While racing has shut down during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, racers are looking for ways to pass the time. Dirt Late Model racer Rick Eckert has found one such project for the job – preparing and restoring one of his father’s former race cars.
Irvin Eckert, Jr. – or Junior Eckert, as he was better known – was a successful racer in his own right, and the racing bug was passed along to his children.
Rick Eckert is now a National Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer, with championships in the Xtreme DirtCar Series and the World of Outlaws Late Model Series.
Eckert still races today, and already had one date circled on his 2020 calendar. On July 24, Trail-Way Speedway will host the inaugural Junior Eckert Memorial.
“They’re having a memorial race for my father at Trail-way Speedway in July,” Eckert told Speed51. “Shawn Martin from Viper Risk Management Group, he’s putting it on. He asked if they could make it a memorial race for my dad, and I said that would be awesome.”
With the Memorial race on schedule, it seemed only fitting to Eckert to take on a project befitting the occasion. His father’s last race car had remained in a shed since 2001, until this week.
Eckert tweeted a picture of the car on Monday, with the caption, “This week’s project. It’s been sitting in a shed since 2001 last time my father raced it.”
Eckert has already started combing over the car to show it off in July.
“It was in a shed, and the roof was leaking on it,” Eckert explained. “The picture made it look better than it is, but we’re going to reuse all the old panels because I like the cool old lettering and stuff.”
While the car was last raced around the start of the 21st century, its origins date back to the 1990s.
“I took a picture of the serial number and sent it to Mark Richards [of Rocket Chassis]. I asked, ‘What year is this thing?’ He said it’s a 1995 model. It’s a leaf-spring car. They were way simpler to work on at that time.”
Comparing his father’s car to his own has been a glimpse into how much Dirt Late Model racing has evolved in that timespan.
“Back then, the weight limit was 2,200 pounds. This car has 300 pounds of lead on it. The car I run today, the weight limit is 2,350 and we have zero lead on it. That’s how much things have changed. The cars are so much heavier, and probably safer.
“It’s pretty simple. There’s no ignition. All you have is the magneto. You have none of that wiring. The brakes are similar. The shocks are simpler, no canisters and none of that stuff. It still has everything on it as it came off the racetrack.”
The car even has a vestige of a time when Dirt Late Model racing had two-way radios, rather than the one-way RACEceivers of today.
“This car of my father’s has a hole cut where the radio went,” explained Eckert. “Everybody’s like, ‘Why is that hole cut in the interior there?’ That’s where the radio was.”
This is a task that Eckert has wanted to accomplish in the build-up to the Memorial race. With racing coming to a standstill in light of the coronavirus pandemic, he has no shortage of time to devote to it.
“When the Memorial race came up, I was planning on doing it anyways. I was going to sneak it in when I had time. Now, I have nothing but time. Hopefully, we’re back racing before then. It’s a crazy world right now.”
Eckert hopes to bring two other former racecars driven by his father to the event, with the help of family.
“I have two other cars, too. One is a clone of a ’57 Chevy he drove. It’s sitting in my shop, too, all I need to do is fix the carburetor on it, and it’s good to go.
“There’s a Street Stock car, a ’69 Camaro that he won 30 races in two years with. My brother-in-law has it, and they do bodywork and stuff. It’s pretty rough, so he’s going to work on it.”
The race will also be a homecoming for Eckert, and one he badly wants to win in honor of his father.
“It’s the first time they’ve had an open Late Model race in probably more than 20 years. It’s where I started racing, in a Figure-8 car. It’ll be cool to go back. That’s the one race I’m looking forward to the most all year.”
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Rick Eckert Twitter