JAMAICA, VA – April 11, 2011 – Rick Eckert can’t forget his subpar performance in last year’s inaugural Commonwealth 100 at Virginia Motor Speedway.
And that’s why he can’t wait to return to Bill Sawyer’s pristine half-mile oval on April 15-16 for the second edition of the $25,000-to-win World of Outlaws Late Model Series spectacular.
Eckert, 45, of York, Pa., has enjoyed plenty of special-show success at VMS over the past decade, but he was a surprising non-factor in the track’s biggest event ever one year ago. He finished the 2010 Commonwealth 100 two laps down in 22nd place – and man, does that still gnaw at him.
“I remember I had a good car the first night,” Eckert said of last year’s Commonwealth 100 weekend. “I qualified late (in time trials) but still turned a lap (sixth-quick among 56 entrants) good enough to sit on the pole of a heat, and then I heat-raced pretty good too (he won the sixth prelim). I had changed some stuff on my car and it seemed to work.
“But,” he continued with a frown on his face, “in the feature the next night I got lapped by like lap 15 (after starting fifth) – my car was that bad. That’s the kind of race you don’t forget, so I promise I won’t be the same way I was last year.”
Eckert will begin his road to Commonwealth 100 redemption this Friday night (April 15) when the weekend kicks off with time trials and heat races. The grand finale program on Saturday evening (April 16) includes B-Mains, the $3,000-to-win ‘Rumble on the River’ Non-Qualifiers Race and the 100-lap headliner that offers the third-largest first-place prize on the 2011 WoO LMS.
If appearances mean anything, Eckert would seem to be entering the Commonwealth 100 weekend in a better place than he did one year ago. For starters, he’s ranked second in the national tour’s points standings after four events, just four points behind two-time defending series champion Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va. More tellingly, he feels confident and comfortable with the performance of his Team Zero by Bloomquist cars.
“I don’t know if we’ve really had that great of a start (to 2011); I think a lot of other guys have just had bad starts,” said Eckert, explaining his lofty position in the points standings despite a modest season-best WoO LMS finish of fifth. “But I think I’ve learned some stuff about my race car that I think will help us here in the near future. I’d like to think we’ve turned a corner.
“I talked to Scott (Bloomquist) and got to work with him for a few races down there at (Florida’s) Volusia (Speedway Park) in February. Then when I left last month (for races in the Southeast) I stopped at Scott’s (in Mooresburg, Tenn.) and he showed me some stuff that he’s doing that I think is gonna help our program.”
Now in his third season driving chassis built by Bloomquist, Eckert believes he’s found an elusive equilibrium with the cars.
“If anything, the hardest thing about these cars is that even when you’re slow on the racetrack you still don’t feel horrible in the seat,” said Eckert, who is in his second season fielding his own equipment following the November 2009 passing of his longtime car owner Raye Vest. “That makes it harder to make adjustments because you never really feel that bad.
“With me being the driver and the crew chief, it’s harder for me to figure out what changes to make to the car, what direction you need to go with your car. Sometimes you feel like you need to be better on exit, but the problem is actually on entry – so when you go to work on fixing your exit, you end up screwing up your entry and that makes you screw the whole corner up.”
Eckert spent the past weekend building a new car at Bloomquist’s shop. He doesn’t expect to have the new machine ready for duty at VMS, but he doesn’t need fresh equipment to be excited about visiting the track. He always looks forward to making the four-hour haul to one of the country’s finest dirt-track facilities.
“The complex is just phenomenal,” Eckert said of VMS. “It’s like a downsized version of (The Dirt Track at) Charlotte. It’s got really great lighting, stoned pits, nice bleachers. Matter of fact, a fan called me the other day and said, ‘I’m gonna call down there and get some tickets (for the Commonwealth 100). Where do you think I need to sit?’ I said, ‘I think as long as you’re in the bleachers you’re gonna see every bit of the racetrack. Everybody has a good seat at that place.’
“There’s plenty of places that have big races that you still aren’t really thrilled about going to, but you’re always happy to go to Virginia Motor. Any place with more than one (racing) lane is right up my alley, and the owners are really nice people. The owner (2010 WoO LMS Promoter of the Year Bill Sawyer) will walk around the pit area, so if you have a problem you know where to find him and they’ll straighten out anything.”
Eckert, who plans to begin working with a new interim chief mechanic at VMS after Zach Frields’s extended stint as Eckert’s wrench ended with the last WoO LMS road trip, doesn’t expect the track to produce any surprises during the Commonwealth 100. He believes tire conservation will play a big role in determining the outcome – just as it did last year when Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., benefitted from a hard tire selection to win a race that saw several contenders slowed by flats late in the distance.
“The only difference this year is you probably will see everybody start (the 100) on a harder tire instead of just a couple guys running them like last year,” said Eckert, who has 21 WoO LMS victories since 2004 (tied for third on the win list with Bloomquist and Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky.). “Last year everybody had been used to racing there for just 50 laps – and at that place, 50 laps to 100 laps is a big difference. Now I think everybody has learned what to expect from the way that dirt can wear tires out in a long race.”
All seats for the Commonwealth 100 are general admission – and thanks to Sawyer’s decision to extend the deadline for purchasing reduced-price two-day tickets right up to race day on Fri., April 15, fans can take advantage of a great bargain. Two-day tickets are $30 for adults, $27 for senior citizens/military and $15 for students ages 7-17.
Fans can purchase tickets in advance by visiting www.vamotorspeedway.com, downloading the ticket order form and sending it to the track with a money order or cashier’s check (no personal checks) or by calling the speedway office at 804-758-1867 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and using a Mastercard, Visa or Discover card.
Pit gates will open at 3 p.m. and the spectator gates will be unlocked at 4 p.m. on both April 15 and 16. Practice is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. each day, with action starting at 7 p.m. on Friday (time trials) and Saturday (B-Mains).
Sun., April 17, has been reserved as a rain date for Saturday’s competition.
Free camping (no hookups) will be available in designated areas on the speedway grounds for the Commonwealth 100 weekend.
Bill Sawyer’s Virginia Motor Speedway is located on U.S. Route 17, eight miles north of Saluda, Va., and 20 miles south of Tappahannock, Va. The speedway is just a short drive from Richmond, Fredericksburg, Southern Maryland and the Hampton Roads areas.
For complete information on the Commonwealth 100, log on to www.vamotorspeedway.com.
Additional info on the WoO LMS is available by visiting www.worldofoutlaws.com.
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series is brought to fans across the country by many important sponsors and partners, including Arizona Sport Shirts (Official Apparel Company), Armor All (Official Car Care Products), Hoosier Racing Tires (Official Racing Tires), STP (Official Fuel Treatment), Vicci (Official Uniform), VP Racing (Official Racing Fuel), DirtonDirt.com (Hard Charger Award), McCarthy’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning (Raye Vest Memorial Pill Draw Award), Chizmark Larson Insurance, Factory Value Parts and RacingJunk.com; in addition to contingency sponsors Comp Cams, Eibach Springs, JE Pistons, MSD Ignition, Ohlins Shocks, Pro Power Engines, Quartermaster, Rocket Chassis, R2C Performance, Superflow Dynos, Wix Filters and Wrisco Aluminum.