BRATTLEBORO -- Dana Shepard, of Putney, probably had to think for quite some time before blowing out the candles on his birthday cake on Sunday.
After all, his wish had just come true exactly one week earlier.
On Aug. 3, the 1991 Brattleboro Union High School graduate actually got to race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway -- a track that he had seen the likes of Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin compete on.
"It’s unheard of. It’s kind of surreal. I never would have thought it would happen," said the birthday boy on Sunday.
Shepard is new to the North East Mini Stock Tour, which visited Loudon, N.H. for a 25-lap race on Aug. 3. He qualified 31st and finished 27th in the 37-car field.
"I was just there to turn laps and have fun. Completing the race was the goal and it was nice to accomplish that," said the former Monadnock Speedway regular.
Driving his No. 43 Ford Mustang, Shepard was clocked in 40.332 seconds for one lap during the 30-minute qualifying round. In the race, he ran in the third group of cars and figured out that drafting was important there.
"The leaders were a lot faster than we were and they caught me about 10 or 12 laps into it," he stated. "Our concern was fuel mileage. We thought we might run out of gas. But we didn’t run out and we didn’t cut a tire."
Shepard first went to the Loudon, N.H. track in 1991, with his father, to watch a Busch Series race.
Competing on the Cup Series track was just a dream at that time. A dream that would come true 23 years later.
"Getting over the sensation of the speed was the biggest thing...and figuring out how much speed my car would carry through the corners," said Shepard. "The whole crew was excited to be there."
In Shepard’s corner are: crew chief Marc Fellows, car owner Marc Manley, crew member Aaron Carosella, mechanic Charles Shepard, Shepard Racing PR Manager Becca Kenyon, and Cat Carosella.
While that group was learning and enjoying their day at the Magic Mile, Justin Larsen of Peru, Maine was in front and he eventually took the checkered flag. Granite Staters Toby Wells, Nick Maniatis, Justin King and Emerson Cayer rounded out the top five in the Aug. 3 race.
"This tour is just an outstanding group of people. It’s just light years ahead of Monadnock, with the knowledge of the drivers and the different tracks that we go to," noted Shepard.
The sizes of the ovals in the series range from the quarter-mile track at Thunder Road in Barre to the one mile distance in Loudon, N.H. There is one dirt surface and also a road course on the schedule.
Next up, Shepard and the other NEMST drivers will compete on a 3/8-mile track in Wiscasset, Maine on Saturday, Aug. 23. That will be followed by a race in West Haven on Sept. 13 and the season finale is set for Oct. 17-18 in Thompson, Conn.
Shane Covey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 802-254-2311, ext. 163.