy with victories. Each driver visited Victory Lane three times to complete a Land of Lincoln sweep of the week’s competition.

Big money and cool prizes were on the line throughout the miniseries. (Tyler Rinken photo)

In the Modified division, an impressive six different drivers topped the winner’s podium. With no driver winning more than one Feature, victors included Lucas Schott, Rodney Sanders, Tanner Mullens, Dustin Strand, Matt Leer, and Tyler Peterson.

Meanwhile, the X-Mod action was highlighted by four different winners in six Features. Minnesota’s Skeeter Estey and New Mexico’s Josh Cain each picked up two wins. Additionally, Zach Benson and Brock Gronwold parked their entries in Hoker Trucking Victory Lane.

When it was all said and done, Minnesota claimed top bragging rights, with its residents accounting for five triumphs across the three classes.

Two For 10

In 2019, Bobby Pierce became the first driver to claim a chunk of the Keyser Manufacturing Quarter Million Dollar Challenge. The annual bonus program for the Super Late Model division at the Wild West Shootout offers a $10,000 payday for three Feature wins, a $25,000 payout for four wins, a $100,000 windfall for five wins, and a staggering $250,000 check for a six-race sweep.

Pierce scored three wins to pick up a $10,000 bonus in 2019. In 2020, history was made again as two drivers picked up a five-figure payout. Brandon Sheppard and Brian Shirley each accumulated three wins. Those efforts allowed both racers to leave the desert with $10,000 early-season bonus money, in addition to their other winnings.

Brandon Sheppard picked up a $10,000 bonus for three wins. (Tyler Rinken photo)

You might ask what the odds were for two drivers winning three events. A slim 1.4-percent chance is a formidable answer for the scenario.

“It’s pretty awesome for Brian [Shirley] and I to come out here, and both win the bonuses. We live about 10 minutes apart, 22 hours away from here in Illinois. Here we are racing each other for wins every night in Arizona,” the two-time and defending World of Outlaws Morton Building Late Model Series champion noted. “Kudos to the event staff for giving us great race tracks all week, and great purses and bonuses to race for. Next year, we hope to come back and win an even bigger bonus.”

Sheppard also made history by winning the Shaw Trucking 50 on January 19. The miniseries finale paid $15,000 to win and marked the richest single-day payout in the history of the Wild West Shootout.

Brian Shirley was also a recipient of a $10,000 Keyser bonus for three wins. (Tyler Rinken photo)

First-Time Feel Good

Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta’s Terry Carter has become a mainstay in the Super Late Model division at the event. After multiple attempts, the personable racer finally qualified for his first-career feature on January 15. It was a meaningful experience for the Canadian.

“You know, I come here every year, just because I love being a part of the event. My equipment is much older than pretty much everyone else here, so my expectations to make a feature have never really been a thing,” Carter shared. “To qualify for my first feature was unexpected, but it meant the world to me. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Flashes of Greatness

2018 United States Modified Touring Series (USMTS) champion, Johnny Scott, made his Super Late Model debut during the second half of the 2019 season. The New Mexico native showed flashes of excellence in his new endeavor during the latter-half of last season. His impressive runs transitioned into the start of the 2020 campaign at the Wild West Shootout.

Scott led laps during the Super Late Model Feature on January 18 and was running in a podium position late in the event until a flat tire and mechanical issue forced him pit-side. He again turned heads on January 19, when he challenged Brandon Sheppard for the lead throughout much of the Shaw Trucking 50 before crossing the finish line in Second.

Super Late Model newcomer, Johnny Scott, made strong showings in the desert. (Tyler Rinken photo)

“This was a great week for our team. We came here with the goal of getting a Top-Five finish, but we ended up being a contender for wins in a couple of the features,” Scott commented. “These Super Late Models are tough cars to drive, and this field is super tough, so we are extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish. Hopefully, we can continue to build on what we’ve learned.”

Hail To The Champions

On the heels of his three wins, Brandon Sheppard was crowned the 2020 Super Late Model miniseries champion. He received $3,000 for his consistent performances. He also made history as the first back-to-back champion in Wild West Shootout history in the Super Late Model division.

Brandon Sheppard repeated as the Super Late Model miniseries champion. (Mike Ruefer photo)

Meanwhile, Skeeter Estey (X-Mod) and Dustin Strand (Modified) each pocketed $1,000 checks for their first-ever miniseries titles.

Skeeter Estey scored his first-career Wild West Shootout championship. (Tom Macht photo)

“Looking at the caliber of Modified drivers that are out there, it’s a big deal for our team to win the championship,” North Dakota’s Strand said. “These guys are looking to pounce at every turn, and if you make one mistake, it can cost you several positions. I’m really proud to be able to say we are a Wild West Shootout champion.”

Dustin Strand emerged triumphant in pursuit of his first-career Modified title at the Wild West Shootout.

Diversity

While the Chris Kearns-promoted miniseries undeniably draws an eclectic group of racers, the staff for the event is equally diverse. Race and Technical Director Kelley Carlton hails from South Carolina. He also serves as the series director for the ULTIMATE Southeast Super Late Model Series.

Carlton’s counterpoint in race direction from the annual Gateway Dirt Nationals at St. Louis’ Dome at America’s Center, Matt Curl, joined the staff for the 2020 Wild West Shootout. Curl, who is the owner and promoter of the famed Fairbury Speedway in Illinois, served as the assistant event manager.

Jay Morris went for a wild ride in the opening round of the event. Thankfully, he was uninjured. (Tyler Rinken photo)

Also making his 2020 debut at the event was Mississippi’s Johnny Stokes, who joined the staff as the head of track preparation. Known as “Dr. Dirt” for his track-prep skills, Stokes owns and promotes Magnolia Motor Speedway, and still occasionally jumps behind the wheel of various race cars. Stokes was joined by veteran track-preparation expert Scott Woodhouse. The duo made major gains on the track throughout the week, with the miniseries finale featuring a multi-grooved racing surface.

Additionally, a diverse broadcasting team, including Dustin Jarrett (Ohio), Ben Shelton (Tennessee), and Ruben Mireles (New Mexico), worked together once again throughout the week’s festivities.

A packed house at the 2020 Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout.

“Over the past several years, we’ve put together a top-notch staff for the Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout,” promoter Chris Kearns noted. “Everybody brings something different to the event and gives 110-percent effort. For every person you visibly see, there are at least two people behind the scenes that are grinding away and making things happen. This miniseries is a huge undertaking. There’s no way we could be so successful without such a hardworking and talented staff.”

Looking Ahead

With the 2020 edition of the mega event in the history books, series’ officials are already hard at work for the 2021 Wild West Shootout. The 15th running of the miniseries is slated for next January 9, 10, 13, 15, 16, and 17. Once again, Super Late Models, Modifieds, and X-Mods are set to headline the action.

About the author

Ben Shelton

Ben got his start at historic Riverside International Speedway. His accomplished motorsports media career includes journalist, race announcer, and on-air personality.
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