A wide spectrum of indoor racing luck was showcased Friday night inside Atlantic City, New Jersey’s Boardwalk Hall. Much of it was attributed to a new points system that made the difference between who would be all set for Saturday night’s Gambler’s Classic feature for the TQ Midgets and who would have to search for better fortune.
Erick Rudolph picked up where he left off after winning earlier in the month at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania by blistering the surface with the second fastest speed in time trials. However, the fastest four were relegated to 10th starting spot in their respective qualifiers after a planned invert.
“They kind of threw us a curve ball and when you’re out there you just got to pass as many cars as you can,” Rudolph told Speed51.com powered by JEGS after climbing to the lead after only three laps in his qualifier. “We were fortunate enough to qualify second, and have a couple different things fall in our favor in our qualifier.”
Rudolph was the only one of the fastest qualifiers to make his way back to the lead for the win, but admitted that there was some work to do in preparation for 40 laps in defense of his victory in the event last year.
“We really weren’t that good, but we were able to negotiate traffic alright,” Rudolph said. “The track kind of surprised us a bit. I have a couple things at the top of my head that we could do to make myself a little bit more comfortable in there as well as get the car to roll through the corners better.”
Another recipient of some good fortune was a consistent competitor in the indoor ranks, Mike Lichty. The ISMA Supermodified regular worked his way into the top five in his qualifier, but a couple altercations sent him to the rear of the field late in the going.
“We started ninth and ran up to third and then, I don’t what the deal was, but got kind of tossed into the tires and spun out,” Lichty documented. “Then at that point I’m thinking we’re really screwed with only three laps to go.”
Suddenly, a battle between two front-running cars bottled up the remainder of the field with Lichty and only two others skirting by.
“Apparently (Jimmy) Blewett and (Andy) Jankowiak got together and the next thing you know it put me on the outside pole and said ‘I’ll take that’,” Lichty laughed. “Makes it easy being locked in and not have to run any of these monkey races.”
The Gambler’s Classic has been an event that has alluded him for several years, but after a strong showing in Allentown the Innerkip, Ontario driver heads into Saturday optimistic about his chances.
“I think we have a real good shot,” Lichty said. “We’re going to make a couple adjustments on the car because I think the track is going to continue to lose rubber. You’ve got to be there at the end and obviously it showed in the (qualifier).”
Less familiar names used the new system to get to and stay at the front and qualify their way into Saturday’s feature. Former ATQMRA champion Ryan Tidman will make his first start in the event since 2013 and USAC Sprint Car and Midget racer Tony DiMattia is in the field for the first time.
Zane Zeiner, Jimmy Blewett, Anthony Sesely, Rob Vivona, and Tim Buckwalter were five more drivers that used qualifying and passing points accumulated to lock themselves in to the race.
On the other side of the coin are those that did not have luck on their side. Allentown and last year’s Gambler’s Classic runner-up Ryan Flores set a new track record with a time of 7.937 seconds and appeared to have everything going his way. That was until a mishap not of his own doing when working through traffic heavily damaged the left front of his machine.
Frustration among former winners was another theme on Friday. Ted Christopher, Lou Cicconi, and Joey Payne will join Flores and several others that all have to advance and search for the best starting position possible through one of six heat races on Saturday evening.
Included among the racing activity will be Slingshot and Champ Kart A-Mains, a TQ five-lap Dash to set the front rows for the feature, and three TQ B-Mains all leading up to the 40-lap extravaganza known as the Gambler’s Classic.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com