APD Member Spotlight Blog: Nick Shepherd

 

About Me
I'm Nick Shepherd and I have the least natural ability of any racer you've ever met. I recently read the article on Dragraceresults.com about Edmund Richardson winning his first track championship riding a 100cc scooter at age 11. I started racing on a regular basis when I was age 25 and I didn’t win anything for several years. I had a real race car and I was still so bad other racers begged to line up against me first round. My theory is most racers have some natural advantage over me because they competed in sports as a child. I just wasn’t good at athletics. When you had to pick teams in school, I wasn’t last, but I was probably second to last. Therefore, I’ve had to learn to develop a sports mind set and learn the mechanics of racing. I used to be a delicate racer, get excessively nervous and I even used to feel bad for winning because that meant someone had to lose. Fortunately, that’s mostly gone away. I’ve matured, I’ve learned to take responsibility for my actions and put 110% effort towards winning every round. 
Outside of racing I enjoy a pretty busy life. I’m 33 years old and I work as a CPA. Many people I meet say they haven’t met any accountants that enjoy racing cars. My parents have been racing cars since before I was born and I’ve loved car racing since I was a kid so I knew I had to find a career that could support the hobby. After the first year of college I told my parents I didn’t want to go to school anymore. It seems at age 19 I knew everything. Well my parents did too and they had more leverage. My mom told me to move out. “Oh just kidding, mom, I’ll be in school tomorrow.”  I tried a few different majors until I realized that I was good with numbers and taxes.
I’m married and I have no kids. My wife, April, is wonderful. She doesn’t participate or even watch many races, but she does participate in various triathlons, and running events in our area and does very well at them. It’s very different than drag racing, but it takes a similar level of dedication and self discipline so we understand each other’s commitments. Fortunately, she’s very patient with my race schedule. 
We live in the Portland, Oregon area. It’s a beautiful city and all the stereotypes you’ve ever heard about the area are probably true. As an example, our garbage company gives us two receptacles, one puny garbage can and one can that is three times that size for recycling materials. Most sunny days when I go to the track, April will be out training on her bicycle. I claim on these days we are carbon neutral.
Season plans & race car
I’m a weekend warrior. My season is going to consist of the points battle at my local track, Woodburn Dragstrip, the NHRA Division 6 Team Finals, and some travels to big dollar races. Unless I win the Powerball mid season, most of my racing is going to be within about one days’ drive of the Portland metro area. Like most people, I work during the week and use my vacation days for racing travel and a non-racing vacation with my wife. 
I try to keep the Nova in “sleeper” mode most times with no lettering or stickers in the hopes a competitor will think I’m just some new racer. I guess this blog isn’t going to help my sleeper image.
Being a weekend warrior, I look forward to my race days all week and I dread Monday. Monday means admitting your defeats to people who think you should never lose. These discussions usually go like this:
Co-worker:         "Did you win this weekend?"
Me:                        "No"
Co-worker:         "Why not?"
Me:                        "Because I drove the finish line like Ray Charles" (I conveniently avoid telling them I also 
                               got beat by a grandma driving a purple AMC.)
Co-worker:         "I thought drag racing was just going straight?"
Me:                        "Well yes, but there's complexities. You have to have your mechanical components just
                              right, hope you made the right decisions before the race, then you have to play poker
                              at high speeds"
Co-worker :        "Huh. I like NASCAR better."

 
 
My race car is a 1962 Chevy II that my dad helped me build. Its fastest ET ever was 10.34, but for various reasons it’s usually dialed around 10.50-10.70 in the quarter mile. It’s a pretty standard setup I suppose. The drivetrain consists of a 2 bolt main 377 Chevy, a Powerglide with a 1.76 first gear and transbrake, and a Ford 9”. The suspension consists of the Cal-Trac split mono leafs in the factory mounting locations, Cal-Trac bars, and the front is a Chassisworks Nova front clip with double adjustable coil overs. The car has not had the wheel wells cut or the springs moved inboard, therefore it’s limited to a 28x9 tire. I know that’s contrary to good racing methodology which is to under power a giant tire, but I’m not claiming it’s the perfect weapon.
It’s been known to be a good weapon from time to time. I’ve gotten lucky enough to be track champion in 2010 and 2011 and in 2010 I was voted NHRA Division 6 ET racer of the year.
I race it almost exclusively in bottom bulb competition, although occasionally I’ll double enter in electronics as well.
My philosophy is that bracket racing has to be affordable to have fun. As such, I race on a tight budget. I never put much effort into making the car go faster, but I do make sure the car has good parts where necessary and they are maintained or rebuilt before they break. I’ve always felt that while I can upgrade parts to make myself win more, the main component of winning comes from making good decisions or often making the fewest number of bad decisions.  
My current set up consists of my daily driven, 1995 Dodge 12 valve diesel and an open trailer. My family and friends think I’m crazy, but for 2012 I sold my enclosed trailer and I’m going to haul the car on an open trailer. My rationale is that I can get 15-16mpg towing this way which opens up more possibilities to travel to destination races. What about shade on hot days? Fortunately, none of my friends or family sold their enclosed trailers. 
My goals for 2012 are as follows:
1)      Do not ride in the trunk of anyone’s car**
2)      Win $10,000. This is a lofty goal on the west coast, especially in bottom bulb.
3)      Test my car extensively so I don’t have mechanical weaknesses when the season starts.
4)      Average at least a .017 reaction time.
5)      Never be afraid of an opponent.
6)      Win Woodburn Dragstrip points series.
7)      Win Race of Champions. In NHRA Division 6 the Race of Champions winner goes to Pomona.
 
