SALEM, Ind. – Eighteen-year-old Christian Eckes is still in the hospital after being forced to withdraw from Sunday’s ARCA Menards Series event at Salem Speedway due to illness.
Eckes has a small esophageal tear in his trachea as a result of complications from food poisoning. He became ill after qualifying second on Saturday at Salem, and was later admitted to the hospital, where he continues to receive treatment for a bacterial infection.
Harrison Burton filled in for the Middletown, N.Y., young gun during Sunday’s ARCA Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200, driving the No. 15 Toyota to an eighth-place finish.
After climbing from the car, Burton was quick to note his disappointment that his best friend was too ill to compete on Sunday.
“I think it was 11:30 (Sunday night), and I got a call saying, ‘You need to come to Salem tomorrow,’” Burton recalled. “I hate that I’m here, because it means my buddy isn’t in this car. Christian is my best friend, and he’s not feeling great right now and (has been) bouncing around from hospital to hospital, so my thoughts are with him.
“I wanted to do well for him.”
Eckes was the ARCA point leader prior to sitting out Sunday’s race, which was won by his Venturini Motorsports teammate Michael Self and shortened to 101 laps due to rain.
After ARCA officials called the event, Self was emotional when discussing his thoughts on the win in relation to Eckes and the championship chase.
“It sucked not having Christian here,” Self said. “I’m chasing points; I shouldn’t be emotional, but he’s really become a great friend of mine and I wish he was here.”
Eckes now sits eighth in the season standings, tied with Burton at 435. Burton holds the tiebreaker for that spot by virtue of his victory at Daytona Int’l Speedway in February.
Travis Braden took over the ARCA point lead from Eckes and sits ahead of Self by five.
Expected to make a full recovery, Eckes is in good spirits and will resume his full-time racing duties after being released from doctor’s care later in the week.
The good news for Eckes is that, once he returns to the race car, his championship pursuit is by no means over.
ARCA officials confirmed to SPEED SPORT Monday afternoon that Eckes received 25 participation points for his Saturday efforts at Salem. He also remains eligible for the 250-point incentive bonus that is awarded to regular ARCA competitors after each of the four five-race segments that make up the 2019 season.
With Eckes sitting just 105 points out of the championship lead he once held, the end-of-season prize is still very much within reach for the New York teenager.
The ARCA Menards Series races next on April 26 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.