ROSSBURG, Ohio — The 2019 Eldora Dirt Derby 100 will be long remembered by those who witnessed it.
Wednesday’s race saw Erick Rudolph best Matt Sheppard with a pass in the final quarter of the race to win $10,000. Rudolph held off Billy Decker and Mat Williamson on a late-race restart to seal the win as well.
Rudolph, with a grin ear-to-ear, could barely believe he was standing in Victory Lane at Eldora Speedway.
“You always hear about Eldora and we never had any luck here,” he said. “I think I blew up every single time I’ve come here the last three times. I’ve never had a chance to finish a race and to come out on top is amazing.”
In the early going it did not appear Rudolph would be a major threat to win. Sheppard cut through the top five and took the lead fairly early in the running. He held it with 25 laps to go.
“Early on, I wasn’t that great, but I was just hanging in there,” Rudolph said. “As the laps ticked off I could see my car was coming alive a little bit. Either that or they were coming back toward me. I can’t say enough how awesome this track was to race on. It was (competitive) all over. You could run the top, the bottom, or through the middle. I hope the fans appreciated it.”
It appeared that not only did Rudolph’s 25R machine get faster, but Sheppard began to slip back. Sheppard eventually finished fourth, allowing Rudolph to make up some of his points deficit.
Despite being a superb driver, no one can do it alone.
“I want to thank my crew, all my sponsors here on the car, all my fans, and everyone that keeps me going,” Rudolph said. “Hopefully bigger and better things will come. We’re certainly on a roll here and we’ll keep it going.”
Decker had a very strong outing at the Ohio half-mile. Not only did the Gypsum Racing veteran wheelman finish second feature, but also grabbed the Billy Whittaker Cars Fast-Time Award with a lap of 16.303 in time trials.
It was Decker’s second Billy Whittaker Cars Fast-Time Award of 2019. It’s also his 75th quick time in Series action, which is the most all-time.
Decker was pleased with the result.
“We’ve been struggling most of the year but we made a big gain tonight,” he said. “We got it all together. It feels good after a disappointing run at Weedsport. We turned it around. The 25R and the 9S have been the best cars all year when the 44 isn’t there, so we’ll get a second and get out of here happy.”
Decker mentioned how a caution eight laps into the race gave him an upper hand the rest of the way.
“I thought (the restart) would give me a shot, but I also thought it would give Matt (Sheppard) a shot back at me,” he said. “He fired a little bit better on the restart, but as it went on I got a little bit faster. The 25R was just a tick better all along. He could go to the top and middle of (turn) three and get off of four better than the rest of us could.”
Williamson, who rounded out the podium with his third-place finish, had a similar cadence as Rudolph’s, but didn’t top out the same way at the end of the race.
“At the beginning we struggled, but in the middle we put some laps together,” Williamson said. “I think we just used it up coming from the eighth spot. I faded a little on the first lap and had to pass some cars to get up here.”
Williamson added, “I don’t think I had anything for Erick (Rudolph) before the caution, but when you see a restart like that it gives you hope. We didn’t fire as well as he did. Good run for those guys.”
Stewart Friesen was forced to go to a backup car after the motor in his primary developed a problem in time trials. That put the No. 44 Halmar car to the tail of the 100-lap Feature for switching to a backup car without informing series officials. From there, he advanced 21 positions to finish eighth. With that effort, Friesen picked up the KSE Hard Charger Award.
Feature finish: 1. Erick Rudolph, 2. Billy Decker, 3. Mat Williamson, 4. Matt Sheppard, 5. Rex King, 6. Larry Wight, 7. Ryan Godown, 8. Stewart Friesen, 9. Danny Johnson, 10. Mike Mahaney, 11. Dave Blaney, 12. Jeremiah Shingledecker, 13. Matt Farnham, 14. Brett Hearn, 15. Demetrios Drellos, 16. Jimmy Phelps, 17. Peter Britten, 18. Ryan Watt, 19. Will Thomas, 20. Jack Lehner, 21. Josh Hohenforst, 22. Rick Regalski, 23. Rusty Smith, 24. Marcus Dinkins, 25. Chris Hile, 26. Paul StSauveur, 27. Chris Grbac, 28. Kyle Coffey, 29. Mike Marler.