There is absolutely no place on earth like Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, and when it comes to the Big E there is no such thing as a normal Saturday night racing program. The action on the big high-banked half-mile is always intense and this past weekend (October 8-9th) was on-the-edge of your seat exciting as the track closed out the 2010 season with the UMP Nationals.
118 Modifieds and 53 Late Models filled the pits for the 2-Day event and for those who thought that the A-Mains couldn’t get any more exciting than the heat races, we were all very, very wrong.
After 90 disappointed competitors loaded-up the 28-car Modified A-Main rolled onto the speedway, the excitement started immediately with a lap 1 pile up that took a few top contenders out of the mix early and sent the #777 of Jared Landers to the pits with a flat tire. The Landers crew quickly got the car back on track, but the #777 machine was forced to re-start at the rear of the field.
Landers quickly got busy and as Brian Ruhlman was checking out in the #49 machine, Landers was picking his way through traffic. The #9 of Kenny Schrader also wasted no time in his ascent to the front of the field, gaining 3 positions before the first lap was complete to place him in third.
As the laps wound down Schrader began reeling in Ruhlman little by little for the lead with Landers sliding all the way up to third. On a night filled with the famous Eldora slide jobs after closing the gap, Schrader slid in front of Ruhlman in the middle of turn 3 on the white flag lap, but the race was not over as Ruhlman dove low and came back even with the #9 machine as they motored towards the finish where Schrader ended picking up the win by less than a bumper in the photo finish while Landers came home in third after an amazing run that stunned many. This race was one for the history books as the single caution event was filled with non-stop action throughout the field and an amazing finish that was captured on Eldora’s new Jumbo-Television screen in turn 2, and trust me, that came in very handy for the finish of this exciting event.
The Late Model main showed much of the same with #15 Jon Henry jumping to the early lead before jumping the wall on lap one ending his night. After the restart #3 Brian Shirley was a man on a mission working his way up into the lead early on, from there on out Shirley was unstoppable slicing and dicing his way through lapped traffic and fighting off the advances of the hard-charging Jeep VanWormer. VanWormer was piloting Ken Schrader’s #9 after his own #55 machine was unable to be repaired after going up in smoke during Friday night’s Race of Champions. VanWormer’s weekend was an intense one as he and Matt Miller #7 were not only in a race on the track, but also a very tight Eldora Speedway point’s battle. After taking over Schrader’s ride, VanWormer started at the rear of heat #5 and dug deep in the low groove to take 2nd place and a transfer spot. With only a handful of points separating the two who started 10th and 11th in the A-Main, the championship was still up for grabs but at the wire in another tight finish Shirley held on to take a hard-earned victory, his first at the famed track. VanWormer made an impressive run to 2nd, but with Matt Miller hot on his heels coming in 3rd, it was the Toledo, Ohio driver who captured the 2010 Big E championship.
The Big E points battle was not the only one to be decided on the big 1/2-Mile, there were several tight points battles throughout the UMP National Top-20 as well as regional points standings, and a close-call in the Modified ranks, but once the final checkered descended on the night it was Illinois’ Mike Harrison who drove his #24 Modified up on the podium with Indiana’s Devin Gilpin finishing 2nd in the standings after leading the National Points from April through Mid-September.
For Michigan’s Rusty Schlenk 2010 was a storybook year. After a tight points battle with last years champion Jason Feger; the pilot of the #91 Late Model was able to cement the title prior to the final event with a consistency that was prevelant throughout 2010. For the 24-Year old it was a huge relief after being the early 2009 points leader and finishing 3rd in those final standings.
One of the most striking things about Eldora Speedway is the atmosphere, even before the first car hit’s the track for hot-laps you can feel a change in the atmosphere, a hum that is set apart from the rumble of high compression engines. Surrounded by miles and miles of corn fields, you are in America’s heartland and can’t help but feel a peace until you walk through the gates and then the electricity of the place just hits you.
It’s one of those tracks that no matter how reserved you may be everywhere else, as soon as the first race rolls out you just can’t help but pick a driver and cheer them on. Making friends in the grandstands is commonplace and spending the evening swapping race stories just adds to the fun of it all and I can’t thank my fellow Michiganders; Hoop, Andy, Brian, and Mary for making my night even more enjoyable!
Every race at Eldora is an exciting one and even though it was bittersweet to see the 2010 season come to an end, it was a wonderful way to close it out and I can’t thank Larry Boos and the entire Big E staff for making my weekend so wonderful.