Two things that Erick Rudolph has shown in his racing career is that he is a winner on dirt in Big-Block Modifieds and he’s awesome when racing indoors in Trenton, New Jersey, winning three times in a TQ Midget on concrete.
After getting into a 600cc Micro-Sprint for the first time in a decade Thursday night, Rudolph started off with domination in his qualifying races. Fast forward to Saturday, “The Fire Starter” took advantage of a pole position draw, blazing a path to victory in the stacked 50-lap A-main.
It is a race that the Ransomville, NY driver had been eyeing for over a year, eventually teaming with one of the best teams in the 600 business, the No. 12 under the purview of owner/driver Tom Fraschetta.
“Last year I knew this event was going to happen, and I had my eye on it, seeing how it played out, and we were determined to find a way to get here. The whole team is really proud of it, Tom Fraschetta is from right around here, he’s a great ambassador for the sport, it’s a pleasure to drive for them. This win is a true testament to how good this team really is, how good the car was,” Rudolph told the media.
“It feels great, this is probably the most prestigious race in all of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware for the 600 class.”
Rudolph led green to checkers over the 50 laps, controlling the many restarts that came with the yellow-filled race. Over those 50 laps, Rudolph stayed glued to the inside even when the line had lost its early grip and speed.
“I was going to stay there as long as I didn’t get passed. I thought about moving around, but I just stuck to my guns.”
For most of the race, Rudolph ran one-two with fellow Dirt Modified regular Billy Pauch, Jr., until Pauch faded for a couple laps, even surrendering second at one point to 600 regular Brett Altemose. On the last two restarts, Pauch got some speed back, getting right onto Rudolph’s tail, giving him tap after tap over the final laps which brought the crowd to its feet.
“I had no idea it was Billy. I was just trying to keep a level head. I’d like things to be a lot easier than that, but that’s what makes racing great,” Rudolph explained.
While it seemed like Pauch had been saving his tires, that had not been the case with the Frenchtown, NJ pilot struggling with his tires, and where his line was one the track.
“I was just searching there at the end, the tires actually glazed up and sealed over before. Once I got the seal off the tires I thought the car finally kicked back in,” Pauch said.
“I tried the top as long as I could, figured do or die, see if I could make it work, and I couldn’t. It cost me when Brett got me. I moved back down, found a nice groove and got going. I wish we could’ve gotten lapped traffic to make a race, but it’s a cool weekend.”
Much of Rudolph’s and Pauch’s racing backgrounds have seen them competing in similar cars, most recently with both in Dirt Modifieds primarily. Despite this, it is rare these two Northeast stars have ever gone head to head.
Now that has changed, with both men coming away with an increased amount of respect for each other, and a great pride in the Dirt Mod brotherhood.
“(Billy’s) a hell of a driver in the region. It’s rare he comes to Central New York, but it’s a pleasure to have him up there. He’s a class act and I’m sure he’ll do great this year. In fact, we actually ran Asphalt Modifieds way back when and it’s funny how things work out,” Rudolph recalled.
“We have a good time together, we don’t run a lot together but we get along. It’s kind of cool and weird though when you think about all these Micro drivers, and the two Modified guys came out with it. It’s a testament. People under-look Dirt Modifieds in the Northeast in my opinion, I don’t know if Erick does too. I think we’re strong racers and it’s cool,” Pauch replied.
After falling to third, Brett Altemose held his ground, fending off Jim Radney and Billy Calvert who rounded the top five.
Even with the East Coast Indoor Dirt Nationals now in the record books and 2018 coming to an end, attention is already shifting to the upcoming 2019 Indoor Auto Racing Championship TQ Midgets, which begin their three event/five race campaign with a Friday-Saturday doubleheader January 4 and 5 in Allentown, PA at the PPL Center.
Be sure to check back with Speed51.com for more.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com