ROSSBURG, Ohio – While Stewart Friesen was celebrating in victory lane Thursday night at Eldora Speedway, tempers were flaring further down pit road at the half-mile dirt track.
Tyler Dippel and Ben Rhodes ended up in a heated exchange after a late-race skirmish during the seventh annual Eldora Dirt Derby, which left Rhodes with a poor result while Dippel came home eighth.
Rhodes and Dippel were racing for position on the final restart when Dippel tried to put a slide job on Rhodes, washing up into the No. 99 Havoline Ford F-150 and sending Rhodes into the outside wall.
In the aftermath of that contact, Rhodes backslid to 14th in the final rundown, but Dippel wasn’t done yet. He chased Rhodes down during the cool-down lap and rammed into the back of Rhodes’ truck twice coming into the pit lane, causing a spark that led to even more post-race fireworks.
Before Dippel could fully climb from his truck, Rhodes was on the scene and tried to drag Dippel out of the driver’s side window, with the two briefly trading blows before being separated by their crews and NASCAR officials.
After collecting their thoughts, neither Rhodes nor Dippel was willing to see eye to eye with the other.
“It wasn’t just (Dippel), in fairness, it was multiple folks,” said a frustrated Rhodes. “It’s just sad, because no one races with any respect anymore. I didn’t touch a soul all night, unless they were wrecking around me, and I had to somehow touch them to get away from the wreck … but other than that I didn’t touch anyone all race long. I raced everyone the way I wanted to be raced.
“We’re racing for a championship, and there’s guys that just come in here and will clean you out,” Rhodes added. “The 2 (Sheldon Creed) didn’t even try to make the corner; he just put me straight into the fence and hit me so hard that my inside mirror was pointed straight up at the sky … and the 02 (Dippel) did the same exact thing. It put us from fighting for sixth back to wherever we finished.
“It’s just bad racing. I don’t know how to fix that, because no one seems to show any respect.”
For his part, Dippel refused to back down or apologize for how hard he raced in the final laps.
“It was a green-white-checkered; it was time to go,” Dippel said. “That’s all it was. (Rhodes) came up after me before I could even get out of the truck, and that’s probably the only way he could do anything, because he probably only weighs 140 pounds soaking wet.
“I don’t know. He’s a (expletive). He complains about everyone, every week,” continued Dippel. “It’s probably going to be cool to see someone like him miss the playoffs in really good equipment. Other than that, my guys worked hard on our truck and we just didn’t have what we needed tonight.”
Thursday night’s misfortune continued a stunning season of bad luck for Rhodes, who left Eldora in a must-win situation heading to Michigan Int’l Speedway in order to make the Truck Series postseason.
“I hate this for my guys. They’ve worked their butts off all year long,” Rhodes said. “Daytona we got wrecked, here we got wrecked, our engine blew at Chicago, we had a transmission issue at Texas. … I could go on and on about things out of our control that are taking us out of the playoffs this year.
“It’s sad for me, because I know how much Duke and Rhonda Thorson put into this series and how much they believe in all the people on this team,” he noted. “It’s been building for a few years and it’s just gotten worse and worse and the cup is running over now.
“I don’t know what else to say. I got cleaned out.”