Tuesday, September 6th, 2011
Big E winners rely on experience
By Mike Ernst
ROSSBURG - A late afternoon rain shower left Eldora Speedway fast and demanding for Sunday night's Baltes Classic.
Veterans Brian Ruhlman (American Late Model Series), Matt Westfall (UMP Modifieds) and Mike Dirksen (Eldora Stock Cars) used their experience at the Big E to capture wins in front of a big crowd on St. Henry Good Neighbors Night at the speedway.
Ruhlman, from Clarklake, Mich., started the main event in the middle of the second row in the first-ever three-wide late model start in the history of Eldora. The 33-lap event was slowed by seven cautions, but the slow pace allowed Ruhlman to methodically work his way to the front.
"I just wanted to be patient and make sure the car was good and kept it clean," Ruhlman said. "The first couple of laps you usually know how good your car is and I knew we had a good car."
Ruhlman used a restart on lap 21 to dive below fellow Michigan driver Ryan Vanderveen, who was looking for his first Eldora win, to grab the top spot. Ruhlman was then forced to hold off the pack through three more restarts to pick up his fifth career Eldora late model feature win.
"I just didn't want to drive in there and jump the cushion and tear the nose off of it or do something stupid," Ruhlman said of the late restarts. "I knew if I hit my marks and came in low they would not be able to slide job me and I would be alright. I figured once I got my momentum up I would be in good shape."
Curtis Roberts started the main event way back in the 17th spot but worked his way to the front and made a thrilling pass on the outside of turns three and four to go from fourth to second on the final lap.
J.R. Hotovy also worked his way up from the 10th-starting spot to finish third while Vanderveen and veteran Jerry Rice completed the top five. Jerry Bowersock, Steve Kester, Devin Sheils, Phil Ausra and Tim Rivers rounded out the top 10.
Former Eldora winner Duane Chamberlain actually crossed the line in fourth place but was disqualified due to being six pounds light at the scale.
Heat race wins went to Vanderveen, Ruhlman, Kyle Harper and Jeff Babcock.
Westfall has struggled through most of the season at Eldora in the Bill Dues/Chuck Sanning owned UMP Modified, but Sunday night he had the car on a rail.
Westfall held off repeated challenges from Babcock throughout the 18-lap event to pick up his first career Eldora modified win. It was Westfall's third win of the season, having also won at Millstream Speedway in Findlay and Waynesfield Raceway Park two weekends ago.
"We struggled here throughout the year but we really got this thing rolling around here pretty good right now," Westfall said after the win.
Babcock ended up in second place while Ruhlman followed up the late model win with a third-place finish in the modified. Mike Dirksen had his best modified finish of the season in fourth while Jerry Bowersock completed the top five.
Points leader Jesse Bitterling suffered engine problems halfway through the main event and finished 23rd, and with Bowersock's top-five finish, Bitterling relinquished the points lead and the track championship to Bowersock in the final points event of the season.
New Knoxville's Brent Hole finished in 11th and St. Marys' Nick Katterhenry came home 15th.
John "Weasel" Phlipot had a strong showing during the B-main in Burkettsville's Mike Garke-owned machine, but came up one spot short of the feature event while Fort Recovery's Ryan Sutter and Celina's Mike Chrisman also missed qualifying for the feature event.
Dirksen, the three-time defending Eldora Stock Car Track Champion, picked up his third win of the season in stock car division but relinquished his championship to Rob Trent who drove a steady race and came home in third.
"We have had a lot of trouble this year so it feels really good to win here tonight," Dirksen said. "We lost a motor last race and have struggled throughout the year but this makes it feel a little better."
Dean Pitts challenged Dirksen over the final laps of the race but could never find a way around and settled for second place ahead of Trent. Ed Johnson and Shawn Phillipi rounded out the top five.
The race was called complete two laps short of the scheduled 15-laps because of a rash of caution flags, the most serious involving a hard crash between Mike Ford and Fort Recovery's Bob Sutter. Both drivers were uninjured but both cars suffered heavy damage.
The Eldora officials now prepare for the speedway's biggest event, the World 100. The most prestigious dirt late model event begins with tech inspection on Thursday and continues with qualifying on Friday night and heat races and the 100-lap main event on Saturday night.