One of the big questions entering the 2016-2017 Indoor Auto Racing season was whether or not Erick Rudolph and the Lafler house team could continue the dominance that has reigned over the TQ Midget Indoor campaigns the last two seasons. The answer was an overwhelming yes, as Rudolph took the victory in the Battle of Trenton Saturday evening at Sun National Bank Center in New Jersey’s capital city.
Rudolph started the weekend in Trenton modestly on Friday afternoon posting the ninth fastest time in time trials, but reasserted his power by winning a 20-lap qualifying race Friday night to lock in for Saturday’s 40-lap A-Main. After going from sixth to third in the five-lap Dash race Saturday, Rudolph started the main event by taking second from Zane Ziener on the opening lap, then making the inside move past Jimmy Blewett for the lead on Lap 6. Rudolph felt those three spots gained in the Dash race were a big help when the A-Main came up.
“We started sixth in the Dash, I had it in my head that I wanted to get a few spots in the Dash so I could improve my starting spot a little bit more in the feature. I got to second in the first lap in the first corner over there. It took a few laps to size up Jimmy and to put a move on him,” Rudolph told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
It was not an easy road for Rudolph as a hard-charging Ryan Flores moved to second halfway through and closed the gap on Rudolph quickly as “The Firestarter” hit heavy lapped traffic on a long race-ending green flag run. After a tense two laps, Rudolph broke free and quickly opened back up on Flores.
“Lapped traffic can be your best friend or it can be your enemy at the same time. I got to a few of them, tried to get around and long story short it worked out,” stated Rudolph.
Coming home second, Flores, a native to New Jersey who now works for Team Penske’s shop in North Carolina, was confident that he had given the race his all and that the field is beginning to chip away at Rudolph’s domination.
“A hundred percent. If you look at the lap times we matched him or were just a tick better, not enough to pass him but enough to stay there,” Flores said. “He got a little uncomfortable in lapped traffic there, we were able to close the gap. Hopefully he knows the gap in the competition is closing as well.”
It is a statement that Rudolph also agrees with, especially with Flores and many others driving the same, fast Lafler cars as he does.
“He’s probably on to something, everyone is really close as far as the cars go. Everyone is getting smarter with more experience,” Rudolph admitted.
Rudolph was also not shy about giving the Lafler team plenty of credit as they perform the majority of the work on his yellow No. 22 TQ Midget.
“Mark Lafler and his guys are fully responsible for bringing this car here, and they do an extraordinary job.”
Rudolph plans to enjoy yet another victory but is already looking ahead to running at the PPL Center in Allentown, PA, December 30 and 31 to defend his win he picked up in the inaugural outing there last season.
“It doesn’t get old. We’re already looking forward to Allentown. We won there last year, so we’re really excited about getting back there and giving it our all.”
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Matt Wiernasz