ELBRIDGE, N.Y. — Rick Eckert has figured out Rolling Wheels Raceway Park.
The 46-year-old star was untouchable in Thursday night’s 50-lap World of Outlaws Late Model Series A-Main, cruising to victory at the five-eighths-mile oval during NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week for the second straight year.
Eckert steered his Team Zero by Bloomquist car past Bub McCool for the lead on lap 11 and never looked back. He had a straightaway-plus advantage wiped out by a lap-35 caution flag but still triumphed by a commanding margin, pulling away over the final circuits to defeat a late-charging Shane Clanton by 5.529 seconds.
“I just love this place,” said Eckert, whose four career WoO LMS starts at Rolling Wheels include two wins (2011 and ’12) and two runner-up finishes (’05 and ’10). “It’s turned into my favorite race track in the country.”
Runaway WoO LMS point leader Darrell Lanigan had an relative off night, finishing third despite starting from the pole position. He was outgunned for the lead at the initial green flag by McCool and fell back as far as fourth before passing McCool for third on lap 40.
Vic Coffey, who has frequented Rolling Wheels throughout his career to compete in DIRTcar Northeast Modified events, battled forward from the sixth starting spot to place fourth. McCool, who led laps 1-10 and ran second until lap 39, settled for a fifth-place finish in a car that sported a fresh Halloween-themed wrap.
Eckert earned $11,150 for his sweep of the night’s program. He set fast time – his fifth of 2012 to tie Lanigan for the top spot in that category – won a heat race and dominated the feature.
The triumph was Eckert’s fourth of 2012 and the 28th of his career on the WoO LMS, pulling him into a tie with Steve Francis for third on the national tour’s win list since 2004.
Eckert, who started third, was in a league of his own once he overtook McCool for the lead. He passed Lanigan for second on a lap-four restart and spent six circuits measuring McCool before surging by the 2012 WoO LMS Rookie of the Year.
“Me and Bub talked about tires before the race and I told him what I was putting on,” said Eckert. “He went softer — and this place likes one tire, and one tire only, and if you don’t have it on you’re in trouble, so I wasn’t panicking when he was leading (early).
“I finally moved up in (turns) three and four and about run over (McCool) off of four. I was like, ‘The next lap when we get here, it’ll be good.’ Then (the ensuing circuit) I drove around him down there.”
Eckert praised the performance of his Jay Dickens-powered machine.
“My car was maneuverable,” said Eckert. “I could go anywhere I wanted to go. We caught on to something when we got to Berlin, Michigan (on Sept. 21-22), and since then (the setup) lets me drive (the car) just as hard as I can drive it. I had to drive the wheels off it tonight because when you ease up on it, it ain’t very good.
“My guy (crewman Bob Miller) was telling me I had a big lead, but I couldn’t slow up. If I slowed up I got worse, so I just ran as hard as I could.”
That was actually quite simple for Eckert, who feels utterly comfortable circling Rolling Wheels.
“Our car and my driving style sort of fit this place,” said Eckert. “It’s big —and I grew up on big race tracks —– and you gotta drive straight. I drive straighter than the average guy – too straight for most places, and it gets me in trouble – but here it makes up for it for sure.”
Clanton, 37, advanced from the seventh starting spot to finish second in the Kennedy Motorsports Capital Race Car, but he never drew close to Eckert. The Peach State racer vaulted from fourth to second shortly after a lap-35 restart – passing both Lanigan and McCool – but couldn’t challenge the eventual winner.
“I don’t think there was any catching him,” Clanton said of Eckert. “His car was a little more balanced than what ours was. We got to second and just maintained, and then we got to lapped traffic and he was just more maneuverable. He could pass cars faster than I could.”
Rick Eckert, Shane Clanton, Darrell Lanigan, Vic Coffey, Bub McCool, Clint Smith, Pat Doar, Chub Frank, Tim Fuller, Coleby Frye, Ron Davies, Tim McCreadie, Rick ‘Boom’ Briggs, Andy Haus, Dave Zona, Greg Belyea, Jim Yoder, Alan Fink, Chad Hollenbeck, Sean Beardsley, Bryan Driver, Doug Eck, Kent Robinson, Dan Stone.