** At Boise’s Nightfire race last year my truck broke down on the way to the track with me and 2 friends. Jonathan Adams, then NHRA Division 6 director, stopped to give us a ride in his rented Chevy Malibu. A Chevy Malibu seats five people and altogether there were 6 of us and none of us were small people. I literally rode 10 miles in the trunk of his car to the race track.
 
This article is supposed to be about racing, but I have one piece of marital advice. If you’re like me and you travel to races without your spouse, then get a giant, needy creature like this. This is Hans and he keeps my wife company while I’m gone and keeps me out of trouble. Yes, he’s dirty, disgusting, and misbehaved, but he’s a necessity to my racing program.
 
 
Recap of Season
In our area it has been a weird weather year. We had the wettest March ever recorded in Portland. It rains a lot here anyway and experiencing a record setting rain year was miserable. All the March testing days were rained out, hence goal #3 was shot. The first day the track opened was April 5th and it was already the first points race.
Over the winter I committed the cardinal racing sin by changing too many things. In an attempt to get more weight transfer I changed to a lighter set of front springs.  For more consistency I changed to a looser converter and to E85 fuel.
My car previously did little 12” wheelies that just kind of popped up and back down really quickly.
On the first time trial of the year the car did a fantastic wheelie. It tripped the 60’ timer with the rear tires and the shift light came on before the front wheels touched the ground. Unfortunately, it came down hard and when I got back to the trailer it subsequently leaked all the fluid out of a coil over shock. 
Broken shock and all that was the most fun I’d ever had just driving the car.
Since the shock was broke, I opted to retard the timing 5 degrees to calm the starting line issues. It subsequently ran five 10.72s in a row. I was pretty happy with the changes I made although my initial driving has left something to be desired. 
In the first race of the year I was intentionally running .02 under, but fail to spot drop when the race looks tight in the second round.
A week later in the third round I red light by staging like a rookie. You’d think I could stage well but it seems I had forgotten the fundamentals of racing. It had been six months since we had last raced so I was rusty. Overall, my spot drops were horrible, staging marginal and reaction times were mediocre.
Recognizing I need practice badly, last weekend I entered in two races on Saturday at Woodburn.    First round of the first race, my competitor’s reaction time is .002 and he ruins me. Fortunately, in the second race I’m able to get to the semi finals before my competitor goes .012 and is running .010 under. I let him go through the finish line first, but I fail to follow a basic racing strategy and I go behind too close and break out. I admit I’m in need of practice.
Fortunately, Sunday I was able to screw my head on straight. My good friend Ryan Schaefer and I frequently race together. He usually handles between round maintenance and I attempt to dial both our cars. He’s calm and I’m usually the nervous perfectionist so we balance each other out. When we arrived at the track I told him “I’m going to sit here at this table and play with my calculator and stare at the weather and the 1320go data. It’s going to look like I’m doing nothing, but just trust I’m working hard for both of us”. I suspected the weather would make a 2,000 feet move in density altitude and a 40% change in humidity from the start of time trials to late in the day so I knew it was going to be a tough day to dial cars.
By the end of the day I was lucky enough to win. I could say that I drove great, but I did get plenty lucky. My biggest strength was having solid reaction times. Being totally transparent, since the middle of last season I have been experiencing a modest slump and I really needed this win for my own confidence. Hopefully that’s the last of the slump…
Sunday I was able to get a win I badly needed for my own confidence.
Being an accountant, I keep track of my round wins and losses each season in a spreadsheet. For each month’s blog I’ll update it and provide it to you below. In some instances there may be more than one reason I win or lose, but I just typically choose the best option.   
WINS:

Bye
2
Opponent Broke Something
 
Opponent Red Light
3
Opponent Break Out
2
Opponent Too Slow
2
Better Light (more than .010)
1
Lucky
1
Good Race!
1
Other
 
TOTAL
12

 
LOSSES:

I Broke
 
I Red Lighted
1
I Had a Worse Light (at least .010)
2
Too Much Finish Line (>.015)
1
Gave Finish Line Back
 
Just Bad Luck (Good Race)
 
I Couldn’t Run My Dial
 
TOTAL
4

 
Round win percentage: 75%
Average green reaction time in elimination: .021
I look forward to keeping everyone updated throughout the season. Writing a public blog is generally not my style so I admit I’m way out of my natural comfort zone, but that’s also the reason I did it. I’ll typically try anything once (often twice).
I hope you enjoying reading this as much as I enjoy creating the content. 
Thanks to all my friends and family who help me race each weekend and to Luke for this opportunity.
Happy racing to all!
Nick
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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