ROSSBURG, Ohio – Erick Rudolph has taken home a lot of hardware this season, but Wednesday night he earned arguably the biggest win of his career at one of the country’s most famous dirt tracks.
Rudolph scored the victory in the 100-lap Super DIRTcar Series feature at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, passing points leader and perennial powerhouse Matt Sheppard on lap 75 and driving away from the competition.
From there, the Ransomville, N.Y. driver paced the final 26 circuits around the half-mile dirt oval for his seventh-career Super DIRTcar Series win, third series win of the season and first at Eldora.
Wednesday night’s triumph was worth $10,000 to the driver of the No. 25 BBL Racing modified.
“It feels so good to finally put one together here at Eldora,” said Rudolph in victory lane after his 15th overall win of the year. “We’ve never had any luck here; I think we’ve blown up the last three times I’ve been here, so to finally be able to finish a race here and get the job done really means a lot.
“Early, I really wasn’t that great and was just kind of hanging in there, but at the end my car came to life,” Rudolph added. “I was doing whatever it took to get there, but this run we’ve been on is about a lot of little things all coming together to make our cars fast. The engine department is up near 100 percent and I feel like I’m doing what I need to do behind the wheel as good as I ever have.
“It’s all a guessing game … and along the lines you get good at guessing. We guessed right tonight.”
While Rudolph was the class of the field when it counted, the early stars of the night were polesitter Rex King Jr. and Sheppard, who combined to lead the first 74 laps on the night.
King jetted out to the lead on the initial start and turned back all comers for the first 30 laps, but a caution for the stalled car of Chris Grbac set up a restart just before the one-third benchmark that gave Sheppard a chance to pounce.
When racing resumed on the 31st round, that’s exactly what the seven-time series champion and 67-time race winner did, charging around the outside of King to take command in his familiar No. 9s.
‘Super Matt’ showed the way through the halfway point, driving out to a two-second margin while behind him, Rudolph navigated his way into second and slowly but surely began eating into his deficit.
With 43 to go, as Sheppard began to get snagged in heavier traffic, Rudolph found traction on the bottom and his car came to life. Suddenly, a two-second gap was reduced to mere tenths of a second as Rudolph began to bring the fight to Sheppard for the race lead.
A caution the next time around, for the slowing car of Rusty Smith, gave Sheppard a brief respite. He held serve when green-flag conditions returned with 36 laps left, but his time out front was numbered.
Digging on the bottom of the track, Rudolph found his way back to Sheppard’s bumper, forcing his way around the inside berm on lap 75 to take command for good and relegate Sheppard backward.
After making the winning pass, not even a caution with eight to go could keep Rudolph out of victory lane. He weathered the storm brought on by the stalled car of Chris Hile on the frontstretch and powered away from his closest pursuers on the final restart, driving home to victory.
Billy Decker battled with Mat Williamson in the closing laps, ultimately taking the runner-up spot and earning a guaranteed spot in the Super DIRT Week feature at Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway as a result.
Behind that duo, Sheppard faded to fourth, with King holding on to the final position in the top five.
Sixth through 10th were Larry Wight, Ryan Godown, Stewart Friesen, Danny Johnson and Mike Mahaney.
The Super DIRTcar Series returns to Eldora on Thursday night for the All-Star Invitational, a non-points event held alongside the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series’ Eldora Dirt Derby main event.
Erick Rudolph, Billy Decker, Mat Williamson, Matt Sheppard, Rex King Jr., Larry Wight, Ryan Godown, Stewart Friesen, Danny Johnson, Mike Mahaney, Dave Blaney, Jeremiah Shingledecker, Matt Farnham, Brett Hearn, Demetrios Drellos, Jimmy Phelps, Peter Britten, Ryan Watt, Will Thomas, Jack Lehner, Josh Hohenforst, Rick Regalski, Rusty Smith, Marcus Dinkins, Chris Hile, Paul St. Sauveur, Chris Grbac, Kyle Coffey, Mike Marlar.