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Monday, October 11th, 2010

Tight finishes cap 2010 season at Eldora

By Mike Ernst
ROSSBURG - After Ken Schrader won what may well have been the closest finish in the long history of Eldora Speedway in the modified portion of the United Midwest Promoters (UMP) Fall Nationals, Brian Shirley held off Jeep VanWormer, driving a car owned by Schrader, to pick up his first career late-model win in another thriller on Saturday night as the track closed out the 2010 season.
The popular Schrader, a veteran of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, was fast all weekend in the modified as he not only turned the fastest lap of the 118 entries, but also won the first heat race on Friday night. That earned Schrader the eighth starting spot in the 25-lap modified main event on Saturday.
From the drop of the green flag it was clear, Schrader again had a fast car, but was he fast enough to run down former Eldora track champion Brian Ruhlman?
Ruhlman started on the pole and opened up nearly a straightaway lead as the $3,000 to-win event reached the half-way point.
"When we got to second (place) and he had the big lead, I really started wishing I hadn't stayed up all night partying last night," Schrader said. "Without a caution flag, it was a demanding race."
Schrader methodically cut into the lead, and when Ruhlman began to be slowed by lapped cars, the Fenton, Miss., veteran was noticeably cutting into the advantage.
Schrader caught Ruhlman as the lead duo took the white flag and had one chance to make the winning pass. Schrader followed Ruhlman through turns one and two and down the backstretch and then made his move as they entered turn three.
Schrader went below Ruhlman and slid up to the wall in front of the leader. Ruhlman responded by diving to the bottom of the track and the two raced side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel to the checkered flag.
Ruhlman pulled his car into victory lane but as he exited the car and track officials reviewed the videotape, it was announced that Schrader had won the race.
A disappointed Ruhlman offered a short protest before walking away with his car sitting in victory lane. Track officials removed Ruhlman's car and Schrader drove to the stage to the delight of the crowd.
"I thought we had beat him," Schrader said. "I wouldn't have slid him to finish in second. The lapped cars were really tough and that allowed us to really gain a lot of ground on him through the middle of the race."
The event got off to a rocky start when David McWilliams and Jared Landers, both starting in the top four, made contact at the drop of the green flag. It caused a chain reaction accident which piled up seven cars near the back of the field.
Landers suffered a flat tire in the contact, but restarted the race on the tail and then charged through the 28-car field to finish in third place.
Mike Harrison wrapped up the UMP National Modified Championship with a fourth-place finish while Denny Schwartz completed the top five. McWilliams, Nick Allen, Doug Adkins, Jeff Leka and Devin Gilpin completed the top 10.
Friday's heat races were won by Schrader, Clint DeMoss, Ruhlman, McWilliams, Harrison, Landers, Curtis Coulter and Schwartz. Saturday's B-mains were taken by Kevin Sather, Kyle Strickler, Brent Mullins and Jeff Harris. The Race of Champions was won by Allen.
In a pre-race interview, Shirley said he thought that he had a car capable of running up front and challenging for the win.
He was right.
Shirley passed leader Ben Adkins on lap six of the 40-lap main event and immediately began stretching out the advantage. The Chatham, Ill., driver seemed to have it on cruise control as the remainder of the pack battled it out behind him.
VanWormer, who blew an engine during Friday night's Race of Champions, came into the weekend challenging Matt Miller for the track championship. With his car disabled, Schrader offered his ride to VanWormer and VanWormer responded with a charge through the field on Saturday night.
VanWormer entered the event needing to finish two spots ahead of Miller to win the championship, so the duo provided an exciting "race within the race" starting in the fifth row at the start of the 40-lapper.
Miller made an aggressive fifth-to-second move on lap 15 to move into contention for the win, while VanWormer methodically worked through the field and even passed Miller on lap 26 for the runner-up spot.
VanWormer then began chasing down Shirley, who needed to pass to not only win the race, but also a pass would give him the track championship. VanWormer did all the could closing the big advantage Shirley had built up to only a few car lengths, but ran out of laps before he could mount a serious challenge for the lead and had to settle for second place. Miller finishing in third place was enough to win the season-long track title.
"It is pretty exciting to win here," Shirley said of his first career Eldora win. "We made both the Dream and World 100 so we are getting better and better here but we still have a lot of work to do and need to keep plugging away to get up front in those races and that is what we are trying to do. But they can say whatever they want about me now, I have won at Eldora."
Frankie Heckenast and Adkins completed the top five, while Jeff Babcock had a strong run from 13th-starting position to a solid sixth-place finish. 2009 UMP National champ Jason Feger, Scott James, Ruhlman and Keith Berner completed the top 10.
Heat races were won by Shirley, Berner, Jon Henry, Adkins, Kenny Compton, and Heckenast. The B-mains were won by Dillon White, Ruhlman and Rick DeLong.
